The Birthplace of American Democracy
Immortalised in song and film, Philadelphia has a somewhat dour reputation. However, during a recent trip Stateside I soon discovered a city that has got through its rocky patch and is now punching above its weight.
Travelling to Philadelphia to see friends, I harboured my fair share of preconceived notions as to what to expect on its ‘mean’ streets. Regularly derided for its crime levels, black-to-white ratio and rough ghettos, I wasn’t entirely sure that this was a city I was going to warm to very easily.
Stepping off the plane at Philadelphia International Airport, I breathed more than a sigh of relief to have completed such a long trip, but a sense of anxiety grew quickly within me; I had to find my own way from the safe confines of the airport into the centre of what I, and much of the media, had always perceived as one of America’s roughest cities.
Tipping the cab driver, I stepped on to the busy streets right in front of Independence Hall. You couldn’t ask for a more American backdrop than this to begin a trip to the US. Home of the famous Liberty Bell, the Star Spangled Banner and the US Constitution; my iconic landmark checklist gleefully received its first mental tick.
Struggling against the crowds and laden down with heavy luggage, a young man offered his assistance. Having heard so much about crime here, I was pleasantly surprised that his offer was genuine; and more than a little relieved that his back was up to the challenge of escorting my wares (heavy camera, city guide and curling tongs included) across the street, having also heard about the prevalent litigation-culture throughout the States.
Stepping back and sampling the atmosphere, I thought “this place doesn’t seem so dark at all”. Now I realise this was a fairly naïve thing to think, but having watched films such as Rocky and Philadelphia, my perception of the city had always been misty alleys cloaked by dark murky nights. Tom Hanks’ stirring performance alongside Denzel Washington in Philadelphia obviously made a huge impression on me, as had Rocky – beyond Stallone’s unintelligible drawl I saw a city riddled with violence and crime, but the bright sun rising in the sky swept away my preconceptions of what I now know is a captivating city.
Having stood in front of the magnificent Independence Hall and strolled through the streets, I began to feel a warm glow inside. The beautiful rays bouncing off the steel girders of the Ben Franklin Bridge were an ephemeral pleasure; the towering blocks of One Liberty and Two Liberty Place felt strangely familiar. My trip had only just begun and already I was falling in love with a city which, hours before, had filled me with trepidation.
The next few days were the beginning of a continuous honeymoon period. Today’s Philadelphians are a contemporary, chic and trendy breed, with masses of ambition. They take unbelievable pride in their city, believing that the tradition of pioneering was born here. Philadelphia is home to the States’ first theatre, opera house, zoo and library and not only were the roots of the nation born here but many feel that America was born here. Philadelphia has become a fantastic place to live, with a magnificent past and an attractive future. It has become cool. Rapid changes have transformed the city centre from the wayward capital of a defunct ‘workshop of the World’, to a city brimming with comfortable cafes, world-class museums and stunning architecture.
You can quite easily catch a symphony before dipping into a funky bar or club, or even a game of football before strolling along the riverside with a famous Philly cheese steak or a pretzel. The renaissance of the city simply captivates anyone who steps on to its streets.
Philadelphia has suffered in the past, battling against negative media and poor public opinion. Reputations die hard but it seems that without making too much of a fuss Philadelphia has proven its worth on an international scale.
The city’s real estate market is bustling with a broad range of homes; from quaint town houses on cobbled streets to stylish condos on the waterfront. Society Hill in the centre of Philadelphia offers some of the most picturesque views, with 17th and 18th century designs on each corner sat in between museums and theatres. Old City, often described as the warehouse district, has become a hip urban neighbourhood which is very much in demand. Converted factories and lofts dominate the area, inviting arty types into the vicinity. Only a mile away, but a lifetime in comparison, Society Hill and Centre City is a sprawl of high rise condominiums.
Philadelphia is known as being the city of neighbourhoods, and with over 109 it is not difficult to find one of its varied areas to suit your individual tastes and needs. Shoppers can haggle over the price of tomatoes in the centre of South Philly’s Italian market, picnic with friends and family in one of its many leafy parks dotted throughout the city, or stalk the street vendors who sell the softest pretzels imaginable. Each corner of this incredible city offers more than the eye can see, with each cobbled stone etched with its rich history.
Many say that autumn (or ‘Fall’, to give it its true Yank moniker) is the best time of year to visit Philadelphia: the leaves turn to hues of red and brown, the cold crisp nights invite you to wrap up warm and enjoy a hot drink in a coffee shop with friends after work and the festive season, starting with Thanksgiving, is just around the corner. Others believe that springtime is when this city truly comes alive. Its many parks explode with colour, inviting families and groups of friends to enjoy walks along the riverside. Personally, I love winter and summer here. The utterly freezing nights, with the white snow blanketing the city’s numerous old buildings gives Philly that picture postcard feel and, in the summer, the heat and sunshine invigorates your every step.
All in all, it’s a city for all seasons, a city for all tastes and a city for all passions. No matter what type of person you are. With Independence Day on the other side of sunset – it is not hard to see why so many people flock to “The Birthplace of American Democracy” each year to bask in the glory of this gorgeous city whilst poring over the pages of The Constitution.
Famous Faces you may not have known were Philadelphians:
Must See Places
This incredibly beautiful park has hit the headlines more than a few times, with its ‘love tunnel’ – a famous spot for young talented skaters.
You simply can’t be in Philadelphia without visiting the Liberty Bell. With so much history throughout the city, if you don’t have time to see it all, at least try to fit this in.
Benjamin Franklin Bridge
This is a sight you simply shouldn’t miss – the sun setting behind the Ben Franklin Bridge is one that will quite simply take your breath away.