2 days in Philadelphia is the perfect amount of time to see the sites, take in some history, and eat lots of delicious food. Philadelphia is the birth place of the United States flag, the Declaration of Independence, and the cheesesteak. If you get excited about history or food, it’s the place for you.
History is always a front-runner in my travel plans, so I was eager to have a chance to explore Philadelphia. I first visited briefly 6 years ago, so this was actually a destination for me. On that trip (with a sports team) I didn’t see much of the city aside from the inside of Whole Foods and the Rocky Statue, though. Confession, I still haven’t actually seen Rocky. I have, however, now seen dozens of people sprint up the 72 steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to the sound of the movie soundtrack playing on their phone. Not quite a movie, but definitely fun and entertaining!
I found Philadelphia affordable to visit, easy to navigate, and the pretzels are as delicious as promised. 2 days in Philadelphia is all the time you need to see the sights!
What to Expect in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is incredibly walkable. The streets in Philadelphia are numbered, making it very easy to find your way around. Most of what you’re likely intending to see while you’re there is pretty close together. The city has thoughtfully put up a fantastic series of signs all over the place too, pointing you in the direction of landmarks and well-known venues.
Everything is delicious. There’s no bad food in Philadelphia. I have some food recommendations for you later on in this post, but really you can go anywhere. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you’re particularly in luck. And you’ve got to try the pretzels – yum.
William Penn’s Curse is real. One of the first thing you will notice if you visit Philadelphia’s City Hall is the enormous statue of William Penn on top. This was once the highest building in Philadelphia. When it was surpassed, Philadelphia sports teams suddenly stopped winning. It wasn’t until a crew man had the idea to put a little William Penn statue on the new highest building that the sports team started to win again.
2 Days in Philadelphia is ideal. See the sights of Philadelphia in a weekend, or as part of a larger USA trip (New York City is just a quick train ride away, afterall). 2-3 days is the perfect amount of time. While this is a 2 day itinerary, I’ve included many additional suggestions if you want to enjoy another day.
2 Days in Philadelphia
Day 1: Historic District / Old City
The Historic District is where it all began, and it’s where your 2 days in Philadelphia begins. The Historic District is home to important historical sites p, and many of Philadelphia’s museums. You’re only a few blocks away from some of the best food in the city, too.
I recommend the Philadelphia City Pass for this 2 days in Philadelphia itinerary. This is the only sightseeing pass that has absolutely everything on it. Pretty much everything in this itinerary is on the Philadelphia Pass – as is everything that you could do instead, if you want to swap one activity for another.
This itinerary goes in the actual order of my day, but everything in the Historic District is so close together that you can do things in any order!
Independence Hall + The Liberty Bell
Independence Hall is a place that every visitor to Philadelphia wants to see, so get your tickets early or ahead of time online. Admission to Independence Hall is free, and by tour only. March through December, you have to book a tour for a specific time. If you don’t want to pre-book, you can pick up tickets at the Independence Visitor Centre. It’s about 2 blocks away, just across the lawn.
The tour lasts about 30-40 minutes, but arrive 20 minutes early to go through security. Once inside, you’ll see where the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution were signed.
When you’ve finished your tour of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell is right across the street. The Liberty Bell in enclosure in a small building with glass on all sides, so you can actually see it from outside. Honestly, this was all I did to see the bell as the line was incredibly long, however I’m told the line moves quickly and is just for security.
Betsy Ross House + Elfreth’s Alley
The Betsy Ross House is less than a 10 minute walk from Independence Hall. Walk across the lawn until you reach Arch Street then turn right. The house will come up on your left in a few blocks. Betsy Ross is credited with making the first flag for the United States, a request brought to her by George Washington. The audio tour of the Betsy Ross house takes less than a hour, and it will take you through the house that she lived in while working on the flag.
Just around the corner is Elfreth’s Alley. The houses on this street have stood for 300 years, and they’ve been lived in continuously since they were first built. Elfreth’s Alley is a great place for photos, and a couple of the houses have been converted in to a small museum ($3) and gift shop. (Go left leaving from Betsy Ross house, then left again on 2nd. Elfreth’s Alley is on your right).
