12 Hours in Philadelphia: The Whirlwind Tour
You might have noticed that various social media-ing and blog posting has been rather sporadic lately, but do not fear as there should be far more coming your way. I've been spending my time in a different continent to usual - North America. As a rather exciting Summer holiday, my family have taken up residence with slightly more extended family in Pennsylvania, and of course, what better day trip than to have a whirlwind visit to Philadelphia.
As our base in Penn is fairly rural (we're in Oxford), my family have rented a car for the time we're here so we drove in. However, as Philadelphia is a huge city, it has it's own International airport and a myriad of cheap-as-chips bus and slightly more expensive Train options.
If you do choose to drive, I'd highly recommend booking parking in advance - we parked in the Convention centre parking which was central and only $21 for the day (9am-9pm). Driving wise, it wasn't too difficult as the city is incredibly close to Interstate 95.
Once we arrived, we parked up and opted for a Hop on Hop Off bus (there are several options but we went with Big Bus Tours) because we were tight on time. We've used open-top bus tours like these in several places such as Paris and they're ideal. Unlike cities like London, the Philadelphia tourist attractions are really spread out and aren't easy to walk between. The bus route takes an hour and a half all-in-all but is ideal as you don't have to worry about getting places. When we went, it was about 31 degrees so having a bus to not only cool yourself down but also have a rest was exactly what we needed! I'd highly recommend booking a bus tour online and having a look at the route and planning the attractions accordingly. Here's how we did it.
Eastern State Penitentiary.
This was our first stop for the day as it was the furthest out of the city. As this was ticketed and cost about $14 for an adult, we did this first thing so that we didn't have to cut it short. We stayed there for about two hours but you could honestly stay the entire day. The prison is one of the most expensive and famous prisons in the USA and once housed the infamous Al Capone! If you're not too interested in the historic side, you can check out the parts of the prison that featured in famous movies. This was my favourite attraction that we visited as I love a good prison! There's an awesome and detailed audio guide voiced by Steve Buscemi that comes with the price and is well worth using. Find out more details on their website here.
Philadelphia Museum of Art (and the Rocky Steps).
Unfortunately, as we visited on a Monday, the museum was closed but that didn't stop us snapping a few pictures of the Museum and the infamous Rocky steps! The Museum was on the stop after the Penitentiary and houses a famous statue of Rocky as well as an abundance of Art. My family are huge museum fans (maybe not so much my Dad...) but had it been open, then we'd definitely have visited. The museum is not only iconic for it's exhibitions, but is well worth a visit just to pose with the Rocky statue!
The Barnes Foundation
As the Art museum was closed, we chose to visit the stunning Barnes Foundation instead. Located across the junction from The Franklin Institute, the Foundation, closed on Tuesdays, is not only stunning from an architectural perspective but houses incredible art from the likes of Renoir to Picasso. Unlike many art museums, the displays almost look like a gallery wall and are unlabelled! (However if you're an art buff, don't fear as there are detailed guides that label the art). Tickets are pricey for adults ($25 & $10 for kids) but if you're a student, tickets are free. But if this isn't in your price range, I'd highly recommend a visit simply to marvel at the building.
The Liberty Bell.
One of the most famous attractions in Philadelphia, has to be the Liberty Bell. Another free attraction for the budget-savvy traveller, I would suggest visiting this after 5pm to avoid the crowds. The bell is housed in a mini museum of sorts which is blissfully air-conditioned and an ideal end to a long Summer's day! By this point, we were a bit museumed out so we took a couple of family photos by the bell and headed off. The Liberty Bell Centre is fairly central and at the end of the bus tour. It's a great place to end your day as it's also located near to Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Definitely worth a visit - and unless you're a politics buff, you probably won't need to spend too long here.
As we had gone for the bus, we packed sandwiches and snacks for throughout the day (which we ate on the bus), however, if you're after more authentic Philly food, the Reading Terminal (located 10 minutes walk from the Liberty Bell) is open till 6pm and has a massive variety of food options from Cheesesteak to Ice Cream. We didn't realise it closed so early so didn't manage to eat there but if we had known, we would have definitely made a point to go for lunch! (Have a scroll through the instagram location for a flavour of whats on offer!)
The city is littered with food stands that sell your standard city food-truck food such as Cheesesteak, pretzels, hot-dogs - and these seemed fairly cheap.
So there you have it - our whirlwind tour of Philadelphia! If you're short of time or are visiting on a day trip, I'd definitely suggest planning it in advance.
Have you been to Philadelphia? What are your favourite tips for planning day trips?