Benjamin Franklin Parkway
The parkway, a broad diagonal swath linking City Hall to Fairmount Park, wasn't included in Penn's original plan. In the 1920s, however, Philadelphians wanted a grand boulevard in the style of the Champs-Elysées. In summer, a walk from the visitor center to the "Museum on the Hill" is a flower-bedecked and leafy stroll. And year-round, various institutions, public art, and museums enrich the avenue with their handsome facades. Most of the city's parades and festivals pass this way.
Logan Circle, aka Logan Square, outside the Academy of Natural Sciences, Free Library of Philadelphia, and Franklin Institute, was a burial ground before becoming a park. The designers of the avenue cleverly made it into a low-landscaped fountain, with graceful figures cast by Alexander Stirling Calder. In June, look for students from neighboring private schools, getting a traditional graduation dunking in their uniforms. From this point, you can see how the rows of trees follow the diagonal thoroughfare, although all the buildings along the parkway are aligned with the grid plan.
The PHLASH bus goes up as far as Logan Circle every 12 minutes.
The northern end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway leads into Fairmount Park (tel. 215/683-0200; www.fairmountpark.org), the world's largest landscaped city park, with 8,700 acres of winding creeks, rustic trails, and green meadows, plus 100 miles of jogging, bike, and bridle paths, including one that connects the park to Center City via entrances where Walnut Street and Locust Street meet the Schuylkill River. In addition, this park features more than a dozen historical and cultural attractions, including 29 of America's finest Colonial mansions (most are open year-round with some wonderful Christmas tours, and are run by the art museum; standard admission is $3-$5), as well as gardens, boathouses, the Philadelphia Zoo, a youth hostel, and a Japanese teahouse. Visitors can rent sailboats and canoes, play tennis and golf, swim, or hear free symphony concerts in the summer. A little pricier are the newly available Segway i2 Gliders (tel. 877-GLIDE-81 [454-3381]; www.iglidetours.com), whose tours depart from Eakins Oval March to November daily at 10am, 1:30, and 7pm. Daytime tours are 2 1/2 hours and cost $69; evening tours are 1 1/2 hours and are $49.
If you're driving, there are several entrances and exits off I-76, such as Montgomery Drive; the Kelly Drive and the West River Drive are local roads flanking the Schuylkill River.
The park is generally divided by the Schuylkill River into East and West Fairmount Park. Before beginning a tour of the mansions, stop by the Water Works Interpretive Center (tel. 215/685-0723). It is open daily Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sunday from 1 to 5pm. Philadelphia set the waterworks up here in 1812 to provide water for the city. They set aside a 5-acre space around the waterworks, which became a park in 1822. This site also has an elegant restaurant, the Water Works Restaurant and Lounge, that's worth a visit.
The Greek Revival mill houses behind the art museum and an ornamental post-Civil War pavilion connecting them have been restored. Also on the east bank, don't miss Boathouse Row, home of the "Schuylkill Navy" and its member rowing clubs. Now you know where Thomas Eakins got the models for all those sculling scenes in the art museum. These gingerbread Tudors along the riverbank look magical at night, with hundreds of tiny lights along their edges and eaves.
The four most spectacular Colonial houses are all in the lower east quadrant of the park. Lemon Hill (tel. 215/232-4337), just up the hill from Boathouse Row, shows the influence of Robert Adam's architectural style, with its generous windows, curved archways and doors, and beautiful oval parlors. John Adams described Mount Pleasant (tel. 215/685-0274), built for a privateer in 1763 and once owned by Benedict Arnold, as "the most elegant seat in Pennsylvania" for its carved designs and inlays. Woodford (tel. 215/229-6115), the center of Tory occupation of the city in 1779, is not to be missed, both for its architecture and for the Naomi Wood Collection of Colonial housewares. Along with Winterthur, this is the best place to step into 18th-century home life, with all its ingenious gadgets and elegant objects. The next lawn over from Woodford is the park's largest mansion, Strawberry Mansion (tel. 215/228-8364), with a Federal-style center section and Greek Revival wings.
