One Day in Philadelphia – Guide for a Quick Visit to Philly
Philadelphia Skyline

One Day in Philadelphia – Guide for a Quick Visit to Philly

We moved to Copenhagen, Denmark from Philadelphia in 2017. Since moving, we look forward to having a few trips back to Philly each year. Visiting Philadelphia is a lot different than living there. We have to cram in seeing family, reuniting with friends and finding fun things to do in Philadelphia. Heck, we’re still using vacation time, so we want to make sure we enjoy it when we travel “home”. Sometimes we only have one day in Philadelphia and need to make the most of it.

Besides traveling to Philadelphia ourselves, we often have friends in Denmark ask us for travel tips to Philadelphia. Sometimes they’re going for work and sometimes for pleasure. Occasionally they’re even just doing a day trip to Philadelphia from elsewhere in the states.

Because our own travel experiences to Philly have changed, we decided to write a local’s guide for one day in Philadelphia. If you’ll be in Philly for more than a day – don’t worry. We got you. It can still be applied to a weekend or even a week staying in Philadelphia. We want to give you plenty of options, so you could tackle them all if you have longer to visit. This guide can easily be applied to a 1, 2, 3, or 5 day Philadelphia itinerary.

Every time we travel back to our hometown we have to think about where to stay, what to do and what to see in Philadelphia. Luckily, we lived there for years, so we know what we’re planning. That’s why we’re sharing our answers with you. Here are our top picks and recommendations for what to do in Philadelphia.

Where to stay for one day in Philadelphia

The first thing we decide when we visit Philadelphia is where to stay. There are three neighborhoods we consider: Midtown, Rittenhouse and Old City. These are the best neighborhoods to stay in for any tourist that wants a quick taste of all Philly has to offer. They’re neighborhoods close to transportations, museums, historical attractions, top restaurants and nightlife. They’re all in different sections of Center City (that’s what we Philly locals call “the city center”).

One day in Philadelphia - Center City

Where to stay in Midtown

We love Midtown! This is usually the start to our hotel search. The main reason we love to stay here is because it’s smack in the middle of Center City. In Midtown we have some of our favorite restaurants on the 13th Street Corridor. We also get the adorable shops in Washington Square West. Most of all we have the gayborhood, where we get drinks at night (and sometimes during the day).

Robe Trotting Tip: Pick a hotel close to where you’ll end you day. If you’ll partake in nightlife, stay nearby. You’ll be happy for the short walk home and have energy to walk to other attractions during the morning. Also consider that public transit may not run all night long, so stay where you’ll play.

Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott

Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott is a 3-star boutique hotel on S. 13th street. We stayed here over a Christmas visit because it was close to the subway and the bars we would visit in the evening. This meant we could limit our time walking around outside in the cold.

The staff was courteous and the rooms were small but well-decorated and clean. It seems like the whole hotel was recently renovated. Although it’s a 3-star hotel, it didn’t feel far off from the quality we have experienced at 4-star hotels in Philadelphia. To review it yourself, click HERE.

Where to stay in Rittenhouse

The Rittenhouse neighborhood is the priciest area to stay in. It’s surrounded by the city’s best shopping, dining and the gorgeous park at Rittenhouse Square. There are luxury hotels in this neighborhood, but it’s still possible to find a room for a reasonable rate.

Warwick Hotel Rittenhouse Square

The Warwick Hotel is well known for their prime location and two on-site restaurants. The lobby is gorgeous, but the rooms could use a little love. Still, it’s a 4-star hotel in the most exclusive neighborhood in Philadelphia. You can find rooms available from about $200 USD per night by clicking HERE.

Where to stay in Old City Philadelphia

We are giant history nerds, so Old City is always on our list of where to stay in Philadelphia. There’s something special about walking the same cobblestoned streets as our founding fathers. It’s a neat feeling to stroll off to brunch past the building where American Independence was debated and drafted by our Founding Fathers.

Holiday Inn Express – Penn’s Landing

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express – Penns Landing this past summer. We spent two night in town to visit friends and attend a wedding. The hotel was a treat with great views of the Delaware River, a cozy fitness center and a very good breakfast. Our only complaint was that the hotel used a lot of disposable utensils, plates and cups. Not only was this lower quality but it was bad for the environment. Bookings can be made HERE.

