If you’re looking to uncover off the beaten path (but beloved by locals) places in a city, you should probably go straight to the source. That’s why we hit up the Navigators — on-site experts — at Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown Hotel and asked them to give us their best-kept secrets about where to eat, drink, shop, and play in the City of Brotherly Love, from historic Philadelphia to the hippest neighborhoods.Read More
Philadelphia’s Hidden Gems
Art in the Age
Is it a bar? Is it a store? Is it a club for people who really, really care about cocktails? It’s all those things and more: a space where you can pick up a julep strainer, some sarsaparilla bitters, and a bottle of damson gin before settling in at the copper bar in the back to sample the latest creations from the ever-increasing number of local distilleries. If you can make it, the often-sold-out classes — on everything from how to design a coffee cocktail that doesn’t overwhelm you with sweetness to how to craft a modern tiki drink — are always lively and tons of fun.
Arch Enemy Arts
The Old City neighborhood is jam-packed with galleries, ranging from tiny, feisty upstarts to long-established landmarks. Arch Enemy is one of the best, a large contemporary space where brightly colored, eye-catching images practically jump off the walls. It specializes in work that engages the imagination, often inspired by comic books and fairy tales, and occasionally hosts “locals only” shows, which means this is a great place to spot up-and-coming artists (and maybe pick yourself up a nice investment piece). Art lovers and anyone in search of a fun time should keep in mind that the first Friday of every month means a lively neighborhood-wide party, with art galleries and shops throughout Old City staying open late so locals can stroll around drinking wine and checking out the latest creations.
High Street on Market
The concept of an all-day café is ingenious, but there aren’t a whole lot of places where you can feel as comfortable with a cappuccino and sourdough waffles at 7:30 a.m. as you can with a glass of natural wine at 4 o’clock or a romantic dinner of handmade pappardelle with spiced crab at 8 p.m. High Street on Market is that place, though: perfect for dates, lazy lunches, and days when you just want an (exquisitely made) sticky bun. Vegetable-forward, locally sourced, and as creative as they come, the dishes here have won national praise, but the place remains chilled out, unpretentious, and welcoming to all of its Center City neighborhood — all day long.
The Bourse Marketplace
A Beaux Arts building just behind the Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown Hotel, the Bourse used to have a mall-style food court with supremely uninspired offerings (think fast food and generic hoagies). But thanks to a major overhaul in 2018, the food court has become a food hall. And it’s good — really good. Now 27 vendors are turning out gourmet fried chicken, Filipino comfort food, hand-pinched crab dumplings, and Korean tacos. There are craft cocktails made with locally distilled gin, pints of cider, and perfectly pulled espresso shots. The atmosphere is energetic and fun — a far cry from the Sbarros of yesteryear.
Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown Hotel
Inspired by the history of the city, the Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown Hotel in Center City hits on a Benjamin Franklin theme while still retaining a sense of modernity. The colonial nods include modern portraits of Franklin and the on-premise restaurant and bar, Franklin Social and Franklin Social Lounge, are hidden neighborhood gems for contemporary American dishes and craft beers. If you’re really in the mood to feel historic, order the Kite & Key cocktail (get it?), made with Bluecoat Gin, luxardo maraschino, creme de violette, and lemon juice. Head back upstairs to take in the view overlooking Independence Hall that many rooms offer.
This spot has an impeccable pedigree: It’s helmed by Nicholas Elmi, of the stellar Laurel, and he’s partnered with people behind some of the city’s most beloved pubs (Royal Tavern), secret sushi spots (Royal Sushi and Izakaya), and kitschy-but-delicious Mexican hot spots (Cantina Los Caballitos). Royal Boucherie somehow manages to be everything to everyone: a brasserie for the business lunch crowd, a welcoming bar for the late-night set in the neighborhood, a fine dining experience for those who love French-inflected cuisine, and it’s even got a garden for summer nights that demand champagne and oysters. The house-cured charcuterie (“boucherie” means butcher shop) is the must-order. Insider tip: Lunchtime martinis are just $2 with any entrée.
Museum of the American Revolution
Even though this museum had a blockbuster opening in 2017, it’s still underrated. The enormous complex takes a high-tech, interactive approach to teaching visitors about the American Revolution, with immersive experiences and touch screens for days. The exhibits are arranged chronologically and are truly impressive, from the tent George Washington used as his headquarters for much of the war to child-sized slave shackles. Even the on-site café stays on theme, with dishes like a tavern-style bread pudding taking inspiration from the era.
The Secret Gardens at Independence Park
The big attractions near the hotel, like the Liberty Bell and Independence Mall, are all technically part of Independence National Historical Park, although they look like they’re just part of the cityscape. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find a handful of lush gardens scattered throughout that are blissfully free of tourists (even most locals don’t know they’re there). The 18th-Century Garden is a faithful recreation of what a typical Philadelphia garden looked like a few hundred years ago, with well-kept paths, pergola, and the same kinds of flowers the founding fathers enjoyed, while the Magnolia Garden is peaceful at any time of year but is in full, colorful bloom in spring. Grab a snack from the nearby food trucks and enjoy a few moments of calm.
Cry Baby Pasta
No one ever said Philadelphia didn’t have enough Italian restaurants, so it would be easy to pass on Cry Baby — but that would be a mistake. This is the best kind of neighborhood restaurant: welcoming and friendly with an approachable menu. Dishes like painstakingly hand-made pastas encasing pork stuffing or enhancing rich ragù and bite-sized meatballs atop creamy ricotta are elevated by a cocktail list that rivals those of the city’s best bars. Plus, the Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown Hotel has partnered with Cry Baby Pasta to give guests an exclusive experience: Hotel guests are given a key that entitles them to a specially created drink. Pull up a seat at the long bar, order some farro risotto and a glass of Italian red, and feel right at home.
Head House Books
As finding an indie bookstore on a city street becomes more and more like sighting a unicorn, Head House Books reassures us that yes, magic does exist. Around since 2005, this cozy shop in the eclectic Head House District takes a curated approach to the books it stocks, relying more on staff picks than bestseller lists and hosting a packed calendar of readings that are always worth checking out. The people who work there are the store’s best resource: Full of great suggestions, they’re able to figure out the book you’re looking for from even the vaguest of descriptions.
Red Hook Coffee and Tea
Hidden in plain sight, this spot is a local fave thanks to its homey feel and laid-back vibe, complete with exposed brick walls filled with colorful work from local artists. It’s the sort of place every neighborhood needs but not many have: They focus on doing a few things well rather than adding unusual ingredients to everything in an attempt to reinvent the wheel. The menu of breakfast and lunch (it opens at 7 a.m. for those getting an early start on the day) is made up of well-priced sandwiches (BLT, chicken salad, egg salad), wraps, and breakfast dishes, and there are plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, including tempeh bacon. The super-friendly servers don’t mind if you linger over your fair-trade coffee.