48 Hour Guide to Philadelphia

Short visit? Get the most out of your time in Philly with this itinerary!

Ah, the City of Brotherly love. A city of firsts, home to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and Philly Cheesesteaks. Where America’s first birthday was held, and also home to the first daily newspaper in 1784. The first American hospital was built here by Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond, the first medical school was added, the first American zoo was built and where the very first official coin, the half-disme (dime) was struck at the newly built mint in Philadelphia in 1792. If it’s your first time visiting this lovely city, then this guide is for you!

In recent years Philadelphia has been surging to the top of “best places to visit” lists for good reason. History buffs will be in 7th heaven exploring the many notable locations, but there is so much more to enjoy as well. Foodies will find there is not enough time to taste the huge variety of offerings, art lovers can immerse themselves in museums and discover street art, and those who love green spaces will find plenty of urban parks. Added bonus? Philadelphia is easy on the wallet as many of the historic sites are free or charge less than $10 entry fees.

With 48 hours to discover the many facets of the city, we recommend booking a 2-day double decker bus tour pass with unlimited hop-on, hop-off access throughout Philadelphia. It’s a great way to get from one destination to the next and to learn a thing or two about this city on the way. If you know you’ll want to do another paying attraction, consider buying the 2-day Bus Pass + 1 Attraction package for extra savings. Once you have your ticket you can hop on the bus anywhere, but we think a great place to begin is right at Stop #1, in the hub of the historical section. Before getting on a bus, you’ll want to take pictures at the Liberty Bell and tour Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed. Visiting the Hall is free but you need to get a ticket first from the Independence Visitor Center. Get there early as the 45-minute tours are given at designated intervals and security is tight. It’s awe-inspiring to be in the room where the founding fathers debated and took steps toward independence, but if you don’t want to wait for entrance, you can still see the building, the cracked bell, and visit the Georgian style Carpenters’ Hall that hosted the first Continental Congress in 1774. Entry to this building is also free and does not require a ticket.

Now, hop on the bus and take a short trip to Stop #2. The Betsy Ross House features Betsy herself describing her life and times. Three floors with a steep, winding staircase contain the workshop and living quarters and are a great peak into the past during the early years of America. Special presentations are offered for those with mobility issues.

From the house, be sure to walk to Elfreth’s Alley, the nation’s oldest residential street situated between Second Street and the Delaware River. The colorful and picturesque street has Georgian and Federal style houses still standing and is worth seeing if only for the charm. This is a place where you’ll be glad to have a camera to capture perfect postcard memories.

Continue to the end of Elfreth’s Alley and turn right onto N. Front St. to head south towards Penn’s Landing. If you’re a mid-morning ice cream person, Franklin’s Fountain dispenses classic old-time treats complete with bow-tie wearing staff. Turn right onto Market Street to find this establishment. Otherwise, continue south on N. Front St., which will become S. Front St., and walk for about .3 miles before taking the stairs down to the Landing on the Delaware River. Enjoy the breezes off the waterfront, swing in the hammocks, ride the ferris wheel, and watch the ships. Grab a bite to eat at a truck or street vendor or duck into a restaurant for lunch before heading to the Riverlink Ferry to catch a ride across the river to visit the Battleship New Jersey!

When you reach the other side of the river and debark, walk south following the Wiggins Park sidewalk around the Marina. At America’s most decorated battleship you can stretch out on the bunks, sit in the Admiral’s chair, climb into the gun turret, and learn all about this national treasure steeped in history.

If you spend the first half of the afternoon at the Battleship you’ll have plenty of time to also go next door to Adventure Aquarium. Enjoy the Amazon Rainforest, press your nose up against the movie screen sized windows to watch stingrays, turtles and sharks, and walk the suspension bridge above Shark Realm. Kidzone is a child’s paradise and a parent’s relief, a soft play area where kids can run, climb, and touch to their heart’s content. Quench your thirst or assuage your hunger at the Aquarium’s Marketplace, an all-new eco-friendly and open kitchen dining concept with modern and rustic touches.

Back across the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing you can once again hop on the bus and head out for some haunted evening fun. While Philadelphia does not make the top ten list of most haunted cities in America, it has one of the best selection of haunted tours and pub crawls we’ve seen anywhere. For some (mildly) scary fun things to do after the sun goes down, consider one of these:

Haunted Pub Crawl by Grim Philly Visit the graves of the Founding Fathers, the site of the witch trials, and kick back a few beers at a notoriously haunted pub while being regaled with the region’s most popular ghost stories

Bootlegger’s Prohibition Pub CrawlDiscover the sordid past of the Prohibition Era, hear chilling stories of gangsters, socialize at three of the best watering holes while you play trivia

Witches and Ghosts TourNo Pub stops on this tour but you’ll have a guide who is a college professor well versed in the paranormal aspects of Philly and things that go bump in the night. Covers northern Olde City for 90 minutes of haunted history lessons.

