It was so much fun interviewing Irene Levy Baker of UniqueEatsPhilly.com about all of the wonderful food and hidden gems of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Irene is the perfect person to provide a local’s perspective on Philly. Not only has she written two awesome books about the city, but she also worked for the Visitor’s Bureau for ten years! If anyone knows the best things to do in Philadelphia, it is Irene.
Philadelphia is known as the “City of Brotherly Love.” It is a city with a rich history, multiple professional sports teams, and a diverse array of foodie options.
The city was founded by William Penn and was our nation’s capital for the first 10 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Interestingly enough, as I was preparing for this interview, I found an article about a historian who holds the deed to the first “White House” and he was planning to sell it.
We share a lot of resources and local suggestions in today’s podcast, but you should also check out VisitPhilly.com, the local convention and visitor’s bureau. They are a wealth of information and can help you plan an itinerary based on your time, budget, and interests.
During your visit, consider buying the Philadelphia City Pass. With this pass, you can save up to 49% on your choice of 3, 4, or 5 of the most popular attractions in Philadelphia.
Best things to do in Philadelphia
Here are some of the best things to do in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, according to our local expert, Irene Levy Baker. And I’ve added some additional options based on my research and places I’ve visited.
- Barnes Foundation – provides facilities for educational programs, special exhibitions, and visitor amenities. Dr. Barnes’s collection is presented within a 12,000-square-foot gallery. Make sure to visit the Barnes Arboretum as well.
- Chinatown Friendship Arch – a colorful, 40-foot tall gate marks the entrance to Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood.
- Citizens Bank Park – summertime baseball is the best! Stop by and catch a Philadelphia Phillies game. You might even meet the Philly Phanatic mascot!
- Dilworth Park – a vibrant urban space outside City Hall with an interactive fountain. In the winter, you can ice skate here.
- Eastern State Penitentiary – was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. Today it is in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Famous inmates include Scarface Al Capone.
- Elfreth’s Alley – this is the oldest residential street in America.
- Franklin Square – another great park and outdoor space. You can even play mini-golf here. Irene suggests taking pictures at the mini-monuments, then search for the real-life versions and take pictures next to them. Great photos for social media!
- Independence Hall – the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were both debated and signed inside Independence Hall. It is free to get in, but you need a pass. Stop by the Visitor’s Center first thing in the morning to get yours so you don’t miss out.
- Liberty Bell – of course you want to see the crack in the bell for yourself. There can be long lines, but don’t get discouraged. The line moves quickly.
- Lincoln Financial Field – this is one of the toughest home crowds in the NFL. Even Santa got boo’d out of the stadium once. The Philadelphia Eagles have their home football games here.
- Love Park – officially named John F. Kennedy Plaza, it is better known as LOVE Park. It gets its name from Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE statue.
- Museum of the American Revolution – a museum dedicated to the people and events of the American Revolution. Take a walk back in time to the beginning of our country.
- Mutter Museum – is America’s finest museum of medical history. It showcases preserved collections of anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments in a 19th-century “cabinet museum” setting. Visit to understand the mysteries of the human body and to appreciate the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease.
- One Liberty Observation Deck – climb 57 stories up (via a state-of-the-art elevator experience) to the enclosed deck for a 360* view of Philadelphia.
- Philadelphia City Hall – construction of City Hall began in 1871 and took over 30 years to complete. It is the largest municipal building in the United States, with over 14.5 acres of floor space.
- Philadelphia International Airport – make sure you check out the American Express Centurion Lounge when you fly through. My wife, Anna, tells me that it is awesome.
- Philadelphia Museum of Art – famous for the being the steps that Sylvester Stallone ran up in the movie Rocky. After you’ve run up the stairs, head inside to explore some fabulous art.
- Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens – actually not a garden at all. It is an art installation made entirely of mosaic. Feels like you’re in Alice in Wonderland.
- Please Touch Museum – features interactive exhibits, programs, and special events designed to focus on creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. Fun (with a side of education) for children of all ages.
- Sesame Place – a Sesame Street-themed amusement park just outside of Philly. It is the first theme park in the world designated as a Certified Autism Center.
- Spruce Street Harbor Park – there’s a beer garden on the Delaware River with colorful hammocks, lights that change color, and live music. A wonderful place to spend a few hours.
- The Franklin Institute – was founded in honor of America’s first scientist, Benjamin Franklin. It is one of the oldest and centers of science education in the country. The museum creates a passion for science by offering new and exciting access to science and technology in ways that are embraced children of all ages.
- United States Mint – take a tour of the nation’s first mint. Just don’t ask for samples. The workers have heard that joke too many times. There’s a free 45-minute self-guided tour if you’re interested. Over 1 million coins are produced every 30 minutes.
