Let’s face it: If Philadelphia and Boston weren’t geographically separated by New York City, they’d have one of the biggest rivalries in the nation. But since they have the NYC buffer, Philly and Beantown don’t have much of a reason to argue. Except over one issue: Which is more innovative, creative, and, dare we say, revolutionary?
Boston may have places where “everybody knows your name,” as the old TV show Cheers puts it, but in Philadelphia, you don’t have to be a local to feel right at home. In the City of Brotherly Love, locals are welcoming to visitors, with a come-as-you-are spirit that only a city that established the saying “all men are created equal” would have.
Philadelphia is a city that invites new ways of thinking and encourages creation and innovation. As a result, the city has evolved into a quirky hub full of aspiring artists, local entrepreneurs, and imaginative restaurants, all of which are fueling the steady growth of this emerging city.
Philadelphia has 1.5 million residents and is considered the fifth most populous city in the United States. Greater Philadelphia includes portions of four states and is home to more than 4 million people.
Related: Cheat Sheet: Philadelphia
Triple-threat Will Smith raps, dances, and acts his way into our hearts, bringing notoriety to the city because he is “West Philadelphia, born and raised.” Philadelphia native Kevin Bacon reminded us to be a little rebellious in Footloose. Tina Fey’s clever humor made us laugh on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. And as much as Boston likes to brag that Benjamin Franklin was born there, he left at the age of 17 and spent the rest of his days calling Philadelphia home.
Tina Fey hails from Upper Darby, which borders Philly. (Photo: AP Images)
Popular Way to Get Around Town
Unlike Boston, whose streets seem to meander in haphazard directions, Philadelphia uses a grid system of numbered streets and names of trees, former city mayors, and local heroes, making the city easy to navigate.
There are two subways: the “El,” which runs from West Philadelphia all the way east before heading north, and the Broad Street line, which runs almost the entire length of Broad Street, ending at the sports stadiums. Subways in Philadelphia also travel faster than those in Boston, whose trams are subject to heavy traffic jams and have stops every few feet (I can walk faster than its red line.). Along with these subways are connecting buses and trolleys.
Philly’s “El” train (Photo: Stefan Georgi/Flickr)
Where to Stay
Philadelphia has an uncanny way of offering luxury experiences at a reasonable price. Stay in the middle of the history in Old City at Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco, one of Philadelphia’s most affordable hotels. Get a taste of Ivy League life in University City by staying at Hilton’s Inn at Penn. For those who want to stay in the middle of the action downtown, Le Méridien offers great views of Philadelphia’s iconic skyline. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of luxury!
The Hotel Monaco has an Old World flair. (Photo: Kimpton Hotels)
At Boston’s Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, you’re likely to find some local eats, but they’re nestled between chain stores and tourist gift shops. At Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, you’ll find only authentic local eats, thanks to the marketplace’s “no chain” rule. Embrace getting messy with a juicy DiNic’s roast pork sandwich, indulge in one of the many cheesesteaks that the market has to offer, and try a few other lesser-known local meals like oysters or snapper soup at Pearl’s Oyster Bar and soft-serve Philadelphia style ice cream at Bassetts, America’s first mass-produced ice cream brand.
A fruit stand in Reading Terminal Market (Photo: CCharmon/Flickr)
Philadelphia gets creative with beer by focusing on local nostalgia. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin experimented with beer brewing, and the tradition continues at Philadelphia’s Yards Brewing Company, where they’ve revived their beer recipes in their Ales of the Revolution.
First Friday Ales of the Revolution (Photo: Chemical Heritage Foundation/Flickr)
The Philadelphia Brewing Company also pays homage to its local roots with brews named after people or things of historic importance, like Walt Wit for local poet Walt Whitman and a flagship called the Kenzinger, which happens to be one of the brewery’s most popular beers.
Related: Thursday Night: Philadelphia
While Boston gets stuck in the past with its antiquated seafood dishes, Philadelphia’s world-class chefs are constantly reinventing the classics. Restaurateur and chef Jose Garces takes burgers and whiskey drinks to a new level at Village Whiskey. Bravo’s Top Chef Season 7 winner, Kevin Sbraga, brings luxury to soul food in his ’80s-themed restaurant, Juniper Commons. But if it’s a classic you’re pining for, you can pre-order the finest cheesesteak in Philadelphia from Stephen Starr’s Barclay Prime. It may be $100, but it’s justified by the juiciness and flavor!
The Wagyu beef cheesesteak sandwich at Barclay Prime (Photo:Facebook)
Revolutionary War History
I can’t talk about Revolutionary cities if I don’t talk about the Revolutionary War. While Boston was busy complaining about “No Taxation Without Representation,” the representatives in the city of Philadelphia were making solid changes to our nation by writing up the Declaration of Independence and crafting a new Constitution. When it comes to Revolutionary War History, Philadelphia has one of the most important historic sites: Independence Hall.
