Things to do in Philadelphia, USA

I was lucky enough to visit Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and here are my suggestions of things to do, see and of course eat!

I travelled from New York city to Philly on the trusty Megabus and wished I had longer than 2 days to spend in the city. 

Eastern State Penitentiary

This may sound like an odd one, but hear me out.. This prison was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world and they have opened up the crumbling cell blocks for you to explore. 

The building is imposing and with guard towers and high castle style walls surrounding the prisoners. When you visit the Eastern State you will get an audio guide. The guide provides you with a route and details the prison conditions, escape stories and the way of life for prisoners between 1829 and 1971. The narration of the audio tour is by Steve Buscemi (Which my boyfriend thoroughly enjoyed). To listen to some of the audio click here.

The penitentiary also had a very very famous inmate – Al Capone , who was imprisoned briefly for 8 months in 1929. You can see his opulent cell covered in carpets, furniture and a working radio. 

The tour ends with a modern exhibition all about the prison system in the USA and has eye-opening facts and figures. 

Entrance: Tickets can be purchased online for $14 for adults or bought at the door for $16 for adults. 

Explore the Italian Market

South 9th Street Italian Market is a haven for foodies. Dating back to the 1880’s this street has curb-side stalls which sell fresh produce, independent deli’s and cafes all the way down.

Some of the businesses here are fifth generation and will supply you with interesting ingredients from homemade chocolates, fresh sheets of pasta or sweet Italian baked goods. 

Half way down South 9th Street there is a tourist information office, the staff inside are extremely friendly and helpful and make good suggestions on places you must eat at. It’s worth heading in to heed their advice!

I stopped at Anthony’s Italian Coffee and Chocolate House for some fresh coffee and a Cannoli. Also if you are a fan of Always Sunny in Philadelphia then you may recognise the outdoor seating areas as some scenes were filmed there!

Once you’ve filled up on Italian deli meats and cheeses head to Molly’s Books & Records a well curated store of books and music. If you are a foodie you’ll particularly love their collection of cookbooks through the back, some of which are vintage dating back to the 1950’s/60’s.

Liberty Bell

You cannot visit Philadelphia without learning about American Independence and freedom. Begin with a classic site – The Liberty Bell. Situated in the Independence Hall, the bell would ring to call lawmakers to their meetings. You will learn all about why the big cast iron bell has an enormous crack down it’s side.  Entrance into Independence Hall is free and before you snap a selfie in front of the bell, you’ll work your way through the exhibition hall detailing all about the history of independence and the abolition of slavery in the USA. 

For more information on the Bell click here.

Seek out the Street Art

Philadelphia has a plethora of street art and murals throughout the city.  

Mural Arts Philadelphia, an organisation of professional artists showcase their art in a constructive way. Originally started in 1984 to eradicate graffiti they have created stunning  murals and pieces of urban art. Start around the Market Street area and make your way through to China Town. I have included a self-guide map here.

Eat a Philly Cheese Steak

Wherever I am I try and eat the local food. Philadelphia is famous for its cheese steak.

I initially thought it was steak with Philadelphia cream cheese in a roll however Philly cream cheese as we know it was not invented here and has no real connection whatsoever.

The name stemmed from the marketing geniuses who opted for the name because the city of Philly at the time had a reputation of producing high quality goods and wanted the cream cheese to be associated with that.

An actual Philly Cheese steak is thinly sliced well seasoned beef steak, sliced fried onions and melted cheese in a hoagie roll (a long flat soft roll). 

When ordering yours, they will ask if you want onions and what kind of cheese – American cheddar or fake (but deliciously addictive) radioactive Cheesewhiz… 

“Whiz wit” or “Whiz widout”. 

All throughout the city, businesses will claim that they have “THE BEST PHILLY CHEESE STEAK” and to be honest, you’d have to work your way around a fair few to find out.. 

However, we went to Lorenzo’s Pizza in the Italian market – it was voted “Best Cheese Steak” in 2017.

A standard cheese steak will set you back $8.00.

The other place we tried a cheese steak was inside the main bus station in West Philadelphia (30th street station). The same Philly cheese ingredients were there but inside a pretzel stick! Worth a try! Look out for Philly Pretzel Factory.


See a concert at Union Transfer

Union Transfer is a beautiful music venue set inside a 19th century former farmers market located in central Philadelphia. The inside is stunning with ornate lighting fixtures and huge ceilings with exposed beams and there’s a cool balcony level overlooking the stage with its own bar. It has a capacity of over 1000 people but still manages to feel small and intimate. All in all a great location to see your favourite musicians. Visit their website for a list of upcoming shows click here.

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