- Visit Philadelphia – stop by the visitor’s center for the latest schedules, coupons, and specials.
- Wells Fargo Center – when in Philadelphia, stop by and watch a Philadelphia Flyers hockey game or a Philadelphia 76ers basketball game. Anna and I did and the Flyers vs. Capitals NHL game was one of the best we’ve been to.
Here’s a short list of the current events happening in Philadelphia that you can buy tickets for.
The Philadelphia City Pass is a great deal. You can save up to 49% off your choice of some of the best things to do in Philadelphia. Choose either 3, 4, or 5 attractions and you’ll have 9 days to use it once it is activated, so there’s no rush. Many of the “best of” list Irene has shared is included in the Philadelphia City Pass, including One Liberty Observation Deck, Eastern State Penitentiary, and the Museum of the American Revolution.
Looking for other things to do? Here are the top 10 sightseeing tickets and packages for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Or, you can buy one of the Lonely Planet books, which are another excellent resource. Their current promo offers 3 books for the price of two.
Best places to eat in Philadelphia
Philadelphia was founded on the freedom of religion. That openness allowed people from all ethnicities and backgrounds to move here. Today, this melting pot of humankind offers an amazing assortment of ethnic foods for travelers to enjoy.
There are three food items that you must try when you’re in Philadelphia – cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, and water ice. Preferably, you’ll try cheesesteaks from multiple restaurants, because everyone has a different style. Water ice is a combination of a slushie and a snowcone.
Here is the list of the best places to eat in Philadelphia, according to Irene.
- Abe Fisher – serves food of the Jewish diaspora.
- Dizengoff – they specialize in traditional Israeli hummus with different toppings to choose from.
- Federal Donuts – many unusual flavors that you can’t find elsewhere. Owned by the same people that own Zahav. They also make amazing fried chicken.
- Geno’s Steaks – who’s it going to be, Pat’s or Geno’s? Both have distinct flavors and EVERYONE has an opinion about who has the better cheesesteak.
- Goldie – Irene addiction is the Turkish coffee tehina shake. Heaven in a cup. They specialize in falafels.
- Hop Sing Laundromat – a secret speakeasy in Chinatown. There are no signs, just a doorbell and an address. The owner, Le, didn’t want people to stumble upon his bar; instead, he wanted their arrival to be intentional. Dress to impress because if you’re wearing shorts, tennis shoes, or flip-flops, you won’t get in. No cameras or phones allowed. Conde Naste named it one of the best bars in the world. Irene says that there are over 1600 people on the “banned for life” list.
- Independence Beer Garden – a 20,000 square-foot, all-American beer garden overlooking the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
- Jim’s Steaks – every local has an opinion on cheesesteaks. The last time I was in Philly, a local proclaimed that Jim’s is the best in town. It was really good. And the place was nowhere near as crowded as the popular Pat’s and Geno’s.
- McGillin’s Olde Ale House – was opened in 1860 by two Irish immigrants, the same year that Abraham Lincoln was elected. They served “tea” upstairs during Prohibition. It has been in the same family for 3 generations. The crowd gets younger as the night gets older. If you’re hungry, try the corned beef Reuben sandwich.
- Metropolitan Pizza & Cafe – they specialize in European breads, so you know that the crust is something special.
- Palizzi Social Club – over 100 years ago, there were a lot of social clubs in Philadelphia. Each served a particular immigrant sector. Palizzi focused on immigrants from Bosto, Italy. It has been passed down to Joey Baldino (the nephew of the owner). He made two changes – 1) Joey makes his Grandma’s recipes with a special twist and 2) he convinced the Board to allow anyone to become a member. Inside is like walking back in time to the 1950s with a dimly lit bar and Rat Pack music playing in the background. Irene recommends the Raviolo Vasto.
- Pat’s King of Steaks – one of the most popular places to get a cheesesteak when you’re in Philly.
- Reading Terminal Market – a 125-year old farmer’s market in the heart of the city. Many of the food court shops have been there for 100+ years.
- Saté Kampar – Irene recommends the goat sate Kajang.
- Suraya Restaurant – Irene can’t get enough of the slow-roasted lamb hummus here.
- Vernick Food & Drink – serves authentic American food with Guy Vernick’s special twist. Irene recommends the beef tartar toast.
- Zahav – offers modern Isreali food. The chef, Michael Solomonov is a winner of a James Beard Award. He was featured in a CNN Travel article about the food of Philadelphia.
Many of the Philadelphia restaurants are BYOB, meaning that you can bring your own beer, wine or liquor. This allows many more “Mom and Pop” restaurants to open because they don’t need to worry about the time or expense involved in getting a liquor license.
Best places to stay in Philadelphia
When you come to visit the City of Brotherly Love, here are the best places to stay in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- Best Western Plus Independence Park Hotel – this Best Western Rewards category 8 hotel is 36,000 points per night.
