What is Philadelphia known for? Philadelphia is most famous for the Liberty Bell, Rocky, cheesesteaks, and the Mummers. Additionally, it is known for its revolutionary history in general, the top-notch Philadelphia Orchestra, and being the “City of Brotherly Love”. Any visitor to this city, the fifth largest in the United States, will have plenty to see and do.
Read on to learn about these things Philadelphia is famous for, and more!
1. City Hall & the William Penn Statue
Folks know Philadelphia for history, and part of that includes its founder, everyone’s favorite Quaker, William Penn.
The state takes his name, with Pennsylvania meaning literally, “Penns Woods”. A bronze Calder statue of Penn stands sentry-like atop the City Hall building, guarding the “City of Brotherly Love”. (Since we’ve already started a lesson on word derivation, the root “philos” means love– but not the romantic kind, the brotherly kind!)
City Hall is a designated landmark and for many years no building in the city was permitted to soar beyond the top of Billy Penn’s hat. However, the skyscraper Liberty Place One broke this rule in 1986. The baroque City Hall building exemplifies the French architecture of the period and is a beautiful sight.
2. Independence Hall
Philadelphia is known for history on both the local and national level. Our country once considered Philly its capital. Independence Hall is the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Because of this, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A statue of George Washington welcomes tourists at the front of the pretty and historic building, which is now part of the fantastic Independence National Historic Park.
3. The Liberty Bell
While the French cast the Liberty Bell, the abolitionists named it, and the bell’s meaning originally pertained to slavery. The Bell traveled the nation conveying this message before folks rung it in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) for many years.
The inscription is from the King James version the Holy Bible, and the Bell now hangs across the street at Independence National Historical Park. Moreover, it tops off Liberty Bell Center, a space dedicated to the value of freedom.
Many feel the best part of the Bell is its imperfection– who would be able to identify the Liberty Bell without its crack? While no living being has heard it ring, you can hear what it probably sounded like here. Finally, don’t confuse bells with belles. The Liberty Belles are the enthusiastic, athletic cheerleaders who beautify the sidelines at Eagles football games.
Philadelphia is known for its vibrant murals. Mural Arts began in 1984 as a way to combat graffiti, and did it ever! The project turned Philly into a massive outdoor arts gallery, the likes of which even British royalty have visited. And if it’s good enough for Prince Charles, it’s good enough for me!
Founders believe that “art ignites change” and married the efforts of community members with those of established painters to create these larger-than-life works. Book a professional tour or visit the website and go it on your own. The latter is my preference, due to the sheer number of masterpieces now scaling the city’s walls. I grew up near Philly and view a different mural every time I visit home. It never gets old. The brainchild of Jane Golden, the program still evolves. In fact, the organization will soon host a virtual “Draw & Drink”. Let’s get the hashtag #phillymuralselfie trending!
5. Colorful Characters from History
Since it was once the capital, many U.S. founders lived in Philadelphia. However, Betsy Ross and Benjamin Franklin did important work unrelated to the government. Philadelphians named bridges after both patriots.
Betsy Ross is America’s favorite seamstress. At the Betsy Ross House, you’ll learn she sewed the original American flag. She’s certainly a colorful character, those colors being red, white, and blue! Influential in government, science, music, and writing,
Franklin was colorful in a different way. Nicknamed “Bawdy Ben” for giving advice on mistresses, some say he often went to France not because he was the ambassador, but because he liked French women. See him on the Philly Franks mural, or visit the Benjamin Franklin Museum for his history. For science, pretend you’re blood by walking through the Franklin Institute’s gigantic heart– my favorite childhood field trip! Now, I prefer the colon at the Mütter Museum of Medical Anomalies.
6. Colorful Characters from Sports
While Philadelphians love Pope Francis, fictional Rocky Balboa is their unofficial patron saint. In bicentennial celebration, “Rocky” opened in 1976. My aunt saw its Philadelphia debut and said the entire teary-eyed audience stood up and applauded the end as “Gonna Fly Now” played. Indeed, the story is moving.
Visitors still triumphantly ascend the Museum of Art’s “Rocky Steps”, and Sylvester Stallone’s character is immortalized in sculpture on the grounds. If the bicentennial wasn’t reason enough for brotherly love, the Flyers had recently won the Stanley Cup. Today, their mascot “Gritty” is another colorful character– orange, like the Flyers uniform. Furry and sassy, he pulls many a prank.
Philly also loves their superbowl-winning Eagles. At the parade, player Jason Kelce donned Mummer’s gear to revelers’ delight, giving a legendary speech. However, Kelce was not MVP that year. The honor went to Nick Foles, called “St. Nick” by Philadelphians. Move over, Rocky!
7. Philly Franks
A French franc, chicken man Frank Purdue, Frank Burns, from popular sitcom “M*A*S*H”, and Tug McGraw, who helped the 1980 Phillies win the World Series (his real name was Frank) all appear in the “Philly Franks” mural.
The original “Phillies Franks” were of course, frankfurters sold under that name, and endorsed in commercials by members of the city’s baseball team. The hot dog too, has a spot on the side of Dirty Frank’s Bar. Artist David McShane added Pope Francis to the blank space in anticipation of his coming to Philadelphia. Indeed, the 2015 papal visit was truly one of the city’s best moments.
Can you guess the other Franks pictured? Here’s a hint: one of them is an architect. These murals were designed to prompt an interactive experience in which viewers guess the 20+ individuals honored in the extensive mural, as well as their connection to Philly.
