The NInja’s next city adventure was one we’d been itching to do for a while now – Philadelphia; also known as “The City of Brotherly Love”. Philly is steeped in American history and was once the capital of the United States!! It is the U.S’. first World Heritage City and is home to “America’s most historic square mile.” But there’s more to Philly than history, as the NInja soon found out ….
Philadelphia is very easy to get to. Aer Lingus operates daily flights direct from Dublin with fares starting from £200 each way including taxes and charges. The flights are operated by Aer Lingus’ Airbus A321neoLR (Long Range) its most sustainable long-haul aircraft which boasts greater fuel-efficiency and 50% reduction in noise footprint compared to previous generation aircraft
Flying to the U.S. with Aer Lingus, customers can experience the benefit of U.S. Immigration Pre-clearance before they depart which allows them to arrive into the U.S. like a domestic customer, avoiding any lengthy immigration queues.
The flight took off on time and in ONLY 8 hours 25 mins we touched down in Philadelphia International Airport. Arriving into Philadelphia International Airport and collecting our luggage was all very straight forward. We had decided to use Uber to get to our hotel from the airport ($20-$25). The waiting area was just across from the exit doors and in no time at all we were on our 20-minute ride to our hotel.
We stayed at the PHILADELPIA MARIOTT OLD CITY HOTEL. The hotel is a stone’s throw from the Delaware River and perfectly situated to explore the city. The staff were very friendly and helpful. The rooms are spacious and include coffee makers, fridges, in-room safes, 55″ flat screen TVs, luxurious bedding and modern bathrooms. The impressive lobby area has a bar, restaurant and a coffee bar – perfect for grabbing a coffee on the go. The fitness centre is also available 24-hours a day, so you won’t skip a beat with your exercise regime.
Philadelphia has been ranked as one of the most walkable cities in the United States and that was how we choose (mostly) to get about. The simple grid-street design makes the city so easy navigate. In addition, as you walk, you’ll notice color-coded directional signs that let you know what district you’re in and point you toward area attractions. Walking allowed us to see and do things we wouldn’t otherwise have come across.
However, if walking isn’t for you or you want a minute to catch your breath between attractions, there’s numerous other ways of navigating the city including the subway, taxis, Uber and Indego Bikes (Philly’s official bike share program).
As noted above, Philadelphia is undoubtedly best explored on foot, so who better to assist than The Constitutional Walking Tour; a 75-minute, 1.25 mile outside-walking tour which visits more than 20 of the most historic sites that Philly has to offer. Our guide for the morning was “V” (just like the letter!!!). He was enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable. Philadelphia was the initial Capital of the U.S. and V showed us the remains of President’s House which housed the first president of the U.S., George Washington. The tour’s other highlights included Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Old City Hall and the Second Bank of the United States.
We decided to delve a little deeper into some of the buildings that V had introduced us to. First up was Independence Hall, which is referred to as the birth place of the United States. In 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed here and eleven years later the United States Constitution was created and signed. We were treated to a 20-minute guided tour by a National Park Ranger, who told the fascinating stories of how these documents came into existence and showed us round the Assembly Room where the documents were signed.
NInja Tip – Timed tickets are required for entrance to Independence Hall, so make sure you have booked in advance. The cost is $1, but if you turn up without a ticket you may not get in that day.
Across the road we found ourselves face-to-face with the famous Liberty Bell. The bell, with its huge crack, is an important symbol of American freedom – historians believe it was rung in July 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was read – making it part of the first ever 4th of July celebrations!!! It’s free to visit, and the Liberty Bell Centre provides detailed information of the fascinating history of the bell.
A visit to Philly wouldn’t be complete without sampling the world-famous Philly Cheesesteak! Our eatery of choice was Campo’s – a deli with over 75 years of experience of making cheesesteaks. The food was out of this world and the cheesesteak is now a firm favourite with the NInja.
After lunch we shuffled over to Philadelphia’s Museum of Illusions. This is a one-of-a-kind attraction where you can lose yourself in the wonderful world of illusions!! There are more than 60 visual, educational and interactive exhibits featuring holograms, optical illusions, and immersive rooms that are designed to tease the senses and trick the mind. This is a great place to spend an hour or so – especially if you’ve got kids.
Returning to the real world, and a trip the National Constitution Center was just the ticket. Here we learnt about the greatest vision of human freedom in history – the American Constitution. Our favourite exhibit was Singers Hall which allows you to mingle with 42 life-size bronze statues of the Founding Father’s before signing the Constitution. We wrapped up our time here with a 360-degree live theatrical performance that told the story of the U.S. Constitution and the American quest for freedom.
Our final historical trip of the day was Museum of the American Revolution. The exhibitions housed here offer an inclusive picture of the American Revolution, including stories of enslaved and free Africans, Native Americans and women – in addition to the Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary War soldiers. The highlight of the tour was a multimedia experience which ended with a viewing of George Washington’s ACTUAL War Tent from the American Revolution! It was in this tent Washington slept and made world-changing decisions. It is extremely unusual for such an artefact to have been so well preserved.
