This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2015. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
If you ask anyone what there is to do in Philadelphia, the most likely answer will be the Liberty Bell.
But my trip was not just about seeing Philly’s number one attraction. We had a whole weekend to explore, and as much as I enjoyed seeking out all the filming locations from National Treasure, I discovered there’s a lot more to Philadelphia than I originally thought.
It turned out to be a surprisingly artsy city, with loads of photogenic spots to stop and admire. My camera (which had been in sitting the dark for little while) got a much-needed workout.
So in no particular order, here are 9 fun and photogenic things to do in Philadelphia!
Things to do in Philadelphia
1. Mural Mile
I get rather excited about cities that are filled with street art. Philly was no exception – I was surprised at the number of murals that covered the sides of seemingly unfinished buildings.
A self-guided walking tour of Philadelphia’s Mural Mile took us through old town to see some of the best artworks, and included a bunch of super cute cobblestone streets, too.
2. Magic Gardens
The Magic Gardens stands out as one of the best Philadelphia activities. It’s truly one of Philadelphia’s hidden gems!
What was once an ugly, empty block on South Street has been beautified with mosaics by artist Isaiah Zagar. Everything surface is covered with items that were once trash, and are now compiled into a wonderfully magical maze of colour. Definitely worth the $7 entry fee.
You can do the gardens on your own or as part of a South Philly tour.
3. South Street
While you’re on South Street, check out some of the bars and shops around the area. You can do some art spotting as you walk down the street, and you might notice that the mosaics of the magic gardens has spread throughout the neighbourhood.
Check out the Tattooed Mom bar for some crazy graffitied walls, and if you’re veggie and want to try a famous Philly cheesesteak, you’ll find a vegan option on the menu here!
4. Boathouse Row
The above photo was the best one I got of Boathouse Row (and I’m supposed to be good at photography?).
We figured we’d drive along the river then pull over and take a photo, but apparently that’s not possible. Driving along the highway, we spotted Boathouse Row – then realised there was nowhere to pull over and nowhere to turn around.
We got our glimpse, then gave up. Still, the pretty row of lit up riverside buildings were lovely to see even if we didn’t get the photo we were hoping for.
5. Art Museum (and Rocky steps)
Ok this one is kind of touristy because people who are obsessed with Rocky tend to act out the movie scene where he runs up the stairs and pumps his fits into the air, but I like this spot purely because it’s so damn pretty.
From the top of the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, looking back down Benjamin Franklin Parkway gives you a nice view of City Hall with the buildings of downtown beside it. I really am a sucker for views!
6. Reading Terminal Market
Reading Terminal Market was super crowded when we wandered in for Saturday lunch, so I would recommend trying it on a weekday if you have that option. Even with the crowds, the market had tempting smells coming from every stall and a smorgasbord of vendors to cater for every taste, and the vintage signage hanging above our heads looked great in photos.
I ended up going with a portobello burger from Hunger Burger (because the line was long and in New York that means that the food must be good), but I wasn’t all that impressed. That aside, there are about a million other food options to choose from. You can sample the goods from these markets on a Philly food tour.
7. Eastern State Penitentiary
We decided that the penitentiary would be a good idea when we accidentally drove past it and thought it was a castle. Totally not a castle, by the way.
The $17 entry ticket includes an audio tour, which was narrated by Steve Buscemi (that creepy-looking guy from Con Air) when I was there in 2015. We spent a good 2 hours in the penitentiary, wandering down each of its long halls and seeking out Al Capone’s cell. I walked out feeling as though the tour was as every bit as good as Alcatraz in San Francisco. Definitely a thumbs up!
8. City Hall
Philadelphia’s City Hall is grand in scale and beautiful in design. This impressive municipal building is located in the middle of downtown and is hard to miss with its ornate facade and clock tower. This could definitely be considered one of the best Philadelphia photo spots, especially if you’re into photographing historic architecture.
9. 30th Street Station
We actually visited 30th Street Station by chance as we arrived to catch our bus back to New York. What a find! At 5PM, the sun had set and the lights of the station and the city behind it looked freakin’ spectacular.
Not only that, inside the station was just as stunning. If you want some good city photos, this is the perfect place to get them.
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