During my recent trip to the United States, I spent a jam-packed 36 hours in Philadelphia, the largest city in the state of Pennsylvania. I arrived in Philly around midday on a Thursday and left again the next evening for Washington D.C. Although a large city, you can see plenty of the main sights in a short, one-night stay.
In Philadelphia, I met up with an old friend and we stayed at the Apple Hostels of Philadelphia. The hostel was really nice, clean and bright and was in an excellent location. However I thought it was ridiculously overpriced – we paid around $45 each for the night (once PA tax and hostelling international membership fees are added), which did not even include breakfast. Also, the rooms are advertised as ’16 bed dorm room’ which I take to mean that there is space for 16 people in the room. No. This meant there was 16 BUNK BEDS, and therefore 32 people in our dorm room. I have never seen a hostel advertise space in this way before, and think it was massive false advertising. So while the hostel was nice, I was not too impressed by the price or room size (especially given the price!).
But back to Philadelphia. On our first day in the city, we spent time exploring Old City, visiting sights such as Elfreth’s Alley (America’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street) and Betsy Ross’ house (widely credited for making the first American flag).
We then joined the line to see the Liberty Bell. My undergraduate degree was in American and English Literature, which included many classes in American Studies more broadly (American politics, history and culture). I am fascinated by anything to do with America, and it was really exciting for me to be in one of the oldest cities in the country – a city which contains so much of America’s founding history!
We also had passes to visit Independence Hall (a timed ticket is required, which can be queued for on the day, or ordered online in advance for a fee of $1). After passing through many security checks, we were guided through Independence Hall by an incredibly knowledgable guide who explained the history of the building and it’s role in the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. An amazing experience to consolidate all the facts I learnt at university!
On our second day in the city, we purchased a Phlash bus pass. This is $2 for a single ride, or $5 for an all-day pass. The bus is a similar concept to a hop-on, hop-off tour, but without the tour element. You can jump off at any of the 20 stops, which pass by all the major tourist attractions of the city. First, we took it out to Eastern State Penitentiary. This old prison is famous for redefining the system of separate incarceration, emphasising principles of reform rather than punishment, and became the model for more than 300 prisons worldwide. Today you can visit, and take part in an audio tour for $14 ($10 for students).
The audio tour is excellent, and overall very interesting. You can see from the pictures how eerie the place feels now, even when filled with tourists. The tour ends with facts and figures about America’s incarceration rate, particularly of ethnic minorities, and places this in comparison to other developed countries – fascinating and I was thinking about it all for days after visiting.
Next we took the bus to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I have to admit that we did not even step inside the museum (sorry mum and dad), but went rather to take the obligatory ‘Rocky’ pictures at the steps of the museum.
We took our places and raced up the steps – the view from the top is rather impressive:
Heading back towards downtown Philadelphia, we stopped for a late lunch at Reading Terminal Market. This is an old, enclosed public market with many food stands as well as merchandise. I was particularly excited by the Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish) stands, serving delicious baked goods and incredible doughnuts.
It’s certainly a fascinating place, with plenty of things to try, so make sure you arrive hungry!
One of my favourites places that we visited in Philadelphia is called the Magic Gardens, on South Street. Entrance is $7 ($5 for students). The Magic Gardens is a massive mosaic work by artist Isaiah Zagar, which spans three city lots and includes a large outdoor labyrinth. The mosaics are made up of everything from wine bottles to bike wheels and it’s truly incredible.
We had a lot of fun exploring the maze of walkways and hunting for messages hidden in the mosaics. Definitely worth the entrance fee!
Although only a fleeting visit, I really enjoyed Philadelphia and the city had a great atmosphere – hopefully I’ll be back someday!