Be a tourist in your own town

The Bryn Athyn Cathedral has tours from 1 to 4 p.m. daily. Raymond Holman
The Bryn Athyn Cathedral has tours from 1 to 4 p.m. daily. Raymond Holman
Posted: July 27, 2012

IT MAY BE vacation season, but times are hard. Why blow a load of money traveling when you can stay home and play tourist in your own city? With so many attractions in Philadelphia, though, it can be hard to decide which ones are worth your time — and which ones are best left for conventioneers from Topeka. We've made it easy for you with this list of Daily News staff picks we think are worth a visit — even if you've lived here all of your life.

Float your boat

The newly redesigned Sister Cities Park on Logan Square in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is little more than an acre, but it's jam-packed with fun. Watch kids frolic in the fountain, whose 10 jets of water shoot up from the ground. Float a wooden boat ($5.50 per half-hour, or bring your own) on the charming little pond. Wander the Children's Discovery Garden, inspired by the Wissahickon Valley woods. There's free Wi-Fi and nice, clean tables to sit at. No need to bring a picnic basket. Milk & Honey Café serves La Colombe coffee, Bassetts ice cream and other signature local food. The only thing missing is a liquor license. Arts events are scheduled through the summer, too. 18th and Race streets,, 215-440-5500, @CCDParks.

Tell me a secret

Fairmount Park's Whispering Benches get us every time. At the base of Smith Memorial Arch in front of Memorial Hall is a perfectly arced bench. Take a seat at one side and direct a buddy to the other. Whisper a message, and the sound travels audibly around the curve. Smith Memorial Arch ain't too shabby, either, with five statues and nine busts of Pennsylvania military heroes — a salute to our state's Civil War forces. But the bench is what keeps bringing us back. Closest intersection: Avenue of the Republic and 41st Street.

Dine alfresco in Rittenhouse Square

Nothing's better on a warm summer evening than plopping down on a bench here and watching the city go by. Bring your own food to Rittenhouse Square, or call at least an hour ahead and Davio's, nearby at 111 S. 17th St., will deliver a picnic basket and a blanket. Lunch or dinner for two is a steep $95 — but you'll get $50 back when you return the basket and blanket., 215-563-4810.

Ride a bike

Remember when you had nothing better to do on a summer day than ride around the neighborhood? The best place in Philly to ride, of course, is Fairmount Park. Don't have a bicycle? Not a problem. Wheel Fun Rentals' hourly rates start at $10 for cruiser bikes (one gear, pedal brakes) or $12 for city bikes (three gears, hand brakes), on up to $30 for a double-surrey (six adults and two small children). Find them in East Fairmount Park between Lloyd Hall and Boathouse Row. For more info, log on to

Discover Bryn Athyn

Blink while driving on Huntingdon Pike and you've passed Bryn Athyn, but the tiny eastern Montgomery County borough is worth a stop. It's a main center for Swedenborgs, a Christian sect (a/k/a the New Church) formed around the writings of 18th-century theologian and scientist Emanuel Swedenborg. The Bryn Athyn Cathedral, built in the early 20th century, has stone, stained glass and gothic presence to rival anything you'd see in Europe; tours are held 1-4 p.m. daily. Wander the expansive gardens or visit the next-door neighbors. Imposing Glencairn, a former Pitcairn family estate, is now a museum on world religions. Tours there are held 2:30 p.m. weekdays and at 1, 1:30, 2:30 and 3 p.m. Saturdays. Cairnwood, another Pitcairn estate, is a beaux-arts gem designed by the same architects who created the New York Public Library. Tours are at 11 a.m. daily; there's a summer wine-tasting at 8 p.m. Aug. 16. While visiting, don't miss Orchard Art Works, selling nicely priced handiwork by area artists, or the Bryn Athyn Thrift Shop, a treasure-stuffed old barn. Both are tucked off Tomlinson Road. More at

Step back in time

Listen: If it's good enough for a Masonic-conspiracy-theory chase scene in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie (duh, "National Treasure"), it's good enough for you. Just breathing the air in the Assembly Room at Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and the U.S. Constitution was hashed out, can be goose-bumps good, even if you land a dud of a park ranger for your 30-minute interpretive tour. And here's a case where the federal government has actually improved the general welfare for us and our posterity: In addition to playing day-of-admission roulette for free timed tickets to iHall, you can reserve them up to a year in advance through the National Park Service for $1.50 a ticket at 877-444-6777 or (Same-day hopefuls should arrive early; tickets are often gone by 1 p.m.)

Snack at midnight

Sure, you've been to the Italian Market during daylight hours, but did you know that Center City Soft Pretzel Co. (816 Washington Ave.) opens up at midnight weekdays (4 a.m. Saturdays, 6:30 a.m. Sundays) and sells its hot-from-the-oven soft pretzels to the public hours before they end up at newsstands and food concessions around the city? At three for a dollar, they're a great afterparty snack — especially since the demise of late-night landmark Lorenzo and Sons Pizza.

Get your biosphere here

Is your last visit to the Academy of Natural Sciences a faint (and admit it, boring) memory? Give the Logan Square icon another chance. Especially with a youngster in tow, you'll be pleasantly surprised. The darkened diorama wing, with stuffed animals behind glass in "natural habitat" settings, is still kinda spooky — seemingly from the Teddy Roosevelt trophy-hunter era. (Hey, this is America's oldest natural-sciences museum.) But animal voices can be heard thanks to the current art installation "Unfrozen in Time: Collective Voices of North American Hall." And those bony dinosaurs are out in the open, looming large. An interactive zone lets small fries pet a bunny, sit in a canoe and play in a sandbox. All ages will be utterly charmed by the (extra admission cost) steamy butterfly sanctuary, where insects roam free. Gift-shop items are reasonably priced, and the cafeteria pizza was edible. Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for ages 3-12. More at

Climb the Hill

Chestnut Hill has one of the greatest concentrations of Victorian buildings (including the famed Gravers Lane SEPTA station) anywhere in the nation. The Germantown Avenue strip also boasts a wonderful collection of shops, boutiques and eateries, including a brand-new Iron Hill Brewery. And even the topography stands out: Independence Hall sits at sea level; Chestnut Hill is 400 to 500 feet above that. The neighborhood has an acclaimed art museum (Woodmere) and botanical gardens (Morris Arboretum). If you've had your fill of Center City hipsters and history, the Hill is a great alternative. More at

Judaism in America

The National Museum of American Jewish History on Independence Mall is the only museum focused solely on the American Jewish experience. It is awe-inspiring to learn about the many battles Jews have faced and continue to face to achieve the freedom that is a founding principle of this country. A fun section of the museum is dedicated to Jewish celebrities. The gift shop is stocked with gorgeous Judaica. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, till 5:30 weekends. Admission is $12 for adults, $11 for ages 13-21 and seniors, and free for age 12 and under. More at

Compiled by Daily News staff: Jenice Armstrong, Becky Batcha, Allie Caren, Laurie Conrad, Chuck Darrow, Molly Eichel, Dan Gross and Jonathan Takiff.

comments powered by Disqus