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20+ Things to Do in Philadelphia: Get Expert Travel Tips

June 16, 2022

This history-centric city is also remarkably hip, with great restaurants, bars and museums for every taste.

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Photo: J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

20 Reasons to Fall in Love With Philly

Though it is often thought of as a history lover's destination, featuring some of the touchstones of American history, from the Liberty Bell to the World Heritage Site Independence Hall, Philadelphia is also home to a vibrant food scene including a James Beard best restaurant in the country, modern Israeli hot spot Zahav, diverse theatrical venues and eclectic neighborhoods like the gritty, industrial, hipster burg Fishtown filled with community gardens, indie shops, galleries and bars. Part of the city's charm is how small-town manageable it can feel, more accessible — maybe a little more earnest — than its big city neighbor New York City but with enough grit to satisfy urbanites. More like living history than the history-under-glass of Colonial Williamsburg, Philadelphia feels like a microcosm of America's faith in freedom, welcoming strangers and innate pride in diversity.

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Photo: C. Smyth

History With an Urban Edge in Philadelphia

In Philadelphia an indie scene of restaurants and cocktail culture have embraced history in novel new ways, exploring Pennsylvania Dutch foodways at Elwood or resurrecting classic spirits infused with cherry or dandelion root at the cocktail tasting room and shop Art in the Age. Dubbed the "City of Brotherly Love," there's no denying the city's rampant friendliness from the well-dressed apartment building doorman who chirped "nice dress," as I gamboled on a pretty summer day to the man waiting to cross a busy intersection who turned back to ask a homeless man sprawled on the pavement if he was O.K. During Pride Month, the city was festooned with even more demonstrations of love and acceptance. Uber drivers were chatty and shared details of their favorite cheesesteak source (everyone had a must-visit stop — all different from Pat's to Geno's to Jim's) to their (related) struggle to cut calories. Residents, many of them first or second generation immigrants, are proud of their city's essential role in America's founding and of the vibrant melting pot they call home.

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Photo: Harrison Brink

Elegant-Meets-Folksy Elwood

This restaurant from local chef Adam Diltz in the hip Fishtown neighborhood is a tribute to the Pennsylvania Dutch foodways of Diltz's childhood (in turn influenced by Native American, Dutch, French and Irish traditions) but served in an utterly inventive, charming white tablecloth setting. Elwood's narrow railroad flat design comes courtesy of Diltz's architect wife Jenny Ko. Your first view upon entering is the open kitchen where Diltz cooks, which immediately establishes the intimate vibe that continues throughout. The cozy, narrow dining room seats 26 and looks out onto a garden and is decorated with the kind of small framed prints you might see in your favorite aunt or grandmother's living room. Vintage, flowered plates and saucers lend an evocatively old-fashioned tone that plays out in Diltz's clever interpretations of food history in dishes like his grandmother's recipe for ham potpie with noodles that suggest a hybrid of dumpling and egg noodle, catfish and waffles (celebrating Philadelphia's history of German waffle restaurants) and family-style rabbit and pork to share. Like many Philly spots, Elwood is BYOB. Dinner service begins with a witty amuse-bouche presentation of a neat homemade scrapple square served skewered on a deer antler from Diltz's collection . Savory and sweet and the perfect unconventional end to Diltz's original dinner are spelt dumplings whose tangy sour cream ice cream perfectly balances the rich jolt of plum preserves and honey. Potato rolls come with both butter and lard and like so much of what makes Elwood memorable, blend nostalgia and wit into one more perfect union.

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Photo: Elwood

Charm Overload

Chef Diltz's homage to the Victorian vogue for celery, his braised celery with Hootenany and Royer cheese in Madeira sauce is served on Elwood's collection of vintage china.

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