Mention Philadelphia and you get a very broad spectrum of comments: Birthplace of Independence. Land of cheesesteaks. That place between New York City and Washington, D.C. But Philly isn’t a brief pitstop to the locals, who love their city and everything about it, for the better or worse. We tapped into our local guide team to understand why those living in the City of Brotherly Love are such Philly fanatics and what sets it apart from any other major U.S. destination.
Everyone loves an underdog. And Philly holds claim to one of the most well-known underdogs in the history of cinema: Rocky Balboa. Travelers come from all over the world to run up the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, then strike a champion’s pose next to the famous Rocky statue. True fans will recreate other parts of that memorable montage running scene, maybe even getting a local vendor to toss them an orange as they jog down 9th Street through the Italian Market. And if you’re a real Rocky lover, you’ll head up to Laurel Hill Cemetery to pay respects to Adrian Balboa, wife of Rocky Balboa, at an actual gravestone inscribed with her name!
Characters Keepin’ It Weird
They say Austin and Portland are weird, but stroll the streets long enough in Philly and you’ll encounter a lot of *interesting* characters. Maybe you’ll run into a fully costumed and immersed Ben Franklin and get a wisecrack quip or come upon Philly Jesus, who might also have some wisdom to dole out. Other colorful characters include Philly Elmo of 2020 dumpster fire fame and, ever so occasionally, a pretty convincing Rocky Balboa. But if you see a giant red creature with demented eyes, run.
We encourage everyone to use public transportation whenever possible, but if you are driving Philly streets, be prepared to see some unusual only-in Philly things. Along Broad Street, it’s pretty common for police to look the other way when it comes to parking in the middle of the street. Farther down in South Philly, parking becomes an even bigger challenge as the streets get smaller and smaller, forcing residents to park halfway (or most of the way) up onto the sidewalks. And don’t get us started on those potholes.
Murals & Magic Gardens
While Denver and Las Vegas both have their own flourishing art scenes, Philly takes the enviable title of the mural capital of the world. Over 4,000 murals to date have been painted across the city, many of them thanks to the Mural Arts Program. Some are inspiring, some mind-bogglingly big, others simply beautiful. In addition to its own murals, the Bella Vista neighborhood, which includes the 9th Street Italian Market, is worth a visit for its extraordinary Magic Gardens, a mosaicked labyrinth dreamt up by artist Isaiah Zagar in the 1990s.
Bonus: Tomato Pie
Now to not address the elephant covered in onions and Whiz in the room: the Philly Cheesesteak. Sure, try out one of the many vendors offering this admittedly satiating sandwich, but while you’re enjoying the mosaic-covered telephone poles and row houses of South Philly, be sure to sample a unique Philly food: tomato pie. It might sound simple – bread dough, a thick pizza sauce, grated parmesan cheese – but this is one Sicilian staple that everyone can get behind. Hold the Whiz, please.