The American hotspot named the ‘cheesesteak capital of the world’ – and is one of the best cities to visit in 2024

INSTEAD of taking a bite out of the Big Apple, sink your teeth into the big cheesesteak capital of the world.

Fab Philadelphia, a couple of hours down the road from New York on America’s east coast, is cheaper for both a stay and play.

Philadelphia is cheaper than New York and has the culture and food to rival the Big Apple


Philadelphia is cheaper than New York and has the culture and food to rival the Big AppleCredit: Shutterstock
The Philly cheesesteaks are the local speciality, with local businesses nearly 100 years old


The Philly cheesesteaks are the local speciality, with local businesses nearly 100 years oldCredit: Supplied

You’ll pay less for a hotel room, beer, burger and cocktail and it has enough attractions, parks, shops, museums and galleries to rival its bigger neighbour.

Lonely Planet has just named Philly among the top ten best cities in the world to visit in 2024 — the only one in the US to make the list.

This weekend it’s sparkling with the launch of Christmas festivities and on Thursday it will celebrate its 104th Thanksgiving Parade, the oldest in the US.

Before flying to Philly, I was told: Be sure to eat a cheesesteak. A problem, as I don’t eat meat.

The city’s signature dish of sliced beefsteak and melted cheese in a long hoagie roll is a local obsession.

The oldest cheesesteak joint in town is the neon-lit Pat’s King Of Steaks, founded in 1930. Open 24 hours a day, it is as big a tourist attraction as the city’s Liberty Bell.

While husband David devoured the humongous £12 sandwich, I settled for a flattened fishcake.

Is Pat’s the best? I can’t judge, but at least half a dozen people reeled off different No1 cheesesteak joints.

Tourist chiefs have created a Favourite Cheesesteak Trail, so fill your boots and cast your vote.

Walking back to our hotel the Sofitel Philadelphia, from Pat’s on 9th Street, we strolled through the Italian Market. How about a bacon jam sandwich?

This foodie heaven, created by an influx of Italian immigrants at the end of the 19th Century, runs ten blocks and is brimming with stalls and produce shops.

The main street is lined with cafes and restaurants — including Ralph’s, the oldest family-run Italian restaurant in America.

Frank Olivieri's great uncle claims to have created the cheesesteak in Philadelphia


Frank Olivieri’s great uncle claims to have created the cheesesteak in PhiladelphiaCredit: Supplied

We went for a hat-trick of “the oldest” by also popping into McGillin’s Olde Ale House, which opened the year Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860.

Originally owned by a couple of Irish immigrants and sold to a Philadelphian family 40 years ago, patrons have included rockers Foo Fighters, and President Joe Biden.

You’ll pay around £5 for a local Pennsylvania beer or Irish stout. Eat your heart out, Manhattan

Philly can justifiably boast about why Brits should visit America’s first capital — as it was founded by an Englishman in 1681.

Quaker William Penn, jailed in the Tower of London for his religious beliefs, fled across the Pond after Charles II gave him a huge chunk of land to pay off a debt.

That land became known as Pennsylvania, and William named its first city Philadelphia, from two Greek words meaning “love” and “brother”.

Penn still looms large over Philly. A 36ft bronze statue of him stands on top of the 548ft City Hall, which has clock faces, on all four sides, bigger than Big Ben’s.

The greatest snapshot from the viewing gallery there is looking along Benjamin Franklin Parkway — the one-mile road named after the great American statesman.

It leads from City Hall to the 72 stone steps of the Museum of Art — nicknamed the Rocky Steps after Sylvester Stallone ran up them in 1976 film Rocky.

Pose like Sylvester Stallone in front of the Rocky Statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art


Pose like Sylvester Stallone in front of the Rocky Statue at the Philadelphia Museum of ArtCredit: Supplied

A constant stream of fans, including us, breathlessly follow in Rocky’s footsteps and take a selfie with his statue there.

There are more than 4,000 works of art around the city, including colour-ful murals and sculptures, a fav-ourite being the giant red LOVE in Love Park.

Philly displays its history and treasures superbly well.

The one-ton Liberty Bell, a symbol of America’s Independence, has been cleverly hung in a free exhibition centre.

Through the window behind it, you can see where it used to be — in the tower of the hall where the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain was signed in 1776.

This landmark is among 68 in a “historical square mile” and it’s worth booking a guided tour of the highlights.

Go to the home of Betsy Ross, who reportedly made the United States’ first flag during the revolution — and to the nearby cobbled Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously inhabited street, lived in since 1703.

Philly is a city for walking. But to save time, use the hop-on, hop-off bus, which stops at all sightseeing hotspots.

The one-ton Liberty Bell is a symbol of America's independence


The one-ton Liberty Bell is a symbol of America’s independence

We got a day’s ticket included in a CityPASS — one payment for up to five attractions.

We also used the pass to go to jail! The Eastern State Penitentiary, which closed in 1971, might be a bit dilapidated but exhibits give a fascinating insight into life inside and the challenges facing the justice system.

Mobster Al Capone was locked up here for eight months and his cell, which he described as “very comfortable”, with rugs, paintings, desk and a radio, has been re-stored. Scarface’s stay sounds like a walk in the park.

Talking of which, make sure you stroll, run or cycle in Fairmount Park, the collective name for 2,000 acres of parkland with numerous attractions including a zoo.

Start off any day by enjoying breakfast at The Dutch Eating Place in Reading Terminal Market on 12th Street. Try blueberry pancakes, apple cinnamon toast, omelettes or maybe a bacon jam sandwich?

Philly is handy, too, for shopping. Just round the corner is department store Macy’s which, bizarrely, has the world’s largest pipe organ with 28,750 pipes. It’s played for 45 minutes twice a day, at noon and 5.30pm.

There’s nothing you can’t buy in Philadelphia — in independent and vintage shops or numerous malls and outlets all offering huge discounts.

So, New York or Philly? Even though I don’t eat meat, my vote goes to the city of stonking cheesesteaks.

GO: Philadelphia

GETTING THERE: Return flights from Heathrow to Philadelphia from £494. See

STAYING THERE: Three nights’ room-only in the 4H Sofitel, including British Airways flights in January, costs from £883pp.


OUT & ABOUT: Attraction pass from £45, see



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