"Philadelphia is ideally placed for side trips, nestled as it is between New York and Washington DC."
The dust may have settled on President Barack Obama's inauguration, but it seems interest in America's historic destinations has reawakened. So, while visitors were once looking to party in New York, ride the trolley in San Francisco, or spin roulette in Las Vegas, nowadays they're hot on the trail of the nation's formative history.
No wonder, then, that Philadelphia, with its stalwart credentials as founding city, has stepped forward as a returning hero. Philadelphia's role as political nucleus dates back to the late 1700s when it served as a temporary capital of the fledgling nation while Washington DC was being built. For this reason, the city boasts bygone architecture to rival anywhere in the States, with a considered mix of red-brick houses and neo-classical municipal buildings strung along the wide Schuylkill River.
It's also a city that captures the spirit of the recent inauguration. Philadelphia's name - which means 'brotherly love' in Greek - was chosen by its Quaker founders in the hope of fostering religious tolerance amid a diverse mix of nationalities and faiths.
The ideals worked and the city's all-embracing approach to nation and creed has led to a comfortable style of diversity.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of the city's ethnic mix is the fabulous restaurant culture. A strong Italian and Chinese heritage means there is an appreciation of food and a bent for innovation that has led to some surprising successes. But the city's greatest culinary gift to the world is the Philly cheesesteak, a legendary mix of fried steak, onions and lurid spray cheese, shovelled into a long, soft 'hoagie' bun. Where to eat the snack is a matter of contention for many residents, and nowhere is the rivalry more felt than on the corner of South 9th Street, where cheesesteak kings Pat and Geno battle it out for the title of best in the city.
Philadelphia's cultural trump card, however, is undoubtedly its political history. There are few areas of the famous Independence National Historical Park that aren't peopled with yesteryear-costumed actors. Meanwhile, carriages are on hand to whisk visitors past those celebrated favourites, Benjamin Franklin's grave and Christ Church.
In the park, Independence Hall is the city's political-historical pièce de résistance, the original home of the famous Liberty Bell (now housed in the Liberty Bell Center across the street) and the very spot where the Declaration of Independence was signed. And away from the historical nucleus of Independence National Historical Park, the Old City still has plenty of historic sights that you can take in on foot. To the south, Penn's Landing constitutes the regenerated port area and is a good spot to take a ferry trip up the river. Those who have fallen in love with the city's stunning architecture should plot a route through Society Hill, whose Georgian houses are the historic and present-day residences of choice of Philadelphia's wealthy citizens. Whichever way you choose to wander in Philadelphia, you will undoubtedly come across a cheesesteak purveyor, a pretzel stall and an actor in Quaker garb. But make sure you take advantage of everything on offer and that you soak up the brotherly love in this magnificent city.
Out and about
Philadelphia is ideally placed for side trips, nestled as it is between New York and Washington DC. Trips to the Big Apple take a few hours by car or by the regular Amtrak train. If it's history you're after, then Washington is a logical trip. Visitors will enjoy the pristine White House and memorials to the great presidents, along with the clutch of excellent free museums that line the National Mall. If you've a yen to stay within the bounds of Pennsylvania state, there are plenty of day trips, too. Only a few hours drive away, the nearby Amish farmlands offer a fascinating insight into this insular religion, while the ornate city of Harrisburg boasts renaissance-revival buildings, as well as the nearby Hershey's chocolate factory.