The Art Lover's Guide to Philadelphia: 8 Themes You Can't Miss
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is every U.S. history fanatic's paradise. From battles and the Liberty Bell to the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, some of our young country's most taught history is rooted in the city of Philadelphia. Less than four hundred years later -- after industrial and railroad booms, the great migration, and many established colleges and universities -- Philadelphia is now home to 1.5 million people and visited by 41 million, each year.
But let's be honest: U.S. history isn't my forte.
Growing up, I knew four things about Philadelphia: the Fresh Prince was from West Philadelphia, born and raised, who spent most of his days on the playground; Allen Iverson was the GOAT; natives (Lenape Indians) were pushed off the land in order for Philadelphia's history to even exist; and the evening news always seemed to paint the City of Brotherly Love as a city of violence. It took years to look past my limited knowledge and realize how culturally rich this metropolis is today.
A city that so many adore, Philadelphia offers plenty for every type of visitor -- especially art enthusiasts. From street art to museums, music, and dance, if you love art in every form, there is much to see and do during your visit to Philly. Here are a few top activities to get started:
1. Celebrate Afro Latinx Heritage
Did you know Philadelphia is home to the second largest population of Puerto Ricans, after NYC? During and after the great migration (in which six million African Americans left the rural south), there was a Puerto Rican migration to Philadelphia from both Puerto Rico and New York. Today, they make up 75% of Philly's Latino residents and spearhead much of the area's hispanic and Latino arts and cultural events.
During your visit to Philadelphia, celebrate diverse Latino roots by attending plays led and performed by Afro Latinos, concerts celebrating music from the Diaspora, and more. For a line up of Afro Latino and Taino happenings, visit AfroTaino Productions' calendar of events or sign up for Taller Puertorriqueño's events and workshops.
2. Transport to a Magical Garden
I can't believe it took me so long to visit Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, but alas -- part of my reluctant adulting journey is to realize when I've made a mistake. If you love art even a little, Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens will transport you to a mosaic Narnia. From its breathtaking basement mosaic to its outdoor maze designed with glass, mirror, and ceramic tiles, Magic Gardens has a way of enchanting seemingly mundane props.
Pricing starts at $8 for adults. Visit the Magic Gardens website for visitor information.
📍Philadelphia's Magic Gardens: 1020 South St
3. Jam with local musicians
Whether you attend the annual Root's Picnic jam session with big name celebrities or swing by a speakeasy for an evening of soothing tunes, Philadelphia is a music hot spot; you must see at least one performance during your visit.
The Curtis Institute of Music hosts their Student Recital Series at Field Concert Hall (open to the public for free) and many dining establishments include live music. During my last couple of visits to Philadelphia, I enjoyed a dinner-jazz jam sesh while dining at Heritage restaurant in Northern Liberties (musicians signed up to collaborate on the spot). Before that, I vibed to Mason x FortuneWest and The Ones Group at Milkboy, a bar-restaurant and live music venue.
📍Curtis Institute of Music: 1726 Locust St
📍Heritage: 914 N. 2nd St
📍Milkboy: 1100 Chestnut St
4. Enjoy a day exploring Philly murals
Is Philadelphia home to the most murals in the country? Unofficially -- absolutely! Thanks to Mural Arts (a local art program part of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network since 1984), striking murals brighten Philly's urban streets like daisies -- and everyone loves it! These murals transform public spaces and offer opportunities to professional artists, prosecuted graffiti artists, and underserved communities.
📍Tours depart from: 128 N. Broad St
Ever heard of #ElfrethsAlley? It is the oldest continuously inhabited street in the United States. It’s super popular and expensive because of this, which means people are always stopping by to check it out. The bricks and stones along the alley perfectly tie into the historic architecture, and bless the neighbors who have to deal with the foot traffic! If you want to see inside one of these old homes, visit during one of their open house days, where some residents allow us common folk 😂 to explore the interiors. I’ve tagged the alley on my above photo so you can visit it yourself! #VISITPHILLY
5. Tour Philadelphia's historical architecture
Philadelphia's streets are brimming with well preserved architecture; eye candy for art lovers who live for structural design.
While you are in Philly be sure to soak in the grandeur of City Hall, the United States' largest municipal building; climb (via elevator) to the top of One Liberty Observation Deck for sweet art installations and a bird's-eye view of the city (you can spot Two Liberty Place: Philly's first skyscraper taller than William Penn's city hall statue); and head to Elfreth's Alley: our nation's oldest residential street.
📍Philadelphia City Hall: 1401 John F Kennedy Blvd
📍One Liberty Observation Deck: 1650 Market St
📍Elfreth's Alley: Elfreth's Alley at N. 2nd St
6. Buy from local Philly Artisans
There won't be a shortage of local buys during your visit to Philadelphia, thanks to the many indie artisans selling handmade goods, jewelry, and artwork. Snag a statement piece (or five) while dining at the famous Reading Terminal Market, or browse jewelry, paintings, and book collections along Antique Row.
📍Reading Terminal Market: 12th and Arch
📍Antique Row: 9-13th Streets
7. Celebrate African and African American Art in Philadelphia
It is no secret that African American talent, innovation, and intellect breathes life into the city of Philadelphia (and this country). While visiting some of the art world's most prestigious names, be sure to check out equally impressive African and African American artwork throughout Philadelphia.
The Barnes Foundation, for instance, was one of the first collectors to showcase African art among its impressionist and modern works, dating back to the early 1900's. Its displays show how African art influenced artists like Picasso. In Center City, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was the first art museum and art school in the United States.
The artistic splendor doesn't stop there: the Philadelphia Museum of Art houses "more than 500 works by 130 African-American artists" and the Penn museum offers archeological art and artifacts from around the world, including a 12-ton Egyptian sphinx. For a celebration of community-driven art by African American curators visit Rush Arts Philadelphia, a gallery co-founded by Run DMC's Rev Run in Northern Philadelphia.
📍The Barnes Foundation: 2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy
📍The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts: 118-128 N Broad St
📍Philadelphia Museum of Art: 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy
📍Penn Museum: 3260 South St
📍Rush Arts Philadelphia: 4954 Old York Rd
8. Fall in love and flaunt it!
You can't leave Philly without taking a photo with Robert Indiana's iconic "LOVE" and "AMOR" sculptures. Both at different points of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the works are quintessential Philly and an Instagram *must*.
You can find the "LOVE" sculpture at John F. Kennedy Park and -- if you look close enough -- you'll notice it perfectly frames the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The "AMOR" sculpture is near The Franklin Institute at its new home, Sister Cities Park.
📍LOVE Park: 16th Street and JFK Boulevard
📍AMOR, Sister Cities Park: 18th Street and Benjamin Franklin Pkwy
How to Get to Philly and Where to stay:
Philadelphia, PA is quite easy to get to from most major cities and surrounding counties. You can arrive by car, train, bus, or air, with reasonable pricing. While there, you can get around via Uber, Lyft, city taxi, car or bike rental, Septa public transit, or on foot. Center City's Phlash shuttle also offer's a downtown loop schedule at just $5 for a day pass, May thru September and holidays. As part of my artsy theme, I stayed at the Warwick Rittenhouse: a landmark building with bright, contemporary design that contrasts historic English Renaissance architecture.
Are you ready for your trip to Philadelphia?
I hope you fall in love with all things art in Philly! There is so much to experience. Let me know which ones you love (and other art suggestions)!
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