One of the best things about Philadelphia is that it’s a city that can be approached from many different angles.
Whether it be a gay party weekend, a historical discovery week or the ultimate art tour, Philly has a lot to offer. Though all approaches are entertaining in their own way, we highly recommend the latter, since the city’s art scene, with its solid base of museums, galleries and citywide art projects, is thriving.
Whether it’s because of its proximity to New York ( just one hour and 11 minutes on the Amtrac train), the cheap rents or the Percent for Art program (which they take very seriously), Philly’s art world is bursting at the seams — literally. The city is home to one of the largest collections of outdoor art in North America, and its core is known as the Museum without Walls.
It’s hard to know where to begin, there’s so much going on. Start by visiting a variety of artsy venues, including the Fabric Workshop and Museum, a super-cool contemporary factory building filled with textiles you never imagined possible; the Mummers Museum (its New Year’s Day Mummers parade and party is the oldest in the US); the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which features a Kaws exhibit until August 2014; and the creepy Mütter Museum, which puts medical history and all its mishaps on display.
At this point you might want to narrow your focus; we recommend giving a French twist to the rest of your séjour.
Start by booking a room at the luxurious Sofitel. Located in the heart of the French Quarter, it’s close to everything, and its cuisine and décor have an authentic Parisian vibe.
Once you’ve relaxed with some champagne in the lounge, head to Zinc for dinner. This French bistro is named for the stunning zinc bar that was imported from France and takes centre stage in the adorable resto. It’s easy to loose oneself in the ambiance (and the escargot shells) when dining here.
The next day, go directly to the Museum of Modern Art. (Be sure to walk; Philly’s parks, fountains, outdoor art, murals and gardens make a stroll to the museum an adventure in itself.) You can’t miss the palatial building, as the front steps were once climbed by Rocky in his big movie debut, which you might have seen.
If you get to the city before Jan 5, do not miss the interdisciplinary Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis exhibit, which looks at the period in the 1920s when this French modernist, creator of the modern-day poster, used painting, film and music to engage with his home city of Paris.
From here skip over to the Rodin Museum. To enter, one must walk past The Thinker, then head through the Gates of Hell. So dark. So stunning. So French!
Take a break at Joe Coffee, just off Rittenhouse Square, for one of the best coffees in the city.
Next, head to the famous Barnes collection. Relocated from the original Albert Barnes house (he was a collector who wanted to make art accessible to everyone), this museum is gorgeous, and it houses 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes and 59 Matisses.
If you haven’t overdosed on French impressionist, post-impressionist and early-modern art and can handle just a little more French, finish off the day with dinner at Parc Brasserie. Its charming location on the corner of Rittenhouse Square is the perfect place to people watch and warm up with some French onion soup. I recommend the trout amandine with a side of frites. A couple bottles of wine won’t hurt either.
Philadelphia is constantly reinventing itself. I’ll definitely be heading back in April to see the Museum of Art’s Patrick Kelly retrospective, Runway of Love — Philly through the eyes of high fashion. Sounds fun to me!