Today, Philadelphia is a mix of culturally diverse people and a hotbed of liberal attitudes as well as a throwback to its roots as the center of American independence. It’s called a city of neighborhoods and old immigrant conclaves such as the Italian Market and Chinatown flourish as they have for decades, while Center City East has its own thriving community in what is known as ‘Gayborhood’. Most tourists will only be concerned with Center City, a rectangle bounded by rivers to the east and the west, with lively South Street to the south and artsy Vine street to the north; it is easy to walk or take mass transit throughout this area, although taxis are ever-present.
Independence National Historical Park
First and foremost in Philadelphia’s history is Independence Park, which includes the new National Constitution Center and the Liberty Bell Center. More than a dozen park facilities are available and are open year-round although operating hours vary according to the season and the attraction. Opened in 2003, the National Constitution Center at Fifth and Market streets aims to showcase hallmarks of liberty through multimedia and live events, and is a tribute to the historical document that was drafted here. The Lights of Liberty audio-visual guided walking tour takes visitors though the historical buildings of the early government. A symbol of freedom that is engraved with an urging to ‘proclaim liberty’, the famous and cracked Liberty Bell lies across the street, near the building that housed the First Continental Congress.
To the east of the Independence Park area lies the Old City neighborhood. Now known for its art galleries, restaurants and small clubs and bars, Old City also contains the nation’s oldest residential street, Elfreth’s alley, where original homes still stand today and are privately lived in. If you travel early in the month, be sure to check out Old City during ‘First Friday’, the banner under which galleries and artist studios all over the city, especially in Old City, open their doors to mark new exhibitions with open houses and wine and cheese receptions.