When William Penn, the Quaker, acquired the land nowadays known as 'Pennsylvania' from the King of England, he began plans for, among other things, the capital city of his colony. The city was to be known as the City of Brotherly Love, a haven for all who would wish to enter1, and located between the Delaware and Schuylkill2 Rivers. From its start as a trading stop on the two rivers, to its stint as the capital of the United States, through its many industrial years, the long period where Frank Rizzo served as de facto dictator, and into its current stage as a million different things, Philadelphia embodies the American city.
You will quite likely arrive at either Philadelphia International Airport, or 30th Street Station. Both are functional but not distinctive in any way. At some point you will also probably use the Public Transportation System.
The founding fathers of America did most of their work in a small area now known as Old City Philadelphia. This, in the southeast quadrant of Center City, is home to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Not particularly interesting for Brits, who know that they let us win the war. Otherwise a good hour or two3.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located in the northwest corner of Center City and is a spanking good place to go for anyone who knows anything about art, and even for those of who don't. Give it as much time as you possibly can. And remember: running up the front steps like Sylvester Stallone did as Rocky isn't that invigorating, and marks you quite clearly as a tourist.
Drive, or walk, or in-line skate, or bike, or row, down either river drive of Fairmount Park4, the largest urban park in America. At night, make sure to take West River Drive, because Boathouse Row on the other side of the Schuylkill is all outlined in lights and it's a gorgeous sight, even for natives.
Stop in at the Franklin Institute (on the Ben Franklin5 Parkway) for a really fun science museum for all ages. Or take the kids to the Philadelphia Zoo, or the Please Touch Museum, or to theAcademy of Natural Sciences (more commonly known as 'the Dinosaur Museum, mommy!'). All are worth a visit of at least two hours.
Visit Rittenhouse Row for an upscale consumer experience, or visit South Street for a different sort of shopping venue, and try to ignore the chain stores that have begun to rear their ugly heads.
Cabs are outrageously expensive, and bad. Instead try public transportation, run by SEPTA. Trains run out of 30th St, Suburban Square, and Market East stations. The subway system is functional but very unpleasant. SEPTA buses run just about everywhere. See the SEPTA web site for details.
From street vendors all the way up to classy, expensive French restaurants, Philadelphia has about anything you could want. The hallmark of the food scene is Le Bec-Fin, but you'll need deep pockets as well as a reservation made at least a week in advance. The hallmark of the other food scene is Pat's King of Steaks, the small establishment that is the world capital of the cheesesteak. Due to the presence of many examples of both these types of eaterie, Philadelphia is also known as the City of Brotherly Love Handles.
Life in Philadelphia
Center City Philadelphia is located in the region where the band between the two rivers is at its smallest.6 This part of the city makes sense (well, almost) and it's not difficult to find you way around. It's also home to most of the tourist attractions. Due west of this, directly on the other side of the Schuylkill, is the neighbourhood known as University City, due to its containing the campuses of University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. Further West lies the dreaded neighbourhood of West Philadelphia, which should be avoided if you have anything of value. Life included. We also have South Philadelphia, still a distinctly Italian community, North Philadelphia, also with a high crime rate as well as Temple University, the Northeast with a growing Russian population, and the Mt Airy/Germantown area, a counterculture haven.
Weather: Too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, and perfect for a few weeks in the spring and fall, Philadelphia gets a good amount of rain and snow, and a heat wave every summer.
Foods: The cheesesteak, cheesecake, cream cheese. Also scrapple.
Dialect: Fluffyans like to slur their words. Also note: the football team is the 'Iggles', dihydrogen monoxide is 'wooder', and any word ending -erry is pronounced -urry.
Motto: The City That Loves You Back. Cough, cough.