I’m not sure what the Founding Fathers of the United States of America would make of it, but just a short walk from where they signed the Declaration of Independence you can now hop a ride on what is described as the world’s greatest Junk Food Tour.

For $125 the, I’m supposing, ravenous visitor to Philadelphia can enjoy a journey through some of the best – I’m quoting you understand – that this, the self-proclaimed and unabashed birthplace of junk food has to offer.

Hoagies, sweet sausages, strombolis and of course the famous Philly Cheese Steaks themselves. And what you don’t finish you’re assured you can take home with you in what I’m presuming is also the world’s largest doggie bag.

Birthplace of junk food it may be, but the city straddling the Delaware and Schulykill rivers is better know as the birthplace of American Independence.

The first shots may have been fired in Lexington, the first rebel acts carried out in Boston, but the actual decision to break away from the British crown and create a new nation took place in a comparatively small assembly house in Philadelphia in July 1776. The rest, as they say, is history writ large.

Visitors today to Philly, as locals call their city, can visit the rooms where such momentous acts were undertaken. Freedom Hall has been more or less preserved as it was in those days when Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson and of course George Washington sat down to change the world, the doors locked and guarded, the windows shuttered for fear of British informers. The tables are still arrayed in the snake-like pattern, set out to represent the 13 colonies that were now to become the new states of the USA.

The visit is free with a timed ticket. The tour is some 30 minutes long, somewhat anti-British in tone, but then again few could deny the successors to those early rebels have earned the right to crow a little of their young nation’s achievements. A visit to the Liberty Bell, wrung to proclaim the birth of the nation, is also free without the need for a ticket and is housed in a modern building across the street. Also there during those nation-building debates was Philadelphian native Benjamin Franklin. Already in his eighties when rebellion took place, he helped write the Declaration and later the US Constitution. He is buried along with his wife. His grave is visible through an iron gate at the southeast corner of 5th and Arch Streets, a short walk from Freedom Hall. Visitors are prone to throw coins on his tomb for luck, an act which brings in around $5,000 a year to help with the graveyard’s upkeep.

Nearby is the home of Betsy Ross, another native, famous for designing the Star Spangled Banner that was adopted as the American flag. She persuaded George Washington to consider her design during the first ten years of the fledgling republic when Philadelphia was its capitol. Canny Betsy, who was not a rich woman, ensured she had access to the first president by renting the church pew next to his at Christ Church.

Philadelphia is a compact, walkable city, and I would recommend an amble through the south-side waterfront streets with their shady trees and colonial homes, many flying the American Flag.

Do also consider taking a bus or tram tour, always the best way to see the main sites and a good method of getting your bearings. The hop on, hop off services permit visitors to take in the down town historical areas as well as the long-ish hauls out to the city’s Museum of Art– site of those steps in the Rocky movies – jog them if you wish – and the city zoo.

Philadelphia was the first city in the US to have a zoo, and the first to have a fire service and even a hospital where patients had a choice of anaesthetics: whisky, opium, a crack on the head or a bullet to bite on (hence the saying).

The waterfront offers views of the Delaware River, and from Penn Landing there is access to the Adventure Aquarium and The Battleship New Jersey.

For funky Philly take a walk down South Street for the many boutique shops, tattoo parlours and hip bars and restaurants. Head House Square has bars that serve local and specialist beers before an amble along Antiques Row for unusual stores offering the old, the quirky, the strange, the funny and the downright bizarre. More eateries are to be found on 18th Street.

For a novelty experience visit the Eastern State Penitentiary, the infamous city prison that once housed Al Capone and is reputedly the most haunted jail in the US. It does a roaring trade around Halloween apparently.

But for a genuine Philadelphia experience to savour make sure you sample the famous cheese steak that is, perhaps, the city’s one true international claim to fame in the gastronomy of junk food.

Best places, the locals recommended to me, are Franklin’s Classics and Tony Luke’s.

But then again if you’ve been on the Junk Food Tour you may have made up your own mind already.


  • Getting there. From any major east coast airports (New York, Boston) then one of the best ways to reach Philadelphia is by rail using Amtrak. amtrak.com
  • If you must – The Junk Food Tour – thejunkfoodtour.com
  • Best for cheese steaks in Philly:Franklin’s Classics, franklinsclassic.com, Steve’s Prince of Steaks, stevesprinceofsteaks.com or Tony Luke’s, tonylukes.com.

If there’s a must place to visit for any bargain hunter while In Philly then it has to be the Philadelphia Premium Outlets® mall. Bargains, bargain, bargains – and with the pound now riding higher against the dollar the place to shop for designer products.

For Tommy Hilfiger and Polo Ralph Lauren, for Adidas and Calvin Klein, for Gap and Guess, for J Crew and Juicy Couture, the list of the must-have fashion, jewellery, audio visual goods, home and gifts designers goes on.

But if you’re thinking this would just be a dumping ground for goods the top designers cannot shift, then think again.

The success of the Premium Outlets empire, who with a recent merger now have 61 centres across the USA is down to the care and attention that ensures the quality of goods on sale remains high. Without that assurance designer labels would not permit their goods to be sold at outlet.

So what can you expect to find? And how real are the bargains?

On average Premium Outlets says shoppers can expect to make savings of at least 25-65 per cent on the usual retail prices. Quite often this is much higher, as much as 80-90 per cent in some cases when special sales offers are taken into account.

The ultra high end goods on offer tend to be in season, but last year. Some designers will actually make goods that are specifically for the outlets market, but these are not usually the top premium brands.

Bargains I spotted included suits reduced from $799 (£499) to $499 (£312) with a further 30 per cent reduction as part of a spot sale making the final price £218..

Calvin Klein shirts were going for $34.99 (£29) and jeans at £39.99 (£25).

So if you are heading for Philly and want to visit Premium Outlets here are my tips for a true shopping experience (and I speak from first hand worn-out feet).

  • Be prepared. Check out the website before heading out and work out your route of attack.
  • The mall is 35 miles from downtown Philadelphia with easy directions from the website or take the Greyhound bus.
  • Download your vouchers for even more savings from the website premiumoutlets.com – and check the latest just before you go.
  • Check for VIP vouchers offers that can be bought at customer relations or may be included with some travel tickets.
  • Once you start shopping, don’t think you can go back, there’s just too much to see in one day. See it, buy it, move on.
  • Make use of rented lockers to store purchases when your hands become too full.
  • Pack an extra bag.
  • Organise your meal breaks. The mall has a marvellous selection of eateries including Arthur Treachers Fish and Chips, Auntie Anne’s Soft Pretzels, Asian Chao, or you could books a table at Ruby Tuesdays or even the famous South Philly Steak & Fries.
  • Remember the law: UK consumer tourists are required to declare any goods over the amount of £390 to HM Customs officials on their return home.