The thirteenth edition of the Times Atlas of the World dedicates a double-page to Washington, New York and Boston. They may be three of the most important cities in the Northeastern United States, but historic Philadelphia deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.
Founded in 1682 by William Penn – who lends his name to surrounding Pennsylvania – 'The City of Brotherly Love' grew rapidly to become the largest city in the United States by 1750. So significant was 'Philly' that both the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787, were first signed and ratified in a city that for a brief period served as capital of the United States.
The World Heritage-listed Independence Hall on Chestnut Street tops plenty of tourist itineraries, as it was here that the Declaration of Independence was signed by the Second Continental Congress in 1776. The nearby Liberty Bell is said to have rung out to herald the news, and while the claim isn’t quite true, it hasn’t stopped the bell from becoming a cherished symbol of independence.
One of the 'Founding Fathers' to have signed was Benjamin Franklin, who went on to earn the sobriquet 'the First American' on account of his colossal range of achievements – most of which he accomplished in Philadelphia. Today, Franklin Court stands as a testament to this remarkable individual, who achieved fame in his lifetime as a world-renowned scientist, journalist, postmaster and politician.
Philadelphia might be renowned for its countless historic sites, but the United States’ fifth-most populous city is nevertheless a thoroughly modern metropolis. Home to America’s first modern skyscraper, the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society Building, the Philly skyline now harbours numerous glittering skyscrapers, including the soaring 58-story Comcast Center – the tallest building between New York and Chicago.
With a nod to the great ballparks of yesteryear, the city’s beloved Major League Baseball team are also proud tenants of one of the first newly-built retro ballparks. The Philadelphia Phillies moved into the 43,000-capacity Citizens Bank Park in 2004, and the venue is routinely sold out – not least because it boasts some of the best ballpark cuisine found anywhere in the United States.
There’s no better place to chow down a hot dog than the ballpark, but the venerated home of the Phillies does fast food like no other stadium. Not for nothing is Citizens Bank Park routinely named one of the best places to eat in Philadelphia, and with its waistline-expanding collection of Philly Cheesesteaks, locally-brewed craft beers, mouth-watering hoagies and a truly astonishing sandwich called The Schmitter, there’s more reason than just sport to head on out to the ball game.
Indeed, Philadelphia’s food scene is legendary, owing in part to the countless migrants who settled in the city and brought with them the tastes of home. The Philly Cheesesteak – a long roll containing thinly sliced strips of steak covered in melted cheese – is iconic, while soft pretzels, Italian ice and pork rolls are likewise regular staples. Then there’s the beer, which flows in such copious amounts that Philadelphia is regularly labelled “the best beer-drinking city in America”.
Philadelphia may not receive the same acclaim of some of its northeastern neighbours, but that’s no reason to overlook this bustling modern city. Whether you’re scouring the produce at the Reading Terminal Market – the nation’s oldest continuously operating farmers' market – enjoying the attractions at the expansive Philadelphia Museum of Art, or simply cruising around town on one of the city’s trolley-style streetcars, there’s plenty to see and do.
In fact, there’s a case to suggest that Philadelphia may just be America’s most underrated tourist city. At just 150 kilometres down Interstate 95 from New York City, this historic, thoroughly engaging metropolis is just a stone’s throw from America’s most visited city, making Philly arguably the best-kept secret along the eastern seaboard.