What to do in Philadelphia for one day

It’s hard to limit a stay in Philadelphia to one day. There are just so many cool things to do in Philadelphia. Philly has some great museums, a ton of amazing historical attractions and it’s a lot of fun after dark. We’ll break down some choices and tours for each category to help you narrow down your planning. This by NO means is every option you have in an amazing city like Philly. Instead, we are giving you three of our favorites for every item so you can maximize a short visit.

Before you read about what to do, see how you can save money with a tour bundle. If you haven’t yet, read our post on Philadelphia Tours and the Go Philadelphia Pass.

A full list of included tours are available in that post. To proceed to buying a Go Philadelphia Explorer Pass or a Go Philadelphia all-inclusive pass click these links. They can really make your trip to Philadelphia cheaper.

What to eat with only one day in Philadelphia

There are so many local favorites in Philadelphia. It’s definitely a foodie city, with excellent restaurants but even better local favorites. They’re not all good for you, but you have to give them a try, especially if you’re only in Philadelphia for one day.

Cheesesteak

I didn’t even have to mention it, because everyone asks me what my favorite cheesesteak place is anyway. Every local will send you to “the best place in the city” – I am no different. Go to D’Alessandro’s Steaks in Roxborough! It’s a little outside of Center City, but worth the trip. You can get there by train or Uber.

Italian Tomato Pie

This is a Philadelphia classic brought over from Sicilian immigrants in the early 1900s. It looks a bit like Sicilian pizza, but it’s served room temperature or even refrigerated. Tomato pie is not topped with cheese, except maybe a little grated parmesan. It probably sounds crazy to you, but you have to give it a try and Sarcone’s Italian Bakery in South Philly is the best place in town. If it’s too adventurous for you, try some of their other baked treats, they’ve been perfected over 5 generations.

Soft Pretzels

Soft pretzels are a dietary staple for any Philadephian. Many early settlers of the region were Germans who brought with them the tradition of pretzel-making. Without the same ingredients, the soft pretzel emerged and is a Philly favorite today. There are Philly Soft Pretzel Factory stores all over the city. Stop in one and try a warm, fresh-baked soft pretzel.

The Philadelphia museums you can’t miss

The Museum District of Philadelphia boasts world-class fine art, science exhibitions and plenty of fun. Many museums have free or discounted admission days and a calendar of special events, so check their websites before visiting to see if you can save while in Philadelphia for one day.

Start by checking out our tips for visiting a museum in this post.

Franklin Institute

Named after Ben Franklin, The Franklin Institute is an awesome experience, especially for kids. This interactive science museum is designed for exploration and will keep your kids entertained for hours.

Robe Trotting Tip: If you sign up for their email list you’ll save $5 on admission. Your ethics can determine if you unsubscribe or not.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

It’s more than just the backdrop for the movie Rocky! Head to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and checkout masterpieces from all over. There is an incredible collection curated here and they hold plenty of events from yoga classes to adults-only evening hours with cocktails and jazz. Check their calendar for those events HERE.

Robe Trotting Tip: Buy a combo ticket for the Philadelphia Museum of Art AND The Rodin Museum which is a short walk away. It has the largest collection of Rodin’s work anywhere in the world outside of Paris. I’m not the biggest art lover out there, but we really enjoyed The Rodin Museum. You can buy the combo ticket HERE for $20 USD, $2 more than an each single ticket.

The Please Touch Museum

Catering to the 1-10 year old tourist, The Please Touch Museum is another great stop for families. It’s a hands-on way to learn along with your children while having fun. Tickets are $19 USD for ages 1-adult.

Must-do tours for one day in Philadelphia

There’s a lot to see in Philadelphia. If you only have one or two days in the city, I recommend trying to make the most of it by booking a tour or even two tours online. If you haven’t yet, read our post about the Go Philadelphia Pass, it can save you money while doing multiple tours and attractions.

Hop-on Hop-off Bus Philadelphia

These buses exist in every tourist city. In some cities they make no sense – for example I think the one in Budapest is a giant waste of money. However, I think they serve a place in larger cities. It’s easier to get around in bus lanes and the freedom to jump off in tourist zones is great.

I’ve taken friends on the hop on hop off Philadelphia tour twice before moving abroad. I loved it both times! Even for a local, there was so much to learn that I never realized. For anyone visiting city, especially someone with only one day in Philadelphia – this is the way to see it all.

You can buy a ticket online for $35 USD – they’re on sale for 10% off at time of publishing making them $31.50 USD. Click here to book yours.

Robe Trotting Tip: Consider buying a 1 day Go Philadelphia All-inclusive Pass for $61 USD. It includes the Hop-on Hop-off bus and 30+ attractions. If you also go to The Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Franklin Institute you will save $14 USD.

