Philadelphia Travel Guide
On January 1st, the city of Philadelphia will host the 115th Annual Mummers Parade. That's well over a century of tradition taking place on a pretty high-profile day. But drive outside the city limits of Philly, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who understands the history behind the event. Even many local residents can't answer the question with confidence, resulting in a murky past that has most people scratching their heads.
And that might be one of the main reasons why the parade is dying. The Philadelphia Inquirer put out a grim report on the dwindling participation, attendance, and finances that were the core of the parade for the last century. This year, things are so bad that the route has been reduced by two-miles, cutting out the South Philly neighborhoods where the parade was born.
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Last fall, we explained why there are so many murals in Philadelphia and recommended one of our favorite tours to help you explore them. This spring, the city’s Mural Arts Program will debut several new tours that will give visitors a fresh taste of its infamous wall art. All tours are led by guides who explain the mural-making process, the neighborhood history, how the murals are made, and the stories behind them.
You can see all the tours and prices here, and below, we list the newcomers set to debut this spring. Each takes you through a different part of the city and focuses on the unique art history of the respective neighborhood:
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Traditionally, Philadelphia has been regarded as a blue-collar city filled with blue-collar people who like to drink beer, eat cheesesteaks, and, most infamously, throw snowballs at Santa Claus. When you imagine Philly, you think history, and maybe the fact that you can show up to dinner with a bottle of tequila and be taken seriously, but fine dining? Luxury? Not so much.
But lo and behold, smack dab in the middle of our Nation's Capital and the Big Apple, Philly has quietly spent the last decade undoing that image, replacing parts of its rogue reputation with pockets of sophistication and luxury. For example, did you know that Philly was awarded the "Best Hotel Scene of 2013" by our sis HotelChatter? Center City and Rittenhouse Square have become neighborhoods that can compete with almost any city in terms of its upscale offerings, whether it's a stay at a luxury hotel with a killer view, a fine dining experience at one of Stephen Starr's restaurants, or some happy-hour oysters at the impressive new A Bar, shown below.
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As if the shiny British Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner isn't cool enough with their service between Newark and London, new and especially exciting routes to more North American cities were just announced this morning.
Currently, British Airways only flies their 787s from Heathrow to Newark and Toronto. Beginning next year, however, two more lucky destinations will join the list: Austin-Bergstrom International Airport from March 3, and Philadelphia International Airport from June 5.
To score a seat on the 787, you'll want to book flight numbers BA 191/190 for Austin, and BA 68/69 for Philadelphia on or after the start dates mentioned above.
If you're like many visitors to Philadelphia, you're aware the city is known for its murals, but you haven't a clue why. Opening this week at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, a new exhibit called Beyond the Paint: Philadelphia’s Mural Arts is hoping to change that as the Mural Arts Program celebrates its 30th anniversary.
The story began in 1984 when then-mayor Wilson Goode started what was called the "Anti-Graffiti Network" in response to a growing spray-paint problem that was defacing buildings throughout the city. Goode figured that he would encourage the movement rather than fight it, creating community programs at rec centers and museums that allowed the youth to get involved in organized art projects. In December of 1984, Philly's first official mural was painted on the Spring Garden Bridge by a group of 100 kids that featured scenes of the city.
We know what you’re thinking: Cheesesteaks are really good.
True. But haven’t we been there, done that by now? Weve gone on our fair share of self-guided cheesesteak tasting tours, and we must say we are indeed ready for a bit of fresh air. And there’s good news: We found two sandwiches in Philly this week that might be better anyhow, one featuring an Italian chicken cutlet and another filled with roast pork.
Along with Pearl Jam, Green Day, the Offspring, and Rage Against the Machine, they both played during their early years at what is today arguably South Street's most historic bar: The Legendary Dobbs.
And we're not talking "they all played here" as in a large venue like Madison Square Garden where everyone and their mother have performed - we're talking about a place where you'd be lucky to legally fit a hundred people. The Dobbs opened in 1974 under the name "JC Dobbs," and apparently had a knack for grabbing the top up-and-coming talent of the 90s grunge era, both before and after they made it big.
Nirvana, for example, played the Dobbs in 1989, one year before Dave Grohl joined the band, and then once again in 1991 after the release of its infamous Nevermind album.
About six years ago, Philadelphia launched an interactive map that helped visitors locate and enjoy the 200-plus BYOB restaurants around the city. In that sense, the BYOB concept seems like old news, and we don't think we need to explain that BYOB means bring-your-own-bottle, aka bring-your-own-booze (but we did anyway).
In somewhat of an ironic fashion, Philly's strict liquor laws end up working out in the consumer's favor. Because there are only so many liquor licenses to go around and because there's no legislation that prevents people from drinking "free" booze in restaurants without one, the BYOB concept has spread like a plague throughout Philadelphia in a way unlike any other city.
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"Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay." It's a cute slogan, and believe it or not it comes from the tourism board of Philadelphia, PA.
The words are backed up by a new commercial following the "selfie" antics around the city by drag queen Miss Richfield 1981, all with the aim of driving Gay Travel to Philly. So what's the big deal? Well, this is actually only the third commercial by a US destination focused on the LGBT audience, and yet here we are in 2013.
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We know a good traveler has tons of travel horror stories to share, some of which are no doubt hilarious, but have you ever boarded the wrong flight? Jaunted Contributor Will McGough successfully failed recently in Philadelphia, finding himself on a flight to Orlando when he wanted to go to Denver. How can this happen? He gives his first-hand account:
In all honesty, I never thought it possible. I mean, really. Between the terminal and desk monitors, the ticket scanning, and general awareness, how the hell could you get on the wrong plane? So many things would have to go right, err, wrong, for it to happen.
Which is why I was so confused. Granted, I was running a little late, but I was on time. I checked the terminal monitors upon clearing security, and saw my flight, US Airways 483 from Philly to Denver, gate A10. Having only about 10 minutes until the gates would close (it was about 8:30ish, flight left at 8:55), I hustled up, slowing my pace upon seeing the flight information on the monitor behind the desk and a line still formed at the gate.
If you're going to be in Philly this weekend and are looking for something fun to take the kids to (or you just happen to really love train stations), then here's something to add to the ol' itinerary. 30th Street Station, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of 200 stations celebrating National Train Day this Saturday May 11th.
The theme of this year's event, which will be taking place simultaneously in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington DC (just to name a few), is "trains matter." Well, duh. We could've told you that!
Still, the event offers Amtrak an opportunity to bask in its own glory for a brief moment, and celebrate the 31.2 million passengers who used the national rail service in 2012.
Last year, Philly's 30th Street Station hosted a day-long event with model train displays, giveaways, and culinary demonstrations of meals served in Amtrak dining cars—so you can expect much of the same this year. Additionally, the station will be offering tours of private luxury railcars, in case you've never been in one of those before.
Regardless, 30th Street Station is a must-see train station, and one of our favorites that we've traveled through. Not only is it the second most active station in the entire US, its gorgeous main terminal is on par with that of Grand Central, in terms of soaring ceilings, giant windows, and the pleasant hum of commuters shuffling by all day long. There's even a KAWS statue at one end of the terminal!
Several hotel chains and tourism boards across the country are jumping on the Oscar bandwagon this week, but if you really want to immerse yourself in the world of a Best Picture nominated film, The Hotel Palomar Philadelphia has the package for you.