Magical gardens, escargot tarts, a vibrant market, and sweet gelato.
Not at all what I expected, but just a few of the wonderful things you can experience on a solo weekend in Philadelphia.
I recently spent two days in Philly, my first trip to the city. There is so much to see and do that it will definitely warrant a return visit or two. I felt completely comfortable on my own, and found the people to be very friendly and helpful.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the highlights of my weekend.
A great starting point for my visit was a trip in the tiny little elevator to the top of the City Hall Tower. Philadelphia has the largest city hall in the United States, and it is located right in the center of the city. From the observation deck you get a 360 degree view of the city below.
A short walk down the street from City Hall is the Reading Terminal Market, a big, busy, bustling center of food, music, and conversation. I visited more than once during the course of the weekend and it was filled with people and activity all the time. I had been told that one of the must-try foods was the roast pork sandwich from DiNic’s, but the line-up for the “Best Sandwich in America” was too long for the amount of time that I had. However, the line-up for 4th Street Cookies was more manageable. Although I had intended to bring home some Chocolate Macadamia Nut and Peanut Butter Chocolate cookies to share with friends, this did not happen. It’s as though they disappeared from my bag as I walked around the city.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is one of the most unique art installations I have ever encountered. Constructed over fourteen years by mosaic mural artist Isaiah Zagar, this incredible art environment covers half a city block. You really must experience this for yourself. Part indoor gallery, part sculpture garden, this curious amalgam of objects from handmade tiles to glass bottles to bicycles to mirrors is captivating.
What luck to be in Philadelphia on the day of the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market! Set up on the sidewalk around the park at 18th and Walnut, this friendly market made my day. It was clear that there were a lot of regular customers picking up their organic vegetables, fresh baked goods, and local eggs and cheese as I listened to them bantering with the vendors. This market runs year-round, and was the perfect place for me to grab breakfast. Sitting on a bench in the sun, watching children play in the park, enjoying a freshly-baked escargot tart and a locally-grown apple, I was definitely in my happy place.
Not only did I have the most delicious Americano – okay, several of the most delicious Americanos – at La Colombe Torrefaction, but I was also able to feel really good about the company that served the coffee. The beans are sourced directly from farmers, fairly traded, eco-friendly, and the product of long-term relationships. La Colombe is engaged in drilling wells in Africa and feeding, housing and educating orphaned children. The staff in the cafe were very knowledgable and welcoming, and I loved the decor. The perfect spot to warm up and refuel.
Before leaving for Philadelphia, I had consulted members of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook about what I should eat during my stay. Several travelers suggested the icy treats from Capogiro Gelato. I really felt that I could not let them down, and so, for the sake of the site, I sought it out. Well, someone has to do it. I remembered the advice of a very wise woman, my Great-Aunt Luella, who always advocated eating dessert first, in case you didn’t have room for it after dinner. So, on my way to Paradiso, I stopped in for a cup of dark chocolate and pistachio gelato. I was happy to be alone to savor this little cup of artisanal deliciousness.
Dining at Paradiso Restaurant and Wine Bar was not only tasty, but also a lot of fun. Naturally, I was a bit worried about how I would handle eating alone in a fine dining establishment. But after my attempts on previous trips to engage diners in conversation and relax into solo dining I was ready to try something different. It could not have turned out better.
When I arrived, I was seated by a window, which provided a view of the street – perfect for keeping me from constantly playing with my smartphone. When the waitress brought my wine, she commented that she loves to see diners come in alone, as she frequently travels and does the same. It immediately put me at ease, and we continued our conversation about travel sporadically throughout the evening.
The food itself was wonderful, not least because some of it was grown right on site. A rooftop garden produces fresh vegetables, herbs and honey. What they don’t grow themselves, they source locally. From the Sweetbread Ravioli with Sage and Marsala, to the Hudson Valley Duck Breast with Roasted Brussels Sprouts (my favorite!) to the nice little Primitivo that I ordered to wash it all down, my dinner was expertly prepared and served. Not to mention, delicious!
I initially chose this restaurant because of these words on the front page of their website: “…it’s a perfect place for a solo diner. You will never feel alone in this friendly restaurant.” That is not just the work of marketing staff – it was absolutely what I experienced. Although the space was full of groups and couples, there were also a number of single diners at the bar. I didn’t feel self-conscious in the least. In fact, I stayed for almost three hours!
I understand that Philadelphia has a great transit system, though I didn’t make use of it on this trip. I walked everywhere, all day long, then took a very reasonably-priced taxi back to my hotel at the end of the day.
You could definitely see more than this on a weekend trip, and there are many things that I missed out on. I’m a slow traveler, though, more interested in soaking up the personality of a neighbourhood than in making sure that I see every famous sight or taste every local food. Which explains why there are no photos of a Philly Cheese Steak in this post. But next time…
Thank you to Philadelphia Tourism for their assistance with this trip.