Reading Terminal Market – Lunch
Make your back through the Historic District to the Reading Terminal Market (pronounced Red-ding) for a late lunch. This place is a must-visit with 2 days in Philadelphia, because when it comes to food, they’ve got everything. The market has been operating since 1893, and there are over 75 vendors making and selling all kinds of food.
Bassetts Ice Cream, America’s oldest ice cream company, is among them when you’re ready for dessert!
Philadelphia Bus Tour
Rest your legs and enjoy great views of Philadelphia on the Trolley Works Big Bus Tour. This 90-minute, narrated tour will take you all over the city (and there’s a spot to get on at the Marriott Hotel, right by Reading Terminal Market). The guides on this tour are excellent – you can also use this route to get around on Day 2, so I was on the bus a couple times. The guides were courteous and knowledgeable every time, and I do highly recommend going on the entire bus tour. You’ll see so much! It’s a great way to get familiar with the Philadelphia, particularly if you’re planning to go out in the evening.
Depending on what time you got started in the morning, you will likely have a few hours to explore more of Philadelphia in the afternoon. If something catches your eye, get off and take a look around. Don’t worry about hoping off at the Museum of Art of Eastern State Penitentiary – you’re going there on day 2!
Beyond the Bell: Philadelphia History Tour
It only takes a day in the Historic District to become very familiar with William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington. These men were all essential in Philadelphia’s (and the USA’s history). Every city that I’ve visited has a primary storyline. There’s always a chronicle of main events and main characters that everyone knows, and that every visitor will leave knowing. But, there are always more stories. There are lesser-known, but equally important, figures in Philadelphia’s history that probably won’t hear about unless you go looking – like William Penn’s wife, a woman that was kept as a slave by George Washington, or an incredible LGBT activist.
Beyond the Bell Tours is a walking tour company that puts the stories of women and the LGBT community in the spotlight. On my visit, I went on an evening Women’s History Tour. There wasn’t a single story on this tour that I head elsewhere during my visit, which I thought was absolutely incredible. The Historic District tours and museums do an incredible job of highlighting pivotal moments in Philadelphia’s history, and I found the Beyond the Bell tour to be the perfect addition and complimentary experience.
Go on a classical walking tour of Philadelphia with stories about women and LGBT woven in, or choose a specialize tour and really dive in. The Women’s History Tour and Intro to the Gaybourhood (LGBT-focused) tours are conveniently offered on weekends, usually at 3PM and 6PM. I opted for a 6PM tour, which gave me more time for sights and museums that close at 5PM! Check out the full calendar here.
Day 2: Fairmount and Benjamin Franklin Parkway
On day 2 you’re going to a different area of Philadelphia. If you decide to go on the Big Bus tour then you may have already driven through, so you’ll know you way around. Everything on Day 2 is on the Philadelphia City Pass, by the way.
Eastern State Penitentiary
This makes the absolutely-must-see for me, whether you’ve got one or 2 days in Philadelphia. Eastern State Penitentiary was operational from 1829 to 1971. It was one of the first versions of prison to emphasize reform. They truly believed that people could repent and improve (although their methods for supporting this were very faulty).
Over the years, the penitentiary saw the likes of Al Capone, Leo Callahan, and “Slick Willie” Sutton. Their stories, and the history of the prison, are all told through an audio tour. There’s a main tour, and dozens of branch-off audios as well.
Eastern State Penitentiary opens for visitors every day at 10AM. Plan to spend about 90 minutes – 2 hours here.
The Belgian Café – Lunch
There are plenty of great lunch spots in Fairmount. Choose a place on Fairmount Avenue, or walk down 21st Street to the Belgian Café. It’s one of Philadelphia’s top-rate restaurants, and you can choose from a wide selection of Belgian beers paired with a fantastic burger. I had the vegan burger – delicious, even if you’re not vegan!
Benjamin Franklin Parkway Museums
Head over to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for an afternoon of art and culture. Philadelphia is home to some exceptional art collections – and, this is your change to run up the Rocky stairs! Whether you decide to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art or not, you’ve got to see the stairs.
- Philadelphia Museum of Art: Come for the staircase, stay for the art! This beautiful museum is home to art from all over the world. Guided tours of the collections run all day, every day, free after admission. View the schedule for your visit. Check your bags immediately, and I recommend not bringing a camera in at all (even through they’re technically permitted). The main entrance (and bag check) are actually on the opposite side of the building from the iconic staircase.
- The Rodin Museum: the Rodin Museum is peaceful. It’s a small museum with a beautiful garden out front, and dozens of beautiful statues make up the collection. Bring a coffee (cafés just down Pennsylvania Avenue) or a cold drink from Whole Foods (right behind the museum) and settle down in the garden. There’s a table in one of the back rooms of the museum with sketchpads and pencils that you’re welcome to use, to try your hand at recreating some of the statues.
- The Barnes Foundation: Philadelphia draws a lot of inspiration from France, and the collection at the Barnes Foundation shows this through art. It’s home to one of the world’s most exceptional collections of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. And, it has the largest private collection of Renoir paintings in the world. There are no labels beside the paintings (so that you experience the art rather than read about it) but you can also browse the collection digitally to find out more about the paintings you’ve seen. Cameras are not permitted.
P.S. there are a couple of museums not included here that you may have heard of (The Franklin Institute, Please Touch Museum, Academy of Natural Sciences). These museums are more intended for children. The ones in this list are the best museums in Philadelphia for adults, solo travellers, and couples!
Once you’ve had your fill of museums, finish off your 2 days in Philadelphia with an epic view of the city. Take the hop-on-hop-off bus or walk back towards the city centre.
There are two observation decks with incredible views of Philadelphia that you can choose from. It does depend a little on the day and time of your visit, and on how long you spent at museums in the afternoon.
- City Hall Observation Deck: ride the elevator up to the top of city hall, which was once the tallest building in Philadelphia itself! The observation deck gives you a 360 view of Philadelphia, and a skyline that will include Liberty One (rather than being in it and seeing everything else). However, the times to visit City Hall are definitely more limited. The last visitation time for the observation deck is at 4:15PM. It’s only open Monday – Friday, and some Saturdays. If you’re seeing Philadelphia in a weekend, it may not be open.
- Liberty One Observation Deck: your other option is Liberty One, an equally stunning view of Philadelphia – and this time the skyline includes City Hall. The Liberty One Observation Deck is open until 8PM every single day. It’s more likely to be open on the day you visit, and there’s no need to rush in the afternoon if you’re enjoying the Benjamin Franklin Parkway area. Best of all, you can be at the top for sunset if you want! Free guided tours are ongoing up at the top. The guide points out different spots in Philadelphia from above. Come and go from the tour as you please, and enjoy the view!
Philadelphia at Night
Ready for a night out in Philly? If you’re not too tired after big days of exploring, here are a few suggestions. Make sure you walk along Broad Street at night for a beautiful view of City Hall!
- Night-time Bus Tour: The Big Bus tour doesn’t only run during the day! Hop on a nighttime tour (which is not hop-on-hop-off). This 90 minute tour follows a slightly different route than during a day. I absolutely loved this tour, the guide was awesome and it was so fun to see everything at night!
- Shows on Broad Street: Philadelphia has a fantastic theatre scene. Their equivalent of Broadway is Broad Street. Check out the schedule if you’re looking to enjoy some live entertainment one evening. Musicals, plays, and live music are perfect for a weekend in Philadelphia.
- Drinks with a View: Philadelphia’s got a whole host of rooftop bars with amazing views to choose from. One of the best views of the city is from a bar on top of an old high school, at a Bok Bar. Look out over the fountain on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at Assembly, or enjoy a view of the downtown at SkyGarten. This post has a list of 25 rooftop patios in Philadelphia!
- Night Out at Penn’s Landing: the place to be on summer night’s in Philadelphia is an area called Penn’s Landing. Colourful lights are strung up everywhere and music plays. Go for a stroll by the water and get something to eat from one of the vendors.
Philadelphia Places to Explore
Have 3 days in Philadelphia, or want to substitute something else from the itinerary? Here are some awesome Philadelphia points of interest worth seeing on your visit!
- Historic District Museums: Once you’re in the Historic District, you’re near a variety of history museums. The African American Museum, National Museum of American Jewish History, and the Constitution Museum area all nearby.
