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Around the World in Philadelphia

French, Italian, Asian, Hispanic, Irish, African-American and Jewish Traditions Make Philadelphia an International Town

Travelers who want an international getaway without the international price tag can set their sights on Philadelphia, where a taste of all the world’s cultures converge. From city boulevards that recall the elegance of the Champs-Élysées to lively Italian marketplaces to serene Japanese gardens that mimic Kyoto, the Philadelphia region offers visitors a chance to explore every corner of the globe — no passport required. Here are some of the sites, sounds, smells and stops not to miss.

Vive La France!

1. The Benjamin Franklin Parkway

French émigré architect Paul Philippe Cret planned the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a wide boulevard lined with statuary, trees and museums, and French landscape architect Jacques Gréber designed it. Constructed from 1917 until the 1930s, much of Philadelphia’s museum row was modeled after Paris’s Champs-Élysées, creating a grand boulevard that affords a magnificent city view. For more information on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the attractions therein, visit the Parkway Museum District’s official website.

2. The Rodin Museum

Details: 22nd Street & the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100 | The Rodin Museum

The greatest collection of Rodin’s work outside of Paris—124 sculptures, studies, books, drawings and prints—is on display at the small but striking Rodin Museum. Popular works includes treasures such as The Gates of Hell and a bronze cast for The Thinker.

3. Rittenhouse Square

Details: Between Walnut & Locust Streets and 18th & 20th Streets | Rittenhouse Square

Details: Originally a wild tangle of nature, Rittenhouse Square was gradually fine tuned by the Paul Philippe Cret in 1913. The central plaza holds the dramatic Lion Crushing a Serpent by French sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye. Today, the square is surrounded by an inviting mix of shops, restaurants and sidewalk cafes.

4. Longwood Gardens

Details: 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, (610) 388-100 | Longwood Gardens

Pierre du Pont, great-grandson of the French industrialist Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, purchased an expanse of land in 1906 and modeled what became known as Longwood Gardens after the finest European gardens. Today visitors explore 1,077 acres of woodlands and meadows, 20 outdoor gardens, 20 indoor gardens and 11,000 different types of plants.

Italian Energy

1. The Italian Market

Details: 9th Street between Catharine & Federal Streets | The Italian Market

A South Philadelphia mainstay since the 19th century, the Italian Market runs along approximately 10 city blocks and is one of the oldest and largest open-air markets in America. Dozens of vendors line the street, selling the freshest vegetables, fish, meats, spices and produce from their stalls, while gourmet shops and restaurants occupy storefronts.

2. Isgro Pasticceria + Termini Brothers

Details: Isgro: 1009 Christian Street, (215) 923-3092, bestcannoli.com | Termini: 1523 S. 8th Street, (215) 334-1816, termini.com

Founded in 1904, Isgro Pasticceria is the oldest family-owned pastry shop in Philadelphia, and it still makes traditional Italian pastries the old-fashioned way—by hand. The cannolis are hand spooned with ricotta-, chocolate- or vanilla-cream filling. The nearby Termini Brothers is an iconic 82-year-old South Philly pasticerria with a line out the door on Saturdays. Locals stop by for boxes of cookies, cakes and pastries from the white-uniformed counter clerks.

3. The Piazza at Schmidts

Details: 2nd & Hancock Streets | The Piazza at Schmidts

Located in Northern Liberties, The Piazza at Schmidts is a beautifully landscaped, 80,000-square-foot, open-air space inspired by Rome’s famous piazzas. Surrounded by a mix of artists’ studios, boutiques and new restaurants, it’s bursting with activity all year long with festivals, concerts, dance performances and live broadcasts of sporting events.

Asia Major

1. Shofuso House & Garden

Details: 4700 States Drive, (215) 878-5097 | Shofuso House & Garden

Japan gave the Shofuso House & Garden, an authentic shoin-style Japanese house, to the United States in 1954. Visitors can follow the stepping-stone pathway alongside Japanese maples, azaleas and handsome conifers and walk onto a small island in the koi-filled pond. Graceful cherry, plum and dogwood trees bloom with delicate pink and white petals in the spring. A bamboo grove and a stone pagoda donated by the city of Kyoto complete the ornamental garden.

2. Chinatown

Details: 9th to 11th Streets & Arch to Vine Streets

Philadelphia’s Chinatown, which might more properly be termed Asiatown, is the fourth largest in the United States, with more than 50 restaurants, vegetable markets and specialty stores selling food from every Chinese province, as well as Malaysia, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand and Korea. The spectacular Chinese Friendship Gate presides over 10th and Arch streets, dedicated in 1984 as a sign of friendship between Philadelphia and China.

3. The Pearl S. Buck House

Details: 520 Dublin Road, Perkasie, (215) 249-0100, The Pearl S. Buck House

The Pearl S. Buck House, an early 19th-century farmhouse, was home to the eminent American author and winner of both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes. On display is the Chinese desk at which Buck wrote The Good Earth, plus copies of her novels translated into dozens of languages.

Best Of The Barrio

1. Taller Puertorriqueño

2721 and 2557 N. 5th Street, (215) 426-3311 | Taller Puertorriqueño

A cultural center and community center, Taller Puertorriqueño captures the spirit and soul of the Latin neighborhood (Philadelphia is home to the second-largest Hispanic population in the Northeast). Three-story murals are painted on the sides of both buildings, which house a Spanish-English bookshop, classrooms and an art gallery that showcases upcoming and established Hispanic artists.

2. Centro Musical

Details: 464 W. Lehigh Avenue, (215) 425-7050

Owned by the Gonzalez family for three generations, Centro Musical stocks the largest collection of Latino music CDs in the entire state. It’s also a one-stop shop for musical instruments.

3. Latin Art Gallery

Details: 305 W. Oxford Street, (215) 254-0903 | Latin Art Gallery

Opened in October 2008, the Latin Art Gallery showcases an exceptional collection of modern art in a wide range of mediums and themes. The gallery also offers art classes for all ages.

4. Puerto Rican Festival

Details: Puerto Rican Festival

Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican Day Parade is the “Crown Jewel” of the Puerto Rican Festival, taking place each year in September and drawing thousands of spectators. The parade winds through the city with marching musical performers, local celebrities and youth groups doing their part to showcase Puerto Rican and Latino culture.

Irish Heritage, Closer To Home

1. McGillin’s Old Ale House

Details: 1310 Drury Street, (215) 735-5562 | McGillin’s Old Ale House

McGillin’s Old Ale House is a 150-year-old pub named for William McGillin, an Irish immigrant who owned the bar and raised his 13 children upstairs. It’s now the oldest continuously operating pub in Philadelphia, beloved by local hipsters and old-timers alike.

2.Irish Memorial

Details: Front & Chestnut Streets | Irish Memorial

To commemorate Ireland’s Great Hunger of the 1840s, sculptor Glenna Goodacre created this 30-foot-long bronze Irish Memorial at Penn’s Landing. With more than two dozen life-sized figures, it tells the story of the multitudes who died in the old country, as well as the thousands who crowded onto disease-ridden ships for the migration to America.

3. St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Details: St. Patrick’s Day Parade

As the story goes, the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Philadelphia occurred in 1771, five years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, making it the second oldest Irish parade in the country. Each year thousands of marchers and spectators in their green-bedecked finery come out to cheer on the procession of colorful bands, floats, flying flags and musical performers as they strut along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The parade takes place on the Sunday of, or prior to, St. Patrick’s Day.

Rich African-American Roots

1. The African American Museum in Philadelphia

Details: 701 Arch Street, (215) 574-0380 |The African American Museum in Philadelphia

With a diverse collection of fine and folk art, photographs, memorabilia and costumes, The African American Museum in Philadelphia traces the experiences and contributions of African-Americans from the kingdoms of Africa to the present. In the museum’s new permanent exhibition, Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia 1776-1876, visitors listen to life-sized 3-D characters speak about their lives, beliefs and aspirations in 18th-century Philadelphia; explore an interactive timeline documenting more than 100 years of entrepreneurship in the African-American community; and discover whose descendants still call the region home.

2. Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church

Details: 419 S. 6th Street, (215) 925-0616 | Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church

Visitors walk on hallowed ground when they visit Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, the mother church of the nation’s first black denomination. The church rests upon the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans. Recently installed exhibits depict the church’s role as an Underground Railroad station.

3. The Philadelphia Doll Museum

Details: 2253 N. Broad Street, (215) 787-0220 | The Philadelphia Doll Museum

The Philadelphia Doll Museum presents visual images of how black people have been perceived throughout history. The more than 300 dolls shed light on the history and craft of doll-making. Celebrity dolls honor folks from all walks of life, from Muhammad Ali and Louis Armstrong to Bill Cosby’s childhood friends and the Tuskeegee Airmen.

4. Johnson House

Details: 6306 Germantown Avenue, (215) 438-1768 |Johnson House

Constructed in 1768, the Johnson House Historic Site was inhabited by the abolitionist Johnson family until 1908. During the 1800s, the rustic dwelling became vital to the Underground Railroad movement. A third-floor attic housed runaway enslaved Africans; Harriet Tubman was sheltered and fed here along with the enslaved Africans she would later guide to Lucretia Mott’s nearby home in Cheltenham.

Jewish Culture Celebrated

1.National Museum of American Jewish History

Details: 5th and Market Streets | National Museum of American Jewish History

Rising five stories above Independence Mall, in the heart of historic Philadelphia, the National Museum of American Jewish History features 100,000-square-feet of space to explore more than 350 years of American Jewish history. The museum features vocative objects, telling moments and state-of-the-art interactive technologies along with changing exhibits and the Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame, highlighting the extraordinary accomplishments of American Jews.

2. Mikveh Israel

Details: 44 N. 4th Street, (215) 922-5446 | Mikveh Israel

Mikveh Israel traces its beginning to 1740, when Thomas Penn granted land to Nathan Levy for a burial ground. There, Levy established a cemetery for the Jewish community. In 1782, Mikveh Israel’s first house of worship was completed with financial assistance from Benjamin Franklin and others. Reminders of the congregation’s long history include a marble reader’s stand from the congregation’s 1859 home and two sets of Torah ornaments.

3. Beth Sholom

Details: 8231 Old York Road, Elkins Park, (215) 887-1342 | Beth Sholom

Located in Elkins Park, Beth Sholom—now a a National Historic Landmark—is the only synagogue designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Constructed in the 1950s, the building offers a modern interpretation of an ancient temple with a glazed glass pyramidal tower.

Multicultural Influences Of All Kinds

1. PECO Multicultural Series at Penn’s Landing

Details: Great Plaza, Columbus Boulevard & Market Street, (215) 922-2FUN | PECO Multicultural Series at Penn’s Landing

Soak up cultural traditions from across the globe during the PECO Multicultural Series at Penn’s Landing occurring on weekends throughout the summer. The annual 12-week series begins with the celebration of Israel Independence Day on May 17 and continues throughout the season, concluding with the Russian Mosaic Festival on September 20.

2. Mural Arts Program

Details: Mural Arts Program

Philadelphia’s facades are vibrant canvases for the city’s acclaimed Mural Arts Program. The organization pairs artists with communities that request artwork, leading to the more than 2,800 murals painted on houses, commercial buildings and other structures around the city. The mural program highlights a variety of themes that celebrate the city’s immigrant heritage, artistic legacy and historic events. Trolley tours showcase these colorful, vibrant paintings.

3. Philadelphia Museum of Art

Details: 26th Street & the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100 | Philadelphia Museum of Art

Like Philadelphia’s own Parthenon, the Philadelphia Museum of Art sits majestically at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Breathe in other cultures and times in 80 period rooms, from the medieval cloister to the Indian temple. The vast collection includes Renaissance, American, Impressionist, Asian and Modern art.

4. International House Philadelphia

Details: 3701 Chestnut Street, ( 215) 387-5125, | International House Philadelphia

Founded almost 100 years ago in 1910, International House Philadelphia is a multicultural residential center that hosts hundreds of public programs throughout the year. Film @ International House showcases an international repertory, including avant garde and pop films, while other programs support a dynamic lineup of world music and art events.

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