weekend away - Philadelphia
Written by Oryx
One of the USA’s great cities, Philadelphia is rich in history as the centre of the US fight for independence. At the same time it is undergoing a seemingly perpetual modernisation – with ambitious boutiques and star restaurants – with a palpable energy.
Philadelphia is a burgeoning modern renaissance city and the Mural Capital of the World, where an inspired new-generation culture of creative and ambitious minds is updating the classic city’s feel and vibe, turning it from a stopover for those in nearby New York City and Washington DC, into its own destination.
Independence National Historical Parkis an essential stop, especially for the historically minded. It is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Independence Hall – where the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were signed and adopted – and the famed Liberty Bell.
Quickly apparent is Philadelphia’s culture of art. The Philadelphia Museum of Art – the steps of which are immortalised in the film Rocky – houses a world-renowned collection, while the impressive Barnes Foundation is home to the largest private collection of early French modern and post-Impressionist paintings – more than 3,000 masterpieces including 180 Renoirs, 68 Cézannes, and others.
Yet for the best grasp of art’s relevance in Philadelphia, the city’s Mural Arts Program is a must-see. Having produced more than 3,600 pieces since its inception, it’s the USA’s largest public arts programme and is the consummate ‘what we’re about’ endeavour, which can be taken in through a walking, bus, or self-guided tour.
Arts extend to theatre, where the Avenue of the Arts – located along the city’s famed Broad Street – serves as Philadelphia’s theatre district, welcoming the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts or ballet and opera offerings at the Academy of Music.
While the uninformed are struck by the need to visit Manhattan’s 5th Avenue for shopping, you can find anything you want along Philadelphia’s classic Rittenhouse Row, which is brimming with art galleries, haute couture boutiques, speciality shops, luxurious spas and salons, restaurants, and cafés – perfect for people watching. Though for the most relaxing take-it-all-in setting, you would be best to grab a bite and bring it to the beautifully picturesque Rittenhouse Square park nearby.
The best reason to do your shopping in Philadelphia? The city offers tax-free shopping on clothes and shoes. Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Tiffany & Co., and a host of other luxury retailers have staked out ground in Philadelphia, which is also the home of King of Prussia Mall, the largest shopping mall in the USA.
Ask around the country, and the layman thinks of Philadelphia food as cheesesteak sandwiches and soft pretzels. While these are yummy treats, the city’s culinary offerings go far beyond…to some 2,500 restaurants and bars, including award-winning chefs Kevin Sbraga, Masaharu Morimoto, and chef Jose Garces, whose latest venture, Volvér, offers six- and 12-course tasting menus.
The Historic District and Waterfront are great wind-down stops, offering a step back to the 18th century and a row of boutiques and bistros with modern flair. A moonlit carriage ride through the area creates a guaranteed lasting memory.
THE Water Works Restaurant & Lounge
One of Philadelphia’s waterfront restaurants: a vast porch provides an idyllic setting for breathtaking views of the Schuylkill River and Boathouse Row. From the menu, appetisers include duck spring rolls with burnt orange aioli; or beef skewers with tzatziki sauce; entrées include free-range chicken served with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, Swiss chard, and rosemary pan jus; and Lamb Porterhouse with creamy asparagus orzo, and mint gremolata.
Introduced to the region by German settlers in the 18th century, pretzels quickly became a favourite local snack. Now, of course, there’s the famous Philly soft pretzel, purchased from street vendors, or from bakery storefronts such as the Philly Pretzel Factory. No matter what form the pretzel takes – braided, stick, nugget, or bagel – it’s often accompanied by mustard.