My wife and I had a few free days earlier this summer and decided to visit Philadelphia and New York City (NYC) by train.
She had taken the Acela several times for work—between Washington, D.C. and New York City. Acela is an Amtrak offering primarily for business travelers—faster trains, fewer stops, business and first class service. I knew from Amtrak schedules, however, that non-Acela routes in the northeast corridor (DC, Philadelphia, New York City) are not much longer and were much less expensive.
I previously covered why trains are better than planes along this route. One reason I did not list is that Amtrak has really great stopover fares. It did not cost much extra for us to travel DC-to-Philadelphia and Philadelphia-to-NYC than straight DC-NYC. While finding creative stopover opportunities in air travel is one of my specialties, Amtrak’s reasonable rates do not necessitate such efforts.
So, we parked at Union Station in Washington DC, walked into the terminal (no security, no shuttles or buses), bought food and drink, and settled into comfortable seats. Just under two hours later, we arrived at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station about 1pm; our 24 hour Philadelphia stopover would end with our 1pm train the next day). 30th Street Station is only 2 miles from our hotel next to Independence Hall, while the airport is about 18 miles away.
Even though we only had carryon bags and backpacks, the 2 mile walk would be too much. We learned from the info desk agent that our Amtrak ticket entitled us to a free connection on the SEPTA subway (great travel tip). We exited SEPTA at 11th Street and visited Reading Terminal Market (per suggestion from Twitter).
After some Reading Terminal sustenance (cookies, of course), we walked the last half mile to the Hotel Monaco (a Kimpton property). Waiting for our room to be prepared, we left our bags at the front desk and visited the surrounding historic area. We walked on cobblestone streets and around the First Bank of the US, Second Bank of the US, and Carpenter’s Hall. Then we reversed direction and walked around Independence Hall and Washington Square Park before getting the call that our room was ready.
In a previous article, Hotel Upgrade, I briefly described our Philadelphia Hotel Monaco experience. One hallmark of Kimpton properties is delicious drinks in the lobbies. We returned to the Hotel Monaco, had some refreshing cold fruit water, and checked in. Another hallmark is an afternoon happy hour, which we returned to the lobby for an hour later. In addition to the fabulous upgraded room, friendly staff, and amenities, we visited the Hotel Monaco’s Stratus rooftop lounge and met some of Philly’s finest travel bloggers.
The rooftop meeting was a perfect transition between the Kimpton wine hour and our dinner. I initially selected a restaurant but the Philly bloggers (a few days earlier) suggested making a reservation at Talula’s Garden. Talula’s was so popular that the greeter estimated our wait for a table would be almost an hour, even though we had a reservation. Instead, we found two seats at the cozy outside bar and were able to order from the entire menu. Ingredients for all dishes are locally sourced and the outside dining area is magnificent.
After dinner, we walked around and discovered a huge crowd near the east end of Market Street. Do I spy an ice cream shop? Perfect. We waited about 30 minutes at The Franklin Fountain and our small bowls were more sufficient. Especially cool is that each “bowl” is a carton, like a Chinese take out container. Franklin has classic flavors along with daily and seasonal specialties.
We explored Old City for another 45 minutes or so before returning to our magnificent Hotel Monaco room for the night.
One thing I wanted to add to the first part is a nighttime visit to The President’s House historic site, next to the Liberty Bell. This was the site of the office for the first two Presidents (George Washington and John Adams) of the new United States. This historic site is outdoors, open 24 hours, and free. Visitors can view the unearthed archaeological area and continually playing videos. The videos provide an alternative view of America’s freedom from the stories of the slaves who served George Washington. While the site is open during the day, visiting at dark seemed more poignant and reverent.
Philadelphia Stopover – Part 2
The prior evening, was saw the waterfront just beyond Franklin Fountain, and decided to start our morning walk there.
From Hotel Monaco, we walked east on Market Street, on the bridge over I-95, and into Penn’s Landing. The Delaware River Waterfront in the morning was pleasant and quiet but is a popular place during summer days with concerts and other events.
Continuing south we unknowingly hit the original border between the northern and southern USA.
We turned west on South Street and walked around the Society Hill section of Philadelphia, passing many Irish bars and apparent cheap eats. Definitely a place I would explore further on a return visit. One place, Jon’s Bar and Grille, is the birthplace of Larry Fine (Three Stooges).
We walked on most of the streets between 5th and Front, and South and Market. At Pine and 2nd is the northern entrance to the Headhouse, the oldest marketplace in the USA. Now, it hosts a lively farmers market on Sundays between May and December.
Whew, all that walking works up an appetite. We found a cozy French-ish cafe on 3th Street, called Menagerie, where the digital nomads were out in full force.
Nearby, at 3rd and Chestnut, is the Monkey Bar. If for no other reason than this awesome sign, I would return.
After a quick stop in our Hotel Monaco room to freshen up, we cut through the Independence Visitor Center on our way to the National Constitution Center.
The National Constitution Center is the only museum dedicated to the United States Constitution. A multi-media, theatrical performance called Freedom Rising was a highlight. Various interactive exhibits will keep even children interested. As our time was limited,we only spent about 90 minutes here but easily could have spent many more.
General admission tickets are about $15 but our tickets were free as part of Philadelphia CityPass booklets I won in a Twitter chat.
On the way back to the Hotel Monaco, we stopped at the Christ Church Burial Ground to see Benjamin Franklin’s grave. Along with Franklin, there are four other signers of the Declaration of Independence buried here. We paid $2 each to enter the grounds but, if pressed for time, you can see Franklin’s grave stone from outside the gate (at 5th and Arch).
Sadly, we had to leave the Hotel Monaco. Conveniently, we walked less than a block (to 5th and Market) to ride the subway to 30th Street Station.
I previously explained why train travel is better than air travel. Our train to New York City was on time, waiting in the station was very pleasant, and the food options in the terminal were nice. I opted for a platter from Beck’s Cajun Cafe while my wife got a sandwich from the adjacent deli.
During our quick 24 Philadelphia stopover we saw so much, ate so much!, met some new travel friends, but did not scratch the surface of this amazing city (I realize). Next time, I will plan a proper visit to Philadelphia and not treat it as a pit stop between Washington, D.C. and New York City.
What are your Philly faves?