Things to do, places to go in Philadelphia

R. Kevin Clark
Editor, APWA Reporter

Last year at this time many of you were gearing up for APWA's Congress and Exposition held in Louisville, Kentucky. Now the excitement is growing for the 2001 edition of The Best Show in Public Works, to be held in historic Philadelphia, September 9-12.

Why go to Philly? For starters, if you devote your entire career to public works, you ought to devote a few days in September to Congress. It's the biggest public works event of the year.

Why else? For history buffs, Philadelphia is a treasure. Take an extra couple of days to check out Philly's top tourist attractions, including the most historic square mile in America, world-famous art and science museums, and magnificent gardens. Here are some of the top attractions in Philadelphia to visit:

Independence National Historical Park - America's most historic square mile. Among the most popular attractions are the Liberty Bell, a universal symbol of freedom, and Independence Hall, the birthplace of America and the place where the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

Philadelphia Museum of Art - America's third largest art museum and one of the finest in the country. Inside this majestic building are some of the finest American paintings and furniture, as well as European masterpieces, a 13th Century Japanese teahouse, a Hindu Temple Hall, and more.

Philadelphia Zoo - Come closer and get in touch with Philadelphia's wild side. America's first zoo, home to nearly 2,000 animals, features white lions, polar bears, elephants, reptiles, and magnificent birds from around the world. The PECO Primate Reserve houses 11 primate species, including gorillas and orangutans.

Longwood Gardens - Just a short drive from downtown is one of the world's finest horticultural displays, including a magnificent conservatory, 40 indoor/outdoor gardens, illuminated fountains, and a 10,010-pipe organ.

The Academy of Natural Sciences - Explore the world of dinosaurs (including the largest meat-eating dinosaur-aren't we glad these things are extinct?), walk among live butterflies, and explore wildlife on every continent at the oldest science research institute in the Western Hemisphere.

The New Jersey State Aquarium and Children's Garden - Take the RiverLink Ferry from Penn's Landing on the Philadelphia side of the Delaware River across to New Jersey to see the more than 4,000 aquatic animals and the breathtaking 760,000-gallon open ocean tank complete with sharks (cue "Jaws" theme).

Philly trivia, Part 1: History

  • Founded in 1682 by William Penn, an English Quaker
  • Nation's capital from 1790 to 1800
  • The First Continental Congress met at Carpenters' Hall in 1774

    Philadelphia's hidden treasures In addition to the above, Philly has a wealth of "hidden treasures"-places that may not be included on the usual must-sees. Wander off the beaten path to see some of the city's more unusual attractions. Philly residents say it will be well worth the trip.

    City Hall Tower - Get a birds-eye view of the city atop the tallest masonry structure in America. Take the elevator more than 500 feet above the street to the enclosed observation deck under the 37-foot bronze statue of Philadelphia's founder, William Penn.

    Atwater Kent Museum - Philadelphia's history museum tells the Philadelphia story through lively exhibits and programs. The museum also houses a collection of artist Norman Rockwell's illustrations from the famous covers of the Saturday Evening Post magazine, which captures the lifestyle of America from 1916 to 1963.

    Italian Market - This colorful corner of South Philadelphia is the world's largest outdoor market dating back 125 years. It features a variety of imported and domestic foods and products.

    Masonic Temple - Visitors can take a guided tour through this architectural masterpiece, which contains seven magnificent halls representing the finest examples of architectural styles including Gothic, Egyptian, and Italian Renaissance.

    Eastern State Penitentiary - Visitors can tour this now-abandoned prison, which housed some of America's most famous criminals, including Al Capone.

    Philly trivia, Part 2: Movies with "Philadelphia" in the title

  • "The Philadelphia Story," 1940, starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart. Jimmy won the Academy Award for Best Actor (okay, he really deserved it the year before for "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington," but that's another story).

  • "Philadelphia," 1993, starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. Tom won his first Best Actor Oscar for this film (offering further proof that if you're a great actor and star in a movie with "Philadelphia" in the title, your chances of winning an Oscar are pretty good).

  • "The Young Philadelphians," 1959, starring Paul Newman. Robert Vaughn received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this film-that's right, Robert Vaughn from "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."

    Whether you've ever been to Philadelphia or not, you'll enjoy both Congress and the city in September. Let's face it-Congress at the birthplace of America provides a double whammy for APWA members.

    For more information on what to see in and around Philadelphia, contact the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau at For specific information on Congress, check out our Congress web page under "Meetings" at