If you’re looking for a meetings and events destination that is over 300 years old, decorated with green areas, walkable pedestrian paths, world-renowned museums, amazing food, classic and modern architecture and is the birth place of the United States, then Philadelphia is for you.

Philadelphia is the fifth largest city in the US and the second largest on the east coast. It has 1.5 million residents in the city and 6.1 million people in the region. Meeting planners and business travelers often consider Philadelphia to be a convenient location because the city is quite accessible and located in the heart of northeast. It’s international airport handles more than 30 million passengers and over 400,000 flights each day, and is the headquarters of US Airways.

Philadelphia is one of those cities where you’ll never have enough time to see everything. I first visited Philadelphia several years ago, and was astounded by the breadth of history with historical sites. I recently returned to Philadelphia to see what the city could offer for the meetings and events industry, and it was surprising.

Philadelphia has been host to citywide events — as many as 70,000 attendees. The city is rapidly becoming an epicenter for international meetings and events.

Hotels in Philadelphia

Philadelphia has nearly 40 hotels with over 9,000 hotel rooms within the city center alone. I stayed at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, a contemporary hotel located in heart of Philadelphia’s Market Street. The hotel has great amenities such a newly renovated lobby, several bars and restaurants, and even an outdoor area for drinks on busy 13th street. If you are searching for a business travel hotel that is connected to the Convention Center, views of the classical City Hall and even has historic rooms located inside the Reading Terminal, then this hotel is for you.

Convention Centers in Philadelphia

With over 1 million square feet of meeting and event space as well as 679,000 square feet of exhibit space, the LEED certified Philadelphia Convention Center is the primary meetings and events space in the city that compliments history with modern working space.

You will be impressed with the size of the facilities as it encompasses four city blocks from 11th to 14th streets. The convention center opened in 1993 in the historic Reading Railroad station, and it includes a newer extended area. In the Reading section, you can still see the train track lining in the ground in the Main Hall as well as Operators area that used to be an epicenter of American Infrastructure at the turn of the century.

The newer extension has one of the most breathtaking panorama views of the city from the large windows decorate the side of the building. It has 475 LED lights reflecting downwards at the entrance of the newer area, which can be customized asa decorations for special events.

Things to do in Philadelphia

Colonial history is prevalent near the Riverfront and a plethora of options await private events for excursions. Independence National Park is the main area that has many of these choices. At one end of the park lies the National Constitution Center which provides an interactive glimpse into American law and the foundations of the nation. “Freedom Rising” is a heartwarming film at the beginning of the museum about the Constitution while the museum itself is very interactive and even has life-size figurines of the Founding Fathers.

The Constitutional Walking Tour is an excellent way to gather up the history and culture of America’s revolutionary past. It lasts 75 minutes and covers 1.25 mile, giving you a behind the scenes outdoor experience to many of the major historical sites in the area, including Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, Congress Hall and Benjamin Franklin’s house. The tour highlights some of the lesser-known but also important areas, and you will thoroughly gain a better appreciation and understanding of the city’s history.

The Barnes Foundation is one of the world’s most impressive displays of post-impressionist and early modern art. Famous artists who are part of the Barnes Collection include Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse and Renoir. The museum was founded by Dr. Albert Barnes (1872-1951), a great patron of the arts in his native Philadelphia, and Barnes personally coordinated and paired his collection into various themes based on rooms. All visitors receive an iPod audio-guide which guides you through the rooms and explains the intricacies of both the room setups and the art itself.

Complimenting the rich history of the city is McGillins Irish Pub, a two floor bar and the fifth oldest in the US. The bar has had only three different owners in its 150-year existence in the heart of downtown Philadelphia. The bar even survived Prohibition by becoming a gastro-pub in the 1920s. It is the only bar that I have ever patronized that has a scrap book showing everything from old photos to a turn of the century menu.

The first floor at McGillins Irish Pub contains a fully stocked bar area and table seating with over 30 different beers on tap. The upstairs area is mainly used for private events up to 80 guests. The overwhelming majority of the beers are produced in the four state area, and the bar itself even has three of its own private label beers made by nearby Stoudt’s Brewing.

