Conde Nast Traveler Names Philadelphia a Top Destination on 2021 “Gold List”

The magazine listed Philly as one of the eight best destinations in the whole wide world, along with places like Rome and St. Barts.

conde nast traveler gold list

Philadelphia was just named to the Conde Nast Traveler Gold List for 2021. Photograph by SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images

Another day, another city-ranking roundup. Given that 2020 is kind of a tough year to reflect on with heaps of joy (to say the least), I’m all for something forward-looking, especially when it has to do with one of the activities I’ve missed most during the pandemic: travel. That includes going to new places, but also welcoming others into this familiar one. We know Philly is pretty damn amazing, but sometimes it seems like the rest of the world hasn’t fully caught on yet — so I was delighted to see the city make Conde Nast Traveler’s list of the best destinations in the world for 2021

For this list — which also includes our neighbor to the south, D.C., as well as far-flung locales like New Zealand’s Waiheke Island — CN Traveler associate editor Betsy Blumenthal described our city thusly: 

There’s really something special about Philadelphia, about the way it doesn’t care for pretense or about what anyone else thinks of it. One place I return to both in daydream and reality is Fairmount Park, behind the famed art museum, and the miles-long pathway that traces a circle around that part of the Schuylkill River. I think about the Italian Market and its small world of vendors, about the murals glinting in the sun, the digestible chaos of Chinatown, the essential, if flawed, sense of American history, the beautiful, dilapidated row houses that speak to the promise of equality we haven’t yet reached as a country. Spiritually, it’s my city. 

It’s a short, generic blurb — nothing like the glorious feature National Geographic put out when it named us a top destination for 2020 — and it says … what, exactly? Sure, Fairmount Park has a lot going for it, but so do many other aspects of the city. Like our hotel scene, which, pre-pandemic, was absolutely thriving and seems like it’d merit a nod in a tourism-focused write-up of this sort. There’s also, duh, the food. From our just-keeps-getting-better pizza scene to everything Omar Tate is cooking up with Honeysuckle, there are many ways beyond Chinatown — though it is excellent — to dive into a ridiculously good meal here. (Also: “Digestible chaos”? What is that?) 

And yeah, our place in American history is undeniable, but what about all the ways in which Philly is a prism for what the U.S. could look like going forward? We turned Pennsylvania blue for Biden. Our activists (see: number 15 on this list) are literally toppling problematic historical figures. Our fitness leaders are working to make the wellness world more inclusive. We’ve got amazing Black-owned bookstores. Our restaurants are, even as the pandemic guts their revenue streams, fighting to make the industry more fair. The list of our attractions goes on, and while it does include some absolutely one-of-a-kind architecture, “dilapidated” isn’t exactly the word I’d use to describe buildings like this. (Though Blumenthal is correct that this city, and this country, has a long way to go in addressing inequality.)

Point is: Our city is changing at a rapid clip. It can be, in certain places and at certain times, a frenetic, fast-moving mash-up of old and new that feels hard to keep up with — and harder to encapsulate in just a few sentences. But isn’t that kind of excitement precisely what makes a destination worthy of a list like this in the first place?