Fairmont Water Works Philadelphia Museum of Arta

Discovering Philadelphia freedom and art

Fairmont Water Works Philadelphia Museum of Arta

The Fairmount Water Works facility is one of the many architectural highlights of Philadelphia. Another is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which can be seen in the background. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

To honour Fourth of July, Vacay.ca team members are wandering south to offer glimpses of life in choice destinations in the United States. In this article, Visuals Editor Julia Pelish makes an artsy visit to Philadelphia.

Story and Photos by Julia Pelish
Vacay.ca Visuals Editor

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA — Many of us have Canadian and American members in our family or group of friends. If this sounds like you, then the beginning of July can easily be transformed into one big fireworks-exploding extravaganza week of partying. With the Fourth of July and Canada Day falling three days apart each year, it’s easy for many to celebrate the independence of both nations.

One destination to keep in mind when venturing to the US is Philadelphia, considered to be America’s birthplace and a city steeped in history and art. This is where the Founding Fathers debated and signed the Declaration of Independence. They shaped the US Constitution in the Pennsylvania State House, now called Independence Hall. For Canadians, Philadelphia offers another kind of freedom these days: The liberty to spend without worry. A visit here will cost about half the price of a trip to New York City, thanks in part to Pennsylvania’s no-tax policy on shoes, clothes and other merchandise.

The place to begin your city tour is at the Independence Visitor Center, aka “gateway to America’s most historic mile.” From here you can gather all the tour information you need to enjoy the many sites within the city and Independence Park, such as The Liberty Bell Center, The National Constitution Center and Independence Hall. Tickets are needed to get into Independence Hall from March 1-December 31 with a total of 2,600 tickets given out per day. They are distributed free to walk-ins on a first come, first serve basis and tours begin at 9 am each day. Some tickets can be reserved online for $1.50 per ticket (call 1-877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov).

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The next stop on your itinerary should be the Franklin Institute, which is a hands-on Science Museum created to honour Philly’s favorite son, Benjamin Franklin, and his devotion to science, technology and life-long learning. He is renowned for pursuing many activities and had numerous careers, including as a printer, a philosopher and an inventor, along with being a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Yet he remained remarkably humble until his death at age 84. His gravesite, which you can visit in Christ Church Cemetery, has a simple marker carved with the name of Franklin and his wife, dated 1790. Franklin composed another epitaph for himself when he was a younger man (now in the Library of Congress), which reads:

“The body of
B. Franklin,
Like the cover of an old Book,
Its contents torn out,
And stripped of its lettering and gilding,
Lies here, food for worms.
But the work shall not be lost,
For it will (as he believ’d) appear once more
In a new and More elegant Edition
Revised and corrected
By the Author.”

The Franklin Institute is in the Parkway Museums District, which runs along the city’s grand boulevard called the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It starts at one iconic artpiece, Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, and on the other end is met by Philly’s beloved Rocky statue, a depiction of Sylvester Stallone with arms raised triumphantly at the foot of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Stallone and the Academy Award-winning movie “Rocky” brought Hollywood fame to this wonderful museum and its beautiful cascading steps. On any given day you can see people (yes, even artsy types) channelling their inner Rocky by running up and down the stairs, replaying a pivotal scene from the film.

Art Draws You In to Philadelphia

You won’t want to sprint away from the museum, though. In fact, it’s likely to stop you in your tracks. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a stunning piece of architecture, with the present building designed to resemble a Greek temple and dating to 1928. It is one of largest art museums in the United States, containing more than 200 galleries with art collections spanning many eras. Admission is $20 per adult, is good for two consecutive days and gains access to other properties: The Perelman Building, Rodin Museum and the historic house called Mount Pleasant.

Before you reach the art museum at the end of the parkway, there will be a couple of other places you must explore. One is the magnificent Barnes Foundation, whose art collection is known to many Canadians from its tour stop at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1994. The entire personal art collection of Albert C. Barnes now resides in the newly built, LEED Platinum gallery that opened in May 2012. Barnes amassed a fortune from the development and trademarking of the antiseptic Argyrol. One of his indulgences was his love of French Impressionist and post-Impressionist art (by Renoir, Cezanne, van Gogh, Picasso and Monet). His legendary collection is positioned on the walls of this spectacular museum in the same arrangements he had them in his own home. In 1994, the AGO was one of six international museums picked to host the Barnes collection. An extremely popular show, it is the second most attended exhibition in the AGO’s history. The Barnes Foundation is still a hot ticket, so reserving your entry in advance is recommended. You can do that online or by calling 1-215-278-7200. Prices range from $10-$18, depending on the age of the visitor.

Following your stop at the Barnes Foundation, visit the less extravagant but still elegant Rodin Museum, across the street and set within a lovely formal French garden. Admission to the Rodin Museum is “pay what you wish” while the garden is free to enter.

Nearby is the Fairmount Water Works on the Schuylkill River, which leads to Fairmount Park and the famous Philadelphia Zoo. The  zoo’s 42-acre Victorian garden opened in 1874 and was the first chartered zoo in the United States. Admission is $50 for a family of four; hours of operation vary according to season.

On my recent visit, I quickly fell in love with Philadelphia. It’s easy to understand why. Not only is Philly a treasure trove of history, culture, art, food, innovation, diversity, music, sports and awesome neighborhoods, it’s a bargain, too.


More About Visiting Philadelphia


Loews Philadelphia Hotel
Location: 1200 Market Street
Website: http://www.loewshotels.com/en/Philadelphia-Hotel
Room Rates: A recent search returned nightly room rates starting at $219 US.
Telephone: 1-888-575-6397
What You Should Know: This historic property occupies the former Philadelphia Savings Fund Society. Art deco in style, it offers elegant hospitality with many conveniences. While here, roam around to see the building as it has been lovingly restored. It is located between the historic district and the Parkway Museums District.


Reading Terminal Market
Location: 12th & Arch Streets
Telephone: 1-215-922-2317
What You Should Know: Reading Terminal Market is the United States’ oldest continuously operating farmers’ market and it is outstanding. All types of fresh daily food is available from the individual vendors in the market, including Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, homemade soft pretzels, Italian delights, gourmet coffees, pastries and chocolates. Amish merchants from Lancaster County occupy an entire section of the market where you can pick up their delicious farm-fresh products.

M Restaurant at the Morris House
Location: 225 South 8th Street
Menu Prices: 
Entree prices range from $15 to $20 for dinner. Small plates are available.
Reservations: Telephone 1-215-625-6666 or email info@MRestaurantPhilly.com
Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday, 4-10 pm; Sunday, 4-9 pm; happy hour: Tuesday-Sunday, 4-9 pm
What You Should Know:
 The restaurant is in a registered landmark property that is part of a boutique hotel and close to Independence National Historic Park. In the summer, diners are seated in the courtyard and garden. The farm-to-table menu is seasonal. A popular happy hour runs daily from 4-9 pm, and in the summer live jazz bands play in the beer garden on Wednesdays and Fridays from 6-8 pm.

Websites: Philadelphia/Visit Philly website and Independence Visitor Center


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A photographer who has worked in the largest media markets in Canada and the U.S., Julia’s travel photos and videos have been featured prominently in the Toronto Star and been exhibited in galleries in Toronto, New York and Vancouver. Her new line of photo jewelry was inspired by her travels. Even though she is an American, one of her favourite travel experiences was spending Canada Day 2000 on Parliament Hill, joining in a parade with then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien and others. Julia is Vacay.ca’s Visuals Editor. See her work at www.juliapelish.com/blog.

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