City of Brotherly Love is rich in history & culture

Friendship Gate into Chinatown can be found in Philadelphia, Pa. / Chandler Holland, Times-News correspondent

By Chandler Holland
Times-News correspondent

   One of the oldest cities in the United States, our first capital and the cradle of liberty, Philadelphia is as diverse as they come. In 1682, the city was founded by William Penn as the capital of the province of Pennsylvania. The province was offered to settle a debt the king owed him, and Penn bought the land from the Lenape Tribe. To this day our colonial heritage is easily visible everywhere you look. There are so many layers of hidden gems in Philly, they can easily be overlooked in such a rich cultural and culinary landscape.
If you are driving into the city from the west, take the scenic Kelly Drive route. This curving road is named for Princess Grace’s brother, and is a stone’s throw from where she grew up. “The Drive” runs along the Schuylkill River, which is lined with paddlers. The park that runs along the river is filled with families and friends rollerblading, biking, jogging and picnicking. And, as with elsewhere in this city filled with public art, there are a generous number of statues scattered throughout.
As you move further east, your first glimpse of the city’s towering skyline is visible between the quaint university sculling team homes lining Boathouse Row. Skyscrapers did not exist in Philly before 1987, as prior to then, according to a gentleman’s agreement, no building was permitted to be taller then the crown of William Penn’s hat, residing on the top of Philadelphia’s City Hall – the largest and most ornate city hall in the United States.

Getting around the city

Driving in Center City can feel like you are playing a video game, so it is best to understand the layout before diving in. The streets are laid out in a grid pattern designed by William Penn’s surveyor in the 1600s - keeping the houses spread apart to prevent fires from spreading. Most roads running east-west were originally named after trees, and those going north-south are numbered, going down in value as you head toward Front Street and the Delaware River. The vast majority of streets in Center City are one-way, so getting lost is nearly impossible. You simply “go around the block” if you miss a turn. There are a few notable exceptions like Broad Street (14th), which happens to be the longest straight north-south street in the country. On many Center City streets, they paved right over the original cobblestones, but when you near Head House Square you are in for a bumpy ride, and an even more challenging stroll, as the stones remain exposed. Head House is home to one of the oldest continuously run farmers markets in our country.

Center City

Before William Penn expanded the city limits, Philadelphia took up what is today known as Center City. The “downtown” area of Philly, Center City is full of delightful restaurants, street vendors, parks, statues, fountains and murals. Shoppers will enjoy Antique Row, Jeweler’s Row, and South Street for funky finds. Center City itself is divided into five districts; Rittenhouse Square, Convention Center, Washington Square, Historic/ Waterfront, and the Parkway Museums District. This last has brilliantly colored flags from more than 100 countries lining the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and is very appropriately named since it is crammed full of every type of museum you can think of. My personal favorite, The Academy of Natural Sciences, was the first natural history museum in the U.S. Continue down the parkway and you will see the grand entrance to the Philadelphia Art Museum, one of the largest museums in the country, and home to my favorite collection of arms and armor. The plaza and building looks as though they were transported from ancient Athens, and the museum’s front steps are the famous ones on which Rocky ran. His statue is tucked to the side, and there is always a line of tourists waiting to take their picture with Rocky.

Sightseeing

One of the best places to begin a day of sightseeing is at the Independence Visitor Center. Here you will find maps and brochures, information about tours, and helpful, friendly guides. If the weather cooperates, I recommend Big Bus Tours with open-top, double-decker buses. The hour-and-a-half tour goes all over Center City, providing a quick glance, along with tons of background information and intriguing facts. Sites on their tour include Betsy Ross House, US Mint, Ben Franklin’s grave, National Constitution Center, Chinatown, Reading Terminal Market, City Hall, Barnes Foundation, Rodin Museum, Philadelphia Art Museum, Franklin Institute, and much more. The buses run all day, and you can get off one bus at any of the stops and visit the sight before getting back on another one. One-, two- and three-day passes can be purchased.

Chandler Holland is a rising junior home-schooler and a Teens & 20s writer. She was lead intern at C’et si bon! Cooking School, and co-teaches the Kitchen Capers kid’s cooking classes at Alamance Arts.

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