Having a vistor to Penn can prove to be stressful. While I know the staples on campus, when a guest asks to explore greater Philadelphia, I find myself searching for activities.
If your buddy asks for foodie or touristy stops, here are ten places that my peers and I recommend.
For the Brunch Fanatic: Green Eggs Café
Let’s begin our tour with the world-renowned Green Eggs Café, known for its fierce advocacy and promotion of sustainability. Unfortunately, they do not sell actual green eggs and ham, but this cute cafe is a must–visit, rare, minimal waste environment with eclectic goodies ranging from cookie dough stuffed French toast to The Kitchen Sink Skillet.
A Sneak Peek of Accessible and Authentic Asian Cuisine
A short head in the west direction will land you in the hub of Asian cuisine, Chinatown, the go–to for excellent bubble tea and authentic Asian products. The poignant and savory smells that drift through the streets, coupled with the echos of traditional music and singing, offers an experience you will never forget. Some student favorites include Vivi’s Bubble Tea for fresh fruit and milk teas and Hippot, an all you can eat hot pot dining experience, promoting community bonding over a shared love of food. Don’t miss the chance to walk along the main street, there will often be impromptu lion dancing and celebratory festivals.
For the History Buffs: The Origins of America
A one–mile walk on Arch Street towards the east will lead you to Independence Hall. The surrounding parks offer a quiet respite for those who are long travelled or just looking to enjoy the (hopefully) nice weather outside. Make sure to visit the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the National Constitution Center. They are landmarks of American history and relics you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
The Center of Center City
Another landmark that is central to Philadelphia is City Hall, located smack in the very middle of Center City. You’ll often find events going on or speeches being made in the courtyard accessible to the public. It is a significant, Greek styled building that is essential for policy and law in Philadelphia. Built from 1871 to 1901 in Penn Square in Second Empire style, this granite–and–brick–walled government building cost over $24 million to construct and is a powerful emblem of the city.
Where Film and Art Meet
Rocky fan or not, no trip to Philadelphia is complete without at least a glimpse at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A striking building even from the outside, this Greek-style building houses over 240,000 pieces of artwork from armor to sculpture from Europe, the Americas, and Asia alike. The steps leading up to the building remind many of an immortal scene from the film Rocky. There are 72 in total made of stone, and climbing these serves as a metaphor for an underdog rising to challenge a seemingly insurmountable feat. At the bottom left of these stairs, there is a statue made of bronze originally used for the filming of Rocky III that is a popular photo–op. For those willing to make the climb, a tremendous view of the city awaits of Philadelphia City Hall, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and the Eakins Oval.
One Stop Food Shop
A staple of Philadelphia and a center of the vibrant cultural discourse is something you’ll hear mentioned a lot during your time at Penn: Reading Terminal. What used to be operated by the Philadelphia Railroad Company until its liquidation, this populous market is world renowned for its offerings in anything from cultural foods and fresh produce to crafts and ice cream by over one hundred merchants, two of which are descended from the original merchants from its founding in the 1800s. Personal favorites include the Peking duck, Nutella crepes, and chocolate covered cranberries, and this is also a great place to get a really good Philly cheesesteak.
Murals: A Vehicle for Dialogue, Change, and Justice in Philadelphia
As you stroll through Philly with your guest, keep an eye out for the murals. Originating with the Philadelphia Anti–Graffiti Network, the Mural Arts Project was established in Philly with the goal of redirecting the efforts of graffiti artists into fostering constructive and impactful change through art. The result was unprecedented, with murals sparking discourse on topics ranging from social justice to economic development, even earning the city the Innovation in American Government Award in 1991. A simple Google search will lead you to many self–guided mural tours, and I encourage you to check them out as you explore and learn more about this incredible city.
For Your Artsy Guest
For those interested in modern art and up and coming artists in Philadelphia, be sure to check out the Fringe Arts scene. Here, you will experience film screenings, beat poetry, and showcases by artists from all over the world. I personally had never been to an artist showcase before arriving here, and it was incredibly enriching to learn more about contemporary dance, animation, and acting and the ways new creative minds can combine them all!
Nostalgia You Never Knew You Needed
To top off your visit, don’t miss the chance to visit Penn’s Landing and Old City. Penn’s Landing is like many places in Philly you’ll notice, in that it commemorates an important aspect of the city’s long history. This special place celebrates the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, in 1682, though Penn’s Landing isn’t the actual original landing site. Old City is where William Penn and the first Quakers settled following their arrival in Pennsylvania. In addition to Independence Hall, it also features the Betsy Ross House and Elfreth’s Alley, along with countless other historic sites that are worth checking out. Especially at night, these two staples of the East Coast have almost Christmas vibes, with a thriving music scene, lucid street lights, and the buzz of excitement tangible all around. Whether you’re looking to find quality cuisine or bury yourself in a good book on the riverfront of the Delaware, this place is truly a must–see.