Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 21, 2017

© Bob Krist / GPTMC

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Philadelphia

Here's why you should have visited years ago

Philadelphia is the Rodney Dangerfield of historic US cities: at least when it comes to Canadian travellers, it can't get no respect. In the shadow of bigger, better-known Boston, it suffers from a yawn-inducing image north of the border that doesn't reflect Philly today. It's a young city with a great food scene, 90 museums with world-class art, massive parks, two rivers and the most historic square mile in the US. But don't take our word for it; hit the streets to see for yourself.

Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson called Philadelphia home, and the city played an important part in the nation's founding. So not surprisingly, there are 40 early American sites preserved within Independence National Historical Park (143 South Third Street; nps.gov/inde), including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. You can download a self-guided walking app ($14) or join a guided tour with The Constitutional (theconstitutional.com; adults $17.50, kids under 12 $12.50) to fill in the blanks in your knowledge of early American history.

For a taste of the high life, head to Rittenhouse Square (rittenhouserow.org). At the heart of a tony neighbourhood with upscale boutiques, cafés and historic brownstones, it's a laidback park filled with families, dog walkers and Frisbee throwers. Grab a latte from La Colombe (130 South 19th Street; lacolombe.com) and pick a park bench for some people watching.

If you're looking for urban cool, you'll find it in South Philly – yes, the rough-and-tumble 'hood where Rocky Balboa grew up. Until a few years ago, East Passyunk Avenue (visiteastpassyunk.com) was mostly home to the city's best cheese steaks and Italian American restaurants. Today, it's a hub for hipsters with converted lofts, trendy restaurants and shopping. Or head to South Street (southstreet.com) for quirky stores with vintage clothes, edgy jewellery and sneaker emporiums.

If you like browsing antique stores, make a beeline to the cobblestone streets of Chestnut Hill (chestnuthillpa.com). It's filled with over 200 art and antiques galleries, as well tearooms and farmer's markets.

Or for a rural escape without leaving town, wander into Fairmount Park (fairmountpark.org). You could spend a week here without exploring all this 3600-hectare urban park has to offer. Made up of over 60 smaller park areas, it has winding creeks, large meadows, 160 kilometres of trails, as well as colonial mansions to visit, a Japanese tea house, a zoo and a lake with boat rentals.

Art for art's sake

Art and music lovers will be spoiled for choice. On weekends, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts (300 South Broad Street; kimmelcenter.org/events) presents "Free at the Kimmel" in its Commonwealth Plaza with everything from up-and-coming jazz, to Bollywood dance troupes, brass quintets or global soul.

Friday nights, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway; philamuseum.org/artafter5; museum admission adults $20, youth 13-18 $14) turns down the lights for Art After 5, where bands play on while guests enjoy cocktails, snacks and light meals. But even before five, this excellent museum (the third largest in the US) has an encyclopedic collection from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, along with great exhibitions of American art. Not to be missed.

And the first week of each month, a neighbourhood-wide gallery crawl known as First Friday (visitphilly.com/events/philadelphia/first-Friday) takes over the Old City. That's when the art galleries between Front and Third, and Market and Vine, stay open late, leading to a party atmosphere and plenty of people watching.

One of the city's best-known art institutes is the Barnes Foundation (2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway; barnesfoundation.org; adults $18, youth $10). This outstanding collection amassed by Dr Albert Barnes and housed in a massive new building downtown displays a who's who of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masters. The foundation works with timed tickets only; so be sure to book online in advance.

Or while away a few hours at the lovely Beaux-Arts building which houses the Rodin Museum (2154 Benjamin Franklin Parkway; rodinmuseum.org; suggested donation $8). Its formal French garden is peaceful and dotted with outdoor sculptures. The museum holds the most extensive public collection of Auguste Rodin’s works outside Paris, including The Kiss, The Thinker and a bronze cast of The Gates of Hell.

Beyond cheese steaks

You think we're kidding about great food? The city has come a long way from cheese steaks and hoagies. The hottest restaurant last year, Barbuzzo (110 South 13th Street; barbuzzo.com) is one of the new cafés and shops credited with creating a buzz in Midtown Village. It serves market-fresh pastas and pizzas, and the salted caramel budino dessert is not to be missed.

The chefs behind Vedge (1221 Locust Street; vedgerestaurant.com) are getting raves and wooing meat eaters with their 100-bottle wine list and decadent veg-only dishes. The portobello carpaccio with arugula mustard is a must-taste.

It's a challenge getting a supper reservation at Iron Chef Jose Garces' flagship restaurant Amada (217 Chestnut Street; amadarestaurant.com). But for just $14.50 you can snag a two-course "Catalan Express" lunch, including a Spanish soup and a meal-sized salad or sandwich served with spicy potatoes.

If an Israeli restaurant seems like a stretch, consider that Zahav (237 St. James Place; zahavrestaurant.com) is consistently ranked among the city's best, getting nods from Bon Appétit, Gourmet and Food & Wine. The menu offers pan-Middle Eastern small plates, including wood oven-baked laffa bread, homemade merguez and plenty of inventive mezze.

And all of these spots are in City Centre East, within easy reach of either the Pennsylvania Convention Centre or the Marriott Downtown.

Of course, like any foodie destination worth its salt these days, Philly has a thriving food truck scene. From May to October, the Night Market (nightmarketphilly.org) sees a posse of food trucks rotate among six locations in town, setting up a full-on family-friendly street party with music.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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