Everyone loves to start the New Year with a resolution, so this year I decided mine would be to work harder to keep in touch with extended family. When I saw that the weather was looking perfect the first weekend in January, my daughter and I decided to make a quick road trip to visit my 94 year old aunt, who lives outside of Philadelphia. It was also a great excuse to continue our search for the best cheesesteak in Philly!
So after catching up with my aunt, we made the short drive into the city. We arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday, and checked into the Holiday Inn Express Penn’s Landing. It was a last minute hotel choice based on two factors - price and location. Our plan was to spend the evening at the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest, and this hotel was within walking distance. Parking was expensive, as it is throughout most of the city, but we did have in/out privileges from the lot, which we took advantage of after we checked in. So off we went on our whirlwind adventure, making the most of our short time in this wonderful city.
Following in Famous Footsteps
Philadelphia is a fabulous place for history buffs, offering visitors a chance to walk in the footsteps of famous Americans like George Washington and Ben Franklin. After a quick drive around the city, we managed to find street parking just around the corner from Independence Hall. Historical sight-seeing was not necessarily on our agenda for this trip, given our limited time, but we decided to make a quick go round of the historic area with a longer visit planned for summer.
Clustered around Independence Hall is the Liberty Bell Center, which houses the original Liberty Bell along with Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed. It was almost closing time when we arrived, so we weren’t able to get in line to see the Liberty Bell up close. There is no admission fee, but as usual, the line was out the door. On my previous visit over the summer, I learned you can get a close up side view of the bell from a window, so we were able to do that before it got dark. Visiting Independence Hall does require free timed tickets, except during January and February, when no tickets are required. We spent some time in the Independence Visitor Center and walking around the grounds of Independence Park as the sun set. Before we left the area, we had our picture taken at one of the many famous #VisitPhilly photo spots which are scattered around the city.
Eating Like a Local
Trying all the signature local foods is one of my goals when traveling, and in Philadelphia, eating a cheesesteak is a rite of passage. Jim’s Steaks on South Street was highly recommended, and we weren’t disappointed. Our hotel shuttle driver was able to drop us about a block away so we didn’t have to worry about parking. Because it was a Saturday night, the line did wrap around the building, but it was so worth it when we finally sat down to enjoy our dinner. If you've never ordered a cheesesteak, be sure to watch the video on “How to Order a Philly Cheesesteak.” Read more about Philadelphia’s Sandwich Hall of Fame, and check out the list of favorites for your next visit.
On Sunday, we made a stop at historic Reading Terminal Market for coffee and lunch. My favorite donut shop, Beiler’s Bakery, wasn’t open, so instead we tried a honey banana walnut crepe from the popular Profi’s Creperie. Everything on the menu looked delicious so it was a tough choice, but the crepe was fantastic. We left the market with a hoagie from Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagies and Cheesesteaks for the road, feeling satisfied that we had fulfilled the “eat like a local” requirement of our trip.
Chilling Out by the River
Our plan was to spend Saturday evening at the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest, and the night was perfect, with clear skies and chilly temperatures. Our shuttle driver dropped us at the main entrance, where we immediately could smell the wood burning fire pits as we walked into the outside seating area filled with twinkling lights. There’s an Olympic-sized ice skating rink which was packed with people of all ages. Unfortunately we learned the hard way that ice skating tickets often sell out in advance. Still, we spent about two hours hanging out, people watching, relaxing by the fire and lounging in the comfy sofas in the heated lodge. Winterfest runs through March 6, 2016 and admission is free, with a fee for skating, food and beverages. We are already planning a trip back in the summer to check out the warm-weather version of Winterfest at the Spruce Street Harbor Park, with a hammock lawn, bocce ball, beer-garden and nearby roller skating rink.
Touring on the Fly
Sunday morning we were able to take advantage of the last day of service for the Phlash bus (service resumes in April). For $5, you can hop on and off the bus at various stops, including Eastern State Penitentiary (you can read my blog post about why you should visit), the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Independence National Historical Park area and Reading Terminal Market. The bus is a great deal if you are going to one or more of the favorite tourist spots. Don’t forget to jump off and run up the famous “Rocky Steps” at the Museum of Art, and take your picture by the Rocky statue (you’ll see the people lined up near the bottom of the steps.) Check out the Visit Philly website for all the latest information and events, including their list of the Top 50 Must See Attractions.
Philadelphia is definitely a city to put on your list for 2016. Just plan to spend more than 24 hours!