The City of Brotherly Love; The Cradle of Liberty; The Birthplace of America; Philadelphia is known by many names, each of which represents a different facet of the city’s rich character.1 Ever since the American Revolution, Philadelphia has made a name for itself, with its eclectic culture and loud personality capturing the hearts of both long-time locals and far-flung travelers.
So, what is Philadelphia known for, you ask? The art, food, history, and community of Philly go off the beaten path, creating a city full of experiences that you just can’t find anywhere else. Whether you’re planning the ultimate travel itinerary or are seeking inspiration in your new home city, get to know the quintessential parts of Philadelphia with these six well-known sights, sounds, and tastes.
#1 The Philly Cheesesteaks
On the menu of delicacies Philadelphia is known for, you have to start with Philly Cheesesteaks—it’s right in the name. Hot, thinly shaved beef, gooey cheese, fluffy hoagie buns… sorry, what were we talking about?
Locals like to dress their cherished rolls with melted provolone, classic Whiz, tender onions, and peppers. It’s a cheesesteak as diverse as the surrounding cityscape. One bite and you’ll put the question of what food is Philadelphia known for to bed.
Born and perfected right here in Philadelphia, the Philly cheesesteak was created in 1930 by Pat Olivieri while he was operating his original hot dog stand.2 As the tantalizing aroma of seasoned beef wafted down the streets of East Passyunk, the Philly cheesesteak became an instant hit. Pat’s hotdog stand transformed into Pat’s King of Steaks, which you can still visit today.
While the best spot for Philly Cheesesteaks in the city is a hot topic of debate, here are a few favorites to try:2
- Joe’s Steak and Soda – Wash down their classic and creative cheesesteaks with a thick milkshake or a refreshing strawberry soda.
- John’s Roast Pork – This home for Philly cheesesteaks also offers delicious roast pork sandwiches, another signature Philadelphia bite.
- Geno’s steaks – Open 24/7 and featuring a sprawling outdoor patio, family-run Geno’s is just as much a community hub as it is a sandwich shop.3
- Pat’s King of Steaks – Of course, we can’t forget the one, the only, the original.
#2 The Street Art
Looking for some unique date ideas in Philly? While some cities scramble to cover up graffiti, Philadelphia embraces street art, from city-sponsored murals to designated areas where amateur artists can experiment. Mural Arts Philadelphia has been sponsoring official street art in the city since 1984, including a collection of 50 rooftop murals decorating Market Street in West Philadelphia.4 You can find these murals in almost any Philly neighborhood, from Center City to Bella Vistas.
Here are some of the famous murals alluring marveled eyes in Philly’s streets:5
- Philadelphia Freedom Fighters in North Philadelphia
- We Still Here! in Germantown
- Afromation Avenue in West Philadelphia
- Reaching Out in Fishtown
Looking for street art that’s truly off the beaten path? Located along the Delaware River a short walk from Fishtown, Graffiti Pier is a freeform canvas completely drenched in technicolor spray paint.6
Although Graffiti Pier is a famous tourist spot, its entrance is hidden among an overgrown hiking trail. Armed with a bit of patience and a keen eye, you can find pops of colorful spray paint that lead the way to your destination. As you explore the trail, you’ll eventually uncover a vast structure covered in murals and unique artist tags.
#3 The Liberty Bell
While Philadelphia is home to a myriad of historical artifacts and monuments like the Independence National Historical Park, Valley Forge, City Hall, and the Betsy Ross House, the Liberty Bell is perhaps one of the most iconic of them all. If you don’t know the full history of the Liberty Bell, imagine a massive, weather-worn metal bell with a crooked crack running down the center.
When you approach the Liberty Bell, you can spot three quotes inscribed around the top:7
- “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all inhabitants thereof” – This Bible passage gives the Liberty Bell its namesake, declaring values of freedom and justice for all.
- “By order of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania for the State House in Philada” – No, they didn’t forget an “n.”Pennsylvania is famously misspelled in this inscription. And Philada? Consider that an old-timey version of the now-beloved “Philly” nickname.
- “Pass and Stow / MDCCLIII” – John Pass and John Stow were two foundry workers who gave their best shot at fixing the Liberty Bell’s cracks in 1753; the date of their attempt in Roman numerals accompanies their name.
Created in 1752, the Liberty Bell garnered its fame almost 100 years later in 1847, when novelist George Lippard released a story about the bell ringing out when the founding fathers first declared independence.7 Though that story is fictional, it inspired a nation looking for direction.
Myths and legends surround the Liberty Bell; no one truly knows when it first rang or when the crack first formed, but its character and charm have cemented it into American (and Philadelphian) history. It now permanently lives in the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia after decades spent touring the country.7
#4 The Magic Gardens
One of Philadelphia’s nicknames is America’s Garden Capital due to the lush gardens spattering the city, but you can find a different kind of garden when you stroll down South Street.
Philadelphia artist Isaiah Zagar dedicated his life to decorating his neighborhood, creating unique mosaic murals wherever he could find a spare spot.8 The Magic Gardens started as an abandoned lot which Zagar began transforming in 1991; over time, Zagar created a dazzling amalgamation of ceramics, bottles, bicycle spokes, and discarded knick-knacks.
