Truth be told, I was there last week but who could resist such a headline! It was my first time in ‘Philly’, which is even more surprising, given that I have been to the States at least 40 times over the years and the city is the 6th largest in the US. I was attending the annual conference of the ITAA (Irish Travel Agents Association) — their first to be held outside Europe in their history (next year, the event is being held in Cordoba in Spain.)
The ITAA is the representative body for travel agents and tour operators in Ireland and lobbies various government departments over legislation to ensure that consumers are adequately protected when they travel. Consumers who book their travel arrangements through licensed and bonded travel agents and tour operators are completely covered financially should those companies go bust. Unfortunately, the same isn’t necessarily true when bookings are made directly with airlines or through many online companies. Even new European legislation called the Package Travel Directive perpetuates anomalies where certain types of transaction still won’t be covered.
Late November/early December is probably not the best time to visit Philadelphia as the weather is much the same as home and no place in my opinion looks great under grey skies and rain. Having said that, Philly has much to offer the first-time tourist including an impressive skyscraper-dominated skyline as you enter the city from the direction of the airport and pass under the iconic Ben Franklin suspension bridge. The bridge was originally known as the Delaware bridge as it spans the Delaware river that separates Philadelphia from the city of Camden in New Jersey. The bridge was dedicated in 1926 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the War of Independence and was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its construction.
Philadelphia is most famously associated with the Liberty Bell which, in turn, will be forever associated with the Declaration of Independence. Known originally as the State House Bell, it was renamed the Liberty Bell by abolitionists during the 19th century. In more recent times, the city has become synonymous with the character of ‘Rocky’, immortalized by Sylvester Stallone, from the film of the same name. Originally located at the top of the famous steps, the ‘Rocky’ statue is now located to the right at the bottom of the steps and is a popular stop on all bus tours of the city.
Like all American cities, Philly loves its fast food which, in this instance, is the famous philly cheese steak which comprises thin slices of steak, drizzled with melted cheese and served in a ‘hoagie’ — essentially a bread sandwich or ‘sub’ but also known colloquially as a ‘hero’, ‘grinder’, ‘po’boy’ or Italian sandwich.
If you are a lover of American fast-food and those impossibly huge servings, then one place you’ve got to visit when you’re in Philly is the Reading Terminal Market which is located downtown near the Marriott Hotel. It is the equivalent of one of those covered markets that you get in France or Italy but populated instead by dozens of fast food emporiums selling every conceivable form of cuisine — Mexican, Chinese, Dutch, Italian, Indian, American etc. It has been serving the inhabitants of the city since 1893 and is very much an attraction of the city. Find out more about it here: https://readingterminalmarket.org/
Shoppers are particularly well catered for in Philadelphia as not only does the city boast Macy’s (housed in the original John Wanamaker building of 1902 and acquired by Macys in 2006) and a host of other department and specialty stores in the city centre but also Philadelphia Premium Outlets and the massive King of Prussia Mall — the largest shopping mall in north America with over 2,900,000 square feet of retail space under one roof!
Other attractions in the greater Philadelphia area worth visiting by tourists include the beautiful Nemours Estate built by the Du Pont family (of gunpowder, Teflon and Kevlar fame, amongst many others); the unique Longwood Gardens and conservatory (also created by the ubiquitous and generous Du Pont family); Valley Forge National Historical Park; Brandywine Battlefield historic Site and a veritable treasure trove of small artisan craft breweries and wineries.
Philadelphia is now served daily with services by both American Airlines and Aer Lingus. The flight time is approximately seven hours westbound and less than six hours eastbound.
Need I say more?