Philadelphia is known for a lot of things -- cheesesteak, Rocky Balboa, and the Declaration of Independence, to name a few -- but that's only the tip of the iceberg. The City of Brotherly Love is making quite a name for itself in the art and design world. It is home to a thriving artist community and grand public art initiatives, such as the Percent for Art program, which requires building developers to commission public art as a part of their development process.
From activities and attractions to food and accommodations, here are some of our favorite places to experience Philadelphia's rich art scene.
What to See and Do
Get started at the Barnes Foundation ($22 to $25), where artwork is presented in ensembles that include a mix of styles, periods, and subjects alongside one another. It boasts a staggering collection of legendary artists, including 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 16 Modiglianis, seven Van Goghs, and other notable works.
Not only is the stunning Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts home to the Philadelphia Orchestra -- one of the world’s best symphony orchestras -- the center also sponsors the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA). The 16-day celebration of art, music, and community takes place throughout the city to showcase thought-provoking installations, exhibitions, and performances by artists from around the world. It culminates with the Broad Street street fair that has previously featured zip lines, animatronic dinosaurs, a flowing waterfall, musical entertainment, and performance art acts that draw a large crowd. Tickets are from $5, depending on the event, but a majority are free to the public.
Philadelphia is covered in colorful street art, and when the weather is nice, walking tours led by the Mural Arts Program help visitors get an up-close look at some of its finest works. The organization offers several tours (from $22) that let you explore on foot or by train, trolley, or segway. Employing more than 300 artists, the 30-year old initiative is the largest employer of artists in Philadelphia; each mural is commissioned to artists of various backgrounds, including international street artists, art students, community leaders, and even prison inmates.
For something out of the ordinary, visit Philadelphia's Magic Gardens ($10). This large-scale community center and outdoor art installation is covered with folk art statues, colorful glass bottles, bicycle wheels, hand-cut tiles, and shards of mirrors that create a dazzling wonderland.
Where to Eat
There are a growing number of restaurants in Philadelphia, where the food is an art of its own. Talula’s Garden takes gourmet dining and the farm-to-table concept to a new level. There is an extraordinary amount of care that goes into the preparation and attention to flavors in dishes like the wild watercress and leek top soup ($13), goat cheese gnocchi ($16), and pan-roasted wild striped bass ($30).
Another local favorite is Stephen Starr’s French café-inspired Parc Brasserie, where offerings like pain au chocolat and trout doused in lemon brown butter are decadent and divine. And for drinks, The Next Iron Chef winner Jose Garces' fine dining restaurant Volver, situated in the Kimmel Center, serves cocktails that are almost too pretty to drink. Almost.
Vegetarians and vegans aren't left out, either. Wholly plant-based restaurant Bar Bombon is casual yet vibrant; try the cauliflower tacos ($14) at brunch for a delightfully palatable mix of texture and flavor. Another vegetable-forward restaurant that brings art to the plate is Vedge: this popular spot is known for its ever-changing menu that has even die-hard carnivores convinced that vegetables can be a meal in and of itself.
Where to Stay
Art and design are integral to the guest experience at the Sonesta Philadelphia Downtown Rittenhouse Square (from $179 per night in May), which features a sizable collection of artwork throughout its meeting spaces and a revolving local art exhibit in its lobby. At the city's newest luxury outpost, The Logan Hotel (from $165), guests will find a curated local art collection that delves into Philly's history and culture. Sofitel Philadelphia (from $180) has Rodin Museum-inspired guest rooms and a stunning lobby gallery.