Philadelphia City Guide

By: Mary Mihaly

Philadelphia Architecture & Landmarks

©2006 Anthony Sinagoga The Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which crosses the Delaware River, iseasily accessible from the Independence Mall.

Philadelphia's Colonial-era buildings aren't only the city's most visible legacy, they're its most enduring; built of brick and stone, homes and public buildings here haven't deteriorated as quickly as those in cities of wooden construction.

In Philadelphia, you'll find entire streets on the National Register of Historic Places. Most attractions within the city, from restaurants and shops to concert halls, museums and offices, are housed in a historic building. Some are owned by and protected with your tax dollars, through the U.S. National Park Service; others are maintained by smaller non-profit organizations and historical societies.


Some of the architectural highlights are spectacular, such as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge across the Delaware River, 13/4 miles long and a good choice for a morning walk along its foot path, since it's easily accessible at the eastern edge of Independence Mall. City Hall, Christ Church, the Masonic Temple, and Reading Terminal Market are other architectural standouts.

But in Philadelphia, even the homes are architecturally important. Those built before the 1750s, such as the smaller two-rooms-per-floor abodes on Delancey Street, are the earliest, with brickwork in the old Flemish Bond style alternating long and short sides of bricks as they go along.

Those in Old City that were built after the Revolution adopted such features as Georgian cornices, arched brick doorways and grand symmetry to the point where some have false windows or doorways, just to make the facades more symmetrical! Then as you move away from the Delaware into Washington Square, you see the post-1790 Federal designs taking over, all maintained under strict preservation guidelines. In Philadelphia, preservation is an integral part of development.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Architecture & Landmarks in Philadelphia

Insider's Guide: The Best of Architecture & Landmarks in Philadelphia

One of the city's finest examples of late Victorian architecture is The Bourse (21 S 5th St) behind the Liberty Bell. Now renovated as two interior arcades surrounding a massive skylight atrium, this circa-1895 former stock exchange's brick-and-sandstone exterior belies the modern interior. Gracing the next corner is Independence Square (Chestnut St between 5th & 6th), with Independence Hall, Old City Hall, and Congress Hall all comprising Independence National Historic Park (5th and Chesnut Sts), making their forthright statement: Here, liberty began in America.

The simple lines and almost-unadorned exteriors of those landmarks stand in contrast to their wildly ornate counterpart at Broad and Market streets, the French Second Empire-style City Hall. Capped by A.M. Calder's 37-foot statue of William Penn, City Hall took 30 years to build. You can walk through the courtyard to get a sense of the size; even better is riding up to the "tower view" in Penn's shoelaces, 548 feet above, for the city's best view, taking in the ports, the upper and lower Delaware Valley, and western New Jersey.

On a smaller scale, Mobil Two-Star City Tavern (138 S 2nd St), now a restaurant, was considered the "power lunch" spot in George Washington's day. Completed in 1773, this is the spot where Paul Revere brought news of the closing of Boston's port by the British, and it's the site of the initial gatherings of the First Continental Congress. Rebuilt after a fire, the Tavern's wide-planked floors, stone fireplaces, and Colonial-style furnishings reflect its prominent heritage. This is a good place to try some 18th-century dishes like prime rib or tavern lobster pie!

Who doesn't love getting some shopping while on vacation -- especially in Philadelphia, where there's no sales tax on clothing? Keep reading to learn about Philadelphia's shopping scene.