I’ve grown up spending a lot of time in Philadelphia. My parents were born and raised in Philly. We used to travel by plane, train and automobile to get there growing up, and I’ve explored it from head to toe. When I realized recently I would have both kids home for a week during spring break, I decided to head to Philly to get reacquainted with a city that was important to my past and one that I knew would be very influential in terms of education, history and culture.
Exploring the city of brotherly love – Our First Day
Growing up with these solid Philadelphian roots, I’ve always referred to the city as Philly. Philadelphia is literally the combination of two Greek words: Phileo, which means love and adelphos, which means brother. This is how Philly became known as the City of
Brotherly Love. After spending some time there, you’ll fully understand how important this definition truly is. Not only is the city really beautiful, but the people who live there really love it and get a kick out of people exploring their city and roots.
I was really pleased that my daughter had sites in mind that she wanted to visit on this trip. At age 11, she’s really retaining what she’s learning at school and is soaking in new information. I knew this trip would be different. She wanted to visit the Betsy Ross House, so we made that our first stop. The house was built in 1740 in the Georgian style and consists of 2-1/2 stories and 9 rooms. Ross lived there with her husband, John, and the couple ran their upholstery business from the house. She created the first American flag, strewn with 13 stars and stripes. We wandered through the cellar kitchen, the period parlor, bedrooms, and viewed models of areas where the Ross’s likely worked on their upholstery projects. There was also a Ross impersonator in the upholstery shop who explained her work and the life and times, which got my kids’ attention.
Then we wandered off to the U.S. Mint, just a few blocks away, passing the grave of Benjamin Franklin on the way and having a brief discussion about what he did. My son is kind of obsessed with money, so it was a natural place to visit on his behalf. It’s the nation’s first mint and it’s very impressive. The mint makes circulating coins of all denominations; commemorative coins as authorized by Congress, and produces the dies for stamping coins and medals. The tour is completely free and is self-guided.
Family-friendly accommodations – The Hotel Monaco, A Kimpton Hotel
We chose two hotels known for their family-friendly accommodations, the first being the Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel, on Chestnut Street. We’ve stayed at a few Kimpton Hotels around the country, most recently San Francisco, and I’ve always been impressed by the chain, which offers a unique experience for adults and kids of all ages. It’s a boutique hotel, yet it’s knee deep in history and culture, and as a bonus, it caters to families, and this Philadelphia hotel is no exception.
Located right in the heart of Center City next to Independence National Historic Park and Philadelphia’s historic district, you really can’t beat the Monaco’s location. That’s what is kind of special about this hotel – it’s in the main part of town for sight-seeing but it’s extremely eclectic and unusual in its decor and exceptionally comfortable. It’s Greek Revival style with a colorful, vibrant interior including a fireplace in the cozy lobby. The hotel offers so many special touches – from giraffe print bathrobes to walls papered with images of clocks and peacocks to a whimsical color scheme. The beds are big and cozy with Frette sheets, standing in front of a 40-inch flats screen TV housed inside a funky armoire.
The 11-story, 268-room Monaco overlooks the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. It’s super convenient and just a mere walk from the Bourse, Jewish American History Museum, the Betsy Ross House and more. Parking isn’t easy or cheap, but you have to expect it in the area. Perks offered by the hotel include wine from 5-6pm in the lobby daily, free Wi-Fi for guests who sign up for the Kimpton loyalty rewards program, a computer business center with a universal phone charger, a rooftop lounge and very hospitable, genuine service.
Exploring the city of brotherly love – Our Second Day
The next day we visited the Barnes Collection and Rodin Museum, two museums located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway right next door to one another. The Barnes Foundation maintains and displays of the world’s leading collections of French impressionist and post-impressionist paintings and our visit was really a unique experience. Both my kids had an audio tour created for children that led them around the museum, in addition to a very cool scavenger hunt that subtly taught them about the art they were experiencing. I tried to convey the significance of what we were seeing to my kids and learning about Barnes’ sense of light, space and color definitely resonated with my art-loving daughter.
The Rodin Museum was equally impressive. It houses the largest collection of sculptor Auguste Rodin’s works outside Paris. It’s a uniquely shaped edifice surrounded by beautiful gardens. Apparently, it was a gift to the city from movie theater magnate Jules Mastbaum, who was introduced to Rodin’s work during a 1923 trip to Paris. The inside galleries were rearranged to emphasize the way many figures in “The Gates of Hell” inspired his later iconic sculptures from “The Kiss” to “The Thinker.” I got a great photo of my kids trying to think as hard as The Thinker, of course.
The other thing that we did of interest was take a horse & buggy ride around the historical area of Philly. $35 for 20 minutes gets you a brief tour and history lesson. My kids have always asked for that particular experience and it was well worth it.
Family-friendly accommodations – Four Seasons, Philadelphia
Our second hotel was the luxurious Four Seasons Philadelphia. Another centrally located hotel, but this time in a very different part of town, right near the Barnes and Rodin Museums, as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I’ve always been a fan of this popular chain, ever since my days as a traveling publishing exec. Children are indulged as soon as they enter the establishment with candy (or raisins – unfortunately, I don’t have kids who make that choice). They also get an afternoon and bedtime snack. The rooms were made with comfort in mind and extremely spacious for families traveling with children (or pets, which they allow and offer fresh-baked dog biscuits and bottled water served in a silver bowl).
We had a suite with a sofa bed and comfy chairs and an end table, and a flat-screen television. It was the perfect space to hang out in after a long day out hopping around the city. The bedroom is simple but classy, with soft linens & two beds with a headboard. There is even a vanity to either get ready for a big evening at or use as a work space (which is what I did). The bathroom is also spacious, complete with two toilets and a nice-sized bathtub.
Our room didn’t have a great view but I certainly enjoyed looking at a dogwood tree, reminding me that spring is right around the corner. Rooms on the hotel’s north side offer the best views of the Greek Revival public library and family court, Logan Circle, and the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. They have on-site laundry service and free limo service around Center City.
There’s a pool and spa on the lower level of the hotel. We swam twice and made use of the jacuzzi. The pool was full of young children yet there was plenty of time to swim and get exercise. We all felt so refreshed after the experience and it really made our visit something special.
Back downstairs in the hotel lobby, there are two dining options for guests: the Swann Lounge and the Fountain Restaurant. Known for its lavish desserts and an extensive afternoon tea menu, The Lounge also has a great dinner menu, which were lucky enough to experience. For starters, we shared a baby kale salad and side of hummus with raw vegetables. The entrees were out of this world, from salmon to lamb chops; we were all satisfied with our choices. The food is fresh, tasty and filling. Our server was truly amazing, as nice as they come, just like the rest of the staff at the hotel. The Fountain Restaurant is more upscale. They also offer room service, from which we ordered breakfast. They serve everything from eggs to potatoes to turkey sausage to cereals to fruit and yogurt. I love seeing a child experience breakfast in bed. They get such a kick out of it, and so do I.
Everything about our visit to Philadelphia with the kids this Spring Break was just about perfect and I highly recommend a weekend visit to this great city in the near future.
Disclosure: The team at Visit Philly provided Holly with free tickets to certain attractions by my friends and she also received free accommodations from both the Four Seasons and Hotel Monaco. However, all opinions are her own.