Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Philadelphia. I live in New York City, so it’s always been easy for me to spend 24 hours in Philadelphia at any time I choose. Some New Yorkers have a bad attitude because of sports rivalries or because Philly is smaller or because they don’t like cream cheese!
Not me! You’ll never catch me calling Philadelphia the 6th borough. The city is home to delicious food and edutaining museums. Bruce Springsteen and Elton John both wrote songs about the city. Also it’s the freakin’ birthplace of our country! What’s not to love?
Since I’ve been to Philadelphia so many times, this time I thought I’d put myself in the hands of a tour company for my 24 hours in Philadelphia. I’ve used the company Urban Adventures before, and I’ve only had positive experiences with them. That’s why I decided to take their Total Philly all day tour and just follow them around all day like a tough but lovable boxer.
24 Hours in Philadelphia
Where to Stay?
My favorite neighborhood in Philadelphia, as a tourist, is Old City. It is the birthplace of our democracy! Most of the major attractions in Philadelphia are within walking distance. And unlike many tourist areas, there are actually good places to go out for dinner here.
So I suggest spending your 24 hours in Philadelphia at the Thomas Bond House. It’s an adorable and historic bed and breakfast. The house was built by Dr. Thomas Bond, who helped Ben Franklin found the first public hospital in the United States. It doesn’t get more historic than that!
But even if you don’t like American history (in which case, man have you picked the wrong city), you’ll love the tasty breakfast, wine and cheese-venings, and beautiful rooms. There’s no more convenient place to stay in Philadelphia.
24 Hours in Philadelphia
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
If the weather is rainy or snowy, which happens quite often in Philadelphia I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Philadelphia
Morning: Markets, Mosaics, and Magic
The Total Philly is really three tours in one, so you can choose to take each on its own. I try to give you some options, Internet Stranger. (But you’ll have a better time if you just do everything I say.) The first tour of the day was the Markets, Mosaics, and Magic tour of South Philadelphia.
The main reason South Philly is famous is because it’s the birthplace of fictional Italian-American boxer Rocky “The Flying Squirrel” Balboa. But South Philly has much more to offer than imaginary Italians. With the help of my loquacious guide Nina, I was able to learn…
approximately top 5: south philly edition
1) Sarcone’s Bakery
The Markets, Mosaics, and Magic tour isn’t technically a food tour, but we got plenty of food samples nonetheless. And if you’re talking food at the Italian Market, you have to sample the bread at Sarcone‘s Bakery. This is a family run business that has been in the Italian Market for 100 years. That means when this bakery opened, World War I was going on. Germany still had a Kaiser. That’s how old this bakery is.
Fortunately there’s nothing old about the baked goods in Sarcone’s. They’re as fresh as a newborn Kaiser. When Sarcone’s runs out of bread, they just close up for the day. Our group split a warm Italian loaf with little sesame seeds on the outside. We could tell the bread was authentically popular because there was a fire truck that sped up to Sarcone’s in great haste. We were worried the building was on fire. That’s a terrible way to begin a tour, by setting a building on fire. But it turned out the firefighters were just going on a bread run.
If it’s good enough for Philadelphia’s bravest, it’s good enough for tourists! But I do hope they didn’t turn on their siren just to get to the bread on time. That’s slightly unethical.
2) Mural Arts Program
Philadelphia is famous for its mural arts program. In fact, it’s the largest public art program in the country. But this mural in the Italian Market is a little more controversial. It’s of former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo. Nina says that the mural gets defaced all the time because Rizzo was “to the right of Attila the Hun”. But they leave it up because he was Italian-American and a local.
Could there be a non-fictional choice for a better Philadelphia Italian-American? I tried looking on Wikipedia, but all I could find is that Joey Lawrence is Italian-American from Philadelphia. (WOAH!)
If you want a less controversial mural in South Philly, enjoy this one of civil rights activist WEB Dubois. (Pronounce it Du-Boyze.) Dubois lived in Philadelphia and wrote books about race in the city. This mural is painted on the side of Philadelphia’s first black fire house.
3) Italian Market Shopping
Of course, what 24 hours in Philadelphia is complete without shopping? The reason I liked having Nina along was that she could separate the good shops from the tourist traps. My two favorite stores were Cardenas Oil and Vinegar Taproom and Fante’s Kitchen Shop.
Cardenas Oil and Vinegar Taproom is the kind of upscale oil and vinegar shop that every fairly well-off community seems to have. That’s not a criticism! Vegetables are great, but flavored oil and vinegar makes my office salad lunch seem exotic and glamorous. You can sample as many flavors as time allows, but I chose Garlic Vinegar and Meyer Lemon Olive Oil because those flavors will go with no matter what rando vegetables I toss into my office lunch before passing out from exhaustion.
Fante’s Kitchen Shop has a truly heartwarming story. The current owners are Italian immigrants. They used to work for the previous owners. One day the previous owners had to sell the store. Fortunately the owners were good-hearted souls and figured out a way that the current owners could afford to buy the store from them, so they wouldn’t lose their jobs.