If you’re travelling with kids and are done walking for the day, pub crawls are probably not on your agenda. Instead, sit back and relax for your evening meal -- there is a vibrant food scene in Philly, but it’s good to know in advance that many of the best smaller restaruant are BYOB (which we LOVE). If you’re looking to eat out with your little ones, check out this list of family-friendly restaraunts you’ll actually want to eat at.

Day 2

Begin the day with a great breakfast before heading out to enjoy art museums in the morning. You can take the Hop On Hop Off Bus right to Stop #9, Barnes Foundation, and find excellent options for breakfast. Le Pain Quotidien means “the daily bread” and as the name suggests you can get delicious organic bread here along with coffee, pastries and eggs. Or choose Sabrina’s Café and Spencer’s Too for a wide range of options from specialty omelettes and frittattas to Challah French Toast or Tofu Scramble.

Begin working off some of those delicious calories by walking the short distance to the Barnes Foundation (note that it is closed on Tuesdays). Here you’ll find one of the finest collections of French paintings in the world. An extraordinary number of Renoir, Cezanne and Matisse masterpieces adorn the walls as well as lesser known but equally intriguing paintings in Dr. Barnes’ private collection that was moved here from his estate. This is a gem of a place for all art lovers and can occupy a good part of your morning.

But when you’re ready, there is more art to see at the nearby Rodin Museum (also closed on Tuesdays.) Take the Hop On Hop Off bus to the next stop or simply walk. With almost 150 bronzes, marbles and plasters, this collection represents Rodin’s entire career. The outdoor garden is open to all and provides a beautiful, relaxing space to pause and rest. This museum can be seen in about an hour. Next, be sure to hop-off at the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art (which is closed on Mondays) at Stop #16. Before you go in, be sure to walk around the to the back of the building, pose at the Rocky Statue and take a walk or jog up the famous “Rocky Steps” (don’t worry, they aren’t as long or high as they look in the movie!). Once inside the museum, you’ll find three floors of every imaginable type of art, from Asian to American and European, from Contemporary to Textiles. Visitors spend anywhere from 2-6 hours here, so it is a good thing that there are several cafes located throughout the museum for grabbing snacks and drinks.

Back on the bus, hungry people who didn’t stop at the museums to eat will love visiting Spread Bagelry in Rittenhouse Square at Stop #19. There may be a line out the door but these bagels are hand-rolled, boiled in honey water, and baked in a wood-fired brick oven. Top with cream cheese, bacon or smoked salmon, or try a specialty sandwich. Alternately, the Bake Shop, also on S. 20th diagonally across from Spread Bagelry, has all-day breakfast sandwiches, coffee, scones and croissants along with a cozy atmosphere.

Rittenhouse Square is one of the five original squares planned by city founder William Penn. In the heart of center-city, it is now one of the most exclusive neighborhoods with a serene and handsome tree-filled park. Take your time to roam around a bit and visit the reflecting pool to regroup for the rest of the day.

Reading Terminal Market at Stop #6 is open until 6:00 PM, so if you haven’t spent the entire day at the art museums you’ll have time to explore this exciting indoor farmers market offering an extensive array of exotic and locally grown produce, confections, household goods, baked goods, cookbooks, fresh cut flowers, and much more. This is the crème de la crème of world foods and a foodie’s delight. Coffees, teas, oils and much more assure that you’ll find great souvenirs to take home.

When evening comes the museums close but the city stays open. Live jazz, Latin grooves, DJ tunes, and even some symphony music make the plazas and patios of Philadelphia’s Historic District come alive. Click here to see the schedule of events, or just wander around until you hear something you like. The waterfront district is also within walking distance and is another option for nighttime fun for the entire family. It is hard to get lost in town because the ‘Walk! Philadelphia’ program has installed oversized, colorful signs all around the city with excellent directions for getting where you want to go. The Hop On Hop Off bus runs just until 5:00 – 6:00 PM but the city’s extensive bus system has “night owl” routes and app rides are always available.

No trip to Philadelphia is complete until you’ve tried a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. Our favorite can be found at Campos, across the street from the famous Christ Church in old town, where our found fathers worshiped and which still holds services today.