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How Many Days Do You Need to Visit Philadelphia?

For first-time visitors, 3 days in Philadelphia, a vibrant city to discover, is optimal. Filled with attractions that cater to pretty much every type of visitor imaginable, whether you’re into food, culture, history or all of the above, there’s a wealth of activities to choose from for a Philly weekend getaway. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll run out of time before you run out of fun things to do in Philadelphia.
There is so much to see and things to do in Philadelphia that I put together the following guide to help you spend the best 3 days in Philadelphia.

Things to do Philadelphia?

After all, I was under the impression that Philly was only about soft pretzels, cheesesteak sandwiches, and a historic cracked bell.  As a matter of fact, visiting Philadelphia almost got skipped on the way to Winchester, Va for a house sitting house sitting assignmentUndoubtedly, something had eluded me about Philly. Read on to get the Philadelphia landmarks, free things to do and the top tourist attractions to see in this epic historic city.

This post is aimed to offer a guide of activities to enjoy in Philadelphia during a 2-3 day escapade.  My time in Philly was from early Friday afternoon, heading out Sunday after lunch.

Here’s what you will get from this post

Table of contents

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If you’re as thrifty a traveler as I am, you’ll enjoy the many money-saving opportunities throughout the many things to do in Philadelphia.

When it comes to free things to do in Philadelphia, you’ll be impressed with the multitude of free museums entries and activities across town. Furthermore, you can enjoy over 300 BYOB (bring your own booze) restaurants which offer every type of dish imaginable, now that’s another fabulous way to save money! From Italian to Mexican and typical local fare, you’re sure to fill your belly while still balancing your budget. In addition, the city of Philadelphia surpassed my “getting around” transit expectations with a wide range of options for weekend visitors.

Historic District 

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In the land of the free and the home of the brave, few other American cities have played such an important part in the revolution against Great Britain.

The rebellious attitude of this stronghold can still be felt in the city of brotherly love, the actual place where the Declaration of Independence was signed. As you start exploring Philadelphia’s old town, it doesn’t take long to realize that you are in the centre of the birthplace of the United States of America.

First Day of your 3 Days in Philadelphia

From all of the city’s neighborhoods, I chose to stay in the Society Hill sector, adjacent to the historic district, a great choice to better understand the roots and making of Philly. There are many lodging options in this district, but as a first-time visitor, I’m glad to have stayed at the Hilton at Penn’s Landing – It was perfectly located on the Delaware Riverfront, which offers an abundance of nighttime activities, with the added benefit of having the Independence Seaport Museum at your doorstep.

If you happen to choose to lodge in the historic district, you’ll be right in the thick of it, ready to explore many of the surrounding Philadelphia landmarks and attractions, while still, only a stone’s throw away from Penn’s Landing. The historical part of the city provides visitors with a wealth of information about what took place in Independence Hall back on July 4, 1776. Does that ring a bell?
See Hilton Penn’s Landing Latest Rates 

Independence Hall & Liberty Bell / Elfreth’s Alley

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Cobblestone underfoot, start your weekend getaway in Philadelphia by heading to Elfreth’s Alley, America’s oldest continuously inhabited street. Since 1713, residents have occupied this quaint little alleyway, and to this day, 29 of the 32 houses remain private residences. Guided tours and a museum visit are available for a small $5 fee.

When you’re done taking pictures, head over to Market Street, the central avenue of the old city, you’ll find many restaurant options to grab some lunch and hopefully enjoy a pint of Yards Ale while you’re at it, a tasty local brew we tried.
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Continue a few streets northwards to the Independence National Historic Park. Begin with a free visit to the State House Bell, which was later renamed the Liberty Bell by the abolitionists, an emblem which was also adopted by the suffragettes as their symbol of empowerment. Hopefully, the lines won’t be too long as once inside, you can expect to spend about 45-60 minutes touring the exhibits and then taking your picture next to the famed bell.

Across the street, you can also explore Independence Hall for free, to witness where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed. The ranger-guided tours run every 15 minutes or so, which is always a great option.

Insider Tip: Another free thing to do in Philly is interacting with the Park Rangers. They are there to explain, educate and sometimes provide informative discussions. So go ahead and ask them questions, they’re there to help you understand more about what it is you’ve come to see here in Philly.

