Amtrak to San Francisco, Part 2: Philadelphia

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Amtrak to San Francisco

Of the eight stops I was allowed on the 15-day Amtrak train journey from East to West, my first stop was Philadelphia. Knowing virtually nothing about the city except that it is home of the Philly Cheesesteak and the Liberty Bell, and with nothing other than references from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and the Tom Hanks film of the same name, I was at the mercy of a few suggestions from a friend who had lived there for a year. Having arrived at the Philadelphia Amtrak Station I realised immediately that I had packed too much — a duffel bag packed to the brim with clothes and a laptop, and another plastic bag filled with food and books. My biggest piece of advice to those doing a big trip around the U.S, or anywhere for that matter, would be to pack lightly and although a laptop is a pleasant luxury (it’s how I avoided boredom on the 20-hour train journeys and how I wrote this), it’s not worth the backache and extra hassle. Carrying this weight for 30 minutes in 30° heat took up a big part of the day and meant after a shower at the hostel I had missed a large chunk of time due to my own inexperience.

What I did manage to cram into the two days I was there included seeing the Liberty Bell. At the time — like the other touristy destinations — it felt compulsory, but was ultimately a bit of an anti-climax. Essentially, you’ve waited ages and paid a lot just to see something that looks exactly like you imagined it would — but maybe that’s just the pessimist in me talking.

Liberty Bell © National Parks Service

I also visited plenty of parks, which were a necessary rest from the sweltering heat, and of course I tried the world famous Philadelphia Cheesesteak. For this, I went to a place called Sonny’s, apparently one of the best in the city but in all honesty I wouldn’t have been able to tell that from trying it. While the cheesesteak was tasty, that was it. Perhaps like much of a city’s touristy aspects, building up such a famous foodstuff only disappoints you. To be fair it’s the only proper cheesesteak I’ve had so I have nothing to compare it to but you’re not missing out too much if you’ve not had one.

However, the heart of Philadelphia was anything but disappointing, approaching the majestic City Hall and the bustling Reading Terminal Market. While admittedly you couldn’t spend a whole day exploring both, they are worth visiting just to soak in the atmosphere of the city. I’m sad to report that I fell into the ultimate tourist cliché of jogging up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (or the Rocky Steps as they’ve become known), in homage to the famous fictional boxer. Even worse to admit, particularly for a film buff, is that I’ve not even seen the movie, but this didn’t stop me along with 20 others posing triumphantly at the top à la Rocky. While Philadelphia may have not been my favourite city I’ve visited, it had an interesting history to it and an air that you could comfortably live there.


Sites: 3.5/5

Food: 3/5

History: 5/5

Accommodation: 4/5

People: 4/5

Overall Experience: 3.5/5

Series Navigation<< Amtrak to San Francisco, Part 1: New YorkAmtrak to San Francisco, Part 3: Baltimore and D.C >>