I’m sure this story is true because Mariella, the President of the store, told us this tale herself. If you like food or cooking, you can’t leave this store without buying something. I chose a spatula with an owl carving on it. It helps me cook turkey burgers to put on my office salad. I truly believe the adorabl-osity of the owl makes my burger taste better.
4) Italian Market Snacks
As I mentioned, this is not a food tour, but that didn’t stop Nina from getting us some snacks. We stepped into Tortilleria San Roman. This tiny box serves lightly oiled made-on-the-spot tortillas that are just the perfect thing to fill your tummy between lunch and dinner. I generally pretend I’m a hobbit and call it Second Breakfast.
What not-a-food-tour would be complete without a sweet. Nina gave us complimentary chocolates from Anthony’s Italian Coffee and Chocolate House.This treat would be enough for most people. I am not most people. That’s why I bought this giant cup of Cookie Monster Ice Cream. It tasted just like the Italian ice cream I grew up on in my neighborhood, which is right next to Little Italy. It’s relatively low in fat content and very smooth.
Like the best places in the Italian Market, Anthony’s is a family-run business. Most places that become famous in movies end up devolving into tourist traps. It’s nice to see that the Italian Market is able to retain some of its local flavor. 9/10 Philadelphia firefighters agree!
5) Magic Gardens
After you leave the Italian Market, it’s time to enter a world of wonder, imagination, and garbage. Of course I speak of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens. Isaiah Zagar is a local mural artist who turned an entire lot into a playground made up of broken pieces of pottery, glass, and other media I remain unable to identify at this time.
Zagar took the god Ganesh as his personal symbol because he’s also very creative with his hands. Also like Ganesh, he pretty much does what he pleases!
Zagar is really a local guy. In fact he lives next door to the Magic Gardens. Apparently the Gardens started because Zagar had neighbors who had moved away and left this lot abandoned. Zagar took the opportunity to turn the empty space into a Mosaic Wonderland.
When the original owners returned, they were rather peeved to discover their property had been turned into the world’s largest broken pottery installation. Fortunately Zagar was able to raise enough money to buy the property and voila! Everybody wins! Especially people who sell broken shards of glass and ceramics in Philadelphia.
6) Lunch at Puyero
Because I was booked for the all day tour, I needed to stop somewhere in South Philly for lunch. You can’t have 24 hours in Philadelphia without lunch! Nina recommended a Venezuelan restaurant called Puyero. (Lunch was at my own expense, but it was not at all pricey.) I ordered the Catira arepa, which is a stuffed corn cake filled with chicken, spinach, and fried white cheese. It sounded so healthy but then I had to go and get that fried cheese all over it. But you know what? Fried cheese is delicious and I refuse to be cheese-shamed.
It’s a sign of how much the immigration patterns in South Philadelphia have changed that there are so many Latin American restaurants in the area now. The most famous is South Philly Barbacoa, run by immigrant activist and chef Cristina Martinez. We didn’t have time to wait on line there, of course. But I was just as happy with my arepa.
24 Hours in Philadelphia
Afternoon: History in HD
The 2nd tour of the 24 hours in Philadelphia was History in HD. This tour is probably what most people have in mind when they visit Philadelphia. You get to see many of the famous historical sights and learn their deepest thoughts and dreams. Of course, you can’t go into the crowded places like The Liberty Bell, but you’ll learn some excellent pointers for when you do decide to go back on your own. In just two hours, you’re able to pack it…
approximately top 5: philadelphia history edition
1) Betsy Ross House
This is the home of the most famous seamstress in American history, Betsy Ross. Even though many imagine her as a bespectacled old lady in a bonnet, she was actually in her 20s when she sewed the first American flag. Flag aside, her life seems like it would make a pretty exciting movie. She was married three times. In fact, her last husband ended up being the man who informed her that her first husband died. I infer from this that Betsy knew how to seize a good opportunity when she saw one.
2) Elfreth’s Alley
Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continually inhabited street in America. That is why you can’t go inside most of the houses. They only open up two days a year. But it’s still fun to ramble along these historic streets and think about how many Americans have gone by these houses since they were first built.
You may notice that there are many different types of American flags outside the houses. Each flag is the appropriate one for the time the house was built. That is a swell idea! My apartment was built in the 1970s, so I should hang a flag with a lava lamp on it to be historically accurate.
3) Tamanend Statue
This statue in the distance is of Lenni-Lenape chief Tamanend. He was a peaceful man who signed several treaties with William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia. If you’ve ever heard a phrase with the word Tammany in it, like New York City’s Tammany Hall, it was named after Tamanend.
William Penn was an honorable man, but unfortunately some of the British who followed him weren’t. They tricked the Lenni-Lenape into giving up a large portion of their land. The British promised the Lenni-Lenape they’d only take the distance one man could cover in a day. But they cleared a path through the land in advance and sent their best marathon runners through it. The result was that the British were able to take an extraordinary amount of territory and the peace Tamanend and Penn worked so hard to create was destroyed.