Booking Tip: Reserve a timed ticket for your Independence Hall visit at the Independence Visitors Center or go online ($1.50 reservation fee). No tickets are required in Jan-Feb www.nps.gov/inde   phlvisitorcenter.com

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 If you’d prefer a guided approach, there are a number of tours that can be booked as well. The two hour Founding Fathers Tour of Philadelphia History Tour lets you view the Liberty Bell and see George Washington’s home, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Betsy Ross House, Christ Church, Old City Hall, Franklin Court and more…

BOOK TOUR HERE

Museum of the American Revolution

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Learn everything about what ignited the independence revolution at the recently opened Museum of the American Revolution. It commemorates people from all walks of life that participated in this nation’s stance against the then, superpower of England. You’ll learn about sacrifice, struggle, and the fight to create the United States, where a nation of freedom was born right here in Philadelphia.

Many well-appointed exhibits, some of which could compete with Madame Tussauds most elaborate wax figures, give in-depth information about the lands controlled and claimed by the British, including the taxation system set forth with stamps.
The George Washington’s Headquarters flag, which happens to be one of the earliest surviving 13 star American flags is on display JUST for flag day (June 14th in the US). Protected from the light, under thick curtains, it’s on display for only a few minutes at a time for you to view on that special day. I was lucky enough to view of it for a few seconds, just long enough to snap a pic of it.
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Did you know? Relatively small compared to the larger flags carried by Revolutionary-era infantry units, the headquarters’ flag size made it suitable to be used by a horse-riding escort or to be flown from a pole over or near General Washington’s War Tent.

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Tip: Memorial Day to Labor day, history buffs of all ages can enjoy storytelling at the “Once Upon a Nation” benches – Free Stories 11 am- 4 pm at 13 different locations. historicphiladelphia.org

If you have some additional time for more history on your first day, cross the street to the nearby Benjamin Franklin Museum, yet another affordable museum with a low $5 entry fee. Once inside, you’ll connect and learn about this great inventor and philosopher, one of the nation’s most illustrious founding fathers. Philadelphia is truly a historic epicenter! 

Spruce Street Harbour Park / Riverfront

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Photo Credit ~ Visit Philadelphia®

In the evening, may I suggest grabbing supper in the vicinity of Chestnut and 2nd Street, then wander through the Spruce Street Harbor Park and enjoy walking around this buzzing part of the riverfront. People watching is on the agenda here as you intertwine with locals and tourists alike. The ID verification checkpoints at the different entry gates control this outdoor “Beer Garden” environment, one that lets you enjoy a relaxing evening on the waterfront – Craft beer in hand. 
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This area is all about people relaxing in hammocks or on Adirondacks chairs that are scattered about, eating food from the many on-site stalls, sipping a glass of beer or wine from a number of authorized vendors, all while being under the charm of the twinkled LED lights strewn about in the surrounding trees. This place is a gem, a truly magnificent area to spend the evening. Witnessing just how open Philly was, as the many different cultural denominations, communities and orientations converged in this one great place, this was the real Philly to me, and I loved it – a lot!

Second of 3 Days in Philadelphia

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Getting Around in Philly

For travellers flying in or those wanting to leave their vehicle parked while in town, getting around in Philadelphia is easy peasy. The city grid is laid out from North/South by numbered streets and East/West with older streets bearing a “Tree” name configuration which makes it a breeze to navigate. Chestnut Street here we come… You can thank William Penn for helping you get your bearings, he’s the founding father of the city who also happens to stand tall facing Northeast atop City Hall.

Even though Philly is voted as one of the top 5 most walkable cities in the nation, you’ll find many local transportation options available to you. The local SEPTA buses offer a $12 / 1-day ticket – which includes their buses, trolleys, subways, and even the commuter regional rail system. 

