Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Something for everyone in the city of queer culture
A visit to the birthplace of American democracy reveals a city steeped in LGBT+ history and culture.
Philadelphia is synonymous with the Liberty Bell and of course, its eponymous cheesesteak. But it’s also a city where street signs carry rainbow flags, pointing towards some of the US’ finest restaurants and most interesting shopping streets.
Retrace Philadelphia’s rich LGBT+ history
On July 4, 1965, a group of Philadelphian picketers marched outside the hallowed Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed.
The Annual Reminder, as it became known, was the country’s first major LGBT demonstration, and was held each year until 1969. The final demonstration in 1969 immediately followed the June 28 Stonewall Riots.
Today, an historic marker commemorating the Reminders sits across from the Independence Hall and close to the Liberty Bell, both of which are free to visit.
Just a few blocks away is the Gayborhood, filled with historical queer sites and rainbow street signs, as well as bars and businesses owned by and catering for the LGBT+ community.
Bookworms should be sure to visit the Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room, America’s oldest queer bookstore, as well as the historic marker for the AIDS Library, which lives on today as the Critical Path Learning Center.
Eat, drink and be merry
Within the Gayborhood are a handful of eateries owned by chef Marcie Turney and her partner Valerie Safran, including the mediterranean-themed Barbuzzo, tapas spot Jamonera and modern Mexican Lolita.
The city’s best sushi can be found just a few blocks out, at Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s eponymous restaurant. Those looking to sample further delights from America’s most famous cooks should also visit Top Chef Nicholas Elmi’s Laurel—a tiny BYOB serving modern French-influenced cuisine.
For gastronomy infused with a sense of Philly history, try the Reading Terminal Market—one of the US’ oldest and largest public markets filled with farm-stands, diners and dive bars, or McGillin’s Olde Ale House—the oldest continually-operating tavern in Philadelphia, open since 1860.
And it should go without saying that while in the city, a Philly cheesesteak is non-negotiable.
Outside of Center City are towns such as the eclectic New Hope in Buck’s County and the bustling, artistic Fishtown, both of which are fast-becoming LGBT+ enclaves.
Grab a bargain with tax-free shopping
A major draw of Philadelphia is that there are no taxes on clothing and shoes, making shopping much more affordable.
Rittenhouse Row and the King of Prussia Mall are must-visits for big-name brands, but it’s the backstreets of South Street, Northern Liberties and East Passyunk where you’ll stumble across priceless vintage pieces and hand-crafted items.
Take in art from around the world
It’s impossible to visit Philadelphia without getting a sense of the city’s love for art.
From the street murals of the Gayborhood to French impressionist oil paintings at the Barnes Foundation, the city is filled with visual delights and historic artefacts.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a must, featuring impressionist and post-impressionist works by Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Warhol, and an open-air sculpture garden including works by Claes Oldenburg.
No trip would be complete without a visit to the free-to-enter Institute of Contemporary Art. Founded in 1963, the ICA is internationally renowned for discovering important emerging artists, and holds claim to hosting Andy Warhol’s first-ever solo museum show in 1965.
This summer, the ICA is hosting a retrospective of the American avant-garde artist Tony Conrad, along with a solo show for the Jamaican artist Deborah Anzinger and a study of the colonial slave trade.
Whether you come to Philadelphia for its rich history, its love of the arts, its delectable gastronomy or its unrivalled shopping, you’re sure to discover a city that’s warm, welcoming and unapologetically frank.