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More to Philly than political history

Associated Press Associated Press 12/05/2016 Kathy Matheson

PHILADELPHIA AP - With classic rowhouse architecture, brick sidewalks and narrow streets, some charming neighbourhoods in Philadelphia can almost make you forget about cheesesteaks, Rocky and that whole American Revolution thing ... almost.

It will be hard to escape the Cradle of Liberty references this July as the city hosts the Democratic National Convention.

But Philly has plenty to offer even the most non-political visitor.

Things have been really hoppy, er hoppin', during the warm months thanks to an influx of beer gardens and revamped civic spaces where you can socialise, people watch and Instagram your heart out.

New vantage points from up high and at the water's edge will give you a whole new way to look at The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.

WHAT'S NEW

What started as an experimental pop-up park on the Delaware River has become so popular it's back for a third summer season. With food, beer, hammocks and boardwalk games, Spruce Street Harbor Park has revived a faded area known as Penn's Landing. The vibrant destination includes a waterfront roller rink and seaport museum complete with historic ships.

The city's other river boasts a scenic recreational trail that recently received an eye-catching extension. The Schuylkill (pronounced SKOO'-kul) Banks Boardwalk offers postcard views of the skyline from its start at the South Street Bridge. Bikers, joggers and walkers can take the path up to the Art Museum and beyond.

For a bird's-eye view of both rivers, try the new One Liberty Observation Deck, which occupies the 57th floor of one of the city's tallest skyscrapers. The space offers 360 degree views, day and night.

At street level, it's hard not to smile at Dilworth Park. Visitors of all ages delight in running - or watching people run - through the in-ground fountains on this renovated plaza outside City Hall. Amenities include a small cafe and occasional programming like live music and outdoor movies.

Dilworth Park is also temporarily hosting Robert Indiana's LOVE sculpture, as its regular home undergoes a complete overhaul across the street.

CLASSIC ATTRACTIONS

The biggies, of course, are Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Timed tickets for the hall where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed are free, but plan ahead. A limited number are released each morning at the Independence Visitors Center, or they can be reserved in advance online ($1.50 fee per ticket).

Seeing the Liberty Bell is also free but does not require tickets. However, the line can get long. The back of the bell is visible through the pavilion windows without going inside, but you won't be able to see the famous crack.

The other famous bronze in town - the Rocky statue - was actually a prop from the movie Rocky III. Fans usually have to wait in a quick-moving line at the foot of the Art Museum steps to take their picture with the fictional hometown fighter. Cynics, please note real Philly heavyweight champ Joe Frazier now has his own impressive statue at the sports complex.

Need a cheesesteak after all that sightseeing? Pat's and Geno's - those duelling South Philly landmarks - are open 24/7. You can also try Reading Terminal Market, Jim's on South Street and Tony Luke's, which is somewhat off the beaten path. Note that many locals prefer roast pork sandwiches with sharp provolone and broccoli raab.

TIPS

A pair of comfortable shoes will get you pretty much anywhere in Philadelphia's extremely walkable downtown, known as Center City. The Indego bike share program is popular and convenient, and there's a good network of bike lanes.

The Philly Phlash shuttles visitors around for $2 per ride or $5 for an all-day pass. The Big Bus offers a more expensive tour with narration, and tickets allow you to hop on and off all day.

Quirkier options: Take a trolley tour to see some of the 4000 murals in the city. Or hop on a Segway for a novel way to travel to some hidden neighbourhood gems like the Magic Gardens, a breathtaking artistic creation.

Public transit in Philly, known as SEPTA, can be convenient, but its arcane payment system frustrates even city residents. Plan ahead by either buying tokens or a one-day Independence Pass. Beware, though: tokens and passes are not sold at every station, and machines don't accept credit cards.

HANGING OUT

Venture into the buzzing East Passyunk and Fishtown neighbourhoods for lively bars, BYOBs, gastropubs and unpretentious but world-class dining. The coffeehouse culture is strong, too, with many indie storefronts.

The phenomenon of beer gardens, which began popping up a couple of years ago, continues unabated. The immensely popular open-air spaces range from rooftops and restaurant patios to office building breezeways and reclaimed vacant lots landscaped by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

But for the simplest respite, try one of the city's original green spaces as laid out by founder William Penn.

Logan Circle has the beautiful Swann fountain with a gorgeous view of City Hall; Rittenhouse and Washington squares offer green lawns and park benches; and Franklin Square offers family fun with a carousel and mini-golf.

Through June 12, Franklin Square hosts a Chinese lantern festival, featuring huge illuminated displays of a dragon, three-storey pagoda and more.

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