We decided to finish our afternoon with a stroll along the Delaware River. This includes an area known as Penns Landing which is home to year-round attractions like the Independence Seaport Museum and lively outdoor spaces such as Cherry Street Pier and Race Street Pier. The area is packed with bars, restaurants and street vendors and offers unrivalled views of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and Camden Waterfront across the river in New Jersey. You’ll also encounter a variety of vessels and ships, including warships and a submarine. Our visit was made even better when we stumbled across a FREE tour of the Gazella. This ship was originally built in 1901 but has fallen into disrepair. However, she is currently being restored to her former glory by a group of hardworking volunteers. Those on board were only too eager to share stories of the ship and their hopes for her future.
For dinner, we visited the elegant (and delicious!) Dolce Italian Restaurant at W Hotel. The staff were really attentive, and we thoroughly enjoyed our Crab Risotto and Rib-Eye Steak. The cheesecake for dessert was one of the best I’d ever tasted. Highly recommended NInja eatery!
Then it was off to the notorious Eastern State Penitentiary, which once housed the infamous gangster, Al Capone. The Penitentiary closed in the 1970s but it has now been restored as a tourist attraction during the day…but every night during October & November it is home to the renowned “Halloween Nights”. This is an interactive experience featuring five haunted houses, themed bars and live entertainment. The haunted houses all have different themes (Delirium, Big Top, Machine Shop, Nightmares and The Crypt) and use Hollywood-quality sets, props, special makeup, custom soundtracks and over 200 talented performers per night!! The haunted houses are home to a variety of monsters, ghouls, the undead and goodness know what else, who will literally scare the life out of you!!!!
NInja Tip – for an even scarier experience make sure you “opt-in” for the interactive experience by wearing one of the readily available glow necklaces (no cost). Anyone wearing a glow necklace may be grabbed, sent into a hidden passage way or separated from their group!!!
This was a truly unique experience, yet still had time after for some “relaxation” and, as we had purchased the VIP tickets, we were able to enjoy a drink at Al Capone’s Speakeasy and listen to some (un)live singing from the ghoulish residents. We enjoyed a show from some very energetic dancing skeletons and the NInja lost his soul in a game of spooky Black Jack. This was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip, and if you visit Philadelphia around Halloween, please don’t miss it.
Our first destination were the iconic “Rocky Steps”, made famous by Sylvester Stallone’s character Rocky Balboa in the Rocky films. We decided to walk from our hotel and our 45-minute journey provided some unmissable photo opportunities, including the famous Philly “Love” sign, the Swann Memorial Fountain and Philadelphia City Hall with its 37-foot bronze statue of William Penn perched on top.
Upon reaching the “Rocky Steps” (which actually lead to the Philadelphia Museum of Art – but more on that later) we posed for some photos with a statue of Rocky Balboa with his arms aloft. We then turned on the Rocky theme music, full blast, and sprinted up the 72-steps just like the Italian Stallion himself – well almost!! After catching our breath and throwing a few shadow punches, our reward was a spectacular view of the Philly skyline – another epic photo opportunity!!
There was no time to rest as we had a date at the widely acclaimed Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. It was created by artist Isaiah Zagar who used handmade tiles, bottles, bicycle wheels, mirrors and international folk art to chronicle his life in an outside labyrinth sculpture garden. There are also two indoor galleries where you can enjoy Zagar’s art further and a well-stocked gift shop.
Lunchtime!!! We opted for another American classic; pizza! The authentic Alice Pizza and Restaurant was the location for our pitstop. The Margarita & Bacon and Salami pizzas were square in design and absolutely delicious!! You can sit in for a meal or simply grab a “slice” and go. They also have a fabulous offering of gelato for those with a sweet tooth and room for dessert!
Next up was a Mural Arts Philadelphia Walking Tour. In 1984 Mural Arts Philadelphia started an anti-graffiti campaign by replacing graffiti with street murals. Philly has grown to be an international leader in this area with over 4,000 works of community-based public art. Rich was our tour guide, and he was easy to listen to and his passion for the subject was evident. He took us to some of the most well-known and beautiful artwork in the city. It was fascinating to learn how communities are consulted before any mural is commissioned and how they contribute to the final piece of art. This was another great way to see the city and learn the stories behind some of Philly’s most recognizable murals.
Philadelphia residents are huge supporters of their sports’ teams and during our trip the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team secured their place in the World Series. You could feel the buzz around the city as the locals celebrated in style. Whilst we didn’t get to see the Phillies, we were extremely lucky to experience an NHL Ice Hockey game as the Philadelphia Flyers took on the San Jose Sharks. We arrived early and took in the atmosphere and marveled at the state-of-the-art Wells Fargo Center. There was so much food and drink choices (which we, of course, sampled), a restaurant with a view of the ice, and it even its own Tequila Bar!!! Unfortunately, the Sharks were too good for the Flyers on the night, running out 3-0 victors – but it was an unforgettable night out, perfect for all ages.
