July 14, 2003 -- Philadelphia doesn't get enough respect. Sandwiched between New York and Washington, it's often visited as an afterthought, a day trip. But Philly deserves much more: it's a lively, multicultural city with a proud colonial history, where artists have taken refuge from New York's high prices and street fairs fill the broad avenues all summer long.
Philadelphia has the nation's largest district of surviving colonial homes, hip shopping in neighborhoods such as Manayunk, America's third-largest art museum, and of course the Liberty Bell. But the big news in Philadelphia right now is the opening of the National Constitution Center (www.constitutioncenter.org), a thoroughly 21st-century, multimedia museum for exploring the nation's most important 18th-century document. Video, audio and more traditional museum exhibits trawl American history, putting you (for instance) in a room full of life-sized bronze statues of the founders of the nation or letting you vote for your favorite president in a replica voting booth. The Center, at 525 Arch Street in the downtown historic district, is open seven days a week, from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, and costs $6 for adults and $5 for children (12 and under) and seniors (62 and older.)
For our full guide to Philadelphia, see www.frommers.com/destinations/philadelphia.
Take Our City -- Please!
It's a little sad that Philadelphia has to plead for people to stay two days: you can easily spend a day in museums and exhibits and then another exploring the city's neighborhoods, historical sites in the suburbs, or nearby Amish country. But that's the theme of "You Just Can't Do It In a Day," the Philadelphia tourist board's latest promotion. YJCDIIaD (wow, that's an awful acronym) offers two-nights-for-the-price-of-one hotel deals, including parking, to get you to stay that extra night.
The package is good for two-night stays only, and for hotel check-ins on Thursday-Sunday through September 14, though space may be tight over Labor Day weekend or if there's a big convention in town. According to the city, big conventions are scheduled for August 14-17 and August 28-30. Book online at (www.gophila.com/accommodations/index-cantdoitinaday.htm) or call your favorite Philadelphia hotel and ask for the "You Just Can't Do It In a Day" package.
The package will give you the lowest rates for many hotels, although not necessarily by much. We compared the package rates for Frommer's-recommended with various rates culled from Travelaxe (www.travelaxe.com), the hotel super-search application.
At the Marriott Philadelphia, the package rate for two nights was $189; Travelaxe's lowest rate was from Orbitz, $139/night. That's a big savings: $89.
At the landmark Loews Philadelphia, the package offered $199 for two nights; Travelaxe suggested $106.25 per night, via Orbitz, for a lesser savings of about $13 total. (We found the same $106.25 rate on Loews' own Web site) But considering that the package includes the painful $24/day parking fee and the Orbitz rate doesn't, you're actually saving $62 on your stay.
At the Park Hyatt Philadelphia at the Bellevue, the package offered $199 for two nights; Travelaxe served up $129/night, also from Orbitz, for a savings of $59 plus parking fees of $16/day.
Wheels and Deals
Getting to Philly is easy; the city has plenty of air, rail and bus service. As part of the YJCD package, Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) is offering 20% off fares to Philadelphia on unreserved, Northeast Corridor trains for anyone who uses the discount code V707 while booking. This deal is good through September 17, although it's blacked out over Labor Day weekend. That brings the price of a Friday-Sunday roundtrip from Washington down from $102 to $81.60, and drops the price of a Friday-Sunday roundtrip from Boston from $171 to $136.80.
One hundred and seventy one dollars. Whew. We can do better than that. AirTran's current sale brings Bostonians down to Philly by plane for a mere $68 roundtrip, plus taxes, if you buy by July 17. (www.airtran.com/specials/sale/index.jsp) AirTran also offers a $148 roundtrip fare from Fort Lauderdale to Philadelphia.
Last-minute travelers should check the weekly US Airways e-savers on Wednesdays (www.usairways.com) for travel the following weekend. They change every week, but there are always some good deals to Philadelphia, a major US Airways hub. Last week, for instance, saw $148 roundtrip fares from Toronto, Nashville and Detroit.
New Yorkers and Jerseyites, meanwhile, have two compelling and cheap ways to get to Philadelphia. Taking New Jersey Transit from New York's Penn Station or anywhere in Jersey to Trenton and switching for the SEPTA R7 train to Philly will get you from NYC to Philadelphia in about 2.5 hours for a mere $17.40 each way. Eight buses a day also leave from New York's Chinatown to Philadelphia's Chinatown, with a 2-hour travel time for only $12 each way. (Buy bus tickets online and see schedules at (www.ivymedia.com/todaytravel/newyork_philadelphia/index.html).
Within Philly, the cheapest way to get around downtown is the Phlash, a tourist bus that takes a meandering route touching all the major attractions. It's slow, but only $1 (compared to $2 for Philadelphia's regular transit system.) Find Phlash details at www.gophilly.org/phlash.