Philadelphia is a city with rich history, but it’s also a city full of fun places to eat, drink, and explore. You’ve probably heard of the typical things people do on a trip to Philly—see the Liberty Bell, visit the Museum of the American Revolution, try different foods at Reading Terminal Market—which are all excellent choices to check out. While those are places that I love as well, I want to tell you about some other really enjoyable spots in the city. In this blog post, I have bars, restaurants, art attractions, and more!
Anyone that has been to Philadelphia will tell you that Federal Donuts is a must for breakfast (or an afternoon snack). Unlike the cheesesteak, for which there’s an endless debate on which spot is best, many folks will argue that Federal Donuts has the best fried dough in town. Their “fancy doughnuts” come in rotating flavors and are super moist; I had the best choco-iced chocolate cake doughnut I’ve ever tasted at Federal. Despite that, I would argue that the true hero is the Hot & Fresh doughnut—it’s fried to order, rolled in your choice of sugar, then handed to you piping hot as the name says.
Elixir Coffee Roasters
I went to this coffee shop on a whim because I was trying to find a locally-owned coffee place (and trying to avoid going to a Starbucks while on vacation), and it turns out that I found a great one! Elixir Coffee specialized in lighter roast coffees and have been in the business for over 10 years. They’ve won numerous coffee championships, and it truly shows in their smooth, flavorful coffees.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
Magic Gardens is a mosaic art environment and art gallery located in the Washington Square West neighborhood, just south of Center City. Outside is the biggest mosaic work created by Isaiah Zagar, one of Philadelphia’s most notable artists. This outdoor work has many parts you can walk through; it’s very cool to look at the same parts from various angles and see how differently they may appear. Indoors is a gallery that hosts rotating folk art exhibits. Magic Gardens offers a unique experience and is a popular site for taking photos as well.
Woodrow’s Sandwich Shop
There’s a lot of debate on who makes the best cheesesteak in town. Pat’s? Geno’s? Jim’s? Max’s? Ishkabibble’s?
I’m going to stay out of the heated debate of who’s best and recommend a less traditional cheesesteak spot: Woodrow’s Sandwich Shop. Woodrow’s Whiz Wit—their take on the Philly classic—has shaved ribeye, cherry pepper mayo, caramelized onion, and their house-made truffle whiz. (They also have a gluten-free bread option which other cheesesteak shops may not offer.) The Whiz Wit is incredibly cheesy and super rich, so this is a stop to hit even if it’s just to see how it contrasts to other cheesesteaks. If you’re not into the cheesy, beefy goodness, they have other great sandwich options like the coffee BBQ brisket.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
There are so many art museums in Philadelphia—the Rodin Museum, the Barnes Foundation, and Woodmere Art Museum, to name a few—but I think the museum to rule them all is the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This beautiful museum is massive, and the collection rivals that of the Met and the Art Institute of Chicago. You can browse pieces from all over the world and from many different time periods; there really are so many works of art that I spent close to five hours during my visit. Admission also includes entry to the Rodin Museum, making it an excellent deal on top of a wonderful experience. On Friday nights, you can also access the museum for free.
Source Urban Brewery
With 20 beers on tap, including collaborations with other microbreweries, Source Urban Brewery is a Fishtown gem. The pilsners and kolsch-style beers are extra crisp, and the food is also great. What compliments craft beer better than a house-made soft pretzel? Nothing, unless you’re thinking of the beer cheese that comes with that pretzel. The taphouse seems to be a local favorite, even though it’s on the smaller side, and the staff are relaxed and friendly. The atmosphere is very laid back, so Source might be a good final stop after bar hopping in the area. They have a sister location in New Jersey, but I promise you’ll be happy just with this one!
Now this is a hidden gem! I originally ordered from Nomad Pizza because I was at a BYOF cidery across the street, and I ended up loving the pizza far more than expected. They bake absolutely perfect wood-fired sourdough pizzas, like this one with nduja and honey. Pizzas are ready in under 20 minutes and are perfect to have with some beer or crush on their own. You definitely want to take a pie back to your hotel room for some late night snacking!
You’ve probably seen a million photos taken inside Submergence, an immersive art piece made of strings of lights by the artist group Squidsoup. As cool and photogenic as that is, that is just one of the works showing at Wonderspaces. Here, there are multimedia and modern works of art, many of which are either immersive or interactive. Another great thing about Wonderspaces is it’s open until 9pm, much later than other museums or exhibits, so it’s a perfect night-out destination.
If you’re looking for a good dinner date spot or you’re a lover of jazz music, South is the place for you. You can dine on classic southern dishes in their gorgeous dining room as you listen to jazz standards in the background, or you can book tickets to sip on cocktails in their live jazz lounge. The food is rich and delicious with generous portions, and the cocktails all have some southern flair to make things more interesting. South is such a beautiful restaurant and lounge.
Spruce Street Harbor Park
Though it’s popular during the day, Spruce Street Harbor really shines in the evening. Despite being located on the east side of Philadelphia, the view across the Delaware River is beautiful at sunset. The harbor is a great spot to take photos with ships or the Franklin Bridge in the background as the orange sunlight hits everything just right.
When the sun goes down, the fluorescent lights come on in the park and the beer starts flowing. Couples, families, and tourist groups all find a spot in this colorfully lit park to enjoy drinks and snacks while admiring the nighttime views. There are free hammocks you can lounge on and rental hammock areas that you can reserve for groups. Next to the park, there’s a roller rink in the summer and an ice skating rink in the winter for some extra fun!
Hardena is one of Philadelphia’s best-known secrets, meaning that while it’s quite a low-key, hole-in-the-wall spot, it’s also a place that has such amazing food that it has made news headlines. At peak times, the line for this small Indonesian restaurant is out the door. But Hardena is absolutely worth the wait! You can build your own plate with rice and two or three of their signature dishes and daily specials. I loved the beef rendang, a classic Indonesian dish that is rich from coconut milk and packed with flavor. Oh, and ask for extra of the spicy, slightly funky house-made sambal. Seating is limited at this joint, so be prepared to take your meal to-go.
I made a pit stop at Bar Hygge because there was some time to kill before getting on the train home, and that turned out to be a great move. This is just a great bar over all—beers brewed in house, cocktail options, and bar food. I only had the fries as I went after lunch, but they have something called Hygge Boards which are build-your-own snack boards for which you can choose between things like smoked fish toast, pretzel bits, and crispy brussels sprouts. There’s plenty of seating both inside and out, so it’s great for both groups and solo drinkers.
Interested in traveling to another part of the East Coast? Check out my weekend guide for Washington D.C. here!