Just north of this mansion is bucolic Laurel Hill Cemetery, but if you cross Strawberry Mansion Bridge, West Fairmount Park also has many charms. Located in West Fairmount Park, Belmont Mansion (tel. 215/878-8844) hosted all the leaders of the revolutionary cause. South of this area, you'll enter the site occupied by the stupendous 1876 Centennial Exposition. Approximately 100 buildings were designed and constructed in under 2 years. Only two remain today: Ohio House (tel. 215/877-3055), built out of stone from that state, and the rambling Beaux Arts Memorial Hall (tel. 215/683-0200), now the park's headquarters and a recreation site. The Japanese House and Gardens (tel. 215/878-5097), on the grounds of the nearby Horticultural Center, is a typical 17th-century Japanese scholar's house, with sliding screens and paper doors in place of walls and glass. It was originally presented to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Since the Centennial Exposition had featured a similar house, it wound up here. The waterfall, grounds, and house are serene and simple and were extensively refurbished in 1976 by a Japanese team as a bicentennial gift to the city. It's open during the summer only, Tuesday through Sunday from 11am to 4pm.
Two more major homes lie south of the exposition's original concourses: Cedar Grove (tel. 215/878-2123), a Quaker farmhouse built as a country retreat in 1748 and moved here in 1928, and Sweetbriar (tel. 215/222-1333), a mixture of French Empire and English neoclassicism with wonderful river views. Continuing south past the Girard Avenue Bridge will bring you to the Philadelphia Zoo , and then to Center City.
If you have some time and really want to get away from it all, Wissahickon and Pennsylvania creeks lie north of the park and don't allow access by automobile -- only pedestrians, bicycles, and horses can tread here. The primeval trees and slopes of these valleys completely block out buildings and noise -- right within the limits of the fifth-largest city in the United States. Search out attractions like the 340-year-old Valley Green Inn (tel. 215/247-1730) and the only covered bridge left in an American city.
America's Oldest Botanical Garden
The story begins like this: 250 years ago, Quaker farmer John Bartram was plowing his field when he was stopped in his tracks by a single daisy. The simple beauty of the flower turned him from full-time farmer to self-taught botanist. His lab was his garden. Today, his botanical garden is a hidden gem off the Schuylkill River, not too far from the Philadelphia International Airport. If you're the kind of person (gardener, botanist, nature lover) that gets excited by the country's oldest living gingko tree, or delicate specimens of Franklinia alatamaha, which Bartram rescued from extinction and named for his good bud Ben, then you'll love this place. Bartram's Gardens, 54th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard (tel. 215/729-5281; www.bartramsgarden.org) is a rare slice of country life preserved within city boundaries. Parking and access to the grounds are free. It's a 15-minute drive from Center City and is accessible by SEPTA's no. 36 trolley. The gardens are open daily, except for city holidays. House tours last 45 minutes and depart at 11:30am and 1:30 and 3:30pm Friday through Sunday. Tour admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, and free for children 12 and under. Group tours and historic garden tours are also available.
Philadelphia started out as a major freshwater port, and its tourism and services are increasingly nudging it back to the water after 50 years of neglect (typified by the placement of the I-95 superhighway btw. the city and its port). Recent proposals for revitalization have been scrapped: The city now plans to let casinos come in and do their business. Before they do, take advantage of Penn's Landing's handful of safe, family-friendly options. For one, it's a pleasant place for a stroll on a nice day.
In 1945, 155 "finger" piers jutted out into the river; today, only 14 remain. The Delaware waterfront is quite wide, and the esplanade along it has always had a pleasant spaciousness. The challenge has been to give it the unified, cohesive sense of a destination. Since 1976, the city has added on parts of a complete waterfront park at Penn's Landing (tel. 215/629-3200; www.pennslandingcorp.com), on Columbus Boulevard (formerly Delaware Ave.) between Market and Lombard streets, with a seaport museum and an assembly of historic ships, performance and park areas, cruise facilities, and a marina. Further additions include pedestrian bridges over I-95; wider sidewalks, improved lighting, additional kiosks along Columbus Boulevard, and the impressive riverside Hyatt Penn's Landing hotel.
