TRAVEL REVIEW: Philadelphia will Rocky your world

The first movie in the hit Rocky franchise hit the silver screen way back in 1976.

Sylvester Stallone played central character, Rocky Balboa, a small-time boxer from Philadelphia with big dreams — dreams that saw him fight his way to success as an underdog against heavyweight champion Apollo Creed.

Forty two years after the first instalment of the Hollywood blockbuster went on to become a global success, another Philadelphia underdog put the city on the map again — with the Eagles winning the Super Bowl for the first time in their history just two short months ago.

The success of the Rocky movies, though fictional, are embraced by the city of Philadelphia — with the famous Rocky steps one of the most popular visitor attractions.

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The Rocky statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art

Likewise, the Eagles’ stunning victory over the New England Patriots will go down in the city’s history.

But as far as underdogs go, while Philadelphia may be known for them, as a thriving city it certainly can’t be classed as one.

In fact, it’s the Bruce Springsteen song, Streets of Philadelphia, that best describes the city for us here at Buzz.

That’s because at every turn of every street, there is something to do, something to see, something special that makes this city one that must be on your travel bucket list.

Just over an hour from New York, the Big Apple is like the blueprint upon which Philadelphia was built — with skyscrapers seen all across the skyline.

The most impressive of these high rises is the 57-floor One Liberty, the top of which is an observation deck that offers the most spectacular 360 degree views of the city.

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Liberty is a word you will hear often around Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed, by Benjamin Franklin among others, in Pennsylvania State House (later renamed Independence Hall) to mark the end of British rule in what would go on to become the United States of America.

Eleven years later in 1787, the signing of the U.S. Constitution also took place in Independence Hall and it too was signed by Franklin — a founding father of the US, who died and was buried in Philadelphia.

He was buried there because, although not born in Philadelphia, Franklin spent his formative years in the city and it is the place where he devised his ‘Lightning Rod’ theory — a major framework in the creation of electricity.

One Liberty pays homage to Franklin’s genius with an interactive experience that’s not to be missed.

The Benjamin Franklin tribute in One Liberty
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Franklin was also central to the American Revolution, and the Liberty Bell Centre in Independence National Historic Park houses the iconic Liberty Bell, which is a symbol of independence.

Right beside this is, you guessed it, Independence Hall, which is located on 6th Street, just seven blocks from One Liberty — which is a mere 15-minute walk away, or 20 from Betsy Ross’s house where the first American flag is said to have been made.

Like I said, something to do and see on every street! And as Philadelphia is the fifth most walkable city in the US, you can enjoy all the famous sights by foot.

While a lot of these sights are political in their nature, there are also plenty of other attractions in Philadelphia.

For art enthusiasts, a trip to the Barnes Foundation on Benjamin Franklin Parkway (did we mention they love him in Philly?) is a must as it houses a huge collection of pieces from artists including Cezanne, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso and Rousseau.

Across the road, right on the corner, there is this vintage bookstore whose position opposite such a modern art institution captures the very essence of Philadelphia.

The infrastructure is as modern as you’d expect from a cosmopolitan American city — there’s even a Macy’s on 13th Street — yet Philadelphia hasn’t lost any of its traditional charm, from street hotdog carts to the Reading Farmer’s Market.

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These same streets are filled with colour, with new-age murals — created using both paint and mosaic — decorating walls all along Mural Mile and beyond. In fact, as part of a city initiative, there are over 4,000 of these murals in Philadelphia.

But there is, arguably, nothing more creative in Philadelphia than the Magic Gardens — a folk art display that is so unique it is almost hard to believe it exists until you see it.

The mosaic artwork in the Magic Gardens

The creation of the gardens began in 1994 by mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar. His work spans three city lots, with both indoor and outdoor displays of glass and mosaic — many of which carry poignant messages, and some adult-only ones, too! — sprawled across every free inch of wall and ground Isaiah can find.

It’s a sight to behold. So too is the intricate Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), which brings this story of the underdog full circle.

PMA is the sight of those 72 Rocky steps, as well as the statue of Philadelphia’s most famous fictional son. The museum also now houses John Singleton Copley’s ‘Mrs James Warren (Mercy Otis)’ — on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA).

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That loan is a result of a Super Bowl bet between PMA and MFA, with Boston holding up their end of the deal by
sending the painting to Philly after their team lost to the Eagles.

Had the Patriots won, a rather significant painting would have gone the other way — and if you haven’t guessed it by now, that piece is, of course, ‘Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky’ by Benjamin West.

Did Mr Franklin have a hand in the city’s historic victory? Perhaps not.

But if I was a betting girl, I’d say put your money on Philadelphia all day long. You won’t be left disappointed.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT/DRINK IN PHILADELPHIA:

Philadelphia has probably never been first on your list of American cities to visit. The US, after all, is home to New York, Washington, California, Boston, Chicago and many more states that Irish people, among other tourists, flock to.

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As a result Philly, unfortunately, has faded into the background. Yes, everyone knows that it is home to the famous Rocky steps and yes, everyone knows in West Philadelphia Will Smith was born and raised.

But there is so much more to Philadelphia than popular culture. And with Aer Lingus now running direct flights to Philly, there is no better time to head to the east coast.

Having visited, Buzz recommends staying in Loews Hotel on 1200 Market Street. Personally, we here at Buzz love hotels that aren’t just a place to put your head down — and Loews can’t be accused of that.

The old vault in Loews Hotel

The hotel has a long and colourful history. It is built on the grounds of an old bank and still retains much of the old decor, including the vault door as well as a secret room that acts as a Bourbon bar.

From the top floor, the 33rd, which used to house the offices of the bank executives, the views of Philly are spectacular.

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For food and drinks, you are spoilt for choice, with an eclectic offering — from the Asian Sampan eatery on 13th Street to the faultless Parc French restaurant in Rittenhouse Square.

For an unrivalled cocktail after dinner, 1 Tippling Place, where unique artwork adorns the walls, is just the spot. And for a late, late-night drink, there is a karaoke bar — Fuji Mountain — just up the street.

And no trip to Philadelphia would be complete without a trip to Reading Terminal Market — one of America’s oldest and
largest public markets, open 7 days-a-week from 8am-6pm.

ALL-IMPORTANT INFORMATION:

FLIGHTS: Four Star airline Aer Lingus flies direct to Philadelphia — four times weekly from Dublin but increasing to a daily service next month. Fares from Ä159 e/w including taxes and charges. See aerlingus.com for more.

HOTEL: Overnight accommodation in a deluxe room at Loews Philadelphia Hotel from Ä145. See www.loewshotels.com/philadelphia-hotel for more.

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TOURIST INFORMATION: See www.discoverphl.com for all you need to know about Philadelphia.

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