The original capital of the nation, PHILADELPHIA was laid out by William Penn Jr in 1682, on a grid system that was to provide the pattern for most American cities. Just a few blocks away from the noise and crowds of downtown, shady cobbled alleys stand lined with red-brick colonial houses, while the peace and quiet of huge Fairmount Park make it easy to forget you’re in a major metropolis. Settled by Quakers, Philadelphia prospered swiftly on the back of trade and commerce, becoming the second largest city in the British Empire by the 1750s. Economic power fuelled strong revolutionary feeling, and the city was the hub for most of the War of Independence and the US capital until 1800, while Washington DC was being built. The Declaration of Independence was written, signed, and first publicly read here in 1776, as was the US Constitution ten years later. Philadelphia was also a hotbed of new ideas in the arts and sciences, as epitomized by the scientist, philosopher, statesman, inventor and printer Benjamin Franklin.

Philadelphia, which means “City of Brotherly Love” in Greek, is in fact one of the most ethnically mixed US cities, with substantial communities of Italians, Irish, Eastern Europeans and Asians living side-by-side among the large African American population. Many of the city’s black residents are descendants of the migrants who flocked here after the Civil War when Philadelphia was seen as a bastion of tolerance and liberalism. Philly also retains its Quaker heritage, with large “meetings” or congregations of The Society of Friends. Having ditched its erstwhile tag of “Filthydelphia”, Philadelphia’s strength today is its great energy in the face of economic adversity.

Central Philadelphia stretches for about two miles from the Schuylkill (pronounced “school-kill”) River on the west to the Delaware River on the east; the metropolitan area extends for many miles in all directions, but everything you’re likely to want to see is right in the central swath. The city’s central districts are compact, walkable and readily accessible from each other; Penn’s sensibly planned grid system makes for easy sightseeing.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

USA features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Your USA itinerary: 6 ideas for an American adventure

Your USA itinerary: 6 ideas for an American adventure

The USA’s sheer scale and scope means it’s impossible to see everything the country has to offer in one go ­– and you shouldn’t try. From sprawling na…

15 Mar 2017 • Nick Edwards insert_drive_file Article
7 reasons why you should visit Key West, Florida

7 reasons why you should visit Key West, Florida

Once a rip-roaring buccaneers’ town, the preserve of pirates and wreckers, Key West is now the quirky, tropical heart of the Florida Keys. The island’s bois…

14 Mar 2017 • Georgia Stephens insert_drive_file Article
24 breaks for bookworms

24 breaks for bookworms

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …

02 Mar 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month