Can someone count me in? “In west Philadelphia born and raised on the playground was where I spent most of my days”, ha ha! I think its safe to say that prior to my recent trip to Philly the most I could relate to that city was the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song. I mean, I know a little bit of America history (mostly from a fictional novel called Captains and Kings by Taylor Caldwell), but not enough to really pull any substantial impressions together to really start considering it as a possible weekend getaway. Well let me tell you – I have seriously underestimated how vibrant of a city Philly is and I am here to tell you why you need to add it to your bucket list – like NOW!
1) The Art Scene
One thing I learned almost immediately about Philly was that it has the first and oldest art school in America. The cool thing about that is you don’t have to go into a museum to see how this little bit of information has impacted the city. Philly’s love for the arts have led to many great artworks to be left in completely public places. That’s right – Philly has many beautiful murals adorning the city, 17 of which you can easily see on the Mural Mile walking route. No need to pay any entrance fees into a museum because you can easily admire beautiful pieces of art just by waking around and exploring the city.
Since Philly is both inexpensive (especially compared to Toronto standards) and has a vibrant art scene, it is no wonder why a lot of artists are attracted to the city. One artist that has made a substantial mark on the city is Isaiah Zagard, an award winning mosaic mural artist originally from Brooklyn. One of his most famous works is the Philly Magic Gardens, an immersive outdoor art installation that took over 14 years to finish. The finished product is a vibrant and impactful space made out of materials others may view as junk. Not only has he created this beautiful immersive masterpiece but he is also the visionary for 200 other mosaic wall pieces all over the city. Having gone to the Magic Gardens myself, twice, I can attest to how Instagram worthy of a destination it is and how even if you aren’t an ‘artsy’ person you will definitely enjoy visiting it. Tip: *Skip the line and buy your ticket ahead of time*
2) The Food
After dining at a couple of restaurants in Philly, and speaking to quite a few locals, it became quickly apparent that the city has a booming culinary scene. Many people were quick to offer up a list of their favourite spots to grab delicious grub, and having eaten at a couple great places myself, it’s clear that there is a passion for food in Philly.
One such place was Maison 208, a French-influenced New American restaurant in the heart of Midtown. With its retractable roof and inventive cocktails, its lounge and restaurant make for a great hang out spot to have a few delicious beverages and appetizers before going out.
Harp & Crown is another great spot in Midtown that was absolutely packed with young professionals. Its menu features delicious New American fare and after dinner you can go downstairs to their private bowling alley in the basement for more drinks and some 10 pin fun.
Midtown’s Mission Taqueria was my favourite lunch spot, and of course, I mean who doesn’t like tacos. They have a great assortment of traditional and innovated Mexican offerings and a great cocktail list. Margaritas anyone?
Root Restaurant + Wine Bar – this Fishtown (that’s the legit name for the neighbourhood, I did not make that up) was hands down my favourite restaurant in Philly. Over the four days that I was there I was most impressed with my meal at Root. The spice rubbed lamb chops I had were seasoned and cooked to perfection and were so juicy. The Pan Con Tomate with anchovies was so delicious I wanted to order it again. Definitely a great spot to have dinner and right in the heart of one of the liveliest neighbourhoods to hang out in on the weekend.
Reading Terminal Market is like St. Lawrence market but on steroids. Granted it’s much more catered towards ready to serve foods vs. produce, but it is fantastic. If you want to get your hands on a notorious Philly Cheesesteak sandwich or try a bunch of different cuisines and offerings all in one place, head there – its the perfect spot!
3) Cool Hotel
So, not to brag or anything, but I stayed in a super cool boutique style hotel when I was in Philly. The Kimpton Hotel Palomar was not only in a great location (smack in the heart of midtown) but also featured cool live music in the evenings and free wine everyday from 5-6! I mean, never have I ever! And yes I totally did take advantage, I mean I’m on vacation! They also had a free candy bar set out during the day and a grab and go coffee station every morning. Pretty cool if you ask me.
4) Party Central
Other than going to the bowling alley after dinner at Harp and Crown, there are some fun neighbourhoods and rooftops to hang out at in Philly. Want a great view of the city? Somewhere you can day drink even? Head to Assembly Rooftop Lounge. The crowd is a little mature but it’s a great spot to enjoy some rose while looking at a great view and getting cozy near a fire pit.
If Philly had a hipster neighbourhood, Fishtown would be it. And what do hipster neighbourhoods and nightlife usually have in common? Great bars. If you are looking for a casual place to hang out with a buzzing nightlife scene, you don’t have to go far in Fishtown. When I went there in the evening it was packed with people in their 20’s and 30’s celebrating the weekend and why not join in, you’re on vacation!
If you’ve never been to Philly, I definitely recommend at least a weekend trip. They definitely know how to have fun in that city and every ‘festival’ is just another reason for people to pour out onto the streets and enjoy the cities vibrant atmosphere. I hope you are inspired to add Philly to your bucket list and I of course would love to hear about your recommendations and discoveries below in the comment section or at soheila@SoheilaOnline.com where I can always be reached.
Until next time!