It was an early start on the final day, and we headed straight to the historic Reading Terminal Market for some breakfast. The market is home to over 80 merchants who offer the best of Philadelphia’s famous specialities, as well as an unparalleled variety of international cuisine. After enjoying a bite to eat you can take home a myriad of items, including fresh local groceries, uniquely themed souvenirs and Philadelphia based cook books. We dined at the Dutch Eating Place and enjoyed pancakes, eggs, potatoes and scrapple (a mush of cornmeal, pigs’ heads, hooves, hearts, livers, tongues etc.!!!!). I’ll let you make your own mind up on the scrapple, but it’s considered a rite of passage for Philly citizens.
We then made our way to the Barnes Foundation, which houses one of the world’s most impressive private collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modern art. The collection includes works from Cezanne, Renoir, Picasso, Matisse and Van Gogh. There is currently a special exhibition “Modigliani Up Close” which explores Amedeo Modigliani’s working methods and materials. The exhibition runs to 29 January 2023 and is unique opportunity to see all Modigliani’s work in one place.
NInja Tip –when you are in the gallery, go to barnesfoc.us on your mobile phone and point it at a work of art; your phone will recognize it and provide further information about it.
Then it was back to Eastern State Penitentiary which welcomes 220,000 visitors each year!!! There were no scary monsters this time, but our visit was no less fascinating. Eastern State was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world and its spider-design has been copied by more than 300 prisons worldwide (including the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast!). It was operational from 1829 – 1971 and has hosted 1,000s of lawbreakers including bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton, Victor “Babe” Andreoli and “Scarface” Al Capone. Initially, “residents” were kept in total isolation in the 8 x 12 feet cells with their own private outside space of roughly the same size.
There is an excellent Audio Tour voiced by actor Steve Buscemi included in the ticket price and the NInja would highly recommend it. The tour takes you deep into the prison visiting the prisoners’ cells, the death row cellblock, the watchtower and the exercise yard. It provides detailed facts on life in the prison, infamous inmates, the sports played and attempted escapes. The audio tour includes the actual voices of guards and prisoners who talk about their memories of their time at East State. To finish off our visit, we spent some time in the thought-provoking Information Building. You are asked you to consider if you have ever broken the law and to make a written confession – be very careful with your answer, in case you are invited to stay a little longer than you intended!!!!
Having made a successful escape from Eastern State, we decided it was time to sample a real American hamburger. The multi-award-winning Sonny’s Famous Steaks came highly recommended and didn’t disappoint. Our burger and fries were absolutely delicious, and we’d recommend you include this on any visit to Philly.
Our after-lunch treat was a visit to the Mutter Museum. This is one of the most unique and interesting museums in the US, featuring collections of medical oddities, wax models, antique medical equipment anatomical and pathological specimens, and more. We got to see preserved Siamese twins, the “mega colon”, the Soap Lady and slices of Albert Einstein’s brain!!! The museum helps the public understand the mysteries and beauty of the human body, while appreciating the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease.
We wrapped up our Philly adventure with a climb back up the “Rocky Steps”, but this time we weren’t there for the movie nostalgia. The steps are the gateway to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the US’s oldest art museums and it has long been recognized as one of its finest. The collection of more than 200,000 objects spanning 2,000 years reflects the unique history of the U.S. and the passions of generations of Philadelphia collectors. There are works from Claude Monet, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, and they proudly own “Vase with Twelve Sunflowers”, by Vincent Van Gogh. This is a must for all you art buffs!!!
So would the NInja recommend Philadelphia as a USA City Break destination? Absolutely!!!
What a fantastic destination for a short break. We crammed a lot into our three days, but there was so much more we wanted to do, but just didn’t have the time. It was a special feeling to be in a city which played such a pivotal role in the formation of the United States of America. The citizens were friendly and welcoming, and the various (walk able!) districts and neighbourhoods all felt safe as we walked around them.
Whilst Philadelphia is an absolute paradise for history boffins, there was so much more to it than that, including art museums, family attractions, iconic landmarks, parks & promenades, fabulous restaurants, vibrant nightlife, endless shopping and of course the world famous sports’ teams #GoPhillies ….. ALSO …. its a LOT more kind on the wallet than other big USA cities!
You can check out the FULL highlights from this NInja trip over on the instagram page – on the homepage under the PHILADELPHIA Highlights – CLICK HERE
Why not visit your LOCAL NInja travel agency and ask them to plan your next NInja adventure to Philadelphia!! You can contact them via Holiday NInja CLICK HERE and we can easily make that connection for you!!
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