In a time where our normal winter traditions are hampered by a raging pandemic, and we can’t be indoors without worry, we need to get creative. COVID-19 doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the holidays - it just means finding new ways.
If you’re looking for things to do around your hometown of Philadelphia, or are planning a prudent trip to the area before the end of 2020, here’s your list of things to do for the holiday season.
- Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens - The eccentric expanse of outdoor mosaic will tease your right brain as you walk through a particularly tactile display of tiles and doo-dads. The mixed media environs were designed and created by a single muralist, inspired tirelessly to chronicle his livelihood. As a bonus, the Gardens is an active ally of and financial contributor to NAACP Empowerment Programs, in support of the Black community in the greater Philadelphia area. Looking to get outdoors and support a socially just cause at the same time? Look no further and head to the Gardens.
- Visit Princeton Village - Who doesn’t love a walk down the cobblestone streets of a twinkling town square during the holiday season? A quick train ride will land you in the charming town, complete with ivy-covered collegiate buildings, glowing street lamps, and locally-owned artisan shops. The bonus? Dropping in at Christmas time means seasonal vendors are out on the sidewalks, next to restaurant kiosks selling their hot drinks and snacks to keep your appetite abated while you shop.
- Take a walk along the Schuylkill river trail - I did the center city part of the river walk once, and it remains in my mind one of my favorite Philadelphia memories. Really, the path starts in Center City and travels all the way to Parker Ford, PA. The 30 mile stretch means you get to choose your sites of the day - a city-centered walk, a promenade through the Valley Forge Historical Park, or a glimpse into the past in the historical Parker Ford. Feel like a bike ride instead? The river trail has room for your more athletic pursuits, too!
- Climb the Rocky Steps - Curated particularly for tourists, the Rocky Steps are an economic monument of the historic city (I already have the movie’s theme song bouncing through my head). Admittedly, it’s a kind of been-there-done-that sort of site, but if you haven’t yet, this winter’s priorities towards the outdoors might make it the perfect time to go. Do your best Sylvester Stallone, make a run for it, and cross it off your bucket list.
- Rittenhouse Square - Feeling classy? Grab a cappuccino at a neighborhood cafe and take a walk through Rittenhouse Square. Homes are quintessentially Old Philadelphia, giving you plenty of architectural inspiration for that Finer Things side of you. The park, divided fractionally by walkways, is reminiscent of a Manhattan span like Union Square. It’s the perfect place to grab a bench with a pal, talk about the old times, and watch passers-by carrying on with their mornings.
- Wilmington River Walk - Another short train ride from Philadelphia, the Wilmington Waterfront hosts scenic views, quaint coffee shops, and plenty of greenery to satisfy your need for the great outdoors. With the recent 2020 Presidential election, the long-ignored city of Wilmington has recent been a hub of curiosity - it’s Joe Biden’s hometown. A warm drink should keep you warm as you follow the water through the edge of town.
- Cherry Street Pier - Located right on top of the Delaware River waterfront is the Cherry Street Pier, ripe with personality and hungry for visitors. Depending on the time of day you head over, you may see outdoor yoga classes, art walks, brewing festivals, or bazaar-type markets open for business. The artsy vibe is enough to warm the hearts of even the most curmudgeonly among us, and the historic open corridors are ones that have stood for so long, that they’ll certainly tell us stories so long as we listen.
- Longwood Gardens - Think of it as a zoo, but for plants. I’ve been here about a billion times in my life and could go a billion more. Apparently tourists from all over the world make sure to visit Longwood - some even come to the East Coast for just that reason. The Gardens boast rare and unique displays of flora, and include many plants indigenous to the Eastern Hemisphere. Many of their displays rotate with the seasons, and their winter gardens, complete with lights, model trains, and a decorated Canopy Cathedral, are a sight to behold.
- Take a day trip to Lancaster - I’m from Lancaster. I’m here to attest to its small-town charm, its envelope of sweeping farmland, and its Pennsylvania dutch influence. Lancaster City is a small metropolis where traditional Amish life is interrupted by modern shopping, and restaurants. After that, Christmas cheer can be found in every direction. The town of Bird-in-Hand hosts a Christmas Village, the Strasburg train is an iconic photo opp, and the nearby Dutch Wonderland and Hershey Park throw seasonal celebrations.
- South Street window shopping - South Street has its own website, which should tell you something about its importance to the city’s fabric. South Street, perhaps comparable to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, shares an eclectic collection of tastes with its neighborhood inhabitants. The hippie vibe gives you permission to let your freak flag fly as you indulge your indie music tastes, peruse galleries co-opted by local artists, and maybe get a tattoo or piercing to remember the occasion. The world is your oyster, and South Street is offering a warm welcome.