The art and soul of Philadelphia

Tracy E. Hopkins | 4/11/2019, 10:14 a.m.
Philadelphia is inspired by both its past and present.
The Odunde Festival in Philadelphia Visit Philadelphia photos

Philadelphia is inspired by both its past and present. This historic city, divided into distinctive neighborhoods, is home to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall where the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were signed, and it is also peppered with poetic, sprawling street murals that make the city feel like a living, breathing art gallery. And Philly’s proximity to New York City and Washington, D.C. make this foot traffic-friendly town a great weekend getaway option along the Northeast corridor.

So let’s take a long walk. Here’s what to do on your next art-and-soul-filled visit to the City of Brotherly (and Sisterly) love.

Let the music play

From The O’Jays to Bilal, classic soul and neo-soul vibes linger in the air—it’s the sound of Philadelphia. In the spring and summer, the city comes alive with concerts, street fairs and cultural events. Plan ahead and check out the lineups for The Dell Music Center, known for showcasing R&B stars like Fantasia, Erykah Badu and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly; and The Mann Center, which will host the annual Roots Picnic June 1—featuring Raphael Saadiq, 21 Savage and H.E.R alongside Questlove and Black Thought. Both outdoor venues are located in the 9,200-acre Fairmount Park, one the largest urban green spaces in the country.

Also in June, locals and visitors alike flock to the annual Odunde Street Festival, one of the nation’s largest African-American street festivals that takes over a dozen-block radius in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood with music and dance, and hundreds of craft, clothing and food vendors from around the world.

For art lovers

Most folks know about the Philadelphia Museum of Art ($14-$20) and its famed “Rocky” steps, but a lesser-known cultural gem is the African-American Museum in Philadelphia ($14 adults, $10 children, students and seniors), the first institution built by a major U.S. city to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage and culture of African-Americans. Located in the historic neighborhood of Germantown, another under-the-radar discovery is The Colored Girls Museum ($15 general admission, $10 students and seniors), a memoir museum, which honors the stories, experiences, and history of ordinary women of color. And whatever you do, don’t miss spending a magical afternoon at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens ($10 adults, $8 students and seniors), artist Isaiah Zagar’s maze-like mosaic and mixed media outdoor sculpture garden and indoor gallery space on South Street.

Where to sip and dine

In Philly, a melting pot of cuisines deliciously comingle —from Amish apple dumplings at Reading Terminal Market to overstuffed hoagies at the Italian Market. Go for happy hour at South, local restaurateurs the Bynum Brothers’ hoppin’ upscale soul food restaurant and jazz club. To support more Black businesses, Pretty Girls Cook is a cozy BYOB spot in North Philly with a hip music selection and yummy comfort food, and Uncle Bobbie’s is a chill coffee shop and bookstore in Germantown owned by TV personality and author Dr. Marc Lamont Hill where patrons sip iced tea, nosh on light bites and banter about black literature and current events.

Where to shop

In Center City, shop ’til you drop at H&M, Buffalo Exchange, Nordstrom Rack and Anthropologie. Then get your beauty fix at Marsh + Mane, a Black woman-owned retail store that carries a hand-picked selection of natural hair and skin products, beauty accessories and items for DIY product making specifically for women of color.

Where to stay

Located in University City—a quaint neighborhood in West Philly that boasts eclectic shops, ethnic cuisine, prestigious universities and Victorian houses—Akwaaba Philadelphia is the city’s only Black-owned bed-and-breakfast. This latest addition to Brooklyn husband and wife team Glenn Pogue and Monique Greenwood’s burgeoning Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns portfolio offers a welcoming porch perfect for lounging and tea time, and six spacious guest rooms and suites with a modern flair that complement the classic Victorian setting and pay homage to Philly soul stirrers like Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Patti LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass and Jill Scott. The innkeepers are folksy and friendly (shoutout to Miss Toni) and a stay here is ideal for a romantic excursion or wine-filled girlfriends getaway.