Despite an attempt by the original landowner to demolish and develop Zagar’s work, the community rallied around his work and preserved it as a nonprofit organization. This interactive space aims to educate and inspire, with the gallery now housing tours, activities, gallery talks, and workshops for the neighborhood.
#5 Reading Terminal Market
Imagine the hustle and bustle of a major metropolis, mixed with a hometown comfort of a small town market. That’s what you’ll find at Reading Terminal Market, a massive indoor public market that’s been operating in Philly for over 125 years.9
As you explore the buzzing walkways between rows and rows of vendors, you’ll uncover unique ingredients, handmade wares, and delectable handmade treats.
Here are some of the highlights:9
- Miller’s Twist – At this Amish-run pretzel stand, you can watch the staff as they hand-twist delightfully fluffy soft pretzels. Enjoy a classic plain pretzel, opt for a pretzel-wrapped dog, or grab a loaded pretzel stuffed with Philly cheesesteak fixings.
- Dutch Eating Place – Dutch Eating Place has a charming row of counter seats where you can sit and enjoy your meal, but you’ll have to get there bright and early to snag a spot. If you stop by for one of their famous apple dumplings, you might just find yourself staying for a thick slice of French toast or a fresh-baked pot pie.
- Bassetts Ice Cream – This ice cream vendor was the very first shop to sign on at Reading Terminal Market. As the market has grown over the years, so has Bassetts, offering creamy, high-butterfat ice cream in decadent flavors like cinnamon, toasted coconut, and salted caramel pretzel.10
#6 Rittenhouse Square
For a destination that melds history with modern life, look no further than Rittenhouse Square. As part of Philadelphia’s original city planning, Rittenhouse Square has become a delightful hodge-podge of art and architecture through different eras, including Greek-inspired urns, charming pagodas, and modern stone sculptures.11
This lush tree-lined park lies at the heart of Center City, where you can marvel at bronze casts from the 1800s or sit and read by the sprawling reflecting pool. Families walking their dogs, artists painting the scenic view, and locals relaxing in the grass all coexist in this open plaza.
Rittenhouse Square holds its own as an attraction on any regular day, but it’s also host to several exciting events throughout the year:11
- Rittenhouse Square Spring Festival – Celebrate the arrival of spring with the Center City community by enjoying live music and sampling snacks from local vendors.
- Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show – The diagonal walkways of Rittenhouse Square are lined with artists’ tents every fall, where you can marvel at paintings, ceramics, embroidery, and dozens of other art forms.
- Rittenhouse Square Christmas Tree Lighting – The trees that line Rittenhouse Square light up in shimmery glory during the holiday season, which kicks off with a tree lighting celebration.
Enjoy Philadelphia’s History, Art, and Gastronomic Delight with Common
You can’t go far in Philadelphia without running into an enriching historic site, dazzling art exhibit, or charming hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Each of Philly’s unique neighborhoods like Old City and Northern Liberties has its own not-so-hidden gems that are well worth the visit.
Don’t limit the magic of Philadelphia to just one visit. With short or long-term rental options from Common, you can have all the time in the world to experience Philly’s greatest hits.
Worried about the cost of living in Philadelphia? Turn this beautiful city from your “home-away-from-home” into your “home sweet home” with Common. With comfortable furnishings, attainable prices, and options for coliving in Philadelphia, Common homes help you join the community in Fairmount, Fishtown, or Spring Gardens. Reach out to the Common team today to find a Philly home that speaks to you.
- The Philadelphia Tribune. Did You Know: Facts About Philadelphia. https://www.phillytrib.com/the_learning_key/did-you-know-facts-about-philadelphia/article_8d1a7bfd-cdec-5d96-aaf1-69c48e159dc6.html
- Visit Philadelphia. Philadelphia Cheesesteaks. https://www.visitphilly.com/food-drink/philadelphia-cheesesteaks/
- Geno’s Steaks. About. https://www.genosteaks.com/
- Visit Philadelphia. Mural Arts Philadelphia. https://www.visitphilly.com/things-to-do/attractions/mural-arts-philadelphia/
- Mural Arts Philadelphia. Artworks. https://www.muralarts.org/artworks/
- Guide to Philly. Philadelphia Graffiti Pier: A Love Letter to the City’s Underground Arts. https://guidetophilly.com/philadelphia-graffiti-pier
- US History.org. The Liberty Bell. https://www.ushistory.org/libertybell/
- Philadelphia Magic Gardens. About Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. https://www.phillymagicgardens.org/about-philadelphias-magic-gardens/
- Visit Philadelphia. Reading Terminal Market. https://www.visitphilly.com/things-to-do/food-drink/reading-terminal-market/#why-visit
- Bassetts Ice Cream. Flavor Gallery. https://www.bassettsicecream.com/flavor-gallery
- Visit Philadelphia. Rittenhouse Square Park. https://www.visitphilly.com/things-to-do/attractions/rittenhouse-square-park/#events-more
- Curbed Philadelphia. 9 Essential Isaiah Zagar Mosaics in Philly. https://philly.curbed.com/maps/essential-mosaics-isaiah-zagar-philly-magic-gardens