The Perfect Weekend in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is the ever-evolving City of Brotherly Love. While it will forever be the “birthplace” of the United States—and that is a great attraction—we've come a long way from the Liberty Bell. The vibrant feel of this historical city is undeniable, legendary, and on the rise.

From museums to murals and markets to speakeasies—there’s always a new happening in a new scene. From one colorful buzzy neighborhood to the next, stories of artists, chefs, entrepreneurs, and long-time community residents unfold in every turn. The walkable city’s streets teem for good company, creative ventures and mouth-watering menus. While it’s impossible to cover all of Philly’s bases in just a few days, a weekend is a great start to check out hot new hubs and old rare gems.

AKA Rittenhouse Square sits right across from the entrance of Rittenhouse Square.
AKA Rittenhouse Square sits right across from the entrance of Rittenhouse Square.
Courtesy Jeffrey Totaro

Checking in

Canopy by Hilton is the perfect urban-chic base located at the heart of the City Center and Midtown Village. The 3-year-old hotel is a renovated 19th-century Stephen Girard building– a microcosm for the city’s rich history and creative re-imagination. While there’s much to do outside of the lifestyle hotel, take a second to admire the first floor’s decor, decked out in modern yet edgy art from local artists—all paying homage to the city’s colorful history and lively urban art. Each of the 236 rooms feel effortlessly chic and cosmopolitan, with a rich, sophisticated palette of various shades of blue. Even the hotel bathrooms, especially those in the 24-hour fitness center, have sleek-styled black and white checkered shower walls with gold-plated accents.

The hotel is just the right amount tucked away on cobblestone Ludlow Street, only two blocks from the Reading Terminal Market and just a half-mile away from Independence Hall. Use the complementary Canopy bikes to take advantage of the hotel’s proximity to each and every hip corner—but on the way out, quench your thirst for both sweet and savory delights at Philly’s iconic Federal Donuts. The BBQ fried chicken and donut chain is located in the hotel, right of the lobby check-in desk.

If you want a bit more sprucely, The Wayward is a hip brasserie on the opposite end of the lobby. Like much of the city, the menu offers all delicious selections of a cultural fusion—here, smaller American dishes inspired by the allure of a French bistro. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner– and offer favorable gin-focused cocktails and a wide selection of local beers. The space is a definite hub for the city’s travelers, but also for those who admire the feel of a trendy, sleek, and snazzy establishment.

Right across from the entrance of Rittenhouse Square's park is luxury hotel AKA Rittenhouse Square. In the heart of Philly’s bustling downtown, the 12-story building is a preserved historic landmark and topped off with an up-kept Beaux-Arts façade. In with the new, AKA’s has a contemporary-styled sleek attitude on its interior, and is known by urban travelers for offering spacious suites, with plenty actually doubling as extended-stay residences with full kitchens.

As a weekend base, the location is absolutely prime for convenience—especially for travelers keen on tackling the shopping and dining district head-on. Despite its hot central location, the hotel presents this tranquil feel to it, truly catering to a well-balanced weekend stay.

Like most accommodations in this region of the city, the hotel is in close proximity to top tier restaurants. However, when staying at AKA, the hotel’s is a must. From breakfast (or brunch) to dinner, their menu offers simple yet exquisite French-inspired bites. A highly recommended dangerous duo: one of the house cocktails, or a glass of wine from the hotel’s, paired with the restaurant’s sweet peach kimchi oysters.

Inside Vietnamese café Càphê Roasters based in Kensington.
Inside Vietnamese café Càphê Roasters based in Kensington.
Courtesy Caphe Roasters

Where to eat & drink

My Uber driver from 30th Street Station tells me that Philadelphia as a whole has one superpower: When it comes to food, they “just get it.” Coming from NYC, I took this with a grain of salt. But after one weekend in this city, I found each neighborhood had more than plenty of legendary flavor bursts to offer.

Philadelphia’s food scene tells a story, one where various cultures coexist. On a walk through the iconic 9th street Italian Market you’ll see, and probably smell, the fresh mozzarella and provolone of Di Bruno Bros’ five cheese shops. They modestly started as a small shop in the market back in 1939. Especially if you’re staying at the Canopy, tasting street-food in Chinatown and strolling through Reading Terminal Market are musts. Don’t forget to taste one of Mexico Baja Peninsula’s signature and mouth watering dishes, the fried fish tacos at Buena Onda.

After a day of shopping in Rittenhouse Square, head to the city’s newest Latin American dining room and rum house Bolo by acclaimed Chef Yun Fuentes. The colorful ambiance and traditional dishes will bring you all the way to Puerto Rico. Not full? No problem– head to East Passyunk’s Modern American Restaurant, River Twice for thoughtfully sourced fine dining. The sleek yet cozy restaurant offers a unique prioritization of locality and sustainable design, thanks to Chef Randy Rucker.

If you’re looking for a twist on your average cup of joe, head to Vietnamese coffee roastery Càphê Roasters, which opened a few years back in the Kensington neighborhood. The sun-lit shop serves lemon-infused Thai teas, traditional phin Vietnamese coffee, and perfectly-glazed Bánh Mì sandwiches on Ba Le baguettes. Inspired by close friends and family, Executive Chef Jacob Trinh curated much of the menu with community engagement in mind. Not only do they source beans directly from Vietnam and Thailand, but ​a portion of their profits go to local education equity non-profit 12 plus, who partners with public high schools throughout the city.

