• Monday , 19 February 2018

Undercover Tourist: What You Really Want to See In Philly

Story by Elspeth Misiaszek, photos by Alexander Waegel

Every time visiting relatives ask to explore Philly, local friends launch into the “great debate”. And it’s pretty clear that Philly natives love one thing: bickering about the “best of” in their great city.

The sports fans demand we try to catch a game, geeky friends start listing museums or fancy gardens, and foodie friends practically fist fight over steak shops and fine dining.

One cousin, who is finally of legal drinking age, spent a Saturday a few weeks ago. Next time, there will be a brewery tour. For her first visit, though, we wanted to touch on all our favorite Philly things.

1. The Mutter Museum
Some genius decided to put slides of Einstein’s brain cells into a petri dish. They are proudly displayed in a glass case at the grossest of all Philadelphia museums: The Mutter Museum.

From two-headed babies to the detrimental effect of corsets on a woman’s rib cage, ickiness abounds at this popular museum of medical anomalies. Get there when they open as the Saturday crowds prevented us from taking time to observe the 100 plus skulls that were on display.

2. Philly Art Museum
We loved the architecture of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (OK – I’m lying to make myself sound classier than I really am.) What everyone loves to hate is humming the Rocky theme song and dashing up the steps of the art museum.

They conveniently added a little plaque at the top with two footprints on it so you know precisely where to stand. Yes, dozens of people still do this everyday, and, no, it never gets old… even if you live here.

3. Reading Terminal Market
We had to squeeze Termini Bros. Bakery‘s famous cannoli and marzipan cookies into the day. The original location, tucked onto an out-of-the-way side street, was out of the question.

Turns out they have a mini-shop at the Reading Terminal Market. Tony Luke’s moved out, but you can get a quick glimpse of Amish kitsch and most other Philly favorites here (in the loosest possible sense of the term.)

4. Constitutional Square (Optional)
Our guests unanimously decided that they didn’t care about Elfreth Alley (I like it because it rhymes with Elspeth), the Liberty Bell or the Constitution Center. We were going to take them on a self-guided walking tour, though.

Betsy Ross House also got an ambivalent reaction, personal feelings on her farce aside. That being said, walking around the fancy, touristy section of the city has its merits for some guests, so, maybe you do, maybe you don’t.

5. South Street
Back in the day, South Street was a punk-laden art scene. You have a choice of bars like Tattooed Mom‘s (vegan taco Tuesday woot! woot!), or head to The Twisted Tail, a classy bourbon bar, for some small plates. A shout out to Me N Mo too for their awesome (meat)balls too!

Walk the street and pop into vintage thrift stores, stained glass vendors or hat stores. If you’re with a date, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens are a fascinating way to spend a few hours.

6. Nick’s Roast Beef
The irony of heading to Old Original Nick’s Roast Beef from South Street is that you get to drive past Pat’s and Geno’s, the two most iconic steak shops in the city. Nick’s, though, represents everything awesome about the Italian sloppy sandwich culture of Philadelphia.

At 3 p.m the tables are empty except for a few guys in Philly jerseys screaming at TVs. It’s quiet. It’s dark. It’s a 10-item menu where food is served on paper plates. And I prefer it over the crowds any day. You may begin disagreeing with me… now.

7. A Side Trip to Mt. Airy/Manayunk

(My old hippie hood) and Manayunk seemed like a good idea. University City and Northern Liberties have their own vibe, too. But $8 beer usually keeps me away.

The next plan is… already done! Explore Chinatown, a thriving, grimy street with live toads in aquariums. What we find the most fascinating are all the different sections of Philly, each offering up an opportunity to see the city in a completely different way.

Which means that next time someone comes to visit, chances are we’ll write you a completely different itinerary.

You’re welcome.


The Mutter Museum looks all innocent from the outside…


Three Little Pigs about to stuff themselves at Reading Terminal Market.


Entering the Mutter Museum.


An iconic view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.



Enjoying the Philadelphia skyline after a run up the museum steps a la Rocky.


Here’s the statue of Rocky just to the right of the museum steps.


A thriving food scene inside Reading Terminal Market.


Eat the Termini Bros. cookies!

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