Once the US capital, Philadelphia is the birthplace of American liberty, independence, the constitution and disagreements over the best cheesesteak in the nation.
When Edmund Strzelecki first climbed the mountain he named Mt Kosciuszko back in 1840, little did following generations of Australians realise that the name (pronounced Koshchooshko) also had huge significance in the American Revolutionary War.
The Polish patriot and brilliant military strategist, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, arrived in Philadelphia in 1776 and took part in the war as a colonel alongside George Washington. Pennsylvania was then one of the 13 colonies of British America and Philadelphia was their largest city. It was even the American capital in the 1790s. Kosciuszko is revered as a hero in Philadelphia for his strategic part in the war against the British.
City of Brotherly Love
Founded in 1682 by William Penn, many regard Philadelphia, or Philly, as the birthplace of America. Also called the City of Brotherly Love, it is the sixth largest city in the USA. And being about halfway between New York and Washington DC means there’s no major detour in your swing through America’s north-east.
The good thing about historic sites in old cities is that most of the interesting bits are snuggled together. A good geographic reference point is Philadelphia’s magnificent City Hall. At 167m high, you won’t miss it. It is a beacon at Penn Square in Center City. On top of the spire is a statue of William Penn, which is visible from many parts of the city. It’s one of the largest municipal office buildings in the world and is a captivating sight.
To the east is Independence Hall, where Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams gathered to map out the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution was later written here too, making it the first constitution of its kind and influencing many other nations to create similar documents. There are regular tours of Independence Hall, but you may need to book at peak periods.
Across the road is perhaps the most iconic symbol of US independence, the Liberty Bell. Originally housed inside Independence Hall, the bell is revered. A crack formed after it was first rung following its arrival in Philadelphia. Despite repeated attempts to recast and repair it, the bell was deemed to be permanently damaged and has since been rung on a few occasions. Now it takes pride of place indoors on its original mounting gantry.
Just south of Independence Hall is Washington Square Park, a reminder of the human cost of the revolutionary war. The inscriptions on the tomb of the unknown soldier are moving.
If you’re hungry for more than history, Philadelphia is a cosmopolitan city with many culinary influences, and a visit to Reading Terminal Market just west of City Hall on North 12th St dazzles with its variety. This market is more than 100 years old and some family-owned stalls have existed for several generations. There are even stalls selling Amish food and produce.
And then there’s the dish that makes Philly famous, the cheesesteak sandwich. It’s made up of shaved beef topped with cheese in a bread roll. Locals swear by how good these are and you might hear debates about where to get the best one. A good starting place is Geno’s on South 9th St in South Philadelphia. Immediately across the road is another high-octane cheesesteak institution, Pat’s, begun by the man reputed to have invented it in the 1930s. Each outlet claims to make the better cheesesteak but try them for yourself, on different days, unless your constitution is as strong as America’s.
Philadelphia hosts some wonderful open spaces and parks. Just west of City Hall is the JFK Plaza, otherwise known as Love Park for the love sculpture created by pop artist Robert Indiana. Installed in 1976, the sculpture is a tourist attraction.
Continuing north-west along Benjamin Franklin Way takes you through the picturesque Logan Square and past a number of impressive museums and galleries such as the Barnes Foundation, the Mutter Museum and the Rodin Museum. The Rodin Museum holds the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of Paris including The Thinker located just outside the entrance courtyard. At the end of the Benjamin Franklin Way is the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The steps of this building were immortalised in the film Rocky. Perhaps the top of the steps is a fitting way to end your Philadelphia tour because from here, the view is wonderful.