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Philadelphia Travel Guide: Where to Eat, Stay, and Play

Philadelphia has one of the richest histories of any city in the country.

Our Philadelphia travel guide highlights some of the richest histories of any city in the country. It’s served as the nation’s capital; it’s where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were both signed, and it’s home to the Liberty Bell and countless American Revolutionary sites. (Also: Rocky) But, it’s evolved into a modern, cosmopolitan city with world-class restaurants, hotels, bars, and museums. This “city of neighborhoods” (as many locals refer to it) is brash, bold, and beautiful in all the right ways. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a returning wannabe-local, here’s the lowdown on where to stay, eat, and play in the City of Brotherly Love.

Where to Stay

As one of the nation’s oldest cities, Philadelphia offers a wide range of hotel options. Visitors can book everything from modest, budget-friendly Airbnbs to uber-luxe chain properties like the Four Seasons and The Logan Philadelphia (part of Hilton’s five-star Curio Collection of hotels). The Philadelphia travel guide digs a little deeper, though, and you’ll find plenty of unique, non-chain options too. Here are a few of our favorites.

Best Luxury Stay: The Rittenhouse Hotel

The Rittenhouse Hotel is an historic mainstay of the Philadelphia travel scene.

The Rittenhouse Hotel has been a mainstay of Philadelphia’s travel scene for almost a century. The five-star property is one of the city’s most elegant hotels, and its prime location in swanky Rittenhouse Square makes it the ideal base for any Philly trip. Inside, it’s a deft blend of old-meets-new with marble bathrooms, crown molding, and four-poster beds accented with modern touches like brushed brass fixtures, geometric carpeting, and bold furniture throughout. It’s walking distance to many of the city’s best restaurants and most famous sights, and there’s even complimentary car service within a 20-block radius.

Price: From $545/night

  • Nearest airport: Philadelphia International Airport
  • Time: 25 minutes by car
  • Distance: 9.2 miles

Best Boutique Stay: The Maj Hotel

The The Maj Hotel blends Philadelphia's historic architecture with modern aesthetic touches.

The newly opened The Maj Hotel pulls inspiration from the city’s historic architecture while adding modern aesthetic touches throughout. The result is a down-to-earth boutique hotel that feels simultaneously sleek, hip, and lived-in. Plus, there’s a chill lounge on-site, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is less than 10 minutes away on foot, and the Liberty Bell is within two miles.

Price: From $174/night

  • Nearest airport: Philadelphia International Airport
  • Time: 17 minutes by car
  • Distance: 9.5 miles

Most Unique Airbnb: The Ark Floating Cabin

The Ark Floating Cabin is Philadelphia's most unique Airbnb.

Although Philly sits right on the Delaware River, the city’s layout means few travelers spend any considerable time on the water. The Ark Floating Cabin offers one-of-a-kind accommodations for out-of-towners to see the city unlike any other. It’s a custom-built houseboat that provides a private glamping-style experience complete with a queen bed, fast Wi-Fi, and even a minibar. But, honestly, the stunning bridge views are what you’re really paying for here.

Price: From $114/night

  • Nearest airport: Philadelphia International Airport
  • Time: 20 minutes by car
  • Distance: 10.5 miles

Where to Eat

No Philadelphia travel guide would be complete without a where to eat action. Ask any non-local about the Philly food and drink scene, and they’re likely to mention cheesesteaks, Yuengling, and Mac’s Tavern, the real-world bar from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” While all three are noteworthy contributions to the world’s culinary stage, the city has so much more to offer.

The Italian Market on 9th Street

The Italian Market on 9th Street is Philly's longest running open-air market.

Foodies looking to hit the ground running can sample some of the best, locally made foodstuffs in a single afternoon at The Italian Market. This traditional open-air market has been a mainstay of the city scene since the 1880s. Today, it’s a blend of old-school provision shops (like Claudio’s and DiBruno’s) selling fresh produce, cheeses, spices, fish, and meats with newer lunch spots like Pho 75 and South Philly Barbacoa to boot. It’s packed to the gills with travelers and locals alike on the weekend. Opt for a weekday visit for a more relaxed experience. Just bring your appetite and a fistful of cash.

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John’s Roast Pork

John's Roast Pork is home to Philadelphia's best roast pork sandwiches.

Yes, Philly cheesesteaks are a thing. Yes, they’re amazing, and, yes, you should absolutely try one on your first (and tenth) visit to the city. But, we would argue that Philadelphia’s other iconic sandwich is even better. We’re talking about the lesser-known roast pork sandwich, and nowhere in the city does it better than John’s Roast Pork. The family-owned joint has been doing meat sandwiches the same way for nearly a century. Every massive roast pork specialty sandwich is piled with 12 ounces of meat and done up however you like, with mushrooms, bacon, sweet peppers, or even pizza-style. Note that it only accepts cash and only opens for lunch — both signs of an old-school, destination-worthy restaurant, in our opinion.

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South

South is home to Philly's best elevated Southern comfort food.

Beyond cheesesteaks and pizza, Philly is home to a world-class culinary scene. South is one of the city’s newest additions, but it’s already one of the most popular. Guests will find elevated takes on classic Southern comfort foods like mac and cheese, po’boys, and crawfish etouffee. The honey butter skillet cornbread alone is worth the visit. Plus, there’s a solid whiskey menu and live jazz nightly.

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What to Do

Philadelphia is a destination-worthy city with world-class museums, unique neighborhoods, bespoke artisan shops, and one of the richest histories in the United States. It’s impossible to see everything in a single visit, but here are a few of our favorite things to do in and around Philly.

Philadelphia Distillery Trail

Philadelphia Distilling is the oldest distillery on the Philadelphia Distillery Trail.

Philly was once a hub of domestic distilling right up until the 18th Amendment crashed the party. Today, thanks to more relaxed liquor laws and a renewed interest in craft everything, the city has regained a foothold in the world of distilled spirits. With dozens of distillers and new ones cropping up throughout the city, there’s plenty of vodka, whiskey, gin, and other craft liquor to sample. There are organized distillery tours, but motivated travelers can get the running list of distilleries in and around metro Philadelphia and make the rounds on their own.

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Mütter Museum

Philadelphia's Mütter Museum is one of the world’s most weirdly fascinating museums.

Even for non-museum fans, the Mütter Museum is one of the world’s most weirdly fascinating museums. The so-called “cabinet museum” began in 1858 as a collection of strange 19th-century artifacts related to anatomy, biomedical research, and other oddities. Today, it boasts more than 20,000 specimens, including Civil War-era amputation instruments, the tallest human skeleton in North America, a section of the brain from President James A. Garfield’s assassin, plaster torso casts of two famous Siamese twins, and a tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland. It’s bizarre, educational, and guaranteed to be unlike any museum you’ve ever visited.

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Read More: Best Museums in the World

Delaware River Waterfront

The Delaware River Waterfront is among Philadelphia's best outdoor recreation spaces.

Philadelphia is on the water, but it’s never been known first and foremost as a “waterfront city” in the same way that Boston or Seattle are. For the last decade, however, the network of piers along the riverfront has been evolving into a destination-worthy green space. It’s now a hub of activity for bikers, families, runners, cultural activities, and more. It’s arguably the city’s best outdoor recreation space, and the entire area is small enough to tackle in a single day, with each pier having its own vibe.

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