For IPA enthusiasts, try the flagship 1860 IPA which commemorates the founding year of the bar — it tastes hoppy, but not overpowering or too bitter. The McGillins Real Ale is a lighter Red Ale that is a great substitute for Killians and other reds. The third private label beer is McGillins Genuine Lager — refreshing and perfect for the summer months. You will thoroughly enjoy the festive atmosphere at the bar and get a sense of a local historic tavern.

Insider Travel Tip: Make sure to consider purchasing clothing and shoes at one of the 2,000 shops and boutiques scattered throughout the city. The city has no sales tax on these items.

Dining in Philadelphia

The Reading Terminal Market is a century old market located in the historic Reading Terminal alongside the Philadelphia Convention Center. The market has about 80 vendors that offer a variety of delicious foods. Business travelers can go local by trying Duch Eating Place, one of the home-style cooking Amish eateries in the terminal. Amish cuisine is very hearty and made with the freshest organic ingredients. I had the chicken pot pie and the chicken salad sandwich – both were delicious.

There are also several family-run Amish bakeries that produce pretzels, donuts, sticky buns and a variety of local specialties. If Amish cuisine isn’t for you, feel free to check out one of the other various stands in the market that cover almost every major cuisine. It may surprise you to know that the Reading Terminal Market is actually the most visited attraction in Philadelphia with about 6.3 million visitors each year (not the Liberty Bell).

Farmacia is the perfect place for a Saturday Brunch and taking a break from a day of sightseeing around the Old City. The 122 seat restaurant offers a contemporary American menu, and on a nice day it has both indoor and outdoor seating. it was actually a colonial pharmacy during in the past, and the new owners transitioned the historic building into a trendy setting with modern amenities. I enjoyed the Mexican omlette which includes tasty chorizo, delicious scallions, spicy jalapenos, melting queso and mild salsa. The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour.

Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia

If you are looking for one of the most unique and trendy dining experiences in the city, then check out Alma de Cuba. Situated in the heart of downtown Philadelphia, Chef Stephen Starr has created this ultra hip dining establishment which puts a modern twist on traditional Cubin and Latin cuisine. You will notice immediately upon entry the cool and contemporary flare of the bar and lounge area, which is a great place to get a drink before grabbing dinner. The bar many types of rum, wine, cocktails and beers as well as eight custom ceviches (a lime and seafood tapa). The upstairs dining area consists of the Mezzanine and Tobacco Rooms, and it ha a chic, dimly lit atmosphere.

A few higlights from the Alma de Cuba menu:

  • Salmon Ceviche: This is a perfect pre-appetizer course because it has a light consistency and a sweet taste.
  • Oxtail bone Marrow Croquettes: This is a mixture of roasted bone marrow with fresh pickled onions.
  • Pork Tacos Vieja: Tangy cilantro combines with flavorful pork and homemade queso to make a hearty appetizer.
  • Empanada De Verde: Fresh spinach compliments the manchego cheese and artichoke filling, giving it a new twist on a traditional dish.
  • Cuban Caesar Salad: Sweet chipotle dressing brings out a new flare to romaine lettuce coupled with black bean and queso fresco.

For the main course, I had the Arroz Calamari – fresh from the sea calamari linguine over arborio rice. The sharp squid ink seasoning mixed perfectly with the sweet garlic aioli.

You will certainly have an experience with desert at this popular Philadelphia eatery. I would recommend:

  • Chocolate Cigar: The cigar is a dense chocolate mousse, and everything is deliciously edible, even the matches which are sugar cane (except the cigar wrapper).
  • Strawberry Crepe: Light outer dough that covers fresh strawberries.

For meetings and events, the restaurant can accommodate up to 200 guests total. The Tobacco Room seats 35 guests semi-privately while the Mezzanine can hold up to 47 guests privately. The dress code is business casual.

Weather and Logistics

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is very easy to navigate and close to the city center. Business travelers have the option to take a 20 minute taxi ride to the center or take the Airport Rail Line. There is also convenient access to trains through the Amtrak regional and metro line service as well as the new ACELA which is high-speed.

Summers are warm and sunny and may include some humidity in July and August. Winters are cold with some snow.

To learn more, check out the Philadelphia Visitors and Conventions Bureau RFP tool on its website.

Updated. Initially published September 10, 2014.