The 10 Worst Tourist Traps in Philadelphia, Ranked
So, you’re planning a trip to Philadelphia to see the pope, or for a convention, or for the Dalai Lama, or to attend the DNC, or, you know, just to take a trip. There’s a lot to see and do here, but there are also plenty of tourist traps. And since we want you to have the best possible experience while you’re visiting our city, we thought it important to warn you about them as well — and offer some alternatives worth writing home, or at least posting on Facebook, about. Without further ado, here are the worst tourist attractions in Philadelphia — ranked.
#10: The Italian Market
Every major city seems to have something it bills as one of the “oldest and largest open-air markets in America,” and this is our version of that. Nostalgics think of the Italian Market as a window into a bygone era, when Italian immigrants defined South Philadelphia. Think Don Fanucci walking the streets of New York in Godfather II.
But the Italian Market lost its luster long ago. Yes, there are some good spots here that could warrant a lunch or dinner outing, but, really, there are lots of those all over the city, and the old-world charm that this neighborhood once oozed has been replaced by well-past-its-prime produce (but, hey, if you’re spending a dollar on a case of 12 mangoes, what do you expect?), trinket stores, lousy parking and the occasional — OK, we’re being nice — rat. The only reason it doesn’t have worse placement on this list is that we’re, well, we’re a little … nostalgic.
Instead, go to… Reading Terminal Market for a fun market experience. And if you’re just looking for a hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano or some fancy olive oil, hit up Di Bruno Bros. in Rittenhouse Square or, you know, Amazon.
#9: The Rocky Statue
We could understand the fascination with this bronze statue a bit more if it had been made for and appeared in the original Rocky film, a modern American classic. But it wasn’t. Sylvester Stallone commissioned the lackluster statue for the also-lackluster sequel Rocky III, which co-“starred” Mr. T and Hulk Hogan. Still, each day, scads of tourists make the trek to the Philadelphia Art Museum, not to visit the world class museum, mind you, but to get their photo taken next to this movie prop that sits in front of it.
Instead, go to… the Rodin Museum, which celebrates the works of the man generally considered to be the father of modern sculpture. It’s a quick walk (less than five minutes) down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the Rocky statue, and admission is pay-what-you-wish. If you must take a selfie, you can do so with The Thinker and show your friends how cultured — or ironic — you are.
#8: The Betsy Ross House
An entire tourist destination based around a lie (or, at best, a myth). Listen, folks. Betsy Ross may have been a damn fine seamstress, but historians now say that she almost probably definitely for sure did not make the nation’s first official flag. And even if she did, this cramped and uninteresting home on the 200 block of Arch Street still wouldn’t be worth your time.
Instead, go to… the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, which is a house that the great writer lived in. One visit to the creepy basement and you will find it easy to imagine how he could write such macabre stuff. There’s really not much to see, but the ranger-led tour is a fascinating introduction to one of the strangest Americans who ever lived. A five-minute cab ride from Betsy.
#7: Pat’s & Geno’s
If you’ve never been to Philadelphia, you will probably have the urge to eat a cheesesteak. Those who don’t know better will try to send you to the neoned corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, where two of the oldest cheesesteak stands in the city sit across the intersection from each other — just down the road from the aforementioned Italian Market. Fortunately, you will have read this, so you’ll know to just smile and nod. If you want to see where all the drunk people go when the bars close a 2 a.m., or if you want to stand in line for 30 minutes for their unremarkable sandwiches, then by all means, go here. Otherwise, stay as far away as possible. (And if you do wind up here, Geno’s makes the better sandwich.)
Instead, go to… John’s Roast Pork. Or DiNic’s. Or Campo’s. Or Tony Luke’s. But don’t order a cheesesteak! While our city has become known as a cheesesteak town, any Philadelphian worth his or her cholesterol level knows that the best cheesesteak is never going to be as good as even a decent roast pork sandwich, and it’s the latter that you should get.
#6: City Tavern
In his 1999 book The World’s Most Dangerous Places, Canadian adventurer Robert Young Pelton writes, “It’s a wonder that India even exists.” The same can be said about this bizarre restaurant right in the main historic district in Old City, established in the late 1700s. It’s an excruciating experience with bad food from ye olden days and bad (and period-costumed!) service from waiters and waitresses whom you imagine are kicking themselves for not finishing med school. “There is no other place in the world where you can experience 18th century American culinary history,” reads the website. And we’re guessing 99.9% of the world is fine with that.
Instead, go to… pretty much any other restaurant in the city and then Netflix whatever period film you want while you’re chilling in the hotel. But if you are actually looking for dinner with schtick, there’s always the Victor Cafe, where the servers are aspiring opera stars and they sing for your supper, which is usually pretty tasty. The whole experience is neither as bad nor as good as it sounds.
#5: The Constitution Center
We wish we could have been at the meeting where someone said that tens of millions of dollars were needed to build an entire museum dedicated to a document that something like 70 percent of Americans are ignorant of, and then the people with the money all nodded and said, “Yeah, let’s do it. That sounds like a fantastic idea.” More than a decade later, we’re still stuck with the oh-so-boring National Constitution Center.
#4: SugarHouse Casino
Last year, almost as many people visited this “waterfront” casino as they did Independence National Historical Park, causing the Philadelphia Business Journal to rank SugarHouse as the No. 2 tourist attraction in Philadelphia. It’s ugly, the food there is terrible, and, well, it’s a city casino that preys on the less-fortunate. If you really want to blow a few hundred bucks (or a few grand), shoot me an email, and I’ll fill you in on some much more enjoyable ways to do it in Philadelphia.
Instead, go to… Atlantic City. It’s just an hour to the east, and they could really use your money!
#3: Ride the Ducks
We have no idea how this mind-numbingly awful tourist attraction got approved by the city in the first place or how it stays around after three deaths in five years, but every time one of these amphibious quacking duck boat-buses zooms by us on the street, we are inclined to throw whatever large object is within arm’s reach at it. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Instead, go to… the nearest Indego Philly Bike Share location and rent a bike. It’s a great way to see the city without annoying everyone around you. Or, if you’re afraid to navigate an unfamiliar city on two wheels, there are plenty of good walking tours available. And if you really want to get close to the water, don’t miss Spruce Street Harbor Park.
#2: The Liberty Bell
There used to be a ride at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, called Freefall. When it first opened, people would stand in line forever (we’re talking hours) all for a ride that lasted all of two seconds. We never really understood that. Similarly, we can’t quite grasp the fascination with standing in long and slow-moving lines and dealing with post-9/11 security to see a cracked bell — especially one that you can see from the street if you just stick your face up to the window.
Instead, go to… Valley Forge National Historical Park, 3,500 idyllic acres 30 minutes to our west that are chock full of history (And trees! And relaxing picnicking areas!), and, of course, Independence Hall, where the tickets are timed, thereby eliminating the long waits.
#1: East South Street
No major Philadelphia commercial corridor has been allowed to go down the tubes in the recent past quite as much as this confluence of unruly crowds, cheaply made crap, sex shops and bars filled with sloppy drunks and the badly dressed. Think I’m exaggerating? Head down there on any weekend night after 8 p.m. and tell me I’m wrong. All those cops are there for a reason.
Instead, go to… anyplace that isn’t here. That said, once you move farther west on South Street, things get (much) better. Look to Magic Gardens for art and weird fun, Bob & Barbara’s for cheap booze, the city’s longest-running drag show and (free!) live music, the PHS Pop Up beer garden for outdoor brews, and REX 1516 for Southern-inspired cuisine and wonderful cocktails.
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