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Philadelphia in Winter: 15 Cool Things to Do, See, and Eat

Learn about things to do in Center City Philadelphia in winter. Join a former resident on a walk down memory lane as we explore the sights of downtown Philadelphia from Old City to the Schuylkill River.
There are so many things to do in Center City Philadelphia in winter. Philadelphia is a vibrant U.S. city lurking in the shadows of New York's glow that is often sadly overloooked by visitors on a trip to the American Northeast. 

I lived in and around Philadelphia for almost 8 years but left Philly nearly a decade ago to the day for the warmth, sunshine, and surprises of the San Francisco Bay Area in California. 

I had the chance to travel to Philadelphia in January for a friend's baby shower and took the opportunity to take a walk down memory lane and visit all of my favorite places. 

Read on to discover Center City Philadelphia in winter through the eyes of a nostalgic former local resident.

Statue of the Signer of the Declaration of Independence located near Independence Mall in Philadelphia

1. Center City Philadelphia in Winter: Art Deco 30th Street Station Surrounded by Modern Architecture

30th Street Station in Center City Philadelphia
I spent about 48 hours in Philadelphia and arrived by train from Newark Airport into 30th Street Station. This iconic Art Deco train station is a real gem. 

The angular glass Amtrak Tower next door describes Philadelphia to a tee: the old and historical co-existing with the new and modern.
Art deco lamps in 30th Street Station in Center City Philadelphia

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Do you love Art Deco architecture as much as I do? Here are my recommendations for some great places around the world where you can get your Art Deco fix. 

2. Philly Pretzels Warm from the Oven in Winter

Philly pretzels from the Philly Soft Pretzel Factory in Center City Philadelphia
Anytime I visit Philadelphia, my first stop is always the Philly Soft Pretzel Factory. En route from 30th Street Station to my hotel on Broad Street, I made a bee-line for 1545 Sansom St. 

There are many locations of the Philly Soft Pretzel Factory but this is the one where the pretzels are baked and you can get a strip of 3 pretzels hot from the oven for about $2 USD.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for ideas of other cold weather destinations around the world? Check out Bratislava Slovakia in winter. You'll find great food and local beer, lovely architecture, and plenty of snow and ice hockey. You can also nip across the border to the Czech Republic to visit Brno.

3. Lore's Chocolates in Old City Philadelphia

Lore's Chocolate display window in Center City Philadelphia
Many of my memories of Philadelphia revolve around food. After dropping off my bags, I headed toward Philadelphia's Old City and Lore's Chocolates

I used to stop for coffee here every morning on my way to the office when I worked in Center City Philadelphia. Go in, have a wander around and make up a small bag of delicious homemade chocolates to sustain you on a walk around Philly. 

Lore's makes Philadelphia's best chocolate. Seek it out!

4. Reflecting on American History on Center City Philadelphia's Independence Mall

Independence Hall in Philadelphia viewed from across Independence Mall in winter
Philadelphia is where it all began in the U.S. I got a chill down my spine (nothing to do with the fact that it was January when I visited!) when I stepped onto Independence Mall; home to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the Constitution Center. 

Given everything going on in the U.S. right now, this plaque highlighting the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution seems especially appropriate. 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

This is what makes America great. period.
Plaque highlighting the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Independence Mall in Philadelphia
Independence Hall in Center City Philadelphia and the shadow of a colonial figure

5. Walking in the Footsteps of Benjamin Franklin in Center City Philadelphia

Statue of Benjamin Franklin in Center City Philadelphia
Benjamin Franklin is another fascinating character whose life was intimately tied to Philadelphia. Both a scientist and a statesman, Franklin did a great deal to shape the Philly we know and love today. 

Look for statues of Benjamin Franklin around Center City and civic structures named after him (streets, bridges, etc.). You can even visit the Benjamin Franklin Museum in Old City. It was closing when I walked past so unfortunately, I'll have to save the museum for my next visit.

6. My Favorite 1970s Eye Sore in Colonial Philadelphia

The Liberty Bell exhibit and Dow Chemical Headquarters on Independence Mall in Philadelphia
Here is a view from Independence Mall that you don't often see. The majority of buildings surrounding this important Center City Philadelphia landmark are classic and beautiful or modern and purpose built to show off Philadephia's history (for example, the hall hosting the Liberty Bell and Constitution Center). 

When I worked in Philadelphia a decade ago, my office was in the 1970s concrete tower on the other side of Independence Mall. To be honest, the building itself is an eyesore but you get great views from inside.

7. La Colombe Coffee and Plexiglas in Center City Philadelphia

Coffee at La Colombe in Old City Philadelphia
A lot has changed at the Rohm and Haas Home Office (now Dow's Philadelphia business office). There is a hipster coffee place in the lobby and a beer garden too! 

I stopped in to get out of the cold Philadelphia winter and enjoyed a cappuccino at La Colombe, Philadelphia's best local chain of coffee shops.
Plexiglas chandelier at La Colombe in Old City Philadelphia
It was surreal to me to sit there sipping a coffee underneath a Plexiglas chandelier (Rohm and Haas, my old company, invented Plexiglas).

