Academic Trips & Language Classes
For a truly inspiring look into how art can transform lives, join up with a tour of the world-renowned Mural Arts Program, 1727-29 Mt. Vernon St. (tel. 215/685-0750; www.muralarts.org). Philadelphia has more public murals than any other U.S. city; each painted wall is part of a community-building, city-beautification program whose core belief is that people and neighborhoods can change for the better -- one paintbrush, one child, one artist at a time. Trolley and bike tours are led by volunteers; mural artists lead special hands-on tours that allow participants to paint part of the artwork.
Every Saturday morning, rain or shine, quirky, prolific, delightful, tile-mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar leads a group of students in the blissful art of breaking tile, cutting mirror, gluing bits, and grouting in his weekend-long workshops that begin with a blank wall and end with a most unique art installation. All workshops meet at his one-of-a-kind, work-in-progress Magic Garden, 1020 South St. (tel. 215/733-0390; www.phillymagicgardens.org).
The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) offers daylong workshops on artistic endeavors as diverse as preserving your own art collection to creating handmade books to the art of Sunkaraku, the Japanese tea ceremony; and, the PMA's exhibit-tailored lectures are not to be missed. Bella Vista find Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catharine St. (tel. 215/922-3456; www.fleisher.org) employs well-respected Philadelphia artists to teach tuition-free fine arts and art-history classes and (modest-tuition-bearing) workshops, such as digital photography, drawing composition, silk-screen, portrait painting, pottery, and more in a studio setting.
The French Alliance of Philadelphia, 1420 Walnut St., Ste. 700 (tel. 215/735-5283; www.afphila.com); the America-Italia Society of Philadelphia, 1420 Walnut St., Ste. 310 (tel. 215/735-3250; www.america-italysociety.com); Spanish Language School, 2004 Sansom St. (tel. 215/567-4446); and the German Society of Pennsylvania, 611 Spring Garden St. (tel. 215/627-5297; www.germansociety.org), all offer 1-day to longer-term language immersion courses to review the pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary that you don't remember from high school.
Adventure & Wellness Trips
The Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition (tel. 215/242-9253; www.bicyclecoalition.org) serves as a hub for all manner of cycling clubs and events. By joining up with the Philadelphia Mountain Biking Association, you will find built-in tour guides for a trek through Fairmount Park; connecting with, for example, the Central Bucks club might lead you to a covered bridges ride.
A relatively new option for discovering Center City is a guided tour by bike or moped -- in season only. Philadelphia Bike and Moped Tours (tel. 215/514-3124; www.philadelphiabiketour.com) start at the Atwater Kent Museum, and smartly stop off at sites that are just a bit too out-of-the-way to walk to easily, such as the Eastern State Penitentiary, the Edgar Allan Poe National Historical Site, and the Independence Seaport Museum. The service also offers half- and full-day bike and moped rentals, for DIY riders.
Those who prefer their touring high-tech ought to sign up for an I Glide Tour of the art museum district (tel. 877-GLIDE-81 [454-3381] or 215/735-1700; www.iglidetours.com). Participants learn the basics of operating a Segway Human Transporter, pop on a wireless headset, and follow a guide along the edges of Eakins Oval and Fairmount Park. Daytime and evening tours are available.
The Summer Wind, a 48-foot Chinese junk-rigged schooner docked along Penn's Landing, offers daytime and sunset cruises along the Delaware River via American Sailing Tours (tel. 215/900-7758; www.americansailingtours.com). Warm-weather tours focus on maritime history, the skyline, or Jimmy Buffett-inspired revelry, and cost $35 to $40 per person.
Greater Philadelphia Gardens (www.greaterphiladelphiagardens.org) is a clearinghouse of sorts for wildflower walks, private garden tours, and horticultural workshops. Thirty of the area's most famous gardens, such as Bartram's Gardens, Shofuso Japanese House & Garden, and even the Philadelphia Zoo participate.
Spas to spend the day in include the serene and elegant Rescue Rittenhouse Spa Lounge, 255 S. 17th St., 2nd Floor (tel. 215/772-2766; www.rescuerittenhousespa.com), home to the best facials, waxing, and nail care in the city, and Juju Spa & Organics, 728 S. 4th St. (tel. 215/922-3235; www.jujusalon.com), a jewel-box oasis for truly holistic massages and wraps and all-natural mani-pedis. For an overnight spa experience, tap the in-house retreats at the note-perfect Four Seasons Hotel, where the products are absolutely top of the line, or the Rittenhouse Hotel's Aveda day spa Adolf Biecker for fabulous body treatments and sublime facials.
Food & Wine Trips
The best thing going, food-and-drink tour-wise, seems to be the Philadelphia version of City Food Tours (tel. 800/979-3370; www.cityfoodtours.com), a series of 2- to 2 1/2-hour walking tours in Center City or Northern Liberties. Choose from five main tours, which mostly take place on Saturday or Sunday afternoons (the one exception is a Fri night, sort of progressive dinner). Guides lead you through the Reading Terminal Market to cheesesteaks or locally grown food stands, or to Old City for craft beers and artisanal cheeses, or to dessert-only spots. Prices start at $29 per adult and go up to $75 for the "Evening of Indulgence." Prices do not include gratuity.