8. Pope Francis
Having attended a Philly-area Catholic high school, I can attest to the fact that the city teems with proud Italian Catholics. And never were they, along with much of the city, prouder than when Pope Francis visited. For instance, though the Pope visited in 2015, people talk about it like it was yesterday!
Make sure to pose with the lifelike cardboard figure of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church when you’re purchasing tickets at Independence National Historical Park. Later, visit the nearby National Liberty Museum to see this painting of the smiling priest, along with other outstanding works of art. The National Liberty Museum has four stories of fascinating exhibits, along with a lovely gift store.
9. High-end Dining
Philadelphia is known for its high-end dining. Though the five-star restaurant Le Bec Fin closed in 2013 after a half-century in operation, Philadelphia is large and cosmopolitan enough to have weathered the change well.
It has great Italian restaurants– if you refer to the pasta sauce at one of them, call it “gravy,” as the city’s Italians do. For moderate to upscale dining, I like The Parc, and Vedge. The Parc is such a classic French bistro that if you were blindfolded and taken there, you would never guess you weren’t perched on your rattan chair in the middle of Paris, waiting for a “coupe de champagne”. Select any one of their brasserie classics and enjoy it outside, across from verdant Rittenhouse Square, one of the oldest parks in the city. On the other hand, Vedge sits in a brownstone designed by “Philly’s Architect” Frank Furness, whose floral drawing is featured in the Philly Franks mural.
Wonderful, inexpensive food abounds in Philly. Soft pretzels aren’t as well-known as cheesesteaks but they’re thick, doughy, and salty, and unlike either hard or Bavarian pretzels sold on Munich streets. Top a couple with mustard for a light lunch.
Alternatively, visit Reading Terminal Market, where nearby Lancaster County’s Amish sell superior apple butter, peanut butter, and chicken. The Italian Market has products difficult to find outside of Italy.
The quintessential Philly food, synonymous with the city, is a cheesesteak. Bits of tender beef fill loaves of local Italian bread, the texture of which I’ve not found elsewhere. Most advise orange cheese, but I like white American. Fried onions are optional.
Philadelphia is also known for “hoagie”, which is what locals call a submarine sandwich. That is, one topped by sliced lettuce, tomatoes and onions. A cheesesteak hoagie has this too. Try Tony Luke’s or Jim’s Steaks.
11. The Mummers
Started more than a century ago, Philadelphia is famous for the Mummers Parade, a unique and elaborate way to ring in the new year. On the first of January, musicians and dancers sport fancy customs and strut down Broad Street (along with Market Street, it’s one of the main thoroughfares in the city). The floats accompanying them are incredibly decorated. All of this is not just to entertain and celebrate, but to compete to win awards in five divisions. The Mummers’ famous song is the American folk tune Dem Golden Slippers.
Because you may not be in the City of Brotherly Love on New Year’s Day, Philly offers the Mummers Museum, open year-round, as a way to take in all of the finery and history of these colorful urban ambassadors.
12. The City of Brotherly Love
Originally called the “Quaker City,” William Penn named Philadelphia in homage to the religion’s belief in love and tolerance. It quickly became known as the “City of Brotherly Love”. So, the “Love Sculpture” (a picture of which graces the cover of 70’s bestseller “Love Story”) came to Philadelphia for the 1976 bicentennial.
After America’s 200th birthday, the city returned the sculpture. However, residents missed it so much that Philly purchased the iconic work. It sits in Love Park, designed by area architect Edmund Bacon.
If you’re playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” Edmund is the first degree– that is to say, a relative. He is the father of the famed actor. Like me, Kevin Bacon is native to the Philly area, a highlight of my adolescence being when my friend exercised next to him at a Philadelphia gym, during the height of his popularity. (He looks even better in person!)
13. The Philadelphia Orchestra
The famous Philadelphia Orchestra is on par with greats like the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In a city created largely by immigrants from Italy, the Orchestra was long conducted by one of the country’s most beloved sons, Riccardo Muti.
Prepare to visit the city by watching a fabulous documentary on these musicians called “Music from the Inside Out“. Then hear them with top-notch acoustics at the modern Kimmel Center. However, my favorite way to watch is on a hill with a picnic, at their summer venue, the Mann Music Center. There is no better cheap date than listening to the Orchestra from a blanket under the stars and gazing at the skyline on a warm evening. On the way, take the Strawberry Mansion Bridge by Fairmount Park and enjoy scenic views of Boathouse Row. Lit up at night, it’s a view Philly is known for.
14. The Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Philadelphia Museum of Art sits atop “the Rocky steps” with Fairmount Park one side, and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on another. It has an extensive collection, especially of impressionist works. For example, Monets, Manets, Renoirs, all hang in this well-known place.
The nearby Rodin Museum showcases a ton of sculptures, not the least of which is Philly’s version of “The Thinker” on the outside grounds. The Thinker isn’t as popular as the Rocky statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. However, he has suffered far fewer concussions! Also in the area, visit the Barnes Museum for post-impressionist and modernist works.
15. The Comcast Building
Just like Chicago has the Willis Tower, Philadelphia has the Comcast Building. When the city cast aside the unspoken rule that no building’s height could exceed City Hall’s, companies headquartered in Philadelphia moved to stunning skyscrapers that turned the cityscape modern. Cable giant Comcast was the most famous of them.
While the building beautifies the skyline from the outside with its reflective blue facade, the inside of the Comcast Center wows, too. Their annual holiday show is a feast for the eyes and ears, and provides a free haven for cold shoppers passing by. Additionally, the headquarters of food industry champion, Aramark, occupies a beautiful downtown skyscraper.
Can you think of other things Philadelphia is known for? Share it in the comment box below.