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Favorite experiences in Philadelphia

Frommer's guide to the best attractions in the 'City of Brotherly Love'
Behind a fountain in JFK Plaza, Philadelphia's century-old City Hall is illuminated at night.George Widman / AP
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Taking Afternoon Tea at the Swann Lounge: The quintessential luxury tea is found at the Four Seasons, overlooking Alexander Calder's Swann Fountain, one of the city's most beautiful works of art, and the wide, stately Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Visiting the Barnes Foundation: The Barnes Foundation Gallery in Merion houses the most important private collection of Impressionist and early French modern paintings in the world, displaying more Cézannes than all the museums of France put together. The museum is in the midst of litigation over whether to relocate to downtown Philadelphia (against the wishes of the foundation's deceased founder), so you must schedule a visit several months in advance around its open hours from Friday to Sunday (or Wed-Fri in the summertime).

Wandering Through Fairmount Park: It would take dozens of outings to fully explore the 100 miles of trails in this 8,900-acre giant of an urban park -- some of them are virtually unchanged since Revolutionary times. We'll settle for gazing at the hundreds of flame azaleas that bloom behind the Art Museum in spring, and the dozen Georgian country mansions, kept in immaculate condition, that pepper the park.

Shopping on First Friday: On the first Friday of every month, the galleries, stores, and studios of Old City -- just north of Independence National Historical Park -- remain open with refreshments and artists on hand until 9 p.m. Wander along the cobblestone streets, stopping into one of the many coffee bars or bistros.

Stepping Back in Time in Historic Philadelphia: Everyone knows about the miraculous reclamation of this country's Colonial capital, from work on the Liberty Bell to renovation on hundreds of row houses with their distinctive brickwork and 18th-century formal gardens (and welcoming benches). But the new tours (especially the nighttime "Lights of Liberty" show,), the costumed town criers with free maps, and the Revolutionary War-era street theater bring the experience even closer. Just wander; they'll find you.

Snacking on Pretzels, Hoagies, and Philly's Famous Cheesesteaks: Philadelphia has a rich tradition of cuisine from haute (as in the shad roe from fish caught in the Delaware River each Apr) to hot (the warm, soft, salty pretzels served slathered with mustard at stands all over town). The hoagie is something else -- cold cuts, lettuce, and onions layered with oil and vinegar -- along with its cousin the cheesesteak, also served on an enormous elongated bun.

Strolling Around Independence Square at Night: The combination of history, elegance, and proportion among the three main buildings that contained America's first government always induces a sense of wonder at this country's good fortune in its founding citizens. You might even feel the urge to jump aboard one of the horse-drawn carriages lined up nearby.

Enjoying the Lights at Night: The William Penn statue atop City Hall, the Ben Franklin Bridge, and seven Schuylkill River bridges are permanently lighted, joining the beautiful white pin lights that outline the boathouses along the Schuylkill River.

Touring an Open House: If you're in the city at the right time, don't miss the tours of restored mansions in Society Hill, Rittenhouse Square, or Fairmount Park for a delightful lesson in Colonial-era interior design and Americana. The open houses are scattered throughout the year, but during the pre-Christmas season, with their period decorations, they are especially lovely.

Breathing Deeply at the Philadelphia Flower Show: In early March, the Flower Show -- the largest and most prestigious indoor exhibition of its kind in the world -- descends on the Pennsylvania Convention Center, with acres of orchids and traditional and exotic displays.

Exploring the Philadelphia Museum of Art: It has a stupendous collection of masterpieces, period rooms, and crafts, and is becoming one of the hottest museums in the country for special exhibitions. Look for more blockbusters like the recent van Gogh and the mid-1990s Cézanne exhibitions. Wednesday and Friday evening hours have become convivial social scenes, with cocktails and live music.

Cheering the Regattas Along the Schuylkill: On any spring weekend, stand along Boathouse Row just north of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and get ready to cheer. Crews race each other every 5 minutes or so, with friends along the riverbanks rooting them on.

Stocking Up at the : From Bassett's ice cream to the food of the 12th Street Cantina, this is a century-old mother lode of unpackaged, fresh, honest-to-goodness provisions. Amish farmers come every Thursday through Saturday to sell their custards and scrapple (a breakfast meat of herbed pork blended with cornmeal and fried before serving). And what could be more convenient than the market's location right underneath the Convention Center?

Exploring South Philly: Exuberant attitude punctuates every interchange you'll have, whether on a stroll (with ample tastings) through the Italian Market or wandering farther south to seek out the area's great pizzas, cannoli, or famed cheesesteaks. See for a description of the neighborhood and for info on where to eat.

Dining on Walnut Street: Walnut Street near Rittenhouse Square has a confluence of world-class restaurants within mere feet of each other, including Le Bec-Fin, Pasion!, Striped Bass, Brasserie Perrier, Susanna Foo, and Alma de Cuba. Whatever your taste or price range, you should try one of them.

Catching a Phillies Game at the New Ball Park: A summer night at the new Citizens Bank Park means great views from every seat in this old-fashioned-style stadium, with its amazing local foods such as Tony Luke's cheesesteaks. If you sit on the third level, you'll also see a perfectly framed view of the Center City skyline.

Taking in the Mummer's Parade: Grown men dancing in feathers, sequins, and spandex mark the annual New Year's Day Mummers Parade (, in which thousands strut their way up Broad Street. The music is loud and antiquated, but the experience is festive and fun, with live music at the Convention Center.

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For a complete listing of what to see and do in Philadelphia, visit the online attractions index at