Beyond the Liberty Bell: Philadelphia's Best-Kept Secrets

Photo of Lauren Gruber
9 February 2017

While local tourist attractions can be crowded and expensive, we explore some fun activities that are off the beaten track. Read ahead for our guide to some hidden gems of Philadelphia.

©jennifer yin/Flickr

Magic Gardens

Artist Isaiah Zagar’s masterful mosaic house of artwork dominates its block on South Street. With colors, sculptures and meshes of bicycles parts covering the walls, the Magic Gardens acts as part maze, gallery space and folk art environment. Take a tour for $7 (students, military and seniors (with ID) can enjoy it for $5, while children ages 6-12 can get in for $3). The story behind the inspiration for these tiles and maze work will have you spending hours here looking at all the details.

Magic Gardens, 1020 South St Philadelphia, PA 19147 215-733-0390

El Jarocho

This hole-in-the-wall restaurant is a small taqueria at 13th and Adler, right off of Washington Avenue. The authentic, tasty Mexican is a gem among Mexican restaurants in the city and the price is conveniently affordable. Here, you’ll get friendly, quick service and very sizable mouth-watering burritos. Plus, the nachos and appetites are great for sharing. Most menu items cost under $10.
El Jarocho Taqueria, 1138 S 13th St Philadelphia, PA 19147 215-463-2020

Dante & Luigi’s Italian Restaurant

There are many great Italian restaurants in the city, but if we’re talking about classic, old school Italian establishments with excellent food and atmosphere, try Bella Vista’s Dante & Luigi’s. They serve some of the best – and largest – portions of lasagna in the city and they have a variety of pasta sauces. Infamously enough, it is where (alleged) local mobster Nicki Scarfo Jr. was shot back in 1989. Afterwards, walk down the street for a cannoli at Isgro’s Bakery.
Dante & Luigi’s, 762 S 10th St Philadelphia, PA 19147 215-922-9501

A Toynbee Tile on 15th Street in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Toynbee Tiles

Throughout the city, tile hunters can spot the mysterious Toynbee tiles placed elusively in the middle of intersections in Center City. The tiles say: ‘TOYNBEE IDEA/ IN MOVIE ‘2001/RESURRECT DEAD/ON PLANET JUPITER.’ Years of theories abound about the tiles and who placed them there, and there’s even been a documentary made called Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles that specifically showcases the tiles in Philadelphia (there are other Toynbee tiles in two dozen major US cities), where the filmmakers believe it may have started. See how many you can spot in the city, since Philadelphia happens to have the highest number of Toynbee tiles.

Toynbee Tiles, Various Intersections, Philadelphia, PA

©Peter Miller/Flickr

Art Museum Sundays and Wednesdays

Map View
©John Donges/Flickr
On the first Sunday of each month, the Philadelphia Art Museum allows for pay-what-you-wish for access to the museum’s every day collections. Perfect for families on a budget, the museum boasts a collection of over 227,000 European and American paintings, prints and decorative arts. Check out the suits of armor, impressionist paintings and special exhibits while you’re there. Also, on the last Wednesday of every month, enjoy pop-up events with artists, performers and other art creators, and see exclusive performances and art pieces. Afterwards, take a stroll on the Schuykill River Trail.

Mutter Museum

Building, Museum
Map View
The Mutter Museum, America’s finest museum of medical history, hosts a treasure trove of anatomical wonders at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Peruse the preserved collections of specimens, models and medical instruments from the 19th-century. See the well-preserved woman whose body turned to soap or the row of skulls. Medical anomalies and the history of the medical profession allows visitors to have a freakishly good time. Admission is $16 for adults and cheaper for everyone else.

Paddle Penn’s Landing

At Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River, visitors can experience the water for themselves. Enjoy kayaks for $5 per hour and tandem kayaks for $10 per hour in the safe area of the marina. Rowboats and swan boats are available as well. Afterwards, stop by Spruce Street Harbor Park for a drink or a swing in the hammock. The marina is open for paddling everyday from May through September.

Paddle Penn’s Landing 121 N Columbus Blvd Philadelphia PA 19106 215-922-2FUN