10 Things I Love About Philadelphia

It has now been a year and several days since I touched down on UK soil on my Return flight from Philadelphia. After nearly 14 months stay in the USA for an internship as part of my Edinburgh degree I think my life was changed nearly beyond recognition – in terms of outlook, hobbies and personal expectations. To celebrate I thought a blog-post-love-letter would be in order. 

My life is still moving ever onwards. I can only hope that once my year in Basel is up I can write a similar heartfelt & devoted summary of the experience. In the meantime, enjoy!


1.  Swann Memorial Fountain

One of my favourite places in the world is by that fountain. As far as I’m concerned it’s the centre of the universe. Few things are as magical as cycling past it at night on the way back up to Manayunk. I can’t even explain why I love it so much, just that it has come to symbolise what I love about Philadelphia

2. “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John

If you choose to you can live your life alone,

Some people choose the city..

3. Manayunk

Manayunk is the city’s “studenty” area, the Main Street is filled with restaurants, bars, shops and

Murial on Main St, Manayunk

cafes. Among them the Couch Tomato Cafe (quirky pizza place), Chabaa (stellar Thai food), The Attic (second-hand clothes outlet) and an Italian Ice Vendor. People come here to party on Friday night, returning on Saturday morning to cure their hangover with one of the many Brunch & Unlimited Mimosa deals. It’s a suburb with a lot of character and energy. Tensions do exist between the working class Yunkers who’ve lived here all of their lives (its location on the river makes it an ideal industrial location) and the students who come here in droves to rent houses, but I don’t believe it to be a serious problem. For me, personally, there are few better ways to spend a weekend than sitting in a cafe on Main St watching the world go by.

PS. Another local speciality of Manayunk has to be its local bookclub, which is safe to say has gathered International Acclaim…from me.

4. Boathouse Row

Boathouse Row gets illuminated at night, so all you can see as you pass on the freeway are the silhouettes from the Victorian-era boathouses. That was one of the first visions I had that convinced me Philly was a place worth getting to know and love.

5. Independence National Historic Park

Independence National Historic Park

Europeans readily laugh at the American idea of what constitutes “historical”, mainly because America has only been around a couple of hundred years. Why are you calling that building old, guys? My home in Crail was around in the 1880s! However, even I have to admit that the Independence National Historic Park and Old City DO count as old. Old enough to be beautiful and charming. Cobbled streets, narrow alleyways and red-brick houses. Elfreths Alley is the oldest in the country, and put me to mind of York when I first saw it. I like especially how the Park is found in the middle of the modern city, a place to relax on a bench for a few spare minutes. In the summer its usually mobbed with tourists, but still…


95.7 WBEN FM has the tagline “Playing Anything We Feel Like”. It encompasses hard rock, 80s power ballads, catchy modern tunes and everything in between. I love having music in the background of my life. BEN FM was not only blared out on my radio alarm, it was the soundtrack for my lab work, for unwinding at home in the evening and getting ready for travel or an event. So many wonderful meaningful songs have been introduced into my life thanks to BEN FM (including “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, “Hungry like the wolf” by Duran Duran and “I Guess Why They Call It the Blues” by Elton John). I still listen to it via my computer whenever I can, where-ever I am in the world.

7. Street murials

Malcolm X "Education is our passport to the future..."

When I name-drop Philadelphia to the average person, American or otherwise, they usually make some reference or other to the whole “Killadelphia” stereotype and high crimes rates and the notorious North & West Philly districts. Yes, that’s true enough. Taking the bus through North Philadelphia never ceases to horrify me that such a place exists in the First World.  Burned-out buildings, aimless youths wandering the street, litter-filled parks. However, some of the most beautiful street art I’ve ever seen can also be found there. I couldn’t love Philly if it was perfect, the horrendous gulf between rich & poor, ghetto and centre-piece attractions are part of what attracts me to it.

8. Dim Sum Garden

It’s a Chinese diner located in a grotty subterranean street between Chinatown and Market Street. It’s cheap, unclassy and I once found somebody’s hair in my food. HOWEVER, it quickly distributes cheap & wholesome nosh (eg dumplings, mapu tofu) with endless green tea refills. And its open late at night. For these reasons it serves as some sort of culinary booty call when I’m back from a day of journeying, or simply in a dejected mood and needing some calories to perk me up. Yum.

9. Location on the Eastern Seaboard

Equally-spaced between New York and DC. Sure it gets pretty humid and has the odd snowstorm in winter, but it averages out to be quite a tolerable climate. You can hit Cape May or Atlantic City to get a taste of the sea; or you can strike inland and come across mountainous wilderness within a few hours. The city is big enough to be a major airport hub, and well-linked via Amtrak & Greyhound. Politically its fairly liberal and open-minded, too.

10. The Masonic Lodge

I bet you thought I was going to cite the Art Museum,Ben Franklin House, Constitution Center or something else as my top favourite Philadelphian tourist attraction. Well, I’d hate to be predictable. If you have a vacation planned to Philly then the Masonic Temple, located beside City Hall is certainly worth a tour. It has about ten different halls all stunningly modelled on various historical ages: there’s an Egyptian, Classical, High Gothic, Moorish and Renaissance room, amongst others.  My jaw dropped on several occasions during the visit. Our Masonic tour guide was very funny, self-deprecating and most things you wouldn’t expect a “secret society” member to be.

The Egyptian Room in the Masonic Temple

2 thoughts on “10 Things I Love About Philadelphia

  1. I guess I had better check out the Masonic Temple soon. Maybe I’ll wait until the next time we have out-of-town visitors. You’ve done our city proud, Claire! We moved here from the west coast ten years ago, shortly before 9/11. And if someone had told me back then that I would come to love this city as you do, and would eventually call it “our city,” I’d have told them they were on crack.

    • I guess exploring the city and looking for all its merits & beauty was the way I coped with being so far away from Scotland and my friends back there. I don’t think you can be truly happy somewhere unless/until you love the location…
      And yes, Masonic Temple. Visit it. 🙂

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