Free Enterprise Staff  | March 3, 2016

That’s one fine Philly: Why the city of brotherly love is now number one in the U.S.

Philadelphia – the city humorously depicted as the place hipsters love to call home and birthplace of “Rocky” – has just been named the top U.S. destination to visit in 2016.

Travel guide publisher Lonely Planet awarded the city of brotherly love the honor citing its “deep American history and uniquely gritty flavor.” The city had a big year in 2015 – not only was it named the first and only World Heritage City in the US, but it’s been rising in popularity. Namely, Philadelphia made the short list of places Pope Francis visited when he came stateside last summer to celebrate the World Meeting of Families Congress.

As part of our Silicon Cities series, we’re diving deep into what makes Philadelphia tick. In our next piece, we’ll look at what has made this city a haven for startups in the medical technology space. For now, let’s look at what’s making this city a must-see east coast destination for visitors and tourists from across the country and beyond.

Arts & Culture

According to Meryl Levitz, CEO and president of Visit Philly – a nonprofit tourist agency – Philadelphia has always been a world-class destination, even it hasn’t always been readily acknowledged.

“It’s been years in the making,” Levitz says about the city’s unique offerings that landed it at the top of Lonely Planet’s list and at number three on the New York Times’ places to visit in 2015. “Success breeds success and I think that as more people had confidence in Philadelphia from the private and the non-profit sector, more restaurants started opening and the creative economy found the kind of space, affordability, community and walkability that they needed here.”

Philadelphia’s art scene has had its own awakening in recent years. The city’s Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest art museums in the country and this year received $10 million dollars and a donation of fifty contemporary pieces to increase its exhibitions. In recognition of the city’s growing art scene, earlier this year the museum also launched a unique program that offers free membership to artists showing in its collection and cut rates for working artists. The feat is particularly noteworthy considering other well-known institutions, such as the New York’s Museum of Modern Art, don’t offer such envious perks.


Although it may seem like Philly’s on a roll right now, the city has flourished for years. It has a rich colonial history that includes the iconic Liberty Bell and Independence National Historical Park, features that make it appealing to the general public and those who love America’s varied history.

Lonely Planet Destination Editor Rebecca Warren couldn’t agree more. “Philadelphia holds a unique place in American history as the site of many monumental moments in the formation of the United States,” she says about its mass appeal. “It also has an impressive amount of original architecture remaining, so you can actually walk down some of the same cobbled streets Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson traversed, and step inside buildings that the country’s founding fathers lived and worked in.”


That’s not all; the city also has a thriving restaurant scene that extends far beyond its hometown staple, the Philly cheese steak. Hundreds of BYOB (bring your own beverage) restaurants have launched in the area in the last few years, says Levitz, which is also home to several celebrity culinarians. Both award-winning “Top Chef” Kevin Sbraga and Marc Vetri who won the James Beard Award—often called the Oscars of the food world—are based in the city.

It should come as no surprise that city officials are expecting the city to see a notable uptick in tourism this year. In fact, last year’s top Lonely Planet pick, New York City’s Queens borough (chosen for its diverse community) enjoyed a significant boost in publicity after being picked and Levitz and her team hope to follow in their footsteps. So far she and her team are already fielding calls from around the world.

“If you came to Philadelphia today you’d also see cranes all over the place and new businesses everywhere,” she says. “I think all of those things and our history have made us the discovery destination that people have found today and want to visit.”

Where to go

Listed below are a few of the most popular tourist destinations in the city:

1. The Liberty Bell Center

Tourists from around the world line up every year to see the cracked Liberty Bell. The 2,000-pound bronze bell is an important symbol of America’s independence and famously rang after Congress signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Guided tours are available to members of the public keen to learn more about its role in both local and national history.

2. Philadelphia Museum of Art

Founded in 1876, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the third-largest art museum in the country and one of the city’s most beloved institutions. Its collections include a variety of art, including American, Impressionist, Renaissance and Modern pieces. Additionally, it regularly holds live performances featuring both local and international artists.

3. Independence Hall

The Hall is birthplace of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There’s no better place than this place to learn more about the Founding Fathers who gathered at the historic building to sign the Declaration of Independence and lay future groundwork for the U.S. Constitution.

4. The Rocky Statue

The Rocky statue and the famed steps he ran up during his training montage have become two of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Movie buffs and interested tourists can retrace the fictional character’s training regime for free.

5. The Franklin Institute

The Franklin Institute, named after noted scientist Benjamin Franklin, is one of the oldest science museums in the U.S. Aside from being a leader in the field of science and technology, it also hosts a number of impressive exhibitions guest speaker series each year.