By Leaya Lee
Cheesesteaks. “Rocky.” Tastykakes. Most visitors to Philadelphia partake in one or all of these things the city is famous for, whether by running up the Art Museum steps and pumping their fists in victory or by chomping on greasy cheesesteaks and shrink-wrapped mini cakes.
As enjoyable as these heartburn-inducing activities are, Philadelphia is more than just cheesesteaks. Besides being a short hour away from New York by train and a mere $12 bus ride from Port Authority, here are five more reasons for the young and budget conscious to make a quick weekend escape to Philadelphia:
I. Mütter Museum
For those attracted to the morbid, the Mütter Museum offers a fascinating look at medical and anatomical curiosities. Grotesque specimens on exhibit include a giant colon, the skeleton of conjoined twins with two bodies but only one face, objects swallowed and removed from people, an Eye Wall of Shame with wax models of eye diseases and injuries and the body of the “Soap Lady,” a 19th-century obese woman who died of yellow fever. She was buried in soil that turned her body into perfectly preserved soap.
The Mütter Museum, 19 S. 22nd St., (215) 563-3737, collphyphil.org, is part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Admission is $10 for adults and $7 for students.
II. Reading Terminal Market
This historic farmer’s market has been in existence since 1892, when it opened as the world’s biggest indoor food market. Today, food lovers can spend hours exploring the more than 80 merchants who offer everything from $5 Thai curry to vegetarian tuna sandwiches to shoofly pie, an Amish dessert. Go at lunchtime, when the market is packed and judges and lawyers from the nearby courts rub shoulders with office workers, tourists and bonnet-clad Amish vendors. Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Arch Sts., (215) 922-2317, readingterminalmarket.org, is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
III. Eastern State Penitentiary
Now empty except for tourists (and rumored ghosts), this National Historic Landmark once housed such notorious inmates as the gangster Al Capone and the bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton. Death row and Capone’s cell are a few highlights of the tour. The annual Halloween tours are famously creepy, but the Gothic structure’s crumbling, dark, haunted vibe would be enough to scare anyone, Halloween or not.
The prison closed in 1971 and remained deserted until 1988, when it opened for tours to the public. Last fall, the Sci-Fi Channel’s paranormal investigation series “Ghost Hunters” filmed an episode in the prison and many visitors have reported ghost sightings.
Eastern State, 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, (215) 236-3300, EasternState.org, offers tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, April through November. Tickets are $9 for adults and $7 for students.
MTV filmed its 15th season of “The Real World” in Philadelphia, where the cast enjoyed the many bars, clubs and lounges in the Old City and Northern Liberties sections of the city. For dancing in a mellow atmosphere, try the 700 Club, 700 N. Second St., (215) 413-3181, and for martinis and people watching, try The Continental, 134 Market St., (215) 923-6069. Hear up-and-coming rock bands at the Khyber, 56 S. Second St., (215) 238-5888, or catch almost famous singer-songwriters at the intimate Tin Angel, 20 S. Second St., (215) 928-0770. Keep in mind that smoking is still allowed in bars and restaurants in Philadelphia.
A visit to Philadelphia just isn’t complete without an authentic Philly cheesesteak, topped with onions and slathered with Cheese Whiz. To get the real thing, it’s either Pat’s or Geno’s. These two competing cheesesteak purveyors stay open 24 hours a day and stand diagonally across from each other in South Philadelphia. Even at 3 a.m., the lines at both are long but worth waiting in. Pat’s King of Steaks, which claims to be the birthplace of the cheese steak, is located at 1237 E. Passyunk Ave., (215) 468-1546. Geno’s is located at 1219 S. Ninth St., (215) 389-0659.
Go earlier in the day and wander through the nearby Italian Market, the nation’s oldest and largest outdoor market. The Italian Market, phillyitalianmarket.com, is located on South Ninth Street between Wharton and Fitzwater Streets.