If you'd like a bit of guidance to explore the rough-hewn culinary delights of the Italian Market, sign up for Morello's Italian Market Tour (tel. 215/334-6008; www.italianmarkettour.com), a Friday morning group tour led by historian, criminologist, and author of Italian Market Cookbook, Celeste A. Morello. Morello's received major press for her vast knowledge of the food and culture of this area, and can easily talk and walk about and around the market for 5 hours.
Philadelphia Urban Adventures also offers a tour of the Italian Market, another of South Street (starting at Jim's Steaks), and another of historic and history-making pubs near City Hall (tel. 215/280-3746; www.philadelphiaurbanadventures.com). Most tours last about 2 hours, cost about $20 to $30, and include transportation and treats along the way.
Spring through fall Historic Philadelphia, Inc., organizes a weekly, 2 1/2-happy-hours Tipplers' Tour (tel. 215/629-4026; www.historicphiladelphia.org; $35/adult) from brewery to taproom to the City Tavern, teaching its attendants Colonial drinking traditions and expressions along the way.
Inspired by the "fermentation trio" of wine, cheese, and beer, popular Tria cafe founded Tria Fermentation School at 1601 Walnut St. (the Medical Arts Building), Ste. 620 (tel. 215/972-7076; www.triacafe.com), a great place to spend a few hours learning about at least one-third of the trio. Local brewers, international vintners, expert fromagers, and industry pros lead affordable classes on all manner of transformed grains, grapes, and milks.
Volunteer & Working Trips
Habitat for Humanity, 1829 N. 19th St. (tel. 215/765-6000; www.habitatphiladelphia.org), has developed a strong presence in the city -- so much so that individual volunteers should sign up months ahead to build LEED-certified green homes or renovate traditional Philadelphia row homes. Habitat helpers must be at least 16 years of age. Groups of 3 to 10 are asked to raise $2,500 to cover the costs of a group build day.
Greater Philadelphia Cares (tel. 215/564-4544; www.philacares.com) is a wonderful citywide clearinghouse of all manner of volunteer opportunities. Go to their website and search by cause or date to find activities such as greening the city's parks and public spaces with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, tutoring with after-school programs, serving lunch at shelters, preparing a barn for an inner-city horseback riding program, and feeding people living with HIV/AIDS. There are experiences for all ages and abilities, with more than 100 jobs listed per month.
Twenty sites in 75 minutes is the promise of daily, Memorial-through-Labor Day Constitutional Walking Tour (tel. 215/525-1776; www.theconstitutional.com). Participants meet a guide at the Independence Visitor Center at 6th and Market streets for a 1 1/4-mile stroll past Independence Hall, Betsy Ross's House, and the Liberty Bell. It's an efficient way to experience a greatest-historic hits, a decent overview if you're visiting for a day or two, or a nice overview to kick off a longer trip. The cost: $18 per adult; $13 per child; $55 for a family of four (two adults, two children). This tour's producers also offer a free self-guided tour of 30 sites, a similar 75-minute cellphone tour, or an MP3 audio tour ($15). After dark, this group puts on a "Spirits of '76" ghost tour of another 20, but a haunted 20, sites. (Same pricing.)
Every Saturday -- and April through November, Tuesdays and Thursdays -- at 2pm a group meets at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Bookstore at 1218 Arch St. for Emergence of a Metropolitan Metropolis, (tel. 215/569-3186; www.philadelphiacfa.org; $15, $5 children under 12) a 2(ish)-hour visit to landmark buildings such as the ornate Victorian Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Comcast Center. Tours take place rain or shine, and tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
It's the luck of the draw if you embark on one of the Preservation Alliance's dozens of Architectural Walking Tours (tel. 215/546-1146; www.preservationalliance.com; $10, $8 students, free for children 10 and under). But, when it comes down to it, there are no bad choices. Each 1-to-4-hour exploration begins in a different neighborhood -- maybe Northern Liberties one Saturday, the heart of Rittenhouse Square another, or even a historic suburban main street on another.
The same companies that take you around town in a horse-drawn carriage, Big Bus or Victorian trolley, also lead you by foot via the three-times-a-day (weather permitting) Franklin's Footsteps Walking Tour (tel. 215/389-TOUR ; www.phillytour.com; $14, $12 seniors, $10 children 4-12). Another 75-minute whirlwind, this walkabout passes by all the majors (from Carpenters' Hall to the National Constitution Center), departing from a kiosk at the Independence Visitor Center (6th and Market streets).
Best for smaller tour-takers are the summertime "adventures" led by the Colonial characters of Once Upon a Nation on their signature attention-keeping strolls about Independence National Park (www.historicphiladelphia.org; $17-$20, free-$15 for children 12 and under). One tour turns your kids into history-learning detectives; another introduces them to real, live Loyalists and Patriots.
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.