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City of Brotherly love

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1 April 2009 by Pete Mathers

Too often overshadowed by nearby crowd-pullers New York and Washington, Philadelphia is a city of tax-free clothes shopping and historical milestones. If you’re looking for something new and exciting, perhaps it’s time you paid Philly more attention?

For one, the City of Brotherly Love is the birthplace of America. It was in Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania State House, now Independence Hall, that a group of disaffected colonialists signed Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence on 04 July 1776. A few days later the famous Liberty Bell rang out, summoning citizens to hear the document’s first public reading. The bell is now installed in the park across the street and is revered as one of the nation’s most hallowed symbols.

There’s history and architecture of another kind behind the foreboding façade of the Eastern State Penitentiary, which once housed some of America’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone. You can take tours of its crumbling corridors and see the gangster’s old cell for yourself. Once history fatigue has set in, it might be time to stretch your legs. Philadelphia is compact and easy to get around on foot. When Englishman William Penn founded the city in 1682, he had it laid out around five pivotal public spaces, including Rittenhouse Square, a great place to sip a drink at one of many trendy bars.

Also of interest is the Waterfront, where you can step aboard the uss Olympia, an 1892 relic of the Spanish–American War and the oldest steel warship afloat. Find it on your way to the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing, where Philadelphians gather for festivals and jazz concerts.

If you’ve an appetite for the arts you’ll be right at home in Philly. The Barnes Museum houses the largest number of privately owned Impressionist works in the world – 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 68 Matisses, 44 Picassos and seven van Goghs. Reserve your tickets at least a month in advance. If that’s not enough try the Philadelphia Museum of Art, whose large, light-filled annex was recently updated by Richard Gluckman, designer of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Or see art for free on over 3,000 murals, which evolved in the 1980s to combat graffiti. Either way, your artistic thirst should be abated.

But what about real hunger? In Philly there’s only one answer to that – cheesesteaks. This local delicacy involves folding cheese, onions, peppers and beefsteak (perhaps even a rib eye) into a huge hoagie roll. Locals argue over who serves the best cheesesteak, but the top two contenders are Pat’s King of Steaks and, directly across the road, Geno’s. Other gourmet attractions come from restaurateur Steven Starr, who can take credit for at least ten of the city’s premier restaurants, including the spectacular Buddakan, a delicious taste of modern Asia.

Last but by no means least in this round-up of Philadelphia’s virtues is its tax-free shoes and clothes shopping. Not only are you able to buy American brands cheaper than in Britain, but you can buy them cheaper than in most other parts of the usa too. Head to Walnut Street, the city’s chicest shopping avenue; Philadelphia Premium Outlets; or the beggars-belief King of Prussia Mall, the largest shopping mall in America, if you’re planning a tax-free shopping spree.

Tailormade travel: For tax-free shopping or to brush up on American history, call a Wexas USA specialist on 020 7838 5966 or email [email protected].

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