Philadelphia's Logan Circle
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Philadelphia is still a relative newbie when it comes to carving out a prominent position as a cruise port of call, playing a supporting role to Eastern seaboard cities like New York and Baltimore. But it's making headway, for a number of reasons: Southwest Airlines has just begun service to Philadelphia's international airport (which already serves discount carriers like AirTran), the city itself is in the midst of a major rebirth, and the powers-that-be are also investing heavily in creating a cruise port terminal out of a historic area.
Of course, Philadelphia's chief bit of notoriety is its colonial history. The city, founded in 1682, can rightly be credited as the site of America's birth -- the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were created here. So, too, was our first American flag.
And in the last few years -- as recent as 2003 -- the city has been spiffing up the old, and developing the new, in terms of its heritage appeal. Most notable was the launch last July 4 of the National Constitution Center. This year (and just opened) is a new home for the Liberty Bell, one of America's most valued symbols of freedom. And yet, to consider that Philadelphia's only major appeal is its historic sites is to miss out on the latest "revolution" here. Among some of the relatively new entrants onto the scene: a retro-designed sports stadium (the Philadelphia Phillies Citizens Bank Park opened in April), the Fairmount WaterWorks Interpretive Center (an eco-educational center), and its thriving -- yet not over-commercialized waterfront -- Penn's Landing, which features everything from historic ships-turned-into-restaurants to summer-long festivities.
Philadelphia, which lies at the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill River, also has amazing green spaces -- of particular note is Fairmount Park, one of urban America's largest within-the-boundaries parks. And for those extending a cruise vacation with a few extra days in Philadelphia, there are whole other worlds to explore, from the country's most prominent Amish settlement to the battlefields of Gettysburg, and from Wilmington's cultural and historic Dupont country to the Atlantic beaches of South Jersey.
For the most part, Philadelphia's biggest success has been in enticing cruise lines like NCL and Celebrity to assign spring/summer/fall season homeports for ships heading to Bermuda. But the port of call also attracts a variety of both well-known lines (such as Silversea, Seabourn and Radisson Seven Seas), as well as European-based ships (like Hapag Lloyd's Europa, Swan Hellenic's Minerva II, Peter Deilmann's Deutschland).
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Currency & Best Way to Get Money
As Philadelphia is part of the U.S., the currency is the U.S. dollar. International visitors will find it easy to access cash at numerous ATM machines. Major banks also provide exchange services.
An American flag.
Where You're Docked
Ships dock at Pier 2 at the Philadelphia Cruise Terminal.
The Philadelphia Cruise Terminal is located inside the Philadelphia Navy Yard. It was built in 1874 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are few services and no attractions right in the vicinity.
It's about a 15-minute taxi ride from the terminal to the city itself (and about ten minutes to the airport). Secured parking is available at the terminal; cost is $12 per day.
While SEPTA (www.septa.org), Philadelphia's mass transit authority, does operate bus service to the terminal (the #17), it takes about 30 minutes to get into Center City. Taxis do line up at the pier, and the ride takes about 15 minutes. For car rentals, you have to go to Philadelphia International Airport by taxi -- it's only about ten minutes away, however. All the big firms (Budget, Avis, Hertz, National) have counters there.
Once in Philadelphia, it's easy to get around. If you're just visiting the city itself there's no need to rent a car (and parking is a bother). Taxis and city buses are plentiful.
One fun way to get your bearings is to take a ride on one of the Big Bus Company's double-decker buses. These info-oriented trips circle the city, beginning at the Independence Visitor Center (5th Street between Market and Arch), and make 20 stops. Passengers can get on and off at whim. Tickets, good for 24 hours, cost $25 (adults), $10 kids (4 - 12). Info: www.bigbustours.com.
Independence Mall: The (nearly) brand-new National Constitution Center (525 Arch Street between 5th and 6th Streets, 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily) chronicles all things related to the U.S. Constitution, and its interactive exhibits make that era come alive. The center definitely is the diamond in the center, these days, of Philadelphia's most important "birth of America" sites.