8. Transported Back in Time to Colonial Philly on Elfreth's Alley

Elfreth's Alley colonial street in Old City Philadelphia
Leaving Independence Mall behind, I walked deeper into Old City and headed for Elfreth's Alley, a narrow, cobbled street featuring homes that date back to colonial times. 

Take a trip back in time and imagine what life in Philadelphia must have been like for George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and our other founding fathers.
Elfreth's Alley colonial street in Old City Philadelphia

9. Craft Beer Time in Old City Philadelphia at Revolution House

White Chocolate Pumpkin Porter by Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company at Revolution House in Old City Philadelphia
When I lived in Center City Philadelphia, Old City was the place to go if you were a foodie. That really hasn't changed. 

There are now just more great choices for places to eat and get a drink. The craft beer movement has definitely landed in Philadelphia since we moved away. 

I enjoyed sitting in Revolution House and sampling a White Chocolate Pumpkin Porter (a spicy wintery beer) brewed just up the road by Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other iconic American cities to visit? Consider spending a day in Chicago for fantastic food, architecture, and lake views.

10. Eating All The Things at Reading Terminal Market; A Center City Philadelphia Institution

Signage in Reading Terminal Market in Center City Philadelphia
Reading Terminal Market is hands-down my favorite place in Center City Philadelphia. This world-class food hall features delicious treats (especially baked goods) prepared by the Amish (every day except Sunday).

I love wandering through Reading Terminal Market and taking in the signs showcasing the amazing diversity of food on offer. Breath deep and enjoy the aromas of cuisine and spices from around the world. 
Slice of Amish Cherry Pie in Reading Terminal Market in Center City Philadelphia
Whenever I visit Reading Terminal Market, I go at breakfast time and eat a slice of Amish Pie, an egg and bacon stuffed pretzel and a coffee from Old City Coffee. Yes, it's heavy but you can walk it off later.
Bacon and egg stuff Amish pretzel in Reading Terminal Market in Center City Philadelphia

11. Enormous Brunch Portions at Center City Philly's Green Eggs Cafe

Pecan Pie French Toast for breakfast at Green Eggs Cafe in Center City Philadelphia
While we're on the subject of food, I discovered Green Eggs Cafe on this most recent trip to Philly when I took the opportunity to meet an old friend for Sunday brunch in Center City. 

Walking down memory lane isn't just about places, it's about people too! We caught up over pecan pie French toast and some of the best bacon I've ever tasted. 

If you're hungry, Philadelphia's Green Eggs Cafe has got you covered for a winter weekend breakfast/brunch with friends.

12. Willie Penn's Hat Atop Philadelphia City Hall

Philadelphia City Hall in winter
I love how throwbacks to colonial times are interwoven into the modern city. Philadelphia's City Hall is a beautiful structure and sits at a cross-roads of several major streets in Center City so you can see it from almost anywhere. 

For years, no building could be taller than William Penn's Hat at the top of City Hall but sadly that rule has been relaxed a bit over the years to allow for construction of some modern skyscrapers.

13. Wandering Philadelphia's Colonial City

Wrought iron railings in Colonial Philadelphia in winter
Even after 10 years away, I never grow tired of wandering around Philadelphia's Old City. I braved the January cold to admire the facades and colorful shutters. 

Whenever I encountered a small cobbled street, I turned off the main road and thus took a step back in time to Colonial America.
Colonial facades in Center City Philadelphia in winter

14. A Walk Through Rittenhouse Square in Winter

Old church and modern skyscraper in Center City Philadelphia in winter
On my way back to 30th Street Station after a whirlwind 48 hours in Center City Philadelphia, I took a detour through another favorite neighborhood; Rittenhouse Square. 

In the approach to Rittenhouse Square, you'll see old churches backstopped by modern glass skyscrapers that gleam in the sun. Philadelphia is definitely a city of amazing contrasts.
Snow-covered Rittenhouse Square in Center City Philadelphia
Walking through the park at Rittenhouse Square, I reflected on my visit; much had changed in the 10 years that I'd been away, much of it for the better. 

Philadelphia has a lot to offer. It's a shame that the city is often overlooked by tourists traveling between New York and Washington. I was proud to call Philadelphia home for nearly a decade and I always jump at the chance to go back and revisit my favorite places.

15. Have Kids? Head to Bucks County to Sesame Place

If you are visiting Philadelphia in the winter with kids, did you know that there is a Sesame Street-themed amusement park in nearby Bucks County? 

Sesame Place in Langhorne is an ideal destination for the whole family and as of 2021 is open year round so that you can get your Muppet fix, even in the winter.

Things to do in Philadelphia Map

Click on the image of the map below to open up an interactive version in Google Maps to help you plan your winter in Philadelphia itinerary.

Winter in Philadelphia Map

For some additional reading on travel in Pennsylvania, why not head over to the opposite end of the state to learn about all the fun things to do in Pittsburgh?

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Touring Center City Philadelphia featuring City Hall, Reading Terminal Market, Benjamin Franklin and Independence Mall

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: Philadelphia in Winter: 15 Cool Things to Do, See, and Eat
Philadelphia in Winter: 15 Cool Things to Do, See, and Eat
Learn about things to do in Center City Philadelphia in winter. Join a former resident on a walk down memory lane as we explore the sights of downtown Philadelphia from Old City to the Schuylkill River.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog