P. G. White - 2011-12-12
The cradle of American independence, Philadelphia is a vibrant city located between New York and Washington, DC. A prime destination for historians, culture buffs and gourmets alike, The City of Brotherly Love is a great town for walking. And on New Year’s Day there’s a special bonus: the unique display of popular theatrics and homespun music called the Mummer’s Parade.
On 4 July, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia. Thirteen American colonies were about to form a sovereign nation. Independence Hall, where that hallowed document was signed, is located in Independence National Historical Park which straddles the city’s Society Hill and Old City quarters. Dozens of national treasures lie within easy walking distance, from the Liberty Bell to (Benjamin) Franklin Court and from modern buildings such as the National Constitution Center to fine old churches and cemeteries. It seems like every other building around here has a ‘nation’s oldest something’ sign outside.
Brochures and advice are free for the asking at the Visitor Center. Knowledgeable park rangers (yes, this is a national park) are eager to help. Near the main monuments, cheerful folk in period dress are happy to answer questions and pose for photos.
The City of Brotherly Love is a flat, gridded city where signage for pedestrians is easy to follow. Beyond the historic centre, lovely streets (Pine, Spruce, Locust...) lined with old brick row houses stretch from Society Hill to Rittenhouse Square - a prime spot for winter snowball battles. To find your way around, know that City Hall, a monumental edifice topped by a statue of founding father William Penn, is at the axis of the only two streets you need to remember: Broad, which runs north-south (and is actually 14th Street), and Market, which runs east to the Delaware River and west beyond the Schuylkill River. Note that numbered streets run north-south.
Before you set out on a walking adventure, you might enjoy learning about local history while snuggled under a blanket in a horse-drawn carriage. A half-hour clip-clop on the cobbles for up to four people costs around $45; carriages wait near the Liberty Bell.
Lovers of art, old art, new art, rejoice! In addition to its world-class Museum of Art and many illustrious others (Rodin, Barnes, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts...), Philly is home to America’s premier public art scene. There are murals, mosaics and sculptures everywhere - since fifty years ago, one percent of the cost of all major construction must be devoted to art. Weather permitting, the best place to view art in its most democratic element is outside, while strolling through Philadelphia’s beautifully preserved centre. You’ll want to pay a visit to LOVE Park, featuring Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture, and take pictures of the vista towards the Museum of Art. You can pick up brochures and ideas at the Welcome Center there.
Sponsored by the Mural Arts Program to promote urban art and curb graffiti, nearly 3000 murals of all kinds have been painted on Philadelphia walls since the 1980s. Historical or fanciful, modernistic or classical, no city anywhere in the world boasts as many murals. In addition to walking tours, a free cell phone or audio tour of Mural Mile is available from http://muralarts.org/explore/mural-mile
If you walk down to South Street between 10th and 11th, you’ll find the Magic Gardens: a mosaic fairyland created by local artist Isaiah Zagar. Zagar has also been decorating his neighbourhood (and the rest of the world) with mosaics for over forty years. In fact, once you’ve noticed them, you’ll see them everywhere: creative explosions of ceramics, mirrors and poetry covering walls and pieces of walls in the most unexpected places. Take a weekend tour to discover the quarter; the $10.00 price includes admission to the Magic Gardens. Open on New Year’s. http://www.phillymagicgardens.org/
On South Street at 4th you’ll find Jim’s Steaks - stop in, fuel up and rest your weary bones upstairs.
If sculpture is your thing and you enjoy walking in brisk weather, the Fairmount Park Art Association offers a free, downloadable audio tour that will take you from LOVE Park to ‘Joanie on a Pony’ (the 19C Joan of Arc whose twin rides in Paris) and from Rodin’s Thinker to the sculptures of lovely Fairmount Park. ‘Museum Without Walls’ tells the story of thirty-six of the city’s many sculptures; you can visit them in order or download those that interest you.
Philadelphia is famous for its restaurant scene. Ethnic and fusion foods rule here, and Philly’s hoagie and steak sandwiches are famous country-wide. While you’re out and about, walk a couple of blocks north-east from City Hall to Reading Terminal Market at 12th and Arch. Always bustling and festive, this 150-year-old farmer’s market features restaurants, produce stands, products brought in from Amish (Pennsylvania Dutch) farms west of the city and much, much more. Try the macaroni and cheese at Delilah's at the Terminal, the apple dumplings at the Dutch Eating Place, or just about anything else here.
When President Obama made an unannounced stop at the RTM last year, he picked up a couple of cheesesteaks at Carmen’s, some local apples and a Bassett’s ice cream cone (mint chocolate chip, in case you were wondering). While the market is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm (9 to 5 on Sundays), many of the Amish stands are open Wed - Sat only.
Philadelphians and savvy visitors flock to Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River to watch New Year’s Eve fireworks. Not once, but twice. The early show, at 6 pm, is especially for families with sleepy children and other early-to-bed types, while the traditional midnight show over the water is the real party. For a truly memorable evening, head for the Blue Cross RiverRink at Penn’s Landing for a party on ice. Skate rental is only $3.00; the party costs $20.00 per skater.
New Year’s Day is all about the Mummers Parade, and the whole city is a-buzz with Mummers fever. The ‘Mardi Gras meets Broadway’ event officially begins mid-morning; it follows Broad from South Philly up to City Hall. The sound of the parade’s perennial theme song, O Dem Golden Slippers, permeates the city, jazzed up by musician-filled wagons surrounded by flamboyant revellers of all ages. No city offers a more mummer-able New Year’s!
Fairmount Park Welcome Center
16th Street & JFK Boulevard
Open Weekdays 10am-5pm; Sat-Sun 10am-4pm
Independence Visitor Center
6th and Market Streets across from the Liberty Bell
(215) 965-7676 or (800) 537-7676
Open daily from 8.30am to 5pm in winter; later in spring and summer.
(as in: you wish you knew) is an insider’s blog dedicated to the City of Brotherly Love - check it for current events.