The northern neighbor to bustling Center City, Fairmount is known for its spectacular cultural stops and a more relaxed pace. Fine art often takes the spotlight, but Fairmount offers other activities and entertainment outside of museums as well. Here are some of our highlights of the laid-back neighborhood.
Fairmount is often called “The Art Museum neighborhood,” as it houses Philly’s museum row and the most famous gallery—the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Seated at the end of the sprawling Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the museum is a city icon that houses the nation’s third-largest collection of art. Renaissance, Impressionist, Modern, and American art highlight some of the holdings, with over eighty period rooms featuring artifacts from medieval to Indian in focus.
A notable highlight of the Art Museum experience is the monthly “Art After 5” events. On the first Friday of every month, the Great Stair Hall of the museum transforms into a cabaret featuring jazz and international music concerts, a cash bar, and other activities.
Eastern State Penitentiary is Fairmount’s most intimidating facade, with 30-foot stone walls dating back to the 19th century. When is was completed in the 1820s, the castle-like Gothic prison was the largest and most expensive public structure that had ever been built. Eastern State was a pioneer in penal reform and followed the Quaker philosophy that solitary confinement could produce reformed criminals.
Visitors can explore the crumbling citadel, touring the cell blocks and learning about the history of the prison. Al Capone’s cell, which he furnished with antiques, rugs, and oil paintings, is restored and a highlight of the attraction. During the autumn months, the annual “Terror Behind the Walls” tours are considered one of the best haunted house experiences in the country.
After you’ve perused the city’s best cultural hotspots, stop by some of these favorites for a bite or a drink:
London Grill – This local pub offers a variety of craft beers and cocktails and serves up New American eats and bar snacks. Our favorites are the gooey baked mac ‘n cheese, seared scallops with bacon marmalade, and the bistro steak with fries.
The Belgian Café – From the people who bring you delicious Belgian drafts and mussels at Monk’s, The Belgian Café offers the same eclectic selection of beers and seafood dishes. The neighborhood go-to for beer (with over 150 options), this is also the spot for hearty, European comfort foods. Check out the sweet and savory DeKoninck Mussels with caramelized leeks, apples, swiss, and Belgian amber ale.
La Calaca Feliz – Whimsical decor partnered with creative takes on traditional Mexican cuisine are the highlights of this cantina. We recommend the buttermilk fried chicken tacos with kale, grits, corn, and barbecue sauce, or the Cubano quesadilla with all the elements of a Cuban (pork belly, ham, swiss, chipotle dijon) between two tortillas.
Besides the museums, Fairmount offers spaces to explore and enjoy. Here are some of the best spots to hang out:
Schuylkill River Trail – This 26.5-mile trail runs from Philadelphia to Phoenixville and is enjoyed by cyclists, runners, and walkers. Bending and curving with the banks of the Schuylkill River, the trail is a scenic way to enjoy a jog or a walk.
Fairmount Park – Over 9,000 acres comprise Philly’s Fairmount Park. Rolling hills, walking trails, waterfront views, and woodlands create a natural getaway in the city. Whether it’s for a stroll, a game of frisbee, fishing, or just sitting outdoors, the sprawling grounds are perfect for relaxing. At the same time, horseback riding, deep-woods hiking, and off-roads biking are options for the more adventurous visitors. You can also tour historic colonial mansions or catch outdoor concerts.
Bookhaven & Book Corner – These two spots are local favorites if only for the fact that they are independent bookstores in a time when indie booksellers are dwindling. Stop in and peruse the curated collections, or say hello to the resident cats (Chaucer at Book Corner, and Harry and Molly at Brookhaven).