There is no shortage of historical sites in Philadelphia. (Photo: Tony Fischer/Flickr)
Within a one-mile radius, travelers to Philadelphia are able to visit other historic sites as well, including the Liberty Bell, Franklin Square, and Betsy Ross’s house. And luckily, most of these historic sites are free to the public.
Though Boston and Philadelphia both have strong ties to the Revolutionary War, Beantown takes the cake as the true “Cradle of Liberty.” Boston might not have been the home of the Declaration of Independence, but it was the site where other notorious rabble rousers went on midnight rides and threw precious tea into the river in an effort to fight for social and political change in the American colonies.
The constant drive for innovation in Boston is still alive to this day. Thanks to its many universities, Boston has evolved into a think tank of new ideas. It’s a city that can actually pull off modern sophistication as well as stay true to its historic, New England vibe.
The city of Boston is pretty small, with only about 646,000 residents. But the metro area is substantially larger, as it is home to nearly 4.5 million people, making it the 10th largest metro area in the United States.
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are proud of their Boston roots. (Photo: Corbis Images)
Childhood friends Ben Affleck and Matt Damon banded together to write and act in Good Will Hunting. John Krasinski and Mindy Kaling brought us to tears of laughter on the American version of The Office. Bostonian and Harvard grad Conan O’Brien brought quirky humor to late night television. Having worked with Philadelphia’s own Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live, Amy Poehler has also made a name for herself in the world of comedy.
Popular Way to Get Around Town
The Red Line Train (Photo: Boston Office of Public Transportation/Flickr)
In 1897, Bostonians propelled commuters into the future by constructing America’s very first subway system. Unlike Philadelphia, which only has two subways, Boston has four separate lines that reach many different parts of the city. There are also the Commuter Rail lines, making it simpler to visit the towns in the surrounding areas, such as Salem and Providence, R.I.
Boston was also ranked America’s third most walkable city. Though traffic can be tough in Boston, there are also 24/7 car shares for visitors and locals to choose from.
Where to Stay
Boston is home to several award-winning hotels, including the Mandarin Oriental, a five-star hotel just minutes from Fenway Park. Stay in Custom House, the iconic clock tower in Boston’s skyline, for a night by booking with Marriott. Have easy access to many destinations downtown by staying at The Langham, a great choice for visitors who want to see the historic sites.
Sweeping bay views in the rooms of the Custom House Tower (Photo: Marriott)
The plaza in front of Quincy Market (Photo: Corbis Images)
The Faneuil Hall Marketplace, also known as Quincy Market, is an official National Historic Landmark and was one of the largest markets built during the 19th century. Its impressive interior is made from granite, red brick, and cast iron to create a large dome in its center. Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market wasn’t originally built to serve as a marketplace as Faneuil Hall was; it’s merely ordinary brick building is the site of a bankrupt railroad station.
Along with its ornate décor, Faneuil Hall Marketplace serves some of the city’s best clam chowder, like the creamy bowl of New England style clam chowder served at Faneuil Hall’s Ned Devine’s Irish Pub.
The Beer Scene
Boston is home to some world-class beers. (Photo: Alirjd/Flickr)
Though the beer scene in Philadelphia is legendary, no Philadelphia beer has reached German-level perfection like the Samuel Adams Boston lager, which has won awards at several international competitions. It’s a borderline impossible feat to achieve because of the “German Beer Purity Law” (the Reinheitsgebote), an old German regulation that bars any beer that uses more than just water, malt, and hops from entering into Germany!
Philadelphia may use the term “reinvention” because it’s a nicer way of saying they have to come up with something new. Boston’s local eats are already so delicious that chefs stick to perfecting the local favorites. At Towne Stove & Spirits, have an elegant dinner by pairing cocktails with fresh oysters, shrimp, or lobster tail from the raw bar. Yankee Lobster Company serves up a lobster roll with chunks of lobster so meaty, you’ll have trouble fitting it into your mouth. At East Coast Grill, try a flavorful clam chowder featuring gigantic clams, bacon, grilled corn, sweet potatoes, and pureed chipotles submerged in white wine and clam juice.
The lobster roll at Yankee Lobster Company (Photo: Facebook)
Revolutionary War History
Philadelphia might have the Declaration of Independence, but much of the beginnings of the Revolutionary War were sparked in Boston. Many historic sites in both Boston and Philadelphia are free to visitors, but when it comes to quantity, Boston has Philadelphia beat with 16 historically significant sites over a 2.5 square mile radius.
The Red-lined path of The Freedom Trail takes visitors on a self-guided tour through Boston’s history. Many important sites, such as the Old South Meeting House, the site of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s House, and the Old North Church (where Paul Revere rode to during his midnight ride) are all along the Freedom Trail.