The 10 Most Essential Things to Do on Your First Visit to Philly

There’s never a shortage of awesome things to do in Philadelphia — but if you’re visiting for the very first time, what are they key things you just can’t miss?

Read on for the 10 most essential experiences to be had in the City of Brotherly Love.

Snap a photo in front of the Liberty Bell

It doesn’t make a sound, but The Liberty Bell’s message rings loud and clear: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” This inscription on the cracked but mighty bell is one reason it became a symbol to abolitionists, suffragists and other freedom-seekers around the world. The bell, which is free to visit year-round with no tickets required, draws people from around the nation to snag a photo in front of the soaring glass walls overlooking Independence Hall.

Pose with the Rocky Statue & run up the “Rocky Steps”

Since Rocky’s first triumphant run on the silver screen in 1976, the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art have become an international destination. Travelers from around the world embark on their own jog up the stairs, pumping their fists in the air as they cherish the spectacular view of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the city skyline. To finish off the experience, head to the bottom of the stairs and snap a photo with the bronze statue of Rocky, originally created for Rocky III.

Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

Enjoy an authentic Philly cheesesteak

The Philly cheesesteak is inarguably the city’s most famous food. These awesome sandwiches consist of chopped (or thinly sliced) steak and a choice of cheeses and/or fried onions on a hoagie roll. Those in the know order their cheesesteak with two words only: cheese selection (provolone, American or Whiz) and “wit” or “without” onions. The debate about which local spot cooks up the best sandwich may never end, but for an iconic Philly experience, visit the corner of South 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, where rivals Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks feed the masses daily.

Tour Independence Hall, the birthplace of the United States

While historical attractions abound in Philly, Independence Hall holds monumental significance to the development of the nation. In 1776, the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in the building’s Assembly Room. Just 11 years later, representatives from a dozen states met here to lay the framework for the U.S. Constitution. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is the centerpiece of Independence National Historical Park, and guided tours are available year-round. Free, timed tickets are required and can be picked up at the Independence Visitor Center but plan ahead — tours fill up fast!

Photo by C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia

Visit the famous LOVE sculpture

One of the City of Brotherly Love’s best-known landmarks is LOVE itself — the Robert Indiana sculpture in John F. Kennedy Plaza (or LOVE Park, as it’s referred to by many). The sculpture was recently restored and repainted, and the park was entirely redesigned to add more green areas and a high-tech water feature. The AMOR sculpture — a Spanish version of the LOVE sculpture — is on display at Sister Cities Park, a short walk from LOVEPark.

Chow down on food from dozens of vendors at Reading Terminal Market

Set below a former railroad terminal, Center City’s 125-year-old Reading Terminal Market serves as both a dazzling tourist destination and a source for fresh produce, seafood, meats and cheese for locals. The public space also provides open seating where customers can enjoy meals from dozens of restaurants, including Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine and acclaimed DiNic’s hot roast pork sandwiches. Retail merchants sell housewares, jewelry, linens and more.

Photo by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia

Visit the awesome museums on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway

The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, modeled after the Champs Elysees in Paris, is sometimes called Philadelphia’s most artistic mile. Some of the city’s most important cultural institutions are housed here, including the Barnes Foundation, The Franklin Institute, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Rodin Museum and the crowning Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Another super-popular attraction, former prison Eastern State Penitentiary, is just a 15-minute walk from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.) No Philly experience is complete without a dip into the city’s cultural offerings.

Take in an epic view of City Hall — then tour the massive building

City Hall has been the home to Philadelphia city government for more than a century. Once the tallest building in the U.S., the elaborate 14.5-acre masonry structure remains the country’s largest municipal building, and its exterior features more than 250 sculptures. Residents and visitors can enjoy an interior tour that explores the building’s history, art and architecture or a 15-minute tower tour. Both tour options include a view from the observation deck, located below the 37-foot-tall, 27-ton bronze statue of William Penn atop the clock tower.

Photo by M. Stanley for the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Explore Philly’s revitalized waterfront

Once made up of undeveloped piers and underutilized public spaces, the Delaware River waterfront has become one of the most activated spaces in Philadelphia in the 21st century. That’s thanks to the opening of a number of exciting attractions and parks — Cherry Street Pier and Race Street Pier as well as seasonal spots like Spruce Street Harbor Park and Blue Cross RiverRink — and diverse and well-attended events throughout the year. Plus, those gorgeous views of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge — which connects Philadelphia to New Jersey — don’t hurt, either.

Admire the quiet beauty of Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill River

In 1821, the creation of the Fairmount Dam, now behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, turned the Schuylkill River into a placid surface ideal for rowing. By the mid-19th century, the city approved the construction of the 10 charming crew clubhouses that make up Boathouse Row. Now a National Historical Landmark, the boathouses — still in use today by amateur and collegiate crew clubs — provide one of the city’s most recognizable and Instagram-worthy sights. Get a close-up view during a stroll along Kelly Drive or a wide-angle look from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and don’t miss the boathouses at night, when glittering lights framing the boathouses create idyllic reflections on the river’s surface.

Latest Articles

BWM Staff

Our Staff Writing Team works hard to bring you great content and share news & events from the bear community and beyond.