4) Christ Church
Christ Church Philadelphia might be the most historic church in the city. You can sit in George Washington’s pew. Which I am definitely doing in the picture above! It has William Penn’s baptismal font! If you’re a history nerd, this place is a must-see. It was originally founded as an Anglican church, but after the Revolution Americans didn’t want to be part of the Church of England anymore and be forced to wear redcoats during service or something. That’s how the Episcopal Church was founded in the United States.
I don’t really think the Anglican Church can object to this as the only reason it was started was because Henry VIII had a big ol’ crush on Anne Boleyn. (Full disclosure: I am Episcopalian.)
5) franklin court
No 24 hours in Philadelphia is complete without paying a visit to the home of its favorite adopted son, Ben Franklin. You might be thinking that this house looks unfinished. I was thinking that too, but I didn’t want to say anything because I was afraid I’d embarrass myself with my ignorance.
Fortunately our guide explained that this design was intentional. (I like giving pseudonyms, so I’ll just call him Ben after the mouse in Ben and Me. Franklin’s original house was demolished long ago, but this was where it had stood. Philadelphia wanted to put something amazing and genius-worthy here for the bicentennial celebration in 1976.
They thought they wanted to just rebuild the house, but the architectural firm of Venturi and Rauch convinced the city that these ghost structures would be more powerful. Don’t worry though, they left holes in the ground so you can see where Franklin’s privy would have been and such. We keep things classy in Philly!
At the end of the tour, a beer is included with the price of admission. I got into the Revolutionary spirit and ordered Thomas Jefferson’s Golden Ale. (It’s actually brewed according to his recipe.) USA, USA, USA!
24 Hours in Philadelphia
Evening: Philly on Tap
Some people claim that Philadelphia is the greatest city for beer in the country. It is home to Yuengling, which is the oldest operating brewery in the United States. Like every other cool city in the Reagan Administration, the craft beer revival exploded in Philadelphia like a keg of cheap beer that’s been shook up and down by a frat boy. So what better way to spend an evening in our 24 hours in Philadelphia than by taking a beer tour of three of the city’s finest bars? And that’s my cue for…
The approximately top 5: Philadelphia beer edition
1) Molly Malloy’s
Our first stop was in the legendary Reading Terminal Market. (Pronounce it Redding, like Otis.) Our guide took us to Molly Malloy’s because they serve beer in go-cups. This was important because that way we could sip our beers as we wandered around the market admiring Amish pickles, discussing scrapple, and wishing we could be having Bassett’s ice cream along with our beer. (OK, maybe that last one was just me. Drinking makes me hungry.)
2) good dog bar
Good Dog is an adorable bar with pictures of cute little doggies everywhere. As a single lady, I’m a proud cat lover, but I can still appreciate our cuddly canine companions. Then Ben ruined the whole effect by explaining that one wall only had pictures of dogs who have recently gone to the great shoe closet in the sky. That’s crazy! How can people expect to drink comfortably with a bunch of dead dogs looking at them?
My IPA is from a Pennsylvania brewery founded by two brothers with the last name Trogner. They call their company Troegs I guess to make it sound more Belgian. I don’t think it’s really that often in human history that people have wanted to pass as Belgian. But they are tops when it comes to hops! This beer was a good choice on a hot day because of the refreshing citrus notes. At least I think there were citrus notes in it. I was a bit distracted by the dead dogs.
3) The foodery
Since we were easing up on our fourth beer of the night, it was time to grab a snack with it. We stopped at The Foodery for some high carb treats like fries with spicy ketchup…
and bread with spinach dip.
I’m afraid after four beers and no food, my legendary palette was not what it usually is. That’s because both of these things tasted AMAZING!!! to me. I literally could not stop eating them. I was the only girl on the tour and I ate more than all the guys combined! Susan B. Anthony would be very proud of me.
As for my beer, I went entirely based on the name for the Evil Genius Beer Company’s “You’re Killin’ Me Smalls” raspberry beer. Like the citrus beer I had enjoyed at Good Dog, it was perfect for a hot evening. Also this time there were no pictures of dead dogs to bother me.
4) The Dandelion
After one plate of French fries, one plate of bread and spinach dip, and four beers, I was ready for my dinner. The tour was over, so Ben suggested I take myself to The Dandelion, which was the gastropub across the street. (I think gastropub is just a polite way of saying “a good English restaurant”.)
At this point, I needed neither drink nor appetizer. For some reason I decided that spicy tandoori chicken with basmati rice would sooth my beer-soaked stomach. I’m not sure it’s the best choice for drunk food because of the heat. On the other hand, the strong flavors did help me not fall asleep at the dinner table, which was definitely welcome since I was dining alone. And what’s more British than a nice curry?
Did I save room for dessert? I would never fail you like that, Internet Stranger. I “forced” myself to eat a Bakewell tart. This is an English dessert made with jam, frangipane, and almonds. It tasted just the way I imagine Mary Berry’s Bakewell tart tastes. And now that I had eaten and drunk the entire city of Philadelphia, it’s time to head back to my hotel.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Philadelphia!
What would you do with 24 hours in Philadelphia? Why are fancy olive oil shops so popular? And could you drink with dead dogs looking at you? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Philadelphia. If you have another 24 hours in Philadelphia, add this itinerary!