You can access the Penn's Landing waterfront by parking along the piers or by walking across several bridges spanning I-95 between Market Street, at the northern edge, and South Street to the south. There are pedestrian walkways across Front Street on Market, Chestnut, Walnut, Spruce, and South streets; Front Street connects directly at Spruce Street. Bus nos. 17, 21, 33, and the purple PHLASH go directly to Penn's Landing; the stop for the Market-Frankford El and for bus no. 42 is an easy walk from 2nd Street across the Market Street bridge. If you're driving from I-95, use the Columbus Boulevard/Washington Street exit and turn left onto Columbus Boulevard. From I-76, take I-676 across Center City to I-95 S. There's ample parking available on-site.
Walking south from Market Street, you'll see an esplanade with pretty blue guardrails and charts to help you identify the Camden shoreline opposite. The hill that connects the shoreline with the current Front Street level has been enhanced with the addition of the festive Great Plaza, a multitiered, tree-lined space. In the other direction is a jetty/marina complex, perfect for strolling and snacking, anchored by the Independence Seaport Museum, the Hyatt hotel, and the Chart House restaurant. The lovely, sober 1987 Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial lists 641 local casualties. Nearby, you'll find the International Sculpture Garden with its obelisk monument to Christopher Columbus.
There's also plenty to do in and near the water. Just north of the Great Plaza at Columbus Boulevard and Spring Garden Street is Festival Pier. The Penn's Landing Corporation coordinates more than 100 events here annually, all designed to attract crowds with high-quality entertainment. Even on a spontaneous visit you're likely to be greeted with sounds and performances. Festival Pier is also the location of the Blue Cross RiverRink, Philadelphia's only outdoor skating rink, open daily from late November to early March.
Several ships and museums are berthed around a long jetty at Spruce Street, and the Independence Seaport Museum is slowly consolidating management of these attractions as the Historic Ship Zone. Starting at the north end, these attractions are the brig Niagara, built for the War of 1812 and rededicated as the official flagship of Pennsylvania in 1990; the USS Becuna, a guppy-class submarine, commissioned in 1944 to serve in Admiral Halsey's South Pacific fleet; and the USS Olympia, Admiral Dewey's own flagship in the Spanish-American War, with a self-guided three-deck tour. The harbor cruise boats Liberty Belle (tel. 215/757-0800) and Spirit of Philadelphia (tel. 866/394-8439; www.spiritofphiladelphia.com), and the paddle-wheeler Riverboat Queen (tel. 215/923-BOAT ; www.riverboatqueenfleet.com), are joined by private yachts. In fact, Queen Elizabeth docked her yacht Britannia here in 1976. Anchoring the southern end is the Chart House restaurant, 555 S. Columbus Blvd. (tel. 215/625-8383), open for lunch and dinner, and the restored Moshulu four-masted floating restaurant in Penn's Landing marina.
Another group of boats occupies the landfill directly on the Delaware between Market and Walnut streets. The Gazela Primiero, a working three-masted, square-rigged wooden ship launched from Portugal in 1883, has visiting hours on Saturday and Sunday from 12:30 to 5:30pm when it's in port, as does the tugboat Jupiter. All the boats are operated by the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild (tel. 215/238-0280). Most are closed in winter. And, even in summer, it's a good idea to call before visiting.
If you want to get out onto the water, the RiverLink (tel. 215/925-LINK ), at the river's edge in front of the Independence Seaport Museum at Walnut Street, plies a round-trip route to Camden attractions including the Adventure Aquarium, the Camden Children's Garden, and the battleship New Jersey, next to the Susquehanna Bank Center. The ferry crosses every hour on the hour between 9am and 5pm May to October. The trip takes 10 minutes, and the round-trip fare without museum admission on either end is $7 for adults and $6 for children.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.