The travel blogging community is certainly a fickle one. There’s a certain sense of exclusivity and superiority and one-upmanship that permeates it; If you haven’t couchsurfed your way across Bulgaria or eaten street meat in Tai Pei or didn’t spend all of your time in Pittsburgh scouring organic farmer’s markets for local products then you’re not exactly one of them. Not everyone is like this of course, and I’ve bitched about it before, but for a writing niche that’s supposed to be about sharing experiences and trips with other folks, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Combatting this is half the philosophy behind my blog: not everyone can travel for a living and going to popular restaurants and tourist attractions doesn’t make your experience any less authentic than someone who goes out of their way to go “off the beaten path.”
Rant aside, do any of you find yourself traveling for social purposes more often than “traveling” purposes? Meaning, you’re on the road a lot and you spend weekends away but it’s usually spent visiting friends from home or college who are scattered throughout the tri-state areas–these trips are much more about getting people together rather than doing or experiencing something new.
I swear, half my travel is focused around drinking with my friends and I’d estimate a good quarter of the time we don’t even get to experience the local nightlife, let alone do anything during the day, because we’re having too much fun pregaming or the main point of the trip is a party at someone’s home.
I’m not going to complain about this, it’s not a bad way to exist, and as I’ve said before, I count myself very blessed to still have such a great network of friends who are gracious enough to host me and still want to spend time together. However, sometimes you do realize that say, you’ve been to New York multiple times and aside from the same Irish Pub and karaoke bar (shout out to Stoudt and Blarney Rock) you still haven’t experienced much that the city has to offer (I do find myself experiencing the 4am last call almost every time I’m there which usually renders doing anything the next day a complete bust). Again, not complaining, but sometimes it’s sort of embarrassing when you’ve been to NYC more than 20 times and still haven’t seen the Statue of Liberty.
The bulk of my relocated college and high school friends are centered in or around NYC and Philadelphia, which I’m assuming is the same story for a lot of you near my age. I find myself in those locales for “social visits” more often than not. And while my NYC trips are, as I mentioned, mostly a bust in terms of seeing anything besides a few cabs and watering holes (not that I’m complaining…when you’re with the right people doesn’t matter what you do or see) my closer proximity to and more frequent visits to the City of Brotherly Love means that I’ve had a chance to explore and sufficiently get to know enough about Philadelphia.
What I’ve decided to do with this post is put together a list of 10 relatively easy and cheap things to do in Philadelphia. The goal is, that if you, the reader, happens to go there once or even quite frequently to visit friends, you could pick one ( or several) of these things to add to your trip itinerary. Most of these don’t take a ton of time, aren’t going to cause you to retract a lot of money from your nightly bar tab (because again, let’s face it, these social visits revolve around them) and could be easily undertaken with your whole group during the day, on your way out on Sunday, or simply with a few of you who wake up early while the rest of the bums spend their day moaning in bed watching Stepbrothers for the 300th time.
Here we go:
1) Valley Forge State Park:
Valley Forge National Historic Park is located 21 miles outside the city, but if you’re staying in Manayunk or Conshohocken, which, if you’re in you’re 20’s is very likely, it’s only a five-ten minute ride (although the last time I tried to get from the park to Conshohocken it took me almost a half hour…moral of the story: update your GPS’s). The is at the spot where the US army camped out in the winter during the Revolutionary War. It’s large and has trails for running or biking (26 miles worth) off that hangover but also has some interesting facts, memorials, and exhibits on the Revolutionary War, if like me you’re a history nerd. If you’re really looking to sweat it out, head over to nearby Oaks and try the Philadelphia Rock Gym.
2) Walk the Area Around the Art Museum:
Technically this is the start of Fairmount Park, but you really don’t want to wander all that far off as it goes on forever (seriously it’s 9200 square acres and stretches to Conshohocken, which I learned doing #5) but the area just by the art museum is cool, especially if you’ve never been to Philly. To start, pump out “Eye of the Tiger” and run up the art museum steps like Rocky. It’s dumb, but you shouldn’t visit Philly without doing it and makes for some great Facebook worthy picture opportunities. The Rocky statue, is likewise in close proximity and should also be visited. Just down a sidewalk you can find the “Boathouse Row”, which are synonymous with the drive in if you’re basically coming from any part of PA besides parts of Delaware and Montgomery counties. It’s a cool area to kill some time.
