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Originally published on 28/05/2015 - Filed under: Home » City Guides » Home » City Guides » The Americas »

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Tom Otley goes on an art tour of the US city, taking in its murals and masterworks

Philadelphia map


Philadelphia has had its problems, but is now on the up. This city of 1.5 million people on the eastern seaboard, a 90-minute train ride south of New York and two hours north of Washington DC, went through tough times in the 1980s, but credits part of its recovery to art.

It was briefly the capital of the United States (1774-1800) and, while politics moved to Washington DC, it continued to be a major centre of industry, commerce and wealth for more than a century.

The art collection built up over that time can be seen in the huge Philadelphia Museum of Art at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Masters such as Cézanne, Duchamp, Renoir, El Greco, Rubens, Turner, Manet, Monet and Picasso are among those represented, and there are also collections of ceramics, sculpture and furniture, and even entire original room interiors imported from China, Japan and London. Visiting exhibitions are also staged.

From inside you can find a window and watch people running up the steps of the museum – just like Rocky. There’s a statue of the character near the bottom on the right.

If you think people come to Philly for the culture, bear in mind this prop from one of the films is one of the most visited spots in the whole of the city. Open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm (main building until 8.45pm Wed and Fri); entry US$20.


There’s nowhere in the world like the Barnes Foundation, which holds one of the globe’s largest – and finest – collections of post-Impressionist and early modern paintings.

Since 2012 it has been housed in an elegant new building about a 15-minute walk along Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

It includes the largest single grouping of Renoir works (181), 69 pieces by Cézanne and seven by Van Gogh, as well as paintings by Matisse, Picasso, Degas and Modigliani – and since they are never lent out, they can only be seen here, hung just as Dr Albert C Barnes intended, with the emphasis on education and interesting juxtapositions across the ages. Open Wed-Mon 10am-5pm; weekday US$22, weekend US$25.


You’ll need a snack by now, and Reading Terminal Market, about a 20-minute walk away at North 12th and Arch Streets, is a good place for a pit stop.

It has more than 100 food outlets selling artisanal cheese, fruit and vegetables and speciality and farm-fresh produce, as well as dozens of restaurants.

The building dates back to the 1890s, when the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company purchased a block of the city for its new railway terminal only to find that the market holders trading there refused to move.

The compromise was a market created under the train station, so if you feel rumbling, it’s less likely to be your stomach, and more likely to be a train, although these now run underground to nearby Jefferson station. Open 8am-6pm (Sun 9am-5pm).


Already on your travels you may have noticed the city’s many and varied murals, on the end of houses, spare walls, and overlooking parking lots.

“Art ignites change” is how the Philadelphia tourism people put it – more than 3,500 have been painted since 1984, first as an anti-graffiti measure and then as part of the Mural Arts Programme.

Guided tours (from US$20) depart from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, about a five-minute walk away on North Broad Street, but you will spot them everywhere. Don’t miss Common Threads, a short stroll north on Broad and Spring Garden Streets – when unveiled in 1998, at eight storeys high, it was the largest, most expensive mural.

Since then, the scheme has expanded to include inmates and victims of crime as part of a restorative justice programme, with only 13 per cent of participants reoffending compared with the city-wide rate of 66 per cent over three years.


Philadelphia is renowned as the home of the (cracked) Liberty Bell, as well as Independence Hall, but assuming you like your history interactive, finish your tour with a sit-down meal at the outstanding City Tavern.

A faithful reproduction of the original venue dating from 1773, where everyone from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson dined, it is filled with antiques (courtesy of the National Parks Service) and has creaking wooden floors, authentic furnishings and live music.

Liveried waiting staff serve original dishes such as West Indies pepperpot soup, colonial turkey pot pie and Chesapeake-style crab cakes, while drinks include Colonial Raspberry Shrub – fruit juice vinegar sweetened with sugar and spiked with alcohol.

Lunch from 11.30am daily; dinner Mon-Sat from 4pm, Sun 3pm. 138 South Second Street; tel +1 215 413 1443;

  • For more information visit the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau website:
  • Delta Air Lines flies to Philadelphia daily from London Heathrow.

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