Founding Fathers Historical Walking Tour of Philadelphia

This tour is great and is an excellent way to streamline your day in the historical neighborhood of Old City. It’s daunting to schedule and explore so much history, even when it’s in close proximity. This tour gets you through a lot of the main historical attractions and ends with a beer (or soft drink). It’s a pretty great way to catch Philly’s historical highlights and top them off with a drink.

How to Save Money on Philadelphia Tours and Attractions

You get to see The Betsy Ross House, Benjamin Franklin’s House, The Presidential Mansion (former home of George Washington and John Adams), The US Mint, All of Independence Hall and a guided tour of the neighborhood. Tickets are $39 USD and you cover a lot of ground over 2 hours. Click HERE to book.

Philadelphia by Night Tour

This tour is seasonal – operating from April to October and Thursday through Saturday in November. It’s a bus tour of Philadelphia at night and has a designated route that takes 90 minutes. There is a local tour guide and only one stop – in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. That’s right, you can do the most touristy thing ever and run up the art museum stairs (don’t call them “the Rocky stairs” in front of a local).

This tour is great if you arrive in Philadelphia at night and want to make the most of your time. If you’re there for a long weekend and are looking for something more than nightlife in the evening, book this tour to see the bright lights of Philly at night. Tickets are a reasonable $34 USD and do sell out because of limited runs each night. It’s very recommended to book ahead – You can click here to book.

Philly’s historical museums and attractions

Philadelphia is the most historic city in the United States of America. It was once the capital and it’s still massively important. The well-preserved Old City hosts some amazing historical museums and these are three of our favorites.

Independence Hall

Independence Hall Philadelphia

Visit the hall where The Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution were signed. This is one of the most important buildings in the country and it’s free to visit with a guided tour. Check in at The Independence Visitors Center early in the morning to reserve a spot. Those tickets are given out on a first-come first-served basis. You can also reserve a spot online for $1 USD by clicking HERE.

The Museum of the American Revolution

This museum opened in April of 2017 – within a month of my move to Denmark. As giant history nerds, Mike and I went to check it out during our first short visit back to Philly that summer. Adult tickets for The Museum of the American Revolution are available for $21 USD and children ages 6-17 pay $14 USD. If you buy them in advance, you MUST use them on the day you select. If you’re unsure of your visit date but want to book them online, or to give as a gift, they go for $25.

The Benjamin Franklin Museum

Benjamin Franklin Museum one day in Philadelphia
Walk in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin

The Ben Franklin Museum is a cool museum that preserves personal artifacts of the founding father at the location of his Philadelphia home. The museum is operated by The National Parks Service. Entrance is only $5 USD and $2 for kids age 4-17. If your dates are flexible, check their schedule for free entry days throughout the year.

Robe Trotting Tip: After you visit The Ben Franklin Museum, leave from the Market Street exit. Turn right out of the building and walk to 2nd Street. There you’ll find Franklin Fountain, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor that you’ll fall in love with.

Restaurants you should try with only one day in Philadelphia

Philly boasts some of the most amazing restaurants in the entire country. Best of all, it’s relatively easy to get a table and a great meal without breaking your bank like you would in New York City. That’s what has attracted some of the nation’s best chefs (think how much it would cost in real estate alone to open a restaurant 90 minutes north in NYC). New York’s high prices are Philadelphia’s gain.

Before you go out to eat in the states, stop and read this comparison of American dining and table service compared to European and international customs.

Sampan

This amazing Asian-fusion spot is super-well decorated and the food is delicious. My personal favorite item is the dan dan noodles, but you can’t go wrong with any of their offerings. They serve $8 USD small plates, sharable appetizers and sides from $8-15 USD and mains $20-25 USD. A very reasonable night out – but don’t forget to include a 20% tip.

Robe Trotting Tip: Check out Graffiti Bar behind Sampan before or after your meal. It’s a hip 30-seat open air bar behind the restaurant accessible from a narrow walkway before their entrance on 13th Street or from inside Sampan.

Vedge

Mike used to live a block away from this amazing vegan restaurant but we were always a little nervous to spend money on a nice meal that didn’t include meat. Then we decided to take my vegan sister out to dinner and had an excuse to try Vedge. I can’t believe we waited so long! The cuisine is fantastic, and even if you’re an herbivore like me, you’ll be impressed. I simply couldn’t believe they created such delicious dishes with vegan ingredients.