- Hotel Sofitel Philadelphia – Irene enjoys the Sofitel for its elegant luxury.
- Kimpton Hotel Palomar Philadelphia – I love Kimpton’s style. Whenever there is a Kimpton Hotel available, I always stay there. This IHG Rewards hotel is 55,000 points per night.
- Sheraton Philadelphia Society Hill Hotel – Anna and I stayed here during our first visit to Philly. Very walkable to explore the best that Philly has to offer. I love the cobblestone streets just outside its doors. This Marriott Rewards category 4 hotel is 20,000 to 30,000 points per night.
- The Logan Philadelphia, Curio Collection by Hilton – Hilton’s Curio collection always offers a unique perspective on a hotel stay. This Hilton Honors hotel is 40,000 to 60,000 points per night.
- The Bellevue Hotel – this World of Hyatt category 4 hotel is 15,000 points per night. You can use the annual free night from the Chase World of Hyatt credit card to stay here for free.
- The Warwick Hotel – its ideal location in Rittenhouse Square places you in one of Philadelphia’s most iconic and coveted neighborhoods. For a moment, this hotel was part of the Radisson Blu collection of hotels.
- Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District – With Wyndham Rewards, any hotel is available for a fixed 15,000 per night.
AirBnB is also a great option. Use our referral link to get $40 off your first AirBnB stay.
If you’d like to learn how to travel for free using airline miles and hotel points, check out my free 7-day email course.
Getting around Philadelphia
The local airport is the Philadelphia International Airport, which is about 8 miles southwest of the city.
Irene says that there’s no need to rent a car. From the airport, take the SEPTA train, which is quick, easy, and affordable. It departs every 30 minutes from the airport.
The city’s founder, William Penn, was smart enough to create the city on a grid. Because of this, the city is very walkable and easy to navigate.
If you only need a car for a couple of hours, you can rent by the hour with Zipcar. Join now to get $25 loaded into your account.
The Final Countdown
1) If a traveler could only have one meal in Philadelphia – Irene pushed back on this one because she’s such a believer in Philly restaurants, it would be a sin to only have one meal in Philadelphia. If you could only go to one place, she recommends the Reading Terminal Market. This farmer’s market offers so many excellent food options, you can get a taste of anything and everything if you wanted to.
And, of course, because this is Philadelphia, you have to visit Pat’s and Geno’s to compare their cheesesteaks. Irene recommends you stand in one line, while your friend stands in the other, then swap halves so that you can try them both and pick your favorite.
Whatever you do, it is important to lean forward when eating a cheesesteak so that you don’t drip on your shirt.
2) Favorite memory of Philadelphia – For Irene, every day is getting better in Philly. They obviously have a rich history, but many big events from modern times have been hosted in Philadelphia, such as Pope Francis, both the Democratic and Republican Conventions, and the 2017 NFL Draft. Irene loves every minute of it and looks forward to the next big announcement!
3) Happiest Happy Hour in Philadelphia – you have to go to McGillin’s Olde Ale House. It has stood the test of time, even when they had to serve “tea” upstairs during the Prohibition. It is literally like walking into a time machine.
4) Best place for pepperoni pizza in Philadelphia – Irene says that there are several great pizza joints in Philly, such as Stella Pizzeria and Pizzeria Vetri. But her favorite is Metropolitan Bakery because the crust is so amazing. Metropolitan Bakery has been specializing in European breads for over 25 years, so they are experts.
Places we talked about on the podcast
Here is a map of all of the places we talked about on the podcast episode with Irene Levy Baker about Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. You can zoom into the map and click on each dot to explore the city.
- Red dots = best places to eat in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- Green dots = best things to do in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- Yellow dots = best places to stay in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Who is Irene Levy Baker?
Irene Levy Baker worked for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for 10 years. The Philadelphia CVB is geared toward conventions and businesses, while their other site VisitPhilly.com is focused on normal people like us.
She eventually went out on her own and started Spotlight Public Relations, a public relations firm specializing in restaurants and hospitality. With her vast knowledge of Philadelphia, Irene set out to write books to help locals and visitors discover amazing things to do and places to eat in Philadelphia.
The books that Irene wrote are:
You can find her books at Amazon, in bookstores, and on her website, UniqueEatsPhilly.com. Irene says that if you buy either (or both) of her books directly from her website and mention that you heard about her on my podcast, she’ll sign the book with a personalized message for you!
Big thanks to today’s podcast sponsor – RewardExpert
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Stay tuned for our next episode
Listen to the next episode when Philip Taylor (aka PT Money) of Part-Time Money and FinConExpo.com shares where to get the best BBQ brisket and Tex-Mex in Dallas, Texas. We hope you’ll join us when We Travel There.
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