Philadelphia is the go-to destination for travelers who enjoy Zagat-rated restaurants, theater, opera, jazz, ballet and the world’s largest collection of French Impressionist paintings—all at lower prices than you find in the Big Apple.
By Stacia Friedman
Where to stay
Head for the 15-room Morris House Hotel (above). Built in 1785, this National Historic Landmark is located on Washington Square just a block from Independence Hall. It offers a delightful garden courtyard where you can enjoy afternoon tea and live jazz on Wednesday and Friday evenings. The M Restaurant (currently closed, but check back -ed.) at the hotel is another good choice if you enjoy dining outdoors in a garden or a romantic restaurant. M also offers pre-theater specials and Happy Hour. (Psst… George Washington and Thomas Jefferson dined here.)
As for culture buffs: La Reserve is a four-story hotel that is high on charm and low on room rates, which begin at $100. It is walking distance to the Avenue of the Arts, where you may buy tickets to the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Pennsylvania Ballet, plus many theaters and jazz clubs. And it’s a short jaunt to Rittenhouse Square, where you will find trendy cafes and fine restaurants. The downside? The hotel has four stories and no elevator, so be sure to request a room on a lower floor if you’re wary of climbing stairs.
Culture à la carte
If you’ve never experienced the Barnes Foundation, a veritable orgy of French Impressionism, prepare to be overwhelmed (above). In addition to their dazzling permanent collection, the museum presents innovative contemporary exhibitions, such as “30 Artists,” paintings by influential African American artists, until January 12th. The exhibition includes works by Kehinde Wiley who came to national attention when he was chosen to paint Barak Obama’s portrait.
Start your Barnes visit in the morning and grab lunch at the nearby Pain de Quotidien, then circle back to take in the rest of the wonderful art. In addition to a dazzling array of Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Soutine and other impressionist painters, the Barnes mounts exciting contemporary exhibits in its first floor gallery that relate to their permanent collection. There a restaurant and coffee bar on the premises, as well as a captivating gift shop. Right next to the Barnes, you’ll find the petite Rodin Museum, a world-class sculpture garden and museum built in 1929.
The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) is a jewel box of a museum specializing in American artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, ranging from Winslow Homer to Frank Stella. Catch the museum’s tribute to Alexander Hamilton, now through Nov. 17, in conjunction with the Philadelphia premiere of Hamilton at the Forrest Theater where tickets are half the price of the Broadway run. The original building was designed by Frank Furness and is now a National Historic Landmark. Just across the street is the Hamilton building which houses the museum’s contemporary collection. And between the two buildings there is a gigantic Oldenburg Pop Art paintbrush that rises from the pavement to the second floor of the museum. Both buildings contain a café and gift shop.
Book lovers will swoon over the Rosenbach Museum (above), an 1865 townhouse on Delancey Place that was the home of two of the nation’s most influential dealers in rare books, manuscripts and art. This museum contains impressive holdings, including James Joyce’s manuscript of Ulysses, Bram Stoker’s outline for Dracula and the papers of poet Marianne Moore.
Looking for the Lively Arts? Check out the performance calendar at the Kimmel Center, home to the Philadelphia Orchestra and other internationally acclaimed musicians and recording artists. Don’t like to plan ahead? Take advantage of daily rush tickets for just $10. And attend free events on the plaza or dine at Volvér, the city’s award-winning Jose Garces restaurant.
Adjacent to the Independence Mall are three must-see museums. If you only have time for one, be sure to visit Constitution Center, where the Constitution, which was torn to bits on Fox News, is glued back together. See yourself on a large video screen as you take the oath to serve as President and test your knowledge of our judicial system. Sit on Ben Franklin’s bronze lap in the Founding Fathers Hall. Above all, don’t miss the live performance multi-media show; it will give even the most jaded visitor chills.
Parc on Rittenhouse Square is a noisy French brasserie where the best seats are at the sidewalk café (above). Open from breakfast to late night, enjoy Smoked Salmon Tartine, Bagels & Lox and Burgers on a Brioche.
Vegans, vegetarians and foodies will love Vedge, an upscale eatery in a historic mansion that offers a classically elegant dining experience with an innovative approach to cocktails made from their own herb-infused syrups. Reservations (months in advance) are a must.
Chef Michael Solomonov’s Zahav just received the James Beard Award for Best Restaurant of 2019 so don’t expect to get a reservation any time soon. However, pop into one of Solomonov’s casual eateries, Goldie’s or Dizzengoff for dynamite Tahini Shakes and an innovate take on modern Israeli cuisine.
A little night music
There are several excellent jazz clubs in Philly, but aficionados flock to South, the aptly named restaurant and jazz cabaret that offers a twist on Southern cuisine served up with hot jazz. If you are more interested in food than music, reserve a table in the main dining room where you can hear the music and converse with your companion. But if your main motive is to hear jazz up close, sit in the Jazz Kitchen (above).
For sweeping 360-degree views of the City, visit the Four Seasons Hotel that opened this year. Perched atop Comcast Technology Center, the tallest building in Philadelphia, the hotel features Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s signature restaurant and lounge on the 59th and 60th floors (above), with prices that will take your breath away. Seafood lovers will want to try the hotel’s Vernick Fish. Mere mortals may prefer the affordable Concourse Food Court on the building’s lower level offering tastes of Philly’s favorite eateries. Don’t miss the Comcast Center’s Digital Experience in the lobby featuring the world’s largest LED screen.