Heading to Philadelphia for Christmas? Kevin and I recently returned from a weekend with the family in Philly. There isn’t a better time to visit the city than the holidays with special museum exhibits, festivals and Christmas markets right in the heart of downtown. Plus, the food! If I lived in Philadelphia, I’d easily weigh 500 lbs. I don’t want to admit how many soft pretzels and cheese steaks we ate by the end of the weekend. But all in the name of research, right?! Check out our top picks on where to stay, what to eat and do. The itinerary is perfect for a wide range of family members both young and young at heart!
DAY 1 – Where to Stay
First thing first — check into your hotel. We can’t recommend the Morris House Hotel enough. Built in 1787, the home is a National Historic Landmark that has been renovated into one of Philadelphia’s finest luxury boutique hotels. Our family booked three of the rooms in the home, which has a total of 15 rooms. They are also very accommodating with kids, which isn’t always the case with boutique hotels or B&Bs. Rates include breakfast and run $165-$399 depending on the weekend. Book well in advance since the place can fill up fast!
Time to Shop and Eat!
We got into Philadelphia around 1 PM, dropped off our bags at the hotel then headed out to explore. Just a 15 minute walk away is South Street. This is one of the most famous streets in Philadelphia lined with restaurants, bars and shopping. But the big draw for us was to try out Jim’s Steaks.
We tried out a few cheese steak spots on South Street — all in the name of research! But Jim’s Steaks stood out from the rest. Kevin patiently waited in line (with a book in hand of course!) while I explored all the funky shops nearby that ranged from antiques to an all Mexican craft market to outdoor hiking stores.
Word is clearly out about Jim’s Steaks. In total, we waited about 45 minutes (eek!). But how fun would it be just to grab the steak and run. Seating is upstairs (first come, first seated). I attempted to grab a table while Kevin ordered. But that’s not how it works here at all. I was nearly physically removed from the table. No holding seats! Pretty much, you need to prove you have a steak in hand. They were about to go all Rocky on me, but luckily Kevin showed up seconds later after I texted him to “hurry!!! They’re going to throw us out!”
Strolling Through Historic Philadelphia
Around 3:30 PM, hit up some of the historic sites in downtown Philly. Crowds are lighter later in the day after the big push in the morning. We checked out Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and swung by the Betsy Ross House which has a small museum with actors who never break character (even if you’re just talking one-on-one!).
7:30 PM, Dinner at Ralph’s Italian Restaurant. Weirdly, we are already hungry! Must be all the walking. The family gathered (then sprinted!) for our dinner reservations. We were a big group so they said if we were later than 10 minutes, our table wouldn’t be guaranteed. Pick it up everyone!
Ralph’s is old school Italian all the way. So old, in fact, it’s considered the oldest restaurant in America according to the plaque outside. Kevin’s mom found it a few years back while we were visiting Philadelphia and we made sure to hit it up again. The place is known for it’s veal, but the pasta and meatballs were what I remembered as my favorite (and didn’t disappoint!).
DAY 2 – Holiday Markets, Museums and More Food
10-11:30 AM, join the Taste of Philly Food Tour — clearly eating has been a big theme of our Philadelphia trip. Reading Terminal Market is the Holy Grail of food for Philadelphia. The tour actually doesn’t include a ton of food, which I appreciated after everything I’ve been eating. It’s mostly a history lesson, and a good choice if you have little ones since it’s just 90 minutes.
Along the tour, you’ll learn the history behind Philly’s favorite sandwiches, breakfast foods (scrapple, sticky buns) and snacks (soft pretzels, Goldenberg Peanut Chews). And the most important lesson — how to order a cheese steak without getting yelled at! Okay, even with the lesson I STILL got yelled at.
After the tour, we were still hungry. Head straight to DiNic’s for their famous pork sandwich. This is a must and featured on basically every food travel show on cable!
1-2:30 PM, Visit the Christmas Village. Running from Thanksgiving (11/23/17) through Christmas Eve (12/24/17), Christmas Village in Philadelphia is just a short 10-minute walk from Reading Terminal Market and is modeled after the traditional Christmas Markets in Germany.
You’ll get your shopping fill here — more than 80 wooden booths sell traditional European food, sweets and drinks. Time to pick up all your last minute holiday gifts!
Culture Portion: Special Exhibit at the Franklin Institute
3-5 PM, Franklin Institute, special terracotta Warrior exhibit. The Franklin Institute was the capstone elementary school field trip. Growing up, it was the ultimate museum where we could run around and even climb through the chambers of an artificial heart. But this trip, my mom told us about a special exhibit that features the terracotta warriors running through March 4, 2018.
We’ve seen a terracotta exhibit in Washington, DC, but I can tell you this one was even more impressive. Tickets ($35 per adult) are timed and give a rundown on the preservation effort in China ever since these mysterious statues were discovered by a farmer in 1974.
Buried beneath the surface of the land were thousands of life-sized statues, constructed over 2,000 years ago—silently and steadfastly guarding the tomb of their master: China’s first emperor. This is an absolute must for a visit to Philadelphia and a major highlight of the weekend.
Dinner Time, Spot for the Family
5:30 PM, Dinner at Nomad Pizza. Once again, another great spot for big groups and kids. They recommended a pizza each, but portions are big. Maybe Philly natives eat more? Not sure, but we easily split a pizza among 3 people with salad and were completely full. The pizza was fantastic – but the blue cheese salad was my favorite. A must order!
Wrapping up the Weekend
We can’t believe the weekend has come to an end! After the family headed back to their rooms to sleep, Kevin and I headed out to check out a movie and grab some drinks. We just happened to stumble across Zahav, which I immediately recognized from their cookbook I’ve seen at Barnes and Nobles. The restaurant specializes in Israeli, middle eastern cuisine. We weren’t even REMOTELY hungry but had time to kill so grabbed a glass of wine at the bar.
I only wish I was hungry enough to eat more. Hopefully another trip to Philadelphia will be in the works. In the meantime, we need to get back to Los Angeles (or risk gaining 500 lbs from all the food we just ate!).