It doesn’t matter if you prefer modern art, impressionism, or street art, there’s a lot on offer in Philadelphia for art lovers. Philadelphia has been the home and inspiration for countless artists such as Thomas Eakins, Alexander Calder (both Milne and Stirling), and Robert Crumb. The galleries and collections in the city are also incredibly impressive. This is both in terms of quantity and quality. If you only have a single day to see and experience the city and you love art, here is my art lovers travel guide to Philadelphia.
It should be noted that there are lots of opportunities to take in the performing arts in the city. However, I’m only focusing on the visual arts in this travel guide to Philadelphia for art lovers.
Morning – Fairmount
The city’s best art museums are all conveniently situated together on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It’s an art trifecta: The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum and the Barnes Foundation. Spend the morning at the Museum of Art and focus in on several galleries that interest you. The museum’s got a large collection with many high quality pieces. In addition, there are always special exhibitions rotating through the galleries that might catch your fancy. It’s hard to be disappointed by the Philadelphia Museum of Art as the collection is so impressive. I’m a bigger supporter of the museum and that’s why I’ve got a membership to the museum!
Mid-Day – Lunch Break at Logan Square
By now you’re probably pretty hungry. Within a few blocks of the Museum of Art are some great restaurants. In particular, there are a few great restaurants along Callowhill Street. Depending on what you’re in the mood for, I recommend Pizzeria Vetri or Sabrina’s Cafe. But there are lots of other options along this and the nearby areas.
Be sure to keep your eyes open as you stroll through the neighborhood. Philadelphia’s Association for Public Art have made sure that art isn’t only available to those who pay to enter the museums. Instead, it’s available on the streets, in parks and where you might not expect it. Take, for example, the open-air installation of “The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation” at Independence Mall. The work, in the heart of historic Philadelphia, gives an idea of the space used to house the first two presidents. It also reminds visitors about the nine undocumented slaves that were part of George Washington’s household.
Afterwards, head back down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Rodin Museum. The museum houses the largest collection of Auguste Rodin’s work outside of Paris, France. It was recently renovated in 2012 after originally opening in 1929. It is set in a building with wonderful natural light and beautifully landscaped gardens surround it. However, the small collection is easily worth the time and likely won’t take more than an hour or two, max.
Then head over to the Barnes Foundation. The museum houses the incredible collection of the late Dr. Albert C. Barnes. The Philadelphian was collecting Impressionist and Modernist masterpieces before they were in vogue. After his death, the works were (somewhat controversially) relocated to their current location, a custom-built museum on the Parkway. The Barnes collection is quite astounding in terms of the sheer volume of works of art and the fact that there are countless priceless masterpieces on display.
Evening – Rittenhouse Square
Just because the museums have closed doesn’t mean that the day in Philadelphia for art lovers has to stop. Both the Association for Public Art and Mural Arts Philadelphia offer free self-guided walking tours. If murals are more your speed, check out what is said to be the world’s largest art gallery with one of several two-mile long routes. If you would prefer more of a variety of mediums, the Association for Public Art has a variety of tours available so you can spend as much or as little time as you want in the neighborhood of your choosing.
Cap off the day by paying tribute to Rodin and all those French impressionists at the Barnes with a meal at Parc in Rittenhouse Square. The French bistro delivers not just the taste of Paris but the feel, too. If the weather permits, sit outside and people watch. Oh, and get dessert. I promise, you won’t regret it. That is how I’d recommend a day in Philadelphia for art lovers!
As I said before, the dance, music and theater arts of the city are also very active. They are also always changing. If that is where your interests lie, check the offerings that coincide with when you will be in the city. Taking in a concert or a show is also a great way to finish off your day.
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