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Philadelphia: Recreation


Philadelphia ranks third in the nation among cities with the greatest number of historic sites. Notable among them are Independence National Historical Park, dubbed "the most historic square mile in America," where the many landmarks either remain intact as they existed 200 years ago or have been restored. Independence Hall—where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written—is among the park's 26 interesting sites, which also include the Liberty Bell Pavilion, the Second Bank of the United States, and City Tavern, a reconstruction of the Revolutionary-era inn that operates today, serving visitors fare commonly prepared 200 years ago.

Historic homes throughout the city are open to the public—including Franklin Court and the Betsy Ross House—and many architectural styles are represented. Several historic churches also remain in Philadelphia. Other points of interest are the United States Mint and Penn's Landing, where harbor tours are available. The city is known, too, for its fine parks, including Fairmount Park, reportedly the largest landscaped urban park in the world and site of the nation's first zoo. The Park contains more than 200 pieces of sculpture. Philadelphia and its environs can be toured by bus or trolley.

Arts and Culture

Philadelphia's efforts to strengthen its downtown artistic attractions are centered on a 3.5-mile-long stretch along Broad Street dubbed the Avenue of the Arts. The Academy of Music, opened in 1857, is located there in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, which includes Verizon Hall, Perelman Theater, Innovation Studio, and the Merck Arts Education Center. The Kimmel Center is also home to the world-class Philadelphia Orchestra, Philly Pops, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Ballet, Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, American Theater Arts for Youth, and several others.

The Arden Theater is a professional regional theater, offering theatrical and educational programs and productions. Other leading Philadelphia theater groups include the Philadelphia Theatre Company, the Venture Theatre, Freedom Theatre, Hedgerow Theatre, Society Hill Playhouse, and the Media Theater for Performing Arts. Broadway and off-Broadway productions are presented at Forrest Theater and at the Merriam Theater at the University of the Arts. The Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania presents the annual Dance Celebration, children's shows, and other performances in its three theaters. Several other university-affiliated theaters stage productions as well.

The Pennsylvania's Ballet's annual performance of The Nutcracker has become a holiday tradition. Dance performances are also presented at the Annenberg Center and by other leading troupes such as Philadanco and the Leon Evans Dance Theatre.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed at Independence Hall.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed at Independence Hall.

Considered one of the world's great art museums, the Philadelphia Museum of Art houses more than 500,000 works dating from the Western Middle Ages onward; Asian art is also represented. The Museum also runs the Rodin Museum, said to possess the largest collection of that artist's sculptures outside of Paris, and historic houses in Fairmount Park (seven of these are open to the public at Christmas, decorated as they might have been when built). The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, one of the oldest art museums and schools in the country and deemed an architectural masterpiece, displays more than seven thousand works of American art dating from 1750. The Barnes Foundation Gallery features more than 1,000 rarely seen works by the Impressionists and other nineteenth-century painters. The Academy of Natural Sciences Museum, the nation's oldest institution of its kind, features such exhibits as "Butterflies" and "Raptors: Hunter of the Sky". A national memorial to Benjamin Franklin, the Franklin Institute Science Museum and Planetarium features fascinating exhibits that move and can be moved, and it houses many of Franklin's personal effects. Philadelphia's newer museums include the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum, the Mummers Museum, and the Port of History Museum at Penn's Landing; the latter features changing local and international exhibits of arts and crafts and photography. The Perelman Antique Toy Museum and the Please Touch Museum specialize in childrens' interests. In addition, many small museums are housed in restored buildings throughout the city.

Arts and Culture Information: Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, 1616 Walnut, Suite 600, Philadelphia, PA 19103-5306, telephone (215)557-7811

Festivals and Holidays

Philadelphia welcomes the new year with its famous New Year's Day parade, featuring 30,000 Mummers (costumed and/or masked musicians and actors). February features the Philadelphia's Pepsi String Band Show of Shows, an indoor musical extravaganza, which leads to March's Philadelphia Flower Show (considered the top such event in the country), the St. Patrick's Day Parade, and the Book and Cook Festival, which teams famous cookbook authors with local chefs to create culinary wonders. The arrival of spring is heralded in Philadelphia by Valborgsmassoafton (Spring Festival), a Swedish tradition. During its annual Sunoco Welcome America! Philadelphia celebrates the Fourth of July—Independence Day—with gusto: four nights of music, fireworks, a food festival, and a parade culminate in the Mummers' performance of a special summer "strut" at Independence Hall. The Philadelphia Festival in August, one of the country's oldest outdoor musical events, has become an end-of-summer ritual for "folkies" from around the country. The Craft Show at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in November, sponsored by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, has had a great influence on the current American crafts revival. Philadelphia's Thanksgiving Day Parade in November is the oldest of its kind in the country.

