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Philadelphia City Guide

By: Mary Mihaly

Philadelphia Special Events & Attractions

©2006 Rob Ikeler The Philadelphia Flower Show, while not famous,is the biggest flower exhibition you'll find.

So many of Philadelphia's biggest attractions are the historic sites everyone knows -- the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, etc. -- but many of the city's lesser-known attractions, old and new, are just as compelling.

The Philadelphia Flower Show, the biggest flower show anywhere, isn't famous, at least among gardeners, but it's this region's harbinger of spring and kicks off a season of unique events that includes antiques shows, jazz fests, outdoor concerts, and tours of the city's three-centuries-old homes.

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Philadelphia loves showing off its quirky museums, literary sites, innovative galleries, and neighborhood secrets year-round, but it's during the warmer months when the sidewalks fill with the curious that the city puts on its best celebrations.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Philadelphia

Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Philadelphia

When in Philadelphia in May, stop and smell the roses at the Rittenhouse Square Flower Market (Rittenhouse Square, 1800 Walnut St), an annual event since 1914. If you like the neighborhood, stay until June when everyone converges on the Square for the two-week Fine Arts Show Annual, where both professional and student artists have a fresh-air opportunity to showcase and sell their work.

If you like your events more on the active side, the venerated Penn Relays (University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field, South and 33rd Sts) will be more your style along with 50,000 other spectators and 20,000 participants in the country's premier college and high school track and field competition. Or, you might appreciate another mega-collegiate event, the Dad Vail Regatta on the Schuylkill River each June.

Philadelphians train all year to run in the Philadelphia Marathon, usually held the Sunday before Thanksgiving, but an even bigger favorite is the Philadelphia Distance Run, a half-marathon held in late September.

For professional sports, baseball fans head to South Philly and the new Citizens Bank Park (1 Citizens Way), home to the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. And, of course, football fans eager to watch the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles head to Lincoln Financial Field (11 St and Pattison Ave), home to the 2004 Super Bowl participants. Season ticketholders have taken up virtually every seat in the football stadium, so the chances of securing a ticket will be tough. You can opt for catching the game in an area sports bar with the locals instead, and a prime spot to check out is Chickie's & Pete's Cafe (1526 Packer Ave), where you can watch the game on 14-foot flat-screen TVs and enjoy a good Phili cheesesteak sandwich.

If you'd rather keep exploring, check out the Eastern State Penitentiary (321 S 4th St), the circa-1829 prison that invented the word "penitentiary" because the Quaker-inspired punishment involved isolation, thought to make criminals more "penitent." Visitors can tour Death Row and the solitary confinement yards, research genealogy of Al Capone and other inmates, and attend creepy readings of works such as Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." In July, celebrate Bastille Day here and watch French revolutionaries drag Marie Antoinette to the guillotine.

You want quirkier? Take the family to the Insectarium (8046 Frankford Ave), every Philadelphia schoolkid's favorite field trip, where they can visit a working beehive, "Cockroach Kitchen," "Arachnid Alley," and a gross-Mom-out petting corner.

If that doesn't give you goose bumps, try the Mutter Museum (19 S 22nd St), where a collection of preserved tumors, skeletons of giants, and other medical oddities are preserved and displayed. (Small or squeamish children probably shouldn't make this stop.)

For a real sense of how life in Philadelphia has changed since 1680, visit the recently refurbished Atwater Kent Museum (15 S 7th St). With hundreds of artifacts, this small museum shows the kinds of dolls children played with, the sunbonnets ladies wore, and the kinds of storefronts you might have strolled past in Center City, hundreds of years ago.

And, since you're in the city where "liberty" became America's official buzzword, a visit to the new (2003) National Constitution Center (525 Arch St) on Independence Mall is in order. Designed by the famous architect I.M. Pei, this museum is hardly a dry history lesson; you can learn how the Constitution affects your daily life, by "taking" a Presidential Oath of Office, "sitting" on the Supreme Court and watching an inspiring multimedia show. While you're there, check out the voting machine from Palm Beach, Florida, used in the contested 2000 election.

Stop in at the Philadelphia Zoo (3400 W Girard Ave), which was America's first zoo and home to the nation's first white lions. Today the zoo is a prime location for rare and endangered animals, from red pandas to Rodrigues fruit bats. You can also explore a four-story tropical tree or take a balloon ride 400 feet up on the country's first passenger-carrying Zooballoon.

Philadelphia has a vibrant arts and culture scene -- you'll find that even walls throughout town are covered with murals. Keep reading to learn more about experiencing the arts and culture in Philadelphia.