Like the cracked Liberty Bell enshrined here, it’s the irregularities and imperfections that add to Philadelphia’s rich texture and throw its polished aspects into relief. “Philly” is a palimpsest, its eras of history, culture and architecture layered upon (without obscuring) one another — from the quaint colonial streets of Old City to the steel-and-glass skyscrapers downtown. In between are stately Victorian estates, world-class art museums and universities, and a magnificent, sprawling green space, Fairmount Park, 10 times the size of New York City’s Central Park. Art lovers come to Philadelphia specifically to visit the idiosyncratic Barnes Foundation, which contains an astonishing collection of Impressionist and Old Master paintings. And the recently refurbished Rodin Museum is just across the street.
The metropolis of 1.6 million, concentrated between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, reigned as the U.S. capital from 1790-1800, and sites like Independence Hall and the Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first, are among the myriad attractions that will delight any history buff. But modern charms abound, too. With newly invigorated arts and restaurant scenes — combined with the stately infrastructure that’s been there all along — Philadelphia has claimed a place among the top destinations for the sophisticated traveler.