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Holiday Guides for North America - United States

Philadelphia Holiday

A sprawling city, which straddles US modernity and classic European architecture, Philadelphia is a cosmopolitan melting pot.

Bold and brassy but steeped in history, Philadelphia mixes its revolutionary past with a newfound economic prosperity in its vibrant buzz. With a host of museums, a multitude of cultural venues and more than a sprinkling of bars, the city certainly caters for those who want it all.

History, Traditions And Culture

A sprawling city, which straddles US modernity and classic European architecture, Philadelphia is a cosmopolitan melting pot.

One of the first Quaker settlements, the city was founded in March 1681 and was the capital of William Penn's colony. It played a pivotal role in American history, serving as the official seat of power throughout the War of Independence and up until 1800. This political hotbed also produced the bulwarks of American democracy in the form of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

Today, Philadelphia otherwise known as Philly or the "City of Brotherly Love" in the original Greek, is one of the most ethnically diverse in the whole of the US with strong cultural traditions from generations of Italians, Irish, eastern Europeans and Asians making their mark at the heart of the city. It still bears witness to its colonial past in the quaint cobbled streets but the addition of a state-of-the-art conference centre and recent downtown regeneration has breathed new life into the old capital.

There are strong divides along racial lines in Philadelphia and making any generalisations or jokes, which otherwise may be harmless, on these topics would be ill-advised.

However, the cultural diversity of the city is also one of its highlights, facilitating a number of cuisines and bars throughout its districts.

The city was designed like an English rural town, although its streets had a grid that would keep buildings apart. This was designed to give them a better chance of surviving if there should be a fire, as there had been in London. Today these European influences can still be seen in much of the city's architecture.

Things To See And Do

Philly's obvious starting point is the redbrick buildings of the Independence National Historic Park. The influence of statesmen past still holds sway in Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was put together by Jefferson and given its first public reading in Independence Square in 1776. The iconic Liberty Bell which once hung in the Hall is now on display within the Park. Curious visitors can also wander round Congress Hall, the First Bank of the United States and Carpenter's Hall which was the First Continental Congress in 1774.

The city boasts its own 'museum row' including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, immortalised by Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. In reality, the museum holds an absorbing collection of art and furniture from around the world with a particular emphasis on the Impressionists and the Dadaist/Surrealist Marcel DuChamp. The Barnes Foundation Gallery also offers a stunning collection of 19th and 20th century art.

The Rodin Museum is home to the largest collection of his sculptures and casts outside of Paris, whilst the Academy of Natural Sciences concentrates on dinosaurs, mummies and gems. Those who like their science hands-on can head to the Franklin Institute Science Museum for the laser rock shows in the Fels Planetarium, the Omniverse movie theatre and the Mandell Futures Centre focusing on computers, health issues and environmental problems.

The Ivy League University of Pennsylvania also offers one of the world's best archaeology and anthropology museums with global finds from throughout the ages including a twelve-tonne granite Sphinx. And if that's not enough, try the African American Museum in Philadelphia or literary fans can go to the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. The Franklin Court complex also honours one of Philadelphia's greatest residents, the scientist, philosopher, statesman, inventor and printer Benjamin Franklin.

For a breath of fresh air, Fairmount Park is one of the world's largest landscaped city parks with enough jogging, biking and hiking trials to satisfy the most die-hard keep fit fanatic.

When the hunger pangs start to kick in, bustling Chinatown offers good quality cheap food or head a block over into the lively Reading Terminal Market. The Italian market in south Philadelphia is the country's largest outdoor market overflowing with cheese and homemade pasta. South Street is now home to the city's best nightlife with a plethora of cafés, bars, restaurants and nightclubs to amuse you until the early hours and beyond.

At night, you can’t miss the lights of the massive Benjamin Franklin Bridge which dominates the city skyline. But if the winter chills get you then you could always aim for the ballet at the nation's oldest grand opera house.

Philly provides an absorbing melange of high and low-brow entertainment with as much variety as the pick and mix counter in your local cinema. All you need is a bit of cash, a vague sense of direction and a lot of stamina.

Weather In Philadelphia

Philadelphia boasts very hot summers with cold, biting winters. Between the months of May and September visitors might encounter lively storms, to clear humidity from the air.

Winds also come from the Atlantic Coastal Plain, providing a welcome relief from the heat which can exceed 30 degrees C regularly from June to September.

Destination Checklist For Philadelphia

  • The official currency is the US dollar.
  • Philadelphia is five hours behind GMT.
  • The city uses the international dialling code +1.
  • It has a population of around 1.5 million people.