3) East State Penitentiary:
You can easily walk to the East State Penitentiary from the art museum. I’ve done a post about this restored prison before so you could check that out for more details. This is one of my favorite Philly attractions. It’s creepy, it’s historically relevant, and the tour is self guided so you could take as long or as little as you want. It’s also located in the trendy Fairmount region which has it’s fair share of bars if you want to just continue the night out. Word of caution: Fairmont is expensive. Last time I was there (which in all fairness was a little over a year and a half ago) I decided to pretend to be rich and pick up a round of four drinks. At $90.00, it was the worst mistake ever. The Bishop’s Collar is cool and won’t break the bank.
4) Check out What Exhibits the U.S. Constitution Center Has to Offer:
The US Constitution Center is home to several exhibits on the founding fathers as well as a variety of rotating exhibits. I saw a phenomenal Bruce Springsteen one there 2 years ago that was very cool but not something that required hours. They’re currently housing an exhibit called 1968-69 about those tumultuous years in the 60’s and have a exhibit on Pulitzer Prize winning photographs coming soon which looks good. This is just located steps from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
5) Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour
Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours are generally pretty hokey and terrible aka I love them. They teach you useless information, if you’re lucky you get an overzealous guide, they’re free transportation all around the city, you do them at your own pace, they bring you to a variety of free and not so free attractions, you get to ride in a double decker bus, and if you’d like, you can combine them with bar hopping.
6) Spend the Afternoon in McGillin’s
McGillan’s is Philadelphia oldest operating pub, opened since 1860. If you’re going to spend your afternoon in a bar, you might as well make it somewhere with a little local flavor rather than somewhere more generic like Kildares or Mad River. Besides, McGillan’s plays the best music and is cheap if you’re looking to not spend your life savings. If McGillin’s is too crowded (which is highly likely) I’d suggest popping over to Drinkers (just because you can order a 40, if anything Philly’s nothing but classy) or Mac’s Tavern, right on Penn’s Landing where you could happen upon the cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
7) Do an Irish Pub Crawl
If everyone’s up and rearing to go, try an Irish Pub Crawl. Sure, you’re drinking, but Philly has a large Irish populace and several very cool Irish pubs with a lot of character and daytime craic to be had.
8) Main St. Manayunk
While technically part of Philly (don’t try putting Manayunk in your GPS, even though the sign clearly says “Welcome to Main Street Manaynnk” the addresses are all Philly. I learned this after a good hour of being lost in Germantown, also part of Philly and decidedly scarier than Manayunk), Manayunk looks and feels like it’s own small town is a haven for 20 something college students and post college grads (so again, likely that you may be staying here or Roxborough, or Conshohocken if you’re over 26). Main street Manayunk is filled with bars, restaraunts, and shops and is a fun way to lazy away an afternoon. The other good part is that in the afternoon it’s totally cool to barhop here in sweats.
9) Get a Cheesesteak at Pat’s or Geno’s
So I’m not a big cheesesteak fan and I actually hate the circus that is Pat & Geno’s (I especially hate whichever one “makes” you order it a specific way…you’re getting my money…deal with it when I order it like an educated human) however I realize that a lot of people LOVE a good Philly cheesesteak and I’ve been here multiple times with new Philly visitors. So, check it out, and it might just be the cure to that hangover Friday gave you,
Side note: I have to admit, I prefer the Pittsburgh style Cheesesteak and my favorite Pittsburgh style cheesecake isn’t even from Pittsburgh. It’s from Steve & Irene’s in Mayfield. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
10) Find a brewery.
Philly has a pretty good microbrew scene which are perfect for a daytime trip as not all of them are located within the city. Slyfox, Victory, Yards, and Nodding Head are just a few spots you could go to sample some beer.
And, if you still choose to lay around watching Stepbrothers for the umpteenth time and start pregaming again with your friends at 5, then I can’t hate on you. That film’s a classic and in three or four years doing that will be semi-inappropriate (which is exactly what 23 year old me would’ve told myself so take that with a grain of salt).
Plus, It is shark week.