Formerly the largest prison facility in America, the Eastern State Penitentiary is now Philadelphia’s major tourist attraction. What was once the most expensive prison in the country now stands in ruins, but that does not stop curious tourists from visiting the attraction. A first-of-its-kind, the penitentiary implemented previously unheard ideas of incarceration, which prioritized reformation over punishment. Today, the vaulted cell blocks and central rotunda invite many a tourists keen on knowing the eventful history of this fascinating establishment. What adds to the curiosity of the masses is the fact that the prison was home to notorious inmates such as ‘Slick Willie’ Sutton and Al Capone.
Philadelphia's South Street is home to one of the most remarkable creations of art in the city. Known as the Magic Gardens, this work by artist Isaiah Zagar spans almost an entire block and engulfs everything in sight including the pathways and building walls. The continuously evolving work is a colourful riot and incorporates tiles, bottles, bicycle tires, spokes; pretty much anything you could think of. With this stunning landscape and installations, the artist draws you into his world for a peek into his mind. This one is not to be missed.
Union Transfer is a joint collaboration of Four Corners Management, R5 Productions and The Bowery Presents. Housed in a historic brick structure dating back to 1889, this music venue opened in 2011 and is now among the prominent concert spaces in town. It features three fully equipped bars and a few concession stands. Most of their shows are for all ages. Some of their previous listings are Metermaids, Jello Biafra, The Antlers, Mischief Brew, Sage Francis and Guantanamo School of Medicine.
Sit on the sloping lawn or in the reserved boxes under the high shed awning. Pick up a drink or some food from the stalls by the back fence—everything from hot dogs to a full-course salmon dinner served by waiters. This outdoor stage is the summer home to the Philadelphia Orchestra, plus a schedule of jazz, rock, big band, the Philly Pops, opera, theatre, and dance. The acoustics can be unreliable and Philadelphia's erratic weather can be a problem, but you can sit in Fairmount Park, hear a good show, and look at the soft night lights of the downtown skyline.
Spreading across 9200 acres (3723.11 hectares) with 63 parks, Fairmount Park is among the biggest city park systems in the nation. It features picturesque trails, rolling hills, streams, historical structures, woodlands, public arts and more. The Centennial Arboretum, Horticulture Center, Japanese House and Garden and Philadelphia Museum of Art are some of the interesting sites located in this massive expanse. It also has recreational centers and sporting fields.
Due to its spellbinding architecture and sheer grandeur, Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is a must-visit place on the list of every tourist in Philadelphia. This beautiful cathedral is the centerpiece of one of the largest Catholic populations in North America. It was designed by celebrated architect Napoleon LeBrun and constructed between 1846 and 1864 by blending Palladian and Italian Renaissance architectural styles. A beautiful “baldachin” or “canopy” over the altar is evidence of the Italian influence while the church façade is in the Palladian style. In fact, you may be forgiven for thinking you are in Europe while viewing this glorious cathedral. Embark on an audio tour and learn more about its eight chapels, 2000-seat sanctuary, vaulted copper dome, and a spectacular apse featuring red marble carvings and stained glass work. During the tour, you will also be familiarized with the fascinating history of the basilica. As Pennsylvania's largest Catholic church, this monument is recorded in the National Register of Historic Places.
Gothic and neoclassical influences dominate the features of City Hall. The statue of William Penn that resides atop City Hall's clock tower remains a Philadelphia skyline marker—until the 1980s there was a "gentleman's agreement" that no Philadelphia building would be built higher than the rim of Penn's hat. City Hall provides a majestic backdrop for shoppers and businesspersons alike as it is situated on the intersection of the city's two main arteries, Broad and Market Streets. The tour of the City Hall lasts for 1.5 to 2 hours.
The Masonic Temple is the home of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania. The current building, dedicated in 1873, now houses the Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania. The library contains the most extensive collection of Masonic literature in America. The museum houses a diversified collection of Masonic treasures that is unequaled and international in scope. The Masons sponsor a number of youth, educational and recreational opportunities. They have been strong supporters of Little League baseball and direct a number of scholarship and grant programs.
This little hollow across from City Hall is most noteworthy for Robert Indiana's 1978 "Love" sculpture. The piece has become a popular symbol for the "City of Brotherly Love" and its image is plastered all over the city. It's 20-foot-tall appeal lies in its simplicity: The letters L, O, V, E, stacked on top of each other. During a usual lunch hour the park attracts an odd combination of Armani clad businesspeople and skateboarders who skinny-dip their modes of transport in this concrete pond. They're actually fun to watch.
In the 19th century, the Academy was the American equivalent of the best European art schools. A host of genres and mediums from the most prominent names in American art are constantly on display, with new pieces rotating their way into the collection. Some of America's best artists either taught or were students here, including Thomas Eakins and Mary Cassatt. The building itself is a work of art designed by Frank Furness, an influential 19th-century American architect.
Philadelphia Center for Architecture gives you a chance to learn about the city's magnificent architecture through guided tours. Throughout the tour, their learned guides will acquaint you with the architectural styles that were used in the construction of PA Academy of the Arts, Reading Terminal, City Hall, the Wanamaker building, the Union League Building and Comcast Center, with comparisons drawn from architecture in Chicago and New York. The tour also talks about the city's transportation and planning, and lets you enjoy a bird's-eye view of the historic city from certain platforms.
This has been the jewel of the Philadelphia culture scene since it opened in 1857. The simple brick Federalist exterior opens into an ornate interior—art deco lamps, velvet cushions, and possibly the largest chandelier on the East Coast. The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pennsylvania Ballet, the opera and the occasional pop show have performed at the academy. There is some criticism about the acoustics and sight lines, but none of this matters. This is where the big shows are.