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.
Center City Philadelphia in Winter: Art Deco 30th Street Station Surrounded by Modern Architecture
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.
Philly Pretzels Warm from the Oven in Winter
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.
Lore's Chocolates in Old 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!
Reflecting on American History on Center City Philadelphia's Independence Mall
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.
Walking in the Footsteps 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.
My Favorite 1970s Eye Sore in Colonial 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.
La Colombe Coffee and Plexiglas in Center 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.
It was surreal to me to sit there sipping a coffee underneath a Plexiglas chandelier (Rohm and Haas, my old company, invented Plexiglas).
Transported Back in Time to Colonial Philly on Elfreth's Alley
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.
Craft Beer Time in Old City Philadelphia at Revolution House
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.
Eating All The Things at Reading Terminal Market; A Center City Philadelphia Institution
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.
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.
Enormous Brunch Portions at Center City Philly's Green Eggs Cafe
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.
Willie Penn's Hat Atop Philadelphia City Hall
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.
Wandering Philadelphia's Colonial City
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.
A Walk Through Rittenhouse Square 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.
What are your favorite spots in Center City Philadelphia? Leave a comment below.
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?