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Got one day in Philadelphia? Philadelphia is a city that’s rich in history, so there’s plenty to see in a day. Founded in 1682 by William Penn, the “City of Brotherly Love” is one of the oldest cities in the United States and served as a meeting place for the Founding Fathers, who signed the Declaration of Independence here in 1776.
Philly is the second most populous city in the Northeast after New York and many people visit here as a day trip from New York City. In addition to historical landmarks, parks and museums, you’ll find plenty of great restaurants around town and of course, places to enjoy a good Philly Cheesesteak!
If you have one day in Philly, these are the best things to see and do:
Philadelphia 1 day itinerary
Note: Philadelphia’s city center is fairly compact so it’s actually easily walkable on foot. However, if you’re short on time you may want to order an Uber or a Lyft to get you between some places. Seeing any city in just one day can be tiring so I’ve tried not to pack this itinerary too full but you’ll definitely be able to explore the major attractions.
Walk around Reading Terminal Market
This indoor market features over 80 concessions selling baked goods, produce, meat, seafood, plants, flowers, crafts and gifts. There are tons of food options! Whatever you’re in the mood for – cheeses, donuts, cheesesteaks, cajun food, pizza, burgers, Thai – there’s something for everyone at Reading Terminal Market. I beelined straight for the Sang Kee Peking Duck and ordered their duck over rice, which was delicious.
The market can be found at 51 North 12th Street inside a National Historic Landmark building. It’s one of the oldest markets in the U.S, dating back to 1893. It’s open Monday – Sunday from 8 am to 6 pm.
Walk past City Hall
Close by to Reading Terminal Market you’ll find City Hall, which is the largest municipal building in the United States. The public rooms, including the the Mayor’s Reception Room, City Council Chamber, Conversation Hall and the Supreme Court Room are incredibly ornate and guided tours are available if you want to see inside.
The building’s elaborate facade features many sculptures including a 27-ton statue of William Penn, which stands on top of the tower.
Visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell
After browsing the market, it’s time to see Philly’s major attractions – Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. These are absolute must-dos on your list of things to do in Philadelphia in one day.
Liberty Bell Center
At the Liberty Bell Center you’ll browse exhibits, watch a short film and see the famous cracked Liberty Bell, which rang in the tower at the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall). Entry is free and you don’t need tickets.
The bell is made of bronze and weighed 2,080 lbs when it was ordered. Two lines of text are inscribed around the top of the bell; one is the inscription of liberty “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof”, while the other line states who ordered the bell.
In the 19th century the bell became a symbol of liberty and eventually became an inspiration to abolitionists seeking to end slavery in America. In the late 1800s the Liberty Bell even went on tour around the country and was displayed at various fairs and expositions.
There’s no official record of when the bell first cracked but it is thought it began to split in the early 1840’s after much heavy use. Metal workers attempted to widen the crack to avoid further damage to the bell. However, another crack developed and the bell stopped ringing in 1846.
After visiting the Liberty Bell, walk over to Independence Hall, which is where Congress signed the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776. Eleven years later, in 1787, the United States Constitution was also debated and signed here. The building once served as Pennsylvania’s State Capitol until it moved to Lancaster in 1799.
In order to enter the hall you’ll need to pass through security and then line up for a tour. Timed entry tickets are required in the months of March to December but are not required in January and February. The tour provides a great opportunity to see where history was made.
Eat a Philly Cheesesteak
Next up it’s time to grab lunch. While you’re in Philly you really should try a famous Philly Cheesesteak! If you’re not familiar with cheesesteak, it’s basically a sandwich consisting of a bread roll filled with thinly sliced steak and cheese, served with caramelized onions. It may not look that photogenic but it tastes so good!
You can choose from American cheese, provolone or melted Cheez Whiz – personally I think it’s the best and most authentic with Cheez Whiz! Cheez Whiz isn’t really cheese but it tastes so damn good when it’s melted in the sandwich.
So where can you find the best cheesesteak in Philly? Personally I like Jim’s South St, which can be found in the hip South Street neighborhood. Take a walk around the shops in the area then line up for a cheesesteak. Bring cash as it’s cash only, or pull out money from the ATM inside. Nearby there’s a small park called Bainbridge Green where you sit down at tables and chairs to eat your sandwich.
Another iconic Philly Cheesesteak spot is Geno’s Steaks, which is open 24 hours and has been serving steaks to locals and tourists since 1966. Seating is limited and there’s usually a line but things move pretty fast. Located at 9th and Passyunk, you can spot this restaurant easily from its neon sign.
Have your photo taken at the Rocky Steps
After you’ve lined your stomach, visit the famous Rocky Steps, where Sylvester Stalone ran up the steps in the movie Rocky.
Located at the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, this famous staircase is usually filled with tourists who come to have their photo taken doing the famous Rocky pose with two arms in the air. Once you reach the top you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of the Philadelphia skyline and beyond.
At the bottom of the steps you can see the famous Rocky Statue, which was actually created for a scene in Rocky III but was donated to The City of Philadelphia by Sylvester Stallone after filming was completed.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Don’t just stop at the steps; the Philadelphia Museum of Art is worth seeing too. The museum features works by famous artists and designers including Paul Cézanne, Charles Eames, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Rembrandt. Admission for adults costs $25 except for the first Sunday of the month and every Friday night, when you can pay whatever you like.
