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Destination Guide

 
 
Like most cities, Philadelphia has invisible layers of history running through the streets. Decide what you're looking for on a particular day, and then everywhere you look it seems there are parts of it to see, like a game of 'Wheres Waldo?? thats put together for you specifically.

Hundred of thousands tour the nations first capital every year, but there are other things to see here besides the famous historical sites. Tour landmarks of ethnic and minority history. There are major works of art and architecture. Or have a cultural experience: Eat your way through Chinatown. First, a look at Colonial history tours:

Tour 1: The Revolution that Never Ended
Any historic tour of Philadelphia starts with Independence National Park. The new government formed in the rooms of Independence Hall one stifling, sticky summer changed the way the world has worked ever since. This is where the Declaration of Independence was signed. This is where the Constitution was signed, and the Bill of Rights. This is where Benjamin Franklin said 'We must all hang together, or we shall surely hang separately.' This is where the Liberty Bell cracked as it rang out the good news.

The Park is a loose amalgamation of buildings and gardens throughout the east end of town, centered at Fifth and Chestnut Streets, where Independence Hall stands. The Parks Visitors? Center is at Third and Chestnut. Stop by for a map, or sign up for a tour. There are also private companies that provide tours on foot or by bus. These are a very good way of seeing the area. Particularly popular are the candlelit evening walking tours. Guides in colonial outfits lead groups on tours of historic buildings and private gardens, telling stories as they go. These walks are built around a theme: architecture, horticulture, the Revolutionary War, even ghost stories. The Lights of Liberty is a multimedia tour. Through a combination of projections and special radio headphones, the buildings of Independence Mall come alive with battles and speeches, bringing the past back to speak for itself in the summer night air.

Once you?ve been immersed in the broad view of how the United States began, you begin to recognize the pattern throughout town ' the colonial houses of Elfreths Alley, the blue historical markers, the word 'First? appearing in names (First Presbyterian Church, First Catholic Church, First National Bank, etc.). You begin to seek out your own connection to the major stream of events: The first African Methodist Church at Sixth and Lombard, the cornerstone of the free black experience in America even prior to the Revolution; the Polish History Museum, tracing the contribution of Polish freedom fighters to the American cause even as their own freedom was threatened at home; and the cemeteries, the graves of the great and the unknown who played their part.


Tour 2: The Good Old Days
The Industrial Revolution, the Victorian Age ' strangely, theres no American term that captures the 19th century. We have the Civil War, the New Frontier, the Gold Rush, but no word for the whole century. America was still trying to figure out what to do with its new possibilities. Philadelphia reflects this, too. Most of the cowboy hats in the Old West came from the Stetson factory in Kensington. Most of the steam engines for the new factories and trains came from here too. The influx of immigrants created Chinatown and the Italian Market. African-Americans arriving from the South (both before and after the Civil War) brought in a strong workforce and the beginnings of a rich jazz heritage that continues even now.

A tour of 19th century Philadelphia can start at Independence Hall. Theres a statue on the spot where President Abraham Lincoln stopped on his way to Gettysburg to deliver one of the most important speeches in American history. From there, start walking in any direction to see classic examples of Victorian architecture: The Curtis Building, at Sixth and Walnut, featuring the famous mural designed by Maxfield Parrish and made by Tiffany; the Bourse, the old stock exchange now alive again as a mall/office building/theatre; the Mütter Museum in the American College of Physicians at 22nd and Chestnut traces the history of medical practice; and then theres City Hall, worth a tour entirely on its own, as one of the most beautiful and terrible examples of the best and worst of 19th century excess.

But Philadelphia moved on from these times, and the 20th century fits nicely into the mix.

Walt Maguire


Tour 3: Chinatown
Philadelphias Chinatown isn't quite as big as its more famous sisters in San Francisco or New York. Nonetheless, the neighborhood has found a niche in the cultural consciousness of the city.

Most visitors come to Chinatown for its restaurants. People have been enjoying Eastern cuisine in Chinatown since the restaurant Mei Hsian Lou opened in 1870. Today, Burmese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants have joined the fray of Szechuan, Mandarin and Hunan establishments.

In addition to the eateries, there are the cramped little shops filled with everything. Hong Fook sells giant Buddhas, Oriental screens, and porcelain dragons along with other items from Asia. A fortune cookie factory, Chinese-Christian Church, and many grocery shops complement the roundhouse kick of restaurants. Take restauranteur Joseph Poons Wok and Walk tour for Oriental cooking tips and an insiders view on this exotic enclave of the city.

Chinatown is located to the left, right and behind the Pennsylvania Convention Center, from 13th and Arch to Eighth Street, and up to Vine Street.

Rob Fleming


Tour 4: Art and Design
American art sometimes seems to have started late compared to its European cousin, but the history of art in Philadelphia is the history of art in America. The portrait gallery in the Second National Bank building at Third and Chestnut is a fine collection of 18th century portraiture; the Academy of Fine Arts and the Barnes Collection house famous collections of American and European Impressionists; and then theres the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum on the Ben Franklin Parkway, with their collections of 19th and 20th century masterpieces by Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, Rodin, Eakins, Cassatt, Wyeth, Muybridge, Brancusi, DuChamp, and hundreds more.

Probably the least known aspect of Philadelphia art is the strong representation of modern and post-modern works around town. The Philadelphia Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), the galleries in Old City, even the galleries in the Academy are frequent stops for New York visitors coming down to see works by Charles Burns, Laurie Anderson, Richard Serra, etc.

Design is strongly represented here as well. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Moore College of Art and the galleries in Old City and around Rittenhouse Square are all good sources for inspiration. The Foundation for Architecture provides a series of walking tours and lectures on various aspects of Philadelphia architecture.

Tour 5: For the Family
Enough education and art; if you're traveling with children, you need something else.

This is a child-friendly town. There is an aquarium, a zoo, three museums designed to let children play with the exhibits (the Please Touch Museum, the Franklin Institute and a section of the Academy of Natural Sciences), old ships and a submarine at Penns Landing, two ice rinks, six professional sports teams, an Omnimax theatre and a planetarium at the Franklin Institute, and a million places to get Pokémon cards.

Many of the downtown places (and the aquarium) are on the route of the Phlash bus, a squat purple van that travels a complex route around the city. The fare is a flat rate for unlimited stops all day long. For many of the museums, a CityPass is available, providing access to several places on a one- or three-day rate with one ticket.

Tour 6: Get Out of Town
Philadelphia has close ties to the surrounding counties. Day trips out of town are easy. Amusement parks such as Sesame Place, Six Flags Great Adventure, and Dorney Park aren't far. State parks and the Jersey seashore are one- to three-hours away. An hour north on I-95 is New Hope, a pleasant little river town filled with restaurants and shops, with the antique shops of Lambertville, New Jersey, across the Delaware River. A half hour south on 202 is the Brandywine region, where you'll find Longwood Gardens and the Wyeth collection at the Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford. New York City is two hours away to the north, and Baltimore an hour and a half to the south. Or just get a boat up the Delaware or Schuykill Rivers.

Walt Maguire