The menu changes throughout the year. It offers starters, medium dishes and fuller more-composed meals. All dishes range from $12-18 USD. We dined tapas style and shared 7 plates (which did add up). My favorite dish was the seared Maitake Mushroom – try it yourself! You’ll see why it’s the best vegan restaurant in America.

Barcelona Wine Bar

Barcelona Wine Bar is a great new restaurant in Philly’s East Passyunk neighborhood. They serve Spanish tapas and a lot of perfectly-paired wine. We dined there with friends during a recent trip home. It was a perfect place for a group! Their tapas range from $6-13 USD per plate. When we visited, they took excellent care of us. Our servers brought selections based on our tastes and matched wines to suit the dishes. It took all the work out of the evening. Best of all, they brilliantly catered to the dietary needs of our group.

Where to go out in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is a happening city. There is, as you would imagine, more nightlife from Thursday to Sunday nights. Still, there are bars and pubs open until 2 am every night of the week and some after hours clubs on the weekends. Here are some of our favorite neighborhoods for going out when we visit Philadelphia.

Midtown/Gayborhood

This neighborhood west of Washington Square is one of the busiest and most lively in the city. With some of Philadelphia’s most chic restaurants and charming shops and cafes, there’s a lot to do all day. It’s especially fun at night with some of the best bars and clubs in the city. Check out Tavern on Camac, neighborhood gay bar with a piano lounge on the first floor and dancing fun upstairs.

Old City

Old City - Where to go out with one day in Philadelphia

The museums and historical attractions of Philadelphia may close when the sun goes down, but the nightlife continues. There are plenty of hip bars with live music and eclectic crowds. You can’t go wrong in Old City day or night. Check out Khyber Pass for a cozy, chill vibe.

East Passyunk

East Passyunk is Philadelphia’s old Italian neighborhood. In the last 15 years it’s attracted lots of young professionals and new families. With them came the opening of some fresh new watering holes. Check out Fountain Porter and P.O.P.E. (Pub on Passyunk East). Both have a great beer selection and friendly locals.

Not your normal tourist attractions

Philadelphia is known for its history, nightlife and passion for our sports teams. There are some things we’re lesser known for and I’ve provided a few attractions that you may not find in your Lonely Planet guide book.

Pizza Brain – the World’s First Pizza Museum

Pizza Brain, Pizza Museum

Of course Philadelphia is home to the world’s first (and possibly only) pizza museum. They also serve pizza and are located in the hipster mecca, Fishtown neighborhood. Just north of Center City, it’s easily reached by Uber, cab or train. Go for the museum but stay for pizza and a walk around Fishtown.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Located on South Street, the Magic Gardens are an are exhibit of tiled-mosaic sculptures. PMG covers several city lots and the organization that runs it also puts on children’s events. General admission tickets are $10 USD for adults and $5 USD for children 6-12. $8 USD tickets are available for military, seniors and students. All can be reserved and purchased here.

Robe Trotting Tip: Book tickets early if you only have one day in Philadelphia because they do sell out. Space is limited space walking through this unique attraction.

Mütter Museum

The Mutter Museum is a fascinating museum of medical oddities. I know it doesn’t sound like your typical museum day. However, it’s an interesting stop if you want to avoid the basic tourist stops. Adult admission is $20 USD and youth/student admission is $15 USD.

Final Advice

Once again, you can save some money on visiting attractions with a Go Philadelphia Pass. Read our post on it here and start making your Philadelphia itinerary.

No mater how long you have in Philadelphia, we hope you love our hometown. It’s an amazing place full of good and friendly people. They say that Philadelphia is the city that loves you back. I hope that by the time you leave town, you’ll feel that love.

Derek Hartman

Derek Hartman is an American expat from Philadelphia, currently living in Copenhagen, Denmark. His blog, Robe Trotting focuses on travel, expatriation and lifestyle topics.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Interesting. I once had a 10-hour layover so I decided to go to town. 10 hours isn’t that much so I did: Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, I climbed up City Hall and visited the Masonic Temple. I did have cheesesteak. Haha!

    1. Wow, that’s still a lot for 10 hours! You can definitely cover some ground in Old City because there is such a concentration of American history in a few blocks. I think you need more than 10 hours next time 🙂

  2. Yes, definitely. I can use at least a day 🙂

    1. Longer! I’ll help you with an itinerary, you could ride the Amtrak northeast corridor!!! (DC to Boston)

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