More British people are visiting the American city of Philadelphia – around a sixth of Philly’s 638,000 overseas visitors come from the UK last year, up 4.5% on the year before. I met up with Julie Coker Graham, president of the city’s Visitor Bureau, on a recent trip to London.
Julie says that the historical sites and tax-free shopping are helping to drive up visitor numbers. In most American towns and cities you’ll pay more than the price ticket because they add on additional taxes at the till. That doesn’t happen with some Philadelphia purchases. “The good thing is there is no surprise. If the price ticket is $10, you pay $10. There are no additional fees, which is quite rare. We are one of the few states that has tax-free shopping,” Julie told me.
So if I came to The States to buy jeans, I’d find them cheaper in New York than in Britain. Will they cost even less in Philadelphia? “Absolutely,” says Julie. “And there are lots of shopping options. One of our major shopping sites is the King of Prussia Mall, just outside Philadelphia. They’ve added 52 more stores. It’s the largest indoor shopping centre in the United States and has over 100 stores already. There’s also some smaller, boutique-type shopping alongside Macy’s and Nordstrom department stores.”
Julie suggests that visitors should also check out the Reading Terminal Market in the city centre. “It’s one of the oldest, largest markets in Philadelphia. There are 80 merchants selling everything from scarves to spices.”
Inside you can sample the city’s famous fast food sandwich – the Philly cheesesteak. Julie explained what it is: “You’ll have chopped up steak with onions, lots of cheese and typically ketchup. It’s served on a sub or sandwich roll. There’s way too much steak and it weighs lots of pounds but it is a fun thing to eat. It’s one of our signature dishes in Philadelphia and it is a must try when you visit.” Julie assures me that it is good quality meat too.
Philadelphia is a city with the USA’s fastest growing population of so called ‘millennials’. That’s the term for people who reached adulthood around the year 2000. It means there are plenty of hip dining places including bring-your-own bottle restaurants, where you provide your own beer or wine. The trendy nightlife area alongside the Delaware River and just outside the city centre is Fishtown. “There are a lot of local bars and particularly in the summer there are outdoor cafés where you can enjoy the scenery and a cocktail. It’s right in the heart of the neighbourhood and you’ll feel part of it.”
The city’s landmarks include an iconic symbol of American independence and a memorable movie location. “We have the Liberty Bell and the Philadelphia Museum of Art is recognised for its steps – Rocky ran up those in the movie. For culture lovers, the Barnes foundation has the second largest collection of Impressionist works outside of Paris.”
It takes 7½ hours to fly direct from Glasgow to Philadelphia and there are also direct services on American Airways from Manchester and London. You can get a non-stop adult return from London next March with British Airways from £480.