Nearby, The Independence National Historical Park is home to Independence Hall (Chestnut Street between 5th & 6th Streets, daily from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.), considered the birthplace of America. There are free tours of the East Wing, and the West Wing showcases a collection of founding documents. Don't miss, as well, the new Independence Visitor Center -- it's a great first-stop for brushing up on your history (plus getting information on various attractions, within and outside of city boundaries).
The Liberty Bell (Market Street between 5th and 6th Streets, open daily from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.) is another symbolic Philadelphia classic, full of legends relating to America's early days (in fact the bell was hidden away in Allentown to keep it from falling into British hands during the Revolutionary War).
Other Old City Attractions: The Old City (also known as "north of Market") features quite a few other sites-to-see; among them include: the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum (701 Arch Street, Tuesday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sunday noon - 5 p.m.); the Betsy Ross House (239 Arch Street, Tuesday - Sunday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.) and Christ Church (2nd Street, north of Market), which was built in 1754 as a Church of England outpost. Others? The National Museum of American Jewish History (55 N. 5th Street, Monday - Thursday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. - 3 p.m., Sunday noon - 5 p.m.) and the first United States Mint (5th and Arch Streets, Monday - Saturday 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.). The Old City also has a range of funky boutiques and art galleries and the occasional hip restaurant.
Penn's Landing: Adjacent to the gorgeously picturesque streets and houses of Society Hill -- home to Philadelphia's wealthy in the 18th century and, today, largely restored -- there are worthy sites, particularly for maritime buffs. The Independence Seaport Museum (211 S. Columbus and Walnut, open daily from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.) displays numerous artifacts. The USS Olympia ( Penn's Landing at Spruce Street, open daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.) served in the Spanish-American War; you can take a tour. Also check out the submarine USS Becuna (Penn's Landing at Spruce Street, open daily from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.).
Center City: In Center City, there's Chinatown (centered at 10th and Race Streets), Lord & Taylor (13th and Market Streets), the department store that's in the locale of Philadelphia's famous John Wanamaker and is still a landmark, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (118 N. Broad at Cherry, open Monday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.), which showcases a fabulous collection of American masterpieces.
Rittenhouse Square: This urban park is surrounded by most of Philadelphia's hippest, trendiest and chic-est restaurants and boutiques (the park is plenty nice, too). Aim for Walnut & Sansom and explore from there.
Art & Culture Center: Art lovers shouldn't miss the cultural institutions clustered around Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Must-sees include the Franklin Institute Science Museum (20th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily), which was a pioneer in offering hands-on exhibits. Alas, it's most fantastical exhibit -- a beating human heart that you walk through (trust us, you've got to be there) -- is undergoing a long awaited techno-overhaul and will not reopen until fall. The Philadelphia Museum of Art (26th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Tuesday - Sunday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Wednesday and Friday until 8:45 p.m.), houses the city's most stellar collections and exhibits and the blockbuster shows. It's also got the famous set of steps featured in Sylvestor's Stallone's "Rocky." The Rodin Museum (22nd Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Tuesday - Saturday 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.) is right across the street and, obviously, showcases the work of French sculptor Auguste Rodin. What's really interesting is that it houses the Frenchman's biggest range -- outside of Paris.
The Philadelphia Zoo: Beyond the obvious appeal of the zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo has a fantastic "Zooballoon." The region's only passenger-carrying helium balloon, it rises to 400 ft. and offers cityscape views. Info: www.philadelphiazoo.org.
Been There, Done That
Neighborhood Walking Tours: Philadelphia is a series of distinct neighborhoods that cut a wide international swath. Themed walking tours are available, including "Latin Soul, Latin Flavor," "Exotic Cuisine & Esoteric Culture," and "Voices of Chinatown." Info: www.gophila.com/philaneighborhoodtours.htm.
Camden: Just across the Delaware is the city of Camden (New Jersey) which is experiencing a rebirth of its own. Major attractions include the Riversharks Minor League Baseball team (www.riversharks.com), the New Jersey State Aquarium, and the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial (www.battleshipnewjersey.org, daily from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.). Board the Riverlink Ferry (www.riverlinkferry.org), which crosses the one mile span of Delaware River between Camden and Penn's Landing; the ferry operates daily from 9 a.m. - 5:40 p.m. and departs every 20 minutes.