- The Mural Mile: go on a self-guided tour of Philadelphia, following one of two mural mile routes through the city. Philadelphia is home to some truly exceptional murals. Many pay tribute to or tell the stories of important figures in history.
- The Magic Gardens: possibly one of the most unique places to see in Philadelphia (and included on the Philadelphia Pass) are the magic gardens. These “gardens” are a multi-level creation of beautiful shapes and coloured glass and mirrors.
- Race Street Pier + Benjamin Franklin Bridge: this is the perfect area to go for a nice walk if you have a sunny afternoon. There are beautiful photo spots, very popular for wedding and engagement shots, both on the bridge itself and underneath looking up at the bridge.
Where to Eat in Philadelphia
There’s no bad food in Philly. Eat anywhere that you haven’t heard of (i.e. not a chain you can find back home) and you’re guaranteed a delicious meal. Here are some of my favourite places, and some of Philadelphia’s most famous foods.
- Continental Mid-Town: this recommendation came to me from a local. This place has great food, and a fun 3 story layout – there are even hanging chairs!
- Vedge: Philadelphia’s got great vegan food, and the food at Vedge is exceptional. I had grilled tofu, which might sound a little unique… but it was fantastic.
- Philadelphia Pretzel Factory: you’ve gotta get a pretzel. It’s actually 5 for $2 (they’re 5 smaller baked pretzels, as opposed to one enormous one) and so, so good.
- Geno’s Cheesesteaks: down 9th street just past the Italian Market are the best cheesesteaks in a Philadelphia. Make sure you have cash!
- Reading Terminal Market: while I already listed this one in the itinerary, you can go here again and again because there are so many options. Check out the Dutch Eating Place for breakfast!
How to Get Around in Philadelphia
Getting around in Philadelphia is really easy. It’s impressive, actually. They’ve done a great job of making the city easy to navigate. Here’s how to get sround:
- Walk: depending on where you decide to stay, you can walk pretty much everywhere. Get your step count in by walking all over the place! The streets are organized by number, so it’s easy to map your route.
- Bus: Philadelphia’s city bus system is well-organized and buses come frequently. Buy a pass at one of the metro stations. There’s a $4.50 fee for the card, and you need to load $2.50 per ride. Neither the day pass nor the one week pass is necessary for 2 days in Philadelphia.
- Metro: the metro isn’t necessary for getting around the city centre, but it’s a great way to get to and from the airport. One train will take you directly from the airport to Suburban station in 25 minutes, which is blocks away from City Hall.
- Hop-on-Hop-off: While visiting, I also used the Hop-on-Hop-off bus to jump from one area of the city to another. The route essentially circles the city centre and historic district, and then branches out to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and back.
Find Hotels in Philadelphia
You’re all set for 2 days in Philadelphia! Have questions? Leave a comment below!
Special thanks to Visit Philadelphia and Beyond the Bell Tours! Visit Philadelphia provided me with a VIP Pass to all museums and attractions, and Beyond the Bell tour welcomed me on a complimentary walking tour.
6 Replies to “2 Days in Philadelphia: A Visitor’s Guide and Suggested Itinerary”
The Philadelphia bus system is not as convenient as you may think. SEPTA has constant delays and is a pain in the butt even with the frequent buses. I should know, living here they can be great but also completely useless. Otherwise, you covered a lot of the great stuff about the city, we love visitors and will always lend a helping hand. Just skip Genos for a steak as they’re not as good as Jim’s on South Street or Carmen’s in Reading Terminal.
I think all public transit systems have the occasional glitch, but I was in Philly for a week (3 days conference, 2 days exploring) and used Septa ever day without a problem. Yes – saw you share those recommendations for the cheesesteaks on Facebook! Thank you!
Great recommendations! I have only been to Philly once, just for a night, but definitely have to make my way there for a weekend.
I love Philadelphia – I live in NY so its close by. Love the food for sure and the museums!
Excellent comprehensive post, we spent 6 weeks in the USA from Australia over Christmas last year. We travelled to Boston for Christmas and New York for New Year however we didn’t get to Philadelphia on this trip. Hopefully another time.
Great post – I wish I had seen it before we went to Philly in November! But we will be back, and will definitely use your suggestions.
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