The city in addition hosts the PECO Energy Jazz Festival, Jam on the River, Army-Navy Football Game, and many other ethnically-related festivals, music festivals, and art fairs.

Sports for the Spectator

With more than 200 years of athletic competition history, Philadelphia is considered a premier sports city. Along with a busy annual sports calendar, first-class facilities, 10 professional teams, and more than 60 intercollegiate athletic programs, the city has also hosted many premiere sporting events such as the 2002 NBA All-Star Game. The nation's fourth largest media market, Philadelphia boasts extensive athletic facilities, including the Liacouras Center at Temple University and Wachovia Complex, where the National Hockey League Flyers host games during the season. Two new state-of-the-art facilities contribute to Philadelphia's reputation as a top sports location: the National Football League Eagles' new home, Lincoln Financial Field, opened in August 2003, while the Major League Baseball Phillies' new ballpark, Citizens Bank Park, opened in April 2004.

Suburban to Philadelphia are a number of racetracks offering thoroughbred racing from summer through winter and trotter racing in the summer only. The Wings indoor lacrosse team add variety to the city's sports offerings.

Collegiate athletic events of all kinds are regularly scheduled at the many colleges and universities in the area.

Sports for the Participant

While Philadelphia's park system includes hundreds of parks and playgrounds, Fairmount Park is the center of the city's recreational activities. Located throughout its 9,204 landscaped acres are 215 miles of trails; baseball diamonds and tennis courts; football, soccer, cricket, field hockey, and rugby fields; golf courses; a rowing course and a stocked trout stream; and a variety of other recreational opportunities. The RiverRink at Penn's Landing offers public skating days and evenings from November through February.

The city maintains six municipal golf courses. Indoor tennis is available at the University of Pennsylvania's Robert P. Levy Tennis Pavilion.

Shopping and Dining

Philadelphia is a city of shops rather than huge merchandising outlets. From major department stores, such as Strawbridge's, to complexes such as The Shops at Liberty Place, to the boutiques and specialty shops of Rittenhouse Row, the city is brimming with fine shopping. A downtown area renaissance has attracted many new stores and shopping areas. Casual South Street offers a colorful variety of galleries, avant garde fashions, antique shops, and bookstores. Society Hill, a restored colonial neighborhood, is home to a waterfront shopping complex. The Bourse, across from Independence Hall, houses a collection of specialty shops and restaurants in a restored Victorian stock exchange. A few blocks away is Pine Street's Antique Row. The Gallery at Market East contains more than 230 shops and restaurants. Jewelers' Row is one of the world's largest and oldest diamond centers. The stretches north, south, and west of downtown contain several shopping centers, including the Shops of Chestnut Hill in the historic Germantown neighborhood, and the lively Italian Market.

Philadelphia has been called one of the best restaurant cities in the country, and its Le Bec Fen is a local favorite. New restaurants are proliferating in Philadelphia, and national and international cuisines are well represented in the city's restaurants, where dining styles range from casual to elegant. Seafood is a local favorite, as are Philadelphia cheese-steaks and soft pretzels with mustard. Early in colonial history, Pennsylvania Dutch scrapple—an aromatic mixture of cornmeal and pork scraps formed into a loaf—became essential to the proper Philadelphian's breakfast menu, and this specialty can still be found on regional bills of fare, as can Philadelphia Pepper Pot, a peppery tripe soup. At the Reading Terminal Market, formerly a hub for trains and food distributors, 80 merchants cater to the lunchtime crowd, offering unusual multiethnic fare ranging from Mexican mole to Mennonite-made shoo-fly pies.

Visitor Information: Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1700 Market Street, Suite 3000, Philadelphia, PA 19103; telephone (215)636-3300