Philadelphia has a history of introducing new entertainment to the rest of the country. Broadway shows used to regularly try out their material here before moving on to New York. The popular television show, "American Bandstand" originated here and introduced rock and roll to millions of American homes. There are still lots of new plays and touring companies that perform here and this is still a town where they talk about the Philly Sound.
One of the world's best collections of Impressionist paintings is the Barnes collection
, in the suburb of Merion. All of the pieces here are instantly recognizable from reproductions, but only a small number have ever traveled and then only recently. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and its small companion, the Rodin Museum
represent a brief history of world art on the Ben Franklin Parkway: Ancient Egypt, Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism and Post-Modernism comes with guided tours and souvenir reproductions available in the gift shop.
Because of the city's rich history, there are plenty of museums chronicling national history, including the multicultural and technological innovations that came with democracy. These museums and historic sites are friendly to children and innovative in the way they educate and entertain at the same time. Be warned, however: Like many American museums, the ones in Philadelphia generally make few concessions to foreign visitors. It can be hard to non-English signs or tour materials. But Americans like to be helpful and it is always advisable to contact a place in advance to see what can be arranged.
Every possible sound is available in Philadelphia on Wednesday through Saturday nights. On other nights, the choices are narrower, but if you look carefully there's always something going on.
Rock, Pop, Soul: Philadelphia has always been a popular stop for national acts. There are concert halls from the massive stadiums of the First Union centre and the Tweeter to the comfortably mid-size Trocadero, Tower, Electric Factory or Keswick, right down to the overheated and cramped rooms of the legendary bars where everyone from Bruce Springsteen to hiphop stars, the Roots paid their dues.
Though you'd never know it from the local radio stations, the local talent is worth a listen too. The Roots, Will Smith, Patti LaBelle, Bruce Springsteen, Teddy Pendergrass, these are the famous names, but the range of local talent includes just about everything with a healthy mix of soul, hip-hop, Americana, alternative and even electric bluegrass. Some days it seems like everybody you bump into is in a band.
Dance Party: From disco to techno with a healthy dose of swing and mosh pit, there are a large and growing number of places to dance in town. Maybe the constantly expanding scene is due to the large student population here. Local DJs such as Josh Wink and Robbie Tronco mix so well that they spend half their time answering invitations from place from Miami to London.
There is a string of clubs along Delaware Avenue on piers jutting into the Delaware River. There are more clubs around South Street, such as Fluid
, a place known as much for its no-right-angles design as for its techno mix. For swing or Latin, try a place like the Five Spot
on Bank Street just off of Second and Chestnut. If you're looking for grunge metal, there are events weekly in West Philly.
Classical: It is possible to find a string quartet, opera or symphony performance every night of the week. With the Curtis Institute and Settlement Music School, plus the various college programmes, the quality of street performers brightens the parks and pavements in the spring. There are two radio stations that broadcast classical music: 90.1 programmes classics from 6a to 6p and 106 is classical at all hours, but hard to pick up in some parts of town. The Philadelphia Orchestra is legendary for conductors like Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy, Ricardo Muti and Sir Simon Rattle. Smaller classical groups fill the nights. Many of these include current or former Orchestra members.
theatre and Dance
For nearly a hundred years, Philadelphia was mainly known as a "tryout" town. New York producers would try out material here before opening on Broadway. These days it's more likely a play will originate here. The Wilma Theatre has produced the American premieres of two Tom Stoppard plays that were hits on London's West End, but have never played New York. InterAct hosts a new play reading every January which supplies work to regional theatres across the country. Keep an eye out for anything by Brat Productions, a young edgy company that often stages strong works in a bar.
The first ten days of September, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival takes over the Old City district with a mix of local acts and visiting troupes from the Edinburgh, Toronto and New York. There are still national touring companies that perform big Broadway musicals at the Merriam and the Forrest, maintaining a healthy balance of new and recognised work. From the Pennsylvania Ballet to The Philadelphia Dance Company (known as Philadanco), the dance performance scene here is low profile, but substantial. The city often acts as a lab for companies that are seen and celebrated in New York or Washington. Once again, because of the numerous collegiate dance programmes, there are always visiting professional and resident performers to see.
The good news is that Philadelphia gets as many blockbuster, independent and foreign films passing through as New York or Los Angeles. The bad news is that sometimes these films pass through six or eight months later than they appear in those other locations. There is an Omnimax theatre at the Franklin Institute with a huge Imax-like screen that wraps around the audience.
If you check under the category "Visiting the City/Children," you'll see that Philadelphia pays particular attention to its younger visitors. The National Park Service provides tours and multimedia, interactive, educational displays at Independence Hall. At the Please Touch Museum, children are encouraged to put their mitts on everything and the entire museum is scaled to kids. There are similar setups in the Academy of Natural Sciences
and the Franklin Institute
. Don't forget the popular petting pen at the Philadelphia Zoo
Many of the larger chain bookstores around town have Saturday programmes for children with readings and performances. The Free Library often has scheduled activities, including readings, films and performers. Then there are the children's theatre programmes at the Arden and Annenberg. To make your travels more convenient, children under the age of 12 ride free on SEPTA's buses and subways on Saturdays.