Go brewery hopping
Philadelphia has lots of great breweries where you can quench your thirst with a craft beer or two. The city has a rich brewing history and apparently boasted over 700 breweries before Prohibition was enacted!
My favorite brewery is Love City Brewing, which has friendly staff and a great atmosphere. Pop along for Happy Hour, which takes place Monday-Friday from 4 till 6pm. Draft beers are just $4. If you’re feeling hungry the brewery has a schedule of rotating food trucks that you can order food from.
Another great brewery is Yards Brewing Company, which was started by two college buddies, Tom and Jon. Located at 500 Spring Garden Street, this expansive brewery and taproom offers both indoor and outdoor seating. Choose from one of four beer flights or order a pint of whatever you fancy on tap. The brewery also offers daily tours giving visitors a behind-the-scenes look into how Philly’s Beer is made.
Catch sunset at a rooftop
To finish off the perfect Philadelphia 1 day itinerary, head to a rooftop to enjoy views of the city skyline.
Assembly Rooftop Lounge at the Logan Hotel is an upscale rooftop with fire pits to keep you warm in the cooler months. Located nine stories above ground, the rooftop overlooks the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and offers views of Philadelphia’s museum and arts district. After a long day of walking around the city, sit back and relax with a cocktail and enjoy some light bites while soaking up the views.
If you visit in summer you can try Bok Bar, which is a seasonal bar located on top of the BOK building in South Philly. Over the course of the summer season, Bok Bar plays host to a packed calendar of events and popups featuring some of the city’s best musicians, chefs, artists and entrepreneurs.
Where to stay in Philly
There are tons of hotels in Philadelphia to choose from. Most of them are concentrated in the downtown area.
Kimpton Hotel Monaco – Located in center city, the Kimpton Hotel Monaco is located right by the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, so you won’t have to walk far to see the city’s major sights. Housed in the historic Lafayette Building, this hotel features 268 guest rooms, 13,000 square feet of meeting space, a modern American tavern and a trendy rooftop. The decor is inspired by the “eccentric discerning traveler” and features antiques that explorers might have found on their adventures.
The Logan – This glamorous downtown hotel features 391 guest rooms and suites decorated with locally curated, Philadelphia-inspired art work. There are multiple bars and restaurants on-site, including a rooftop bar called Assembly Rooftop, where you can soak up views of the city while enjoying cocktails.
Aloft Philadelphia Downtown – If you’re on a mid-range budget, the Aloft Philadelphia is a solid option. The hotel can be found in the restored Liberty Title & Trust Company building near The Met. If you have a pet then you’ll be pleased to know the hotel is pet-friendly, so you can bring your four-legged friend.
Apple Hostels of Philadelphia – If you’re visiting Philly on a budget, Apple Hostels is located less than 50 meters from Independence National Park and offers affordable dorm rooms close to all the action.
Getting to and around Philadelphia
If you’re flying into Philadelphia then you’ll land at Philadelphia International Airport. From there you can take the Regional Rail, which transports you from the airport to the city center in around 25 minutes. The service runs seven days per week from 5am till midnight.
Alternatively you can order an Uber or Lyft from the airport to take you into the city.
If you’re coming from New York, the best way to get to Philadelphia (if you’re not driving) is by taking the Amtrak train or the bus. The train is more expensive than the bus so if you’re on a budget, the bus is the better option.
Trains depart regularly from New York Penn Station, arriving at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.
Various bus companies operate buses between NYC and Philadelphia. I went to Philly with Flixbus, which offers fares starting at $9.99. Flixbus departs from West 31st St and 8th Ave and the buses are super comfortable with free Wi-Fi and power sockets at every seat.
Other companies that run buses to Philadelphia include Megabus and Peter Pan Bus Lines.
Once you arrive in Philadelphia it’s easy to get around parts of the city on foot, although you’ll maybe want to use Uber or Lift for longer distances. You could also join a hop-on-hop off bus tour so you can see the sights of Philly on an open-top bus. The bus tour has 27 stops so you can get on and off wherever you want.
Is one day in Philadelphia enough?
Philly’s downtown area is walkable and the major sights are quite close together, so for that reason I definitely think you can do Philly in a day. 2 days would be ideal but if you’re visiting on a day trip from New York City then you can easily catch a bus or train in the morning and head back in the evening.
Things to do in Philadelphia if you have more time
If you have 2 or more days in Philadelphia then you can visit a few other attractions and places including:
- Philadelphia Zoo
- Love Park
- Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
A final word…
Philly is worth visiting if you haven’t been already. Outside of the touristy stuff I particularly like the South St neighborhood which has lots of bars, restaurants, galleries and quirky shops. Nearby in Society Hill is one of Philadelphia’s cutest streets – the 200-300 block of Delancey Street, which is lined with trees and two-story rowhouses.
Parts of Philadelphia are just so damn charming that it’s easy to spend more than a day here just exploring various neighborhoods. 1 day will allow you to scratch the surface but 2 days is even better. It’s also a great place to travel solo – I’ve listed Philly on my list of the best places to travel alone in the U.S!