Manayunk: Hipsters should head to Manayunk (www.manayunk.com), a historic river town (Schuykill), within city limits. There's a tow path along the Schuykill River for strolling and cycling, and, in the historic renovated buildings in town a selection of unique boutiques and cutting edge restaurants. Mass transit offers service from Center City (www.septa.org).
Best Atmosphere (colonial or otherwise): Historic City Tavern (138 S. 2nd Street, open daily; Monday - Thursday and Sunday 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m., Friday - Saturday 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.) is kitschy, sure, but it's also fabulous; waiters dress in colonial costume and George Washington and Benjamin Franklin really did eat here! For a more contemporary experience, try the Reading Terminal Market (12th and Filbert, Monday - Saturday 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.); vendors at the market, housed in a huge, late 19th century railroad shed, offer nearly every imaginable cuisine -- particularly Philadelphia's famous cheesesteak (purists argue that Rick's Steaks is the original) and Amish home-baked goods.
In Rittenhouse Square: Rittenhouse Square is host to many of the city's premier restaurants (along with happening "hot" scenes). The quintessential Philadelphia gourmet experience is the Le Bec Fin (1523 Walnut, Monday - Friday 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m., Monday - Thursday 6 - 9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 6 - 9:30 p.m.), but also check out Brasserie Perrier (1619 Walnut Street, Monday - Saturday 11:30 - 1 a.m., Sunday 5 - 11 p.m.), and Striped Bass (1500 Walnut, Monday - Thursday 11:30 a.m. - 11 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. - 11:30 p.m., Saturday 5 - 11 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.). More casual, but still hot and trendy, are Bleu (227 S. 18th Street, daily from 11:30 - 2 a.m.), a French bistro, and the Devon Seafood Grill (225 S. 18th Street, daily 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.) for, um, seafood. For fabulous pub fare, go to Monk's Cafe (264 S. 16th Street, lunch -- 1 a.m.). Susanna Foo (1512 Walnut Street) is great for nouvelle Asian fare.
In Old City: In trendy Old City, check out the ultra romantic (and expensive) La Famigilia (8 S. Front Street, Tuesday - Friday noon - 2 p.m., 5:30 - 9 p.m., Saturday 5:30 - 10 p.m., Sunday 5 - 9 p.m.). Cuba Libre (10 Second Street at Market St., 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.) is eclectic and dynamic (and has fabulous mojitos).
For a Splurge: The Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia may be one of the city's newer hotels, but it feels like it's been here since William Penn founded the city. That's because it's housed in a landmark historic building. Its location, right in between Center City and the Rittenhouse Square area, is convenient to all-around touring, but it's so cozy comfy -- and with fabulous service, its in-house restaurant, The Grill, offers daily afternoon tea that rivals that of New York's The Plaza -- you may find it hard to leave the building.
Family Friendly: Hilton Garden Inn (1100 Arch Street) and Courtyard by Marriott (21 Juniper Street at City Hall) are both located in Center City, within easy walking distance of the Independence Mall and its attendant attractions.
Rittenhouse Square: The city's urban hub, Rittenhouse Square is replete with restaurants, boutiques, cafes, museums, and art galleries, not to mention the park itself. There are numerous hotels in the neighborhood but our favorite is the Sofitel, a few blocks off the square. The full-service hotel, part of the French Sofitel chain, is sleek and contemporary – feels like a boutique property – and offers all key amenities, from on-site restaurants (not that you'll need them with so much nearby) to fitness facility.
On the Waterfront: The lone high-rise on Philadelphia's charming -- and relatively undeveloped waterfront -- is the Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn's Landing. The hotel is a basic Hyatt -- comfortable and attractive -- and its in-house restaurant may be mediocre but has the best waterfront seating in town.
On A Budget: The Holiday Inn Historic District is located in the Old City, which is adjacent to the Independence Mall attractions.
Staying in Touch
Kinko's, 1201 Market Street.
For More Information
On the Web: www.pcvb.org
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The Independent Traveler: Philadelphia Exchange