With its red letters and green and purple sides, the famous L-O-V-E sculpture has been photographed, filmed and observed countless times since it was installed in John F. Kennedy Plaza in Philadelphia in 1976. It was restored in 2017 and reinstalled on Feb. 13, 2018.
Among the most recognized pieces of American art, it was created in 1966 by Robert Indiana. And, in a way, that’s one small connection between the City of Brotherly Love and the Pine Tree State.
Indiana came from the midwest and lived in New York, but it was in Maine where he settled in 1978, when he moved to Vinalhaven and lived until his death in 2018 at age 89. His “7” sculpture sits in front of the Portland Museum of Art.
As if you needed another reason to hop on the short flight from Bangor or Portland to Philly, right?
The vibrant city has a long and storied history beginning with its founding in 1682 by William Penn, a Quaker who instilled his ideals of racial harmony and religious tolerance. It was the home of America’s first hospital, Pennsylvania Hospital, founded in 1751. It’s the location of the first Fourth of July celebration, held in 1777. And it boasts the distinction of being the first capital of the United States. Today, it’s a thriving city with a rich cultural scene, popular dining scene and so much more.
And over its more than 330-year history, it’s been home to so many notable people, including Benjamin Franklin to Kevin Smith, Walt Whitman to M. Night Shyamalan, Edgar Allan Poe to P!nk.
Ready to go? Here’s what you need to know when you visit.
What to do:
Historic Philadelphia is a city where old meets new, history meets modern day. The birthplace of the United States, it’s where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were drafted and signed. And the No. 1 thing you can do while in Philly is to take in the rich history.
Make a point to stop at Independence National Historical Park, which is home to Liberty Bell Center, Independence Hall, Congress Hall, the National Constitution Center, the Benjamin Franklin Museum and the Independence Visitor Center. Run by the National Park Service, there are so many opportunities indoor and out to explore history there. Among my favorites is the Benjamin Franklin Museum & Franklin Court, which gives a window into the genius and intellect of Benjamin Franklin through artifacts, computer animations, interactive displays and more. As an adult it was fascinating, but — importantly — it was also interesting to my children, who were 6 and 8 at the time.
While you are there, stop by the Liberty Bell Center to see the famously cracked bell and snap a photo in front of it. Also nearby is the outdoor exhibit, The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation. Through videos, signs and structures, it tells the stories of the enslaved people who served George and Martha Washington. I happened upon this during a visit last year and found a history lesson that I wish everyone could experience.
More history can be found at the Museum of the American Revolution, which has a variety of Revolutionary War history and memorabilia including General George Washington’s original headquarters tent, Revolutionary War weapons and centuries-old military documents.
Oh, but there’s more. The Philadelphia Zoo, which has the distinction of being the oldest zoo in the United States, has more than 1,300 animals including species that we don’t regularly see in North America. Giraffes, zebras, kangaroos, there’s so much to see and do.
If you have young children with you, make a point of stopping at the Please Touch Museum. It’s a completely hands-on experience where kids can make music in the instruments area, get their hands wet in the pint-sized Schuylkill River, launch rockets and so much more. Totally great fun but it’s best for kids ages 7 and under.
And, of course, you don’t want to miss the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where that iconic “Rocky” scene was filmed. But don’t just go for the staircase. The renowned art collection is worth savoring. Fashion, sculpture, paintings, drawings and so much more from around the globe and through the ages — there’s so much to take in.
How does one distill all that’s worth seeing in Philadelphia? The One Liberty Observation Deck gives a bird’s eye view of the city. I’d recommend taking a bus tour to see as much as you can, and spend some time considering which of the many, many museums and historic sites interest you most. There’s also the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, The African American Museum, the Betsy Ross House, the Eastern State Penitentiary, the Independence Seaport Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Morris Arboretum, Penn’s Landing and so much more.
And if you happen to be in Philly on Jan. 1, don’t miss the Mummers Parade. The longest running folk parade, it features bright and elaborate costumes, intricate performance routines and creative scenery. Definitely worth seeing.
There’s also a thriving nightlife scene including speakeasies, jazz clubs, dive bars and luxe lounges.
Where to stay:
To say there’s a lot of options is a vast understatement. Philadelphia has more than 16,000 hotel rooms, with more being added to the count. On my visits to Philadelphia, I’ve stayed in a variety of hotels all walking distance from Independence Hall.
Among my very favorites was the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, which is in the former Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building, or PSFS Building located in Center City. Renovating the building into a hotel, the original charm and history of the 1932 building was preserved including the original vault, which remains inside the lobby with its gleaming silver vault door. The PSFS sign is also still mounted on the building’s roof, a great landmark for helping you find your way.
I also really enjoyed staying in the Sheraton Philadelphia Society Hill Hotel and the Hilton Doubletree Hotel in Center City, both of which were really comfortable. But with so many hotels and rooms available throughout the city, there is a vast selection to choose from. Find a hotel with a location and amenities that work for you.
Where to eat:
There are so many fantastic places to eat in Philadelphia. From the ubiquitous cheesesteak sandwiches of Pat’s and Gino’s to the vegan small plates and creative cocktails at Charlie was a Sinner, the food scene is vast and noteworthy. (At Charlie, the vegan ricotta cheese was a revelation, but the charred shishito peppers were my favorite.)
My must-stop on every visit is Reading Terminal Market, which features dozens of food vendors in stalls. Don’t miss the donuts at Beiler’s Donuts & Salads. Dozens and dozens of flavors — dipped, glazed, sprinkled, filled and topped — fill the glass display cases. The Salty Caramel was my favorite on my most recent trip — it hits all the right notes of salty, sweet and creamy.
There’s so much to choose from there, from cheesemongers and bakeries (highly recommended: picking up a few cheeses, bread and charcuterie to enjoy in your room!) to Thai, Middle Eastern, Cajun, southern and more. Just a couple more favorites: I love DiNic’s for sandwiches and Molly Malloy’s for a sit-down.
Also, the creative and seasonally flavored lemonades at Iovine Brothers are a refreshingly healthier option for quenching your thirst and offsetting the more decadent options.
New to the Philadelphia food scene is The Bourse, a food hall that opened in October 2018. The globally inspired dishes — think tacos, Korean fusion, high-class French fries, poke and even Egyptian cuisine — served with the vendors are worth a try.
Plus there’s the authentic fare of Chinatown, the many versions of cheesesteak-inspired dishes, juiceries and so much more.
How to get there:
Flying is so easy. In less than two hours, you can fly from Bangor International Airport or Portland Jetport to Philadelphia International Airport. Once there, you have several options for getting into the city. There’s Uber and Lyft, as well as traditional cabs. There’s also shuttles. Or take the train. There’s an inexpensive train that runs from the airport to several stops around Philadelphia. I used that option on my last trip and found it to be both easy and economical. Once in Philly, there is a subway system, cabs and cars to help you get around, but I’ve found the city to be pretty walkable.
This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s January/February 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.