How to get Philly’s local flavor in one day

If you are seeking an urban travel destination that includes a one-of-a-kind view into America’s founding, plus unforgettable culinary experiences, then it is time to visit Philadelphia, even if you only have one day. America’s birthplace has must-see historical landmarks such as the Independence Hall, the United States Constitution Center and the Liberty Bell. The food is almost as well known, from the street vendors and cheesesteak joints, to the celebrity chef restaurants that require reservations six months in advance, there are delectable food options for everyone. Add to that the museums, music and neighborhoods, and it becomes clear that for a really short stay, some advance planning is needed.

You can take care of the headliners like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in one morning. They’re right next to each other. But after that, what’s your next move for an authentic Philly experience?

If the weather is cooperative, head south by a mile or two. Either take a long walk through ritzy Society Hill, where the two hundred year old town homes are sumptuously appointed within or grab a ride. Cross South Street, where the hippies used to meet, and grab your first cheesesteak (the longer you stay, the more you’ll need). Although a lot of the bohemian authenticity has melted away from South Street over the past few decades, Jim’s (4th & South) still serves a first class steak. If time or your nutritionist only allows for one steak, Jim’s is a fine choice.

From there, you keep going south. Seeing the civic pride of the old Italian men sitting on their front stoops is a tour de force of authenticity. Work your way west to 9th Street where the open air Italian Market still sells all a variety of artisanal cheeses, fresh vegetables and live chickens, just as it has for over a century.

Now it’s time to get some transportation to take you to West Philadelphia near the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. University City includes both Penn and Drexel and the neighborhood is richer for their putting a strong stamp on the area. Walk around just beyond the campuses’ reach and you will find one of the strongest and most involved communities in any Eastern Seaboard city. It’s a place where you can get unmatched regional cuisine, including West Indian, Ethiopian, Indian and more. 

The terrain changes as you head north, up a hill and past the nation’s oldest zoological gardens. Soon you find yourself in Fairmount Park, a monstrous conglomeration of green spaces woven together on either side of the narrow Schuylkill River. After the sunset, you can see the beautiful boathouses all lit up and reflecting in the water.

There is so much more to see and so many more cheesesteaks to eat, but that is enough for one day. You can check out a club or a show in Center City if you have the stamina, but when you come to Philadelphia, make time to get the flavor that can only be found off the beaten path.