It’s hard to capture the true essence of a city in one article, and even with this, the last of a three-part series on Philadelphia, there’s so much more to tell about the city’s fascinating early history, sites and attractions, Afrocentric points of interests, accommodations, culinary adventures and more.
In a city this size, you’ll find numerous hotel chains like Lowes, Four Seasons, Omni, Marriott, Hampton Inn and Sheraton, plus local favorites like the Hotel Palomar, the Inn at Penn and the Rittenhouse Hotel.
We stayed at the Le Meridien. Located in the heart of Center City with striking views of City Hall, this architecturally stunning Georgian revival-style structure that formerly served as a YMCA has been transformed into a captivating and unique city gem that exudes European ambience and luxury at every turn.
The hotel encompasses beautiful millwork and graceful archways throughout, accented by bold color palettes, comfortable, oversized designer furniture, sleek and trendy tables, an open and inviting cocktail area and bar, and accoutrement including a fireplace, beautiful decorative chandeliers, eye-catching artwork, a dramatic entrance and seating areas that feel more like someone’s home than a hotel.
Amuse, the hotel’s bar and brasserie, is an intimate space for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and comfortable enough for business travelers yet warm and inviting for couples and families. The fifth floor features a fitness center and a spacious, comfortably furnished and relaxing 75-foot-high central atrium courtyard that also serves as the business center.
Le Meridien offers a very boutique ambiance that belies its expansive 10 floors and over 200 rooms, which is hard to find within the cacophony of a big city. The rooms are well-appointed and airy with sleek furniture with chrome accents, plush beds, and granite tile and glass-enclosed showers in the bathrooms.
On absolutely every level, from the concierge and doormen, to housekeeping, the wait staff, front desk, management and everything in between, Le Meridien is a wonderful experience, and all guests are treated with the utmost care, whether it’s their first time or a repeat visit, making it one of the best hotels in Philly.
From classic to contemporary art, history, the sciences, hands-on experiences and more, you’ll find a wealth of outstanding museums and gallery spaces to feed your fancy. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest and most renowned museums in the country, featuring over 227,000 artistic and architectural objects spanning a wide array of history, mediums and genres from the U.S., Latin America, Asia and Europe.
The Rodin Museum features one of the most comprehensive public collections of Auguste Rodin’s work outside Paris, while the world’s largest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist and early modern paintings are what you’ll find at the Barnes Foundation.
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is known internationally for its collections of 19th and 20th century American paintings, sculptures and works on paper. Meanwhile, American Jewish history is the focus at the National Museum of American Jewish History.
One of the first hands-on science museums in the country, the Franklin Institute features a wide range of exhibits, a planetarium, live science demonstrations, an IMAX theater and the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial. The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University possesses three floors of exhibit galleries and a collection of 18 million specimens, plus hands-on exploration of the natural sciences.
Banana Leaf Malaysian Cuisine, 215-592-8288, http://bananaleafphilly.com
Barnes Museum, 215-278-7000, www.barnesfoundation.org
Coco’s Food & Spirits, 215-923-0123, www.cocosphilly.com
Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., 215-599-0776, www.visitphilly.com
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, 215-790-5800, www.kimmelcenter.org
Le Meridien Hotel, 800-543-4300, www.starwoodhotels.com
Mural Arts Program, 215-685-0750, www.muralarts.org
National Museum of American Jewish History, 215-923-3811, nmajh.org
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 215-972-7600, www.pafa.org
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, 215-733-0390, www.phillymagicgardens.org
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 215-763-8100, www.philamuseum.org
Reading Terminal Market, 215-922-2317, www.readingterminalmarket.org
Rodin Museum, 215-763-8100, www.rodinmuseum.org
Sabrina’s Café, 215-636-9061, http://sabrinascafe.com/locations
The Fat Ham, 215-735-1914, www.sbragadining.com/fatham
The Franklin Institute, 215-448-1200, www.fi.edu
The Philadelphia Theatre Company, 215-985-0420, http://philadelphiatheatrecompany.org
Tommy DiNic’s Roast Pork and Beef, 215-923-6175, http://tommydinics.com
The performing arts play a major role in the cultural landscape of the city, and both denizens and visitors alike can enjoy a wealth of artistic expression at an array of distinctive venues encompassing musicals, live music, dance performances, plays, stand-up, dance, opera and more.
The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts is the home of resident companies of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philly Pops, the American Theater Arts for Youth, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, PHILADANCO!, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Opera Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Ballet, while the Philadelphia Theatre Company, which “produces, develops and presents entertaining and imaginative contemporary theater focused on the American experience,” graces the stage of the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. The historic Roxy Theater is the home of the Philadelphia Film Society, whose emphasis is on independent films and educational programs focused on film and filmmakers.
Al fresco artistic expression includes the Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, an artistic sculpture garden, gallery and community arts center wonderland. This year is the 30th anniversary of the city’s internationally recognized Mural Arts Program, featuring more than 3,600 murals dotted all over the area created by over 30,000 youths.
A Cheesesteak by any other name…
Philly is for foodies! The gastronomic palette here is outrageous and a direct reflection of its multifarious denizens, offering every ethnic flavor and flair you can imagine. There are so many outstanding places, I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to a list of “the best.” But I can tell you where we ate till it hurt and were clamoring for more.
In Chinatown, we stumbled upon Banana Leaf, which specializes in authentic Malaysian, Indian and Thai foods, and in West Philly, we enjoyed the Fat Ham, “a pork-centric restaurant drawing inspiration from Southern country cooking.”
Downtown, our adventures took us to Coco’s Food & Spirits, serving a wide array of unique twists on gourmet food, and for breakfast, we thoroughly enjoyed Sabrina’s Café—there are three locations featuring some of the best breakfasts, brunches and dinners in Philly.
And yes, we did sample many Philly cheesesteaks (some refer to them as “hoagies”), including the iconic Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks, both in South Philly. But to be honest, we weren’t impressed, finding better luck at Tommy DiNic’s Roast Pork and Beef, with high recommendations for others, including Jim’s Steaks, Shank’s Original, McNally’s Tavern, Tony Luke’s and John’s Roast Pork, just to name a few.
But the best place to get a taste of all of the flavors of the city is at Reading Terminal Market, located in Center City. Since 1893, it has been Philadelphia’s historic public market, offering a taste of fresh everything from produce to meats, cheeses, Amish goods, flora and fauna, baked goods, seafood, ethnic specialties, homemade confections and a great deal more at several dozen vendors, plus over 30 restaurant stands.
Philly: more than meets the eye
At the end of the trip, my significant other, who had only visited Philadelphia once as a child, said, “It exceeded my expectations. From watching different TV shows from the last few years, [the media] really give it a bad rap. They don’t show the good parts of Philly. Downtown and the surrounding areas are very clean, and the people are very friendly. If you are really into our country’s history, I highly recommend the trip here. There’s something for everyone.”