My favourite though, was the PHLASH, a Hop-On Hop-Off type bus. This purple people mover loops the downtown core on a 15-minute interval which gets you to many, if not all of the city’s points of interest. Furthermore, it’s yours to ride as much as you want for just $5 a day – from 10 am till 6 pm which is simply brilliant. Rather peddle around town? IndeGo bikes are also a good option, ready to pick up and go. For longer runs, taxis and Ubers are also easy to flag down or order online. Whatever mode of transportation you fancy, you’ll find transit options to suit your style in Philly.
With these options in mind, making your way North of the center of the City, as to start the second day of your weekend getaway won’t be an issue! Head to Fairmount/Brewerytown. Located by the Schuylkill river bank, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway which also happens to be nicknamed the “Art Museum area,” it’s a great starting point to your second day. If you’re into art and culture, you’re in for a real treat in this part of town!
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Hopping on the PHLASH from Society Hill will get you to the art sector in a flash, pun intended. The ride took a mere 10 minutes to cover 7 of the 20 stops that are available on the loop. The hardest part for us was choosing, which of the magnificent museums to explore, as there are so many to choose from. FYI, the PHLASH loop makes a very similar circuit as “Big Buses” do, all at a significantly lower price, but obviously, you’ll have to forego the tour bus style narration along the way.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the largest in the country is located at #10 stop. A few more stops will bring you on the other side of this renovated Frank Gehry building, to the seventy-two steps made famous in the Rocky movie franchise.

View Center City Map Here

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Insider Tips: The Philadelphia Museum of Art Tickets are good for two consecutive days, and it’s good to note that they also provide access to the nearby Rodin Museum. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is open after hours on Friday nights, offering live music, cocktails and light bites from 5 pm to 8h45pm.

Also, there is a great combo discount this summer for two important art museums – the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Barnes Foundation. Save here!

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Run or walk up, then raise those fists in the air as to mimic the iconic achievement of the famed boxing legend. You’ll also get to pose in front of the Rocky tribute statue, located to the right, in a nicely shaded area just at the bottom of the steps. The line, if there happens to be one is worth the wait, as countless fans strut their stuff for a memorable Philly pic beside the bronze boxer’s legendary grandeur.

Art Museum Area & Barnes Foundation

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The Barnes Foundation’s discreet entrance

From the vast array of museums to explore, I opted to visit the exquisite Barnes Foundation gallery which is located at Logan Square. At these square’s crossroads, you can also find the Franklin Institute, a stunning science museum and the Rodin Museum. The Barnes was the priciest of our weekend activities at $30 pp., but well worth the price of admission to view one of the biggest Impressionists and Post-Impressionists collections in the world, all under one roof. The impressive collection holds 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 16 Modiglianis and 7 Van Goghs and so many more!
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The contemporary-looking building protects the private collection of Dr Barnes, who had very specific criteria in his will, on how he wanted the galleries maintained and curated. A lover of art and one who happened to be friends with Renoir’s son Jean, this wealthy doctor amassed what is an incredible private collection at the beginning of the last century.

This visit is a must do if you enjoy Impressionists as much as we do. In the mood for some three-dimensional art after your gallery tour… Gaze at the outstanding outside sculptures on displays at the Rodin Museum. It is the most comprehensive collection of Rodin’s works outside of Paris, which also happens to be just across the street from the Barnes.
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Insider Tip: If you like your tours a bit more gritty, may we suggest the Eastern State Penitentiary, a legendary place where Al Capone was once locked up. The old pen was also once considered amongst the most famous and also the most expensive prisons in the world. Step right in… Your cell awaits!

City Hall & Love Park 

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Can you spot the William Penn 37ft bronze statue atop the City Hall tower?

Continuing southward, back towards the Centre City – the name of Philly’s Downtown area – get off to explore City Hall, the worlds largest all-masonry municipal building. We wanted to catch a 360° view with the City Hall Tower Tour, but they were sold out when we got there. Tickets are scheduled, permitting only 4 visitors at a time. Another option if you want to catch one of the best views of the city is to visit the One Liberty Observation Deck – Get your tickets here… 

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Lucky for you lovers, City Hall happens to be in the vicinity of the Love Park where Philadelphia’s Love & Amor sculpture awaits for you to take another iconic Philly picture. We were lucky enough to witness a marriage proposal on the spot, the gent on his knees with a ring in hand… Two mini-bottles of Champagne, ready to toast his new fiancé. Bystander Jos, of Love Now Media Lovenowmedia.com, informed us that this seemed to be a trend in the making, as this was the second proposal of that day, Philadelphia is truly the city of love.

Insider Tip: Order your tickets online for the City Hall Tower observation deck (only 4 people at a time) City Hall Tower Tour Tours are available every 15 minutes, weather and capacity permitting. Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.-4:15 p.m. and select Saturdays, 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Buy Tickets $8

Reading Terminal Market

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A visit to Philly wouldn’t feel complete without a stop at one of America’s oldest public markets, the Reading – pronounced “RED-ing” Terminal Market. Open since 1893, this foodie’s paradise has a wide selection, offering some of the finest local produce, great meats, seafood, an abundance of cheese and more. In addition to these merchants, you’ll find a wide variety of diner-style stalls, some with stools, perfect for a quick on-the-go bite. You can read an in-depth article about the market here.
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While at the Reading Market, try Philly’s traditional soft pretzels or how about a pulled pork sandwich with sharp provolone and broccolini at Tommy Dinic’s, voted the best sandwich of the city by some. A great lunch option, this venue will keep your lunch budget in check.

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Insider Tip: 2 HOUR Discount Parking With $10 Market Purchase & Validation at Merchant. View all the merchants here 

Admiral’s Tavern / Independence Seaport Museum

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Topped up on food, head back to the riverfront to enjoy the late day harbour views. In summer, the Independence Seaport Museum offers special admission to two historic warships, including a WWII submarine for $8 after 5 pm.

Drinking age permitting, this entry also grants you access to the Admiral Tavern atop the USS Olympia, an actual US Navy flagship steel cruiser from 1885 to 1922. After your tour of both ships, enjoy a cocktail while taking in the view of the Ben Franklin Bridge and the riverfront which should be getting into gear for the night.
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Dinner options on a Saturday evening are plentiful… You could contemplate heading over to the iconic Jim’s, Pat or Geno’s for a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich or do what we did, and opt for a light supper at a Farmicia, a cosy mid-range restaurant in the historic district. The Mediterranean fare on the menu, featuring generous salads was exactly what we needed after having spent, yet another spectacular day of eating and exploring Philadelphia.

Last Day of 3 Days in Philadelphia

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Credits ~ Photo by C. Smyth for VISIT PHILADELPHIA® 

South Philly / Magic Gardens

Get a few extra winks, sleep in a bit before making your way to South Philly, this time to the Philadelphia Magic Gardens, an extraordinary eclectic mosaic creation of artist Isaiah Zagar, compiling Mexican pottery, broken dishes and folk art, this place is not to be missed.

It’s also well worth noting that the East Passyunk Avenue area is well-known for its Italian roots and dining scene. Home to Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steak, making it THE place to indulge in the city’s emblematic sandwich… The Philly Cheesesteak. 

A fun way to visit the area and get to eat at Geno’s is on this Segway tour, yet another fabulous way of getting around!

Did you know that an original Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich comes with Cheez Wiz? Order it like a local by asking “wiz wit” if you want Cheese Wiz and fried onions or “wiz without” for no onions.

Where to Stay in Philadelphia 

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The Spruce Street Harbour Park with the Hilton Penn’s Landing on the edge of the riverfront

I loved my stay at Hilton Penn’s Landing and highly recommend it for your weekend getaway in Philadelphia. View the rates for the Hilton Penn’s Landing.

Here are few other recommendations with great reviews in the vicinity of the Old City.

The Morris House: A National Historic Landmark built in 1787, the Morris House Hotel is located across the street from Washington Square, just outside of the Historic District. A true respite from busy city life, the European-style bed and breakfast including a library, a celebrated fine-dining restaurant and a nestled-away outdoor courtyard. View the rates for the Morris House

The Sheraton Society Hill: Very close to Independence Hall. The hotel’s amenities include an indoor pool and a restaurant, which serves contemporary dishes. View the rates for Sheraton Society Hill

This concludes a wonderful weekend getaway in Philadelphia. I certainly recommend this historic city to travellers looking for a fun place to go and what happens to be quite the cultural destination. I can’t wait to come back, as there are so many things we still need to see, taste and explore in Philadelphia.

Check the Events Happening This Weekend in Philadelphia and bookmark Visit Philly to get the latest news and promotions.

I kindly thank the Visit Philly Bureau for hosting us to facilitate this article.  As always all opinions are my own.

Ever had a weekend in Philadelphia?
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