Located on the city’s buzzy South Street is cheesesteak spot Tattooed Mom’s. Also known as TMom’s, the joint has been favored by aspiring artists to grab a drink, play pool, and plaster stickers all over the wall. A two-decade hallmark of vibrant expression, the establishment is one where art builds on itself. As a TMom’s customer, feel free to kick and scream, say no to your parents, and draw anything you’d like on the walls (in the designated areas, of course). Their great bar food delights includes an array of ‘cheezy’ vegan options, and topped off with colorful and carnivalesque cocktails. “Pickle-tinis” are served in branded mason jars, and Cosmo Clouds are crowd-pleasers as right before your eyes, cotton candy melts into a martini glass, with the help of a vodka cranberry pour. During your visit, be sure to check if they are hosting any of their creative and queer-friendly events, including Drag Brunch, gallery exhibitions, and comedy shows– all on their famously red-lit top floor.

Lucky for you, is probably open. Especially convenient if you have decided to stay at the hotel upstairs, this hotel lobby bar is popular for after-dinner cocktails–I heard from a Philly local that they’re known to have the exact drink you are looking for. You can also check out the new Vintage Corner EuroBar Grace and Proper lit with that nostalgic golden-hue that most great bars have. Keep in mind their kitchen is open until Midnight.

Northern Liberties, a neighborhood just south of Fishtown, is home to the pioneering Standard Tap, which opened in 1999 and claims that it was America’s first gastropub. And whether that’s true or not, the restaurant has remained a local favorite thanks to its fantastic beer selection—there are 20 taps, all of which are devoted to local breweries—and its elevated pub grub, made using locally sourced seafood, vegetables, and produce. If you’re not quite done, hide away in a not-so-secret speakeasy Hop Sing Laundromat deep in Philly’s Chinatown. Find the metal gated doorway on Race Street and dress to impress.

The Liberty Bell remains worth a visit.
The Liberty Bell remains worth a visit.
Dan Mall/Unsplash

Where to play

Pay homage to the America’s earliest days

Much of the nation’s early history was written in Old City, and even a quick stroll through the neighborhood turns up landmarks in unexpected places. You can’t miss the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Independence National Historic Park, but simply wandering through the neighborhood can lead you down some beautiful, narrow lanes lined with stories from the past, including Church Street, home to the 17th-century Christ Church (Ben Franklin and George Washington were regulars), or Elfreth's Alley, a stone-lined pedestrian way lined with homes built in the 18th century. (And yes, people still live there—it’s catnip for history nerds and real estate junkies.)

A buzzy sunset vibe along the Delaware River Waterfront
A buzzy sunset vibe along the Delaware River Waterfront
Courtesy: Delaware River Waterfront

Take a walk—or sit in a hammock—by the waterfront

The Delaware River Waterfront has long been popular with visitors, thanks to its scenic views and family-friendly attractions like the Independence Seaport Museum. But thanks to the addition of the seasonal Spruce Street Harbor Park, both locals and tourists are rolling on the river—in droves. Ride a bike– complimentary of the Canopy, and take in the views. There’s no shortage of things to see, including pop-up flea markets, LED art installations, and yes, plenty of hammocks for lounging.

The cultural heart of the city: the Philadelphia Museum of Art
The cultural heart of the city: the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art

Wander down the "cultural boulevard"

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is rightfully considered one of the best museums in the U.S., but it’s not the only arts institution worth a visit. Just a short stroll down Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the Rodin Museum, devoted to the French Impressionist and home to one of Philadelphia’s loveliest gardens. And the nearby non-profit cultural and education institution Barnes Foundation displays modern works to renown canvases by masters like Matisse, Cézanne, and Renoir in a peaceful salon-style setting.

One of Philly’s best-loved institutions is the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, a collection of curiosities—medical and otherwise—housed in a gorgeous Beaux Arts building. It may sound creepy at first, but after seeing bits of Albert Einstein’s brain (preserved under glass, of course), or the tallest human skeleton in America, you’ll have a new appreciation for the inner workings of the human body. (And the people tasked with caring for them.)

Seek out vintage wares, indie boutiques, and bookshops

In the middle of Center City, you’ll encounter charming bookstore Giovanni's Room. The original shop opened in 1973 and has since been an oasis steep in LGBTQ+ and feminist history. Less than a mile away and tucked in the Italian Market is flagship store Goods Vintage. With an emphasis on art and jewelry, the shop sells rare collectibles and tchotchkes as special as their ambiance. In an aimless stroll down South Street, stumble across plenty of funky and fresh shops including Retrospect Vintage. The one-stop shop has plenty of hidden gems from old film cameras to your next favorite pair of jeans.

Hang out with art (and artists)

Fishtown and Kensington are known as two of Philadelphia’s two artsiest neighborhoods, with galleries and festivals celebrating its cultural community all year long. The Frankford Avenue corridor is home to several of these; wander off the main drag and you’ll find spaces like the Icebox Project Space, part of the larger Crane Arts complex. Street-art spotters will also find plenty to love in Fishtown, including John Boyce’s sculptures and Steve Powers’s mural on Master Street, painted for the cover of indie-rocker Kurt Vile’s album Wakin On a Pretty Daze.

A Trip Unto Itself

One weekend in Philadelphia is not nearly enough time to get down to the city’s nitty gritty. But in just a few days, you are shot into a metropolis of myriads– history lessons and this new, loud explosion of presence. Any traveler to Philly holds the opportunity to experience a number of cultures, all through food, art, and heart-to-heart conversations with city locals. (I will say– in those conversations, maybe don’t bring up competitive state sport games. Or do… )

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler