Until I visited Philadelphia I had never registered that this is really where the United States of America happened.
The founding fathers met here, the declaration of independence was signed here, the first US Presidential Residence was here, the first American Flag was created here (more of that to come) – there are firsts everywhere in Philadelphia.
And with those firsts come photo opportunities! Not only does Philadelphia supply a large number of did you know-interesting-quirky stories for a good Instagram caption, but it also serves up art, food, views and more to create a highly photogenic city.
Here is my guide to the best places to visit in Philadelphia.
20 Greatest Places to Visit in Philadelphia
Table of Contents
- 20 Greatest Places to Visit in Philadelphia
- 1. Mural Arts Program
- 2. All things Isaiah Zagar and his Magic Garden
- 3. The Skyline from Loews
- 4. One Liberty Observation Deck
- 5. Reading Terminal Market Philadelphia
- 6. The Italian Market
- 7. Penn Museum
- 8. The Rocky Stairs and Rocky Statue
- 9. Philadelphia Sculptures
- 10. The Comcast Centre and Comcast Technology Centre
- 11. The inside of The Bourse
- 12. The Love and Xoxo Signs
- 13. The First Home of the President
- 14. The Oldest Street in America
- 15. America’s First Flag
- 16. The Liberty Bell
- 17. Ship Chandelier at The Kimpton Monaco
- 18. Pipe Organ at Macy’s
- 19. Antique Row
- 20. Battle of the Philly Cheesesteak
- Top Tips for Getting some Great Photos of Philadelphia
- Boutique Hotels in Philadelphia
- Where is Philadelphia & How to get to Philadelphia
- Who Paid for What in this Post
1. Mural Arts Program
Philadelphia has over 4,000 murals! That means it has more than anywhere else in the world. One of my sightseeing in Philadelphia highlights was the Mural Arts Program.
The Mural Arts program has been running for over 30 years and over 15,000 residents and visitors see this outdoor art gallery via their fantastic tours each year. The works in the Mural Arts Program are stunning.
However, they are made far more compelling when you learn the stories behind them. The Mural Arts Program works closely with the local community where the mural will be located.
This ensures that the community is part of the creation of the mural – locals even sometimes appear in the murals – or are part of the creation of the murals. This is one of the great points of interest Philadelphia options.
From forgotten heroes to celebrating the connection between Philadelphia’s rivers and local flora, every mural on the Mural Arts Program has a backstory. The best way to experience the Mural Arts Program is through one of the tours regularly run by the program.
The tours vary across the year. Also, as there are so many murals the content varies so this is a Philadelphia attraction you can visit multiple times.
2. All things Isaiah Zagar and his Magic Garden
South Philadelphia is home to a different type of street art. Isaiah Zagar is a local award-winning mosaic artist who has works on over 200 public walls in Philadelphia. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Zagar started working on applying his art to public spaces in 1991.
What makes Isaiah Zagar’s work quite unique is its often three-dimensional format and the heavy use of mirrors and glass to throw light in interesting ways depending on the time of day. I literally stumbled upon his murals as I was walking around South Philadelphia.
A good chunk of Isaiah Zagar’s work is in the streets bordered by 3rd and 11th and South and Fitzwater Streets. This is one of the more secret places in Philadelphia.
Zagar then also has a non-profit gallery/museum that is in his largest public artwork – Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. There are two galleries, a sculpture garden, an outdoor courtyard and even a gift shop in the Magic Garden. This was one of my favourite things to see in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Magic Gardens is open Wednesday-Monday from 11 am-6 pm. It is possible to buy tickets ahead of time on the Magic Gardens website.
3. The Skyline from Loews
I shouldn’t really be writing about this one of the Philadelphia tourist attractions is meant only for paying guests. But once I went and saw it I couldn’t not mention it in a Philadelphia sightseeing post.
Loews Philadelphia Hotel is an upmarket property in the heart of Philadelphia. The 33rd floor at Loews Philadelphia Hotel offers a fantastic view of the city skyline and is best visited at sunset. There are several function rooms on the 33rd floor and a more general area.
Loew’s has a very nice bar so perhaps have a drink here to feel less guilty about rushing up to the 33rd floor.
4. One Liberty Observation Deck
The 57th floor of One Liberty or Philly from the Top has an observation deck that is open 365 days a year. This view is 360 degrees of the city and includes everything except, of course, the building itself -which is included in the view from Loews.
The One Liberty Observation deck itself is enclosed. A sightseeing Philadelphia must do!
5. Reading Terminal Market Philadelphia
Established in 1893, Reading Terminal Market is America’s oldest continuously operation Farmers Market. Read all about it and some of the great food tours that really show you behind the scenes in my post on Philadelphia Food Tours.
Reading Terminal Market is one of the top tourist attractions in Philadelphia. From a pure photography point of view, there are quite a few great opportunities at Reading Terminal Market.
The first stop is Beiler’s donuts – amazing looking colorful donuts that were made to appear on Instagram! Next up are sweet pretzels. These are hardstyle pretzels that have been covered in icing and sprinkles.
And try Asher’s Chocolates for some nice shots.
Next up is Philbert – official pig of Reading Terminal Market. He is the traditional meeting point at Reading Terminal Market. Philbert enjoys getting dressed up and is currently in a relationship with the pig at Pike Place Market in Seattle.
I also liked the neon signs throughout Reading Terminal Market – particularly for things like Cheesesteaks. Tommy Dinic’s is known for its pork sandwich and has a stall in some nice photogenic shades of red.
The exterior sign for Reading Terminal Market itself is also a nice shot.
I also liked the Beck’s Cajun Cafe sign shot with the red lampshades next to it, the fresh produce area with its nice black background and up close with Bassett’s deluxe ice-cream.
Get some great behind the scenes shots by visiting Reading Terminal market with the Taste of Philly Food Tour. Carolyn knows everyone at the market and has a great eye for where to get good photos. She also knows the best places to visit at Philadelphia landmark Reading Terminal Market.
6. The Italian Market
The Italian Market is an area rather than a classic covered market. The Italian Market area is 9th street between Christian Street and Washington Avenue. The area is filled with foodie businesses that have been passed down through the generations.
Don’t miss Di Brunos for some fantastic deli shots – cheeses galore.
Cannuli’s in the Italian Market has some great neon signs and pigs that lend themselves well to photography. Again, I recommend taking a tour to really get underneath the area.
I went with the Philly Tour Hub and would highly recommend them to explore one of the most foodie Philadelphia attractions.
7. Penn Museum
Penn is one of the best-known museums in Philadelphia. There are nearly a million archaeological artifacts on display at the Penn Museum.
The museum includes everything from the Bull-headed Lyre from 2450 BC Iraq, one of the earliest musical instruments in the world, to a crystal sphere from 19th century China. When I visited Penn Museum I went on a rather quirky Ancient Alcohol tour.
I saw some of the earliest wine glasses – well they looked more like wine saucers – from the Ancient Greeks. See a golden beer straw fit for a Queen, hieroglyphs that set out alcohol rations for the afterlife and the first-ever wine jars.
This Penn Museum tour finishes off with a beer that has been recreated to match the taste profile of that which was enjoyed by the Egyptians – an acquired taste. A slightly different side to Philadelphia tourism!
8. The Rocky Stairs and Rocky Statue
When it comes to things to do in West Philly you can’t miss paying homage to the Rocky movies. The infamous steps that Rocky runs up in the movie are the 72 steps outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a lovely building – but needs good light to be interesting enough for a good Instagram post. If you are travelling with someone or can find a trustworthy looking stranger the quintessential shot is to be running up the actual stairs.
The other option is to pose with one of the Rocky statues at the bottom of the stairs. Arms up and byo boxing gloves to mimic the winner’s pose. It was a rather cold minus seven degrees when I visited Philadelphia so I chose to capture a stranger doing the pose with Rocky.
The Rocky statues used to be at the top of the stairs but were moved to the bottom when it was agreed that they weren’t really art.
9. Philadelphia Sculptures
Philadelphia spends a lot on art – or it has a lot spent on art through required expenditure levels by developers. This means that quirky sculptures like a giant clothespin to figures of national historical significance. They do appear to be on most corners!
Check out this great interactive map that the Association for Public Art has created.
10. The Comcast Centre and Comcast Technology Centre
The Comcast Centre or Tower building was commissioned in 2005 and named after its primary tenant, Comcast. It is the 2nd tallest building in Philadelphia at 58 stories. The Comcast Technology Centre is a newer skyscraper that opened in 2018.
At 160 floors it is the tenth tallest building in the United States. It has a winter garden, a half-acre public plaza and a very fantastic coffee bar by Greg Vernick. Both buildings are very photogenic.
11. The inside of The Bourse
The Bourse was the first commodities exchange market in America. It is now the home of a number of very tasty food outlets who serve at all times of the day. There are some cute insta friendly food stalls at The Bourse.
But for me, the highlight of this lesser-known of the tourist attractions Philadelphia is when you look up and see the brilliant use of glass and natural light.
12. The Love and Xoxo Signs
When it comes to things to do in downtown Philadelphia you can’t miss the iconic Love sign. The Love sign is in well Love Park as you would expect!
The very similar in style, yet not so often photographed, xoxo sign is outside The Bourse. The Love sign is very well photographed so the Xoxo is a bit more unique for your Instagram feed.
⇒ Heading to NYC? Check out my post on 8 Fun Things to do in Lower Manhattan.
13. The First Home of the President
The first US Presidential Residence was built in Philadelphia and was known as The President’s House. The President’s House was used until 1800 until the White House was created in Washington DC. The building was demolished in 1832.
In late 2000 the foundations were discovered. It is across the street from the Independence Visitor Centre. The area, located on Independence Square, is now an open-air museum and provides some nice angles for photos and one of the must-do places to see in Philadelphia.
14. The Oldest Street in America
Elfreth’s Alley claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited residential street in America. Elfreth’s Alley is extremely cute and photogenic with its red brick buildings and colorful doors. It must drive the people who live here mad but I imagine that is offset by the improvement to their property prices!
Try to get to this well-known attraction in Philadelphia early to get the right light. A great way to see Elfreth’s Alley and find out more about the fascinating history of Philadelphia is by taking a tour.
I had a brilliant tour guide with Philly Tour Hub and learned so much – it was freezing and I still didn’t want the tour to end!
15. America’s First Flag
The first American Flag was made by Betsy Ross in Philadephia. Betsy was a seamstress and it is claimed that this is where she was living when she designed the flag. The story goes that she was personally briefed by George Washington and 2 other founding fathers.
Find out more at Visitor Centre at Betsy Ross House.
16. The Liberty Bell
The world-renowned symbol of American freedom, The Liberty Bell, is in the middle of Independence Square and free to visit. Try to go for some late afternoon light and catch Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence was signed) behind it.
Alas, when I visited there was a government shut down on so I couldn’t actually go inside the Liberty Bell Centre and photograph the Liberty Bell. I had to make do with a shot of the Liberty Bell from outside the luckily glassed-in building.
It wasn’t really of Instagram quality so I haven’t shared it – but you should definitely go and take one from the inside!
17. Ship Chandelier at The Kimpton Monaco
I stayed at the Kimpton Monaco and loved it – as you’ll see further down the post. One of the things I really enjoyed about this Philadelphia hotel was all the quirky touches.
And one of the most appealing was the giant chandelier that hangs in the entrance of the Kimpton Monaco that is shaped like a ship. Certainly not a form of lighting I have been before.
18. Pipe Organ at Macy’s
Macy’s is the current tenant of what was the Wanamaker Department Store (of course America’s first department store as it was in Philadelphia). The building is a National Historic Landmark and one of its highlights is the amazing Great Pipe Organ.
19. Antique Row
Antique Row is on Pine Street between 13th and 10th is a range of extremely photogenic red brick buildings with walk up stairs and colourful doors – as well as some cute cafes for coffee stops in between shots.
20. Battle of the Philly Cheesesteak
You have most likely heard about Philly Cheesesteaks. These meat and cheese sandwiches are a symbol of Philadelphia and there are extensive reasons why they taste better in Philadelphia than anywhere else (the bread is key, the provolone cheese, the water in the bread etc etc).
As you would expect, many claim to have the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia. However, the most common question around who serves the best cheesesteak is Pat or Geno’s? These two Philadelphia institutions are located across the road from one another.
Pat’s is where the cheesesteak started. The story goes that Pat had a hot dog van and the cheesesteak was his lunch. However, when a customer smelt the cheesesteak and asked to buy it he realised there was a bigger opportunity in cheesesteaks than hotdogs.
And it was, until Geno’s opened across the road in 1966. Many felt Geno was crazy for opening across the road from Pat’s. Geno’s view was that he wouldn’t need to do any advertising as his target market was across the road.
Well more than 50 years later both of them are still in business and appear to be doing quite well. The fact that the story of their rivalry makes for good copy can’t have hurt either….
From a photography point of view, both the signs and the 1950s feel eat outside decor of Pat’s and Geno’s make for some good shots. Good colours as well.
Top Tips for Getting some Great Photos of Philadelphia
-If you’re after a real local eye for Instagram follow Kyle Huff. In addition to being an Instagrammer, he is also the social media person at the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau.
-Get on the Philadelphia Hop On Hop off Bus. I do love a Hop on Hop off Bus! This is one of the best ways to see Philadelphia. It is also a great way to capture some key Instagram friendly items and has 27 different stops including the many sculptures throughout the City, the Rocky Steps, One Liberty Observation Deck..
-take a photography tour of Philadelphia – I am sure you will find some more off the beaten spots for photos if you head out with local photographers. -in general, I am a big fan of taking tours.
Tours used to be so dull – these days there are passionate tour guides with fantastic stories to tell. And I find the tour guides are great for pointing out where to get the best photographs and at what time of day.
Boutique Hotels in Philadelphia
I stayed in the stunning Kimpton Hotel Monaco and just loved it. My kind of boutique hotel. There is an eclectic and colourful design theme throughout.
Guests are greeted in the lobby at the Kimpton Monaco with an amazing chandelier in the shape of a ship.
The Kimpton Monaco has a number of fun concepts like a free happy hour each night as well as free coffee in the morning. It is a nice personal touch that encourages guests to meet each other.
The location of this Philadelphia boutique hotel couldn’t be better. It is right on Independence Square – it is virtually possible to see the Liberty Bell from the Restaurant. The Bourse food exchange is also literally next door.
For places to eat in Philadelphia and drinking there is the Red Owl Tavern on the ground floor. I like that the hotel restaurant is a “real” restaurant. The Kimpton Monaco also has a rooftop bar/lounge but it wasn’t open when I was there as it was -7 degrees.
Every room at this Philadelphia boutique hotel has a yoga mat, pets are welcome, there is a “soaks” menu for different bathing options, hotel bikes – there were so many fun and charming things on offer that I wish I had of been able to try.
I will definitely be staying at Kimpton hotels again.
Speaking of which, in case you don’t or can’t stay at Monaco, Kimpton has another hotel in Philadelphia – Kimpton Hotel Palomar.
Where is Philadelphia & How to get to Philadelphia
Philadelphia International Airport is only 11km from the centre of Philadelphia.
Another option is to take the train to Philadelphia from new york which is what I did. Trains for Philadelphia run out of Penn Station frequently and this was a really easy and comfortable option.
The fast train is not far over one hour each way. Both stations have loads of good places to get snacks, meals and reading material for the journey.
Who Paid for What in this Post
A big thank you to the fantastic team at the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. They sponsored my trip (eg paid for things) and were fabulous. My costs were covered but the views in this post, as always, are all my own.
And while we’re on that track – some of the links in this post will take you to websites with whom I have a commercial agreement. If you make a purchase on those sites I will receive a small commission. I wanted to make sure you knew this.
READ NEXT: PHILADELPHIA FOOD TOURS
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