By Eleanor Linafelt
Living in the Philadelphia area, we’re lucky to have other big cities, like New York and Washington, D.C., an easy car, bus or train ride away when we want even more history and culture than what our own has.
But several medium-sized cities that are all within a day’s drive from Philly have plenty to offer as well, including outdoor activities, unique museums and summer festivals. After we’ve been stuck around home for so long, it’s worth exploring some new places this summer.
Just under a two-hour drive down Interstate 95, you could make it to Baltimore and back in a day, but you’ll want to schedule more time than that for all the city has to offer.
The Inner Harbor, with the National Aquarium, Maryland Science Center and Port Discovery Children’s Museum, is a popular tourist destination, and rightfully so, but the city has other great areas and attractions to explore.
Neighborhoods like Canton, Hampden and Fell’s Point are packed with quaint shops and independent eateries.
Baltimore also has plenty to offer in the area of quirk: The American Visionary Art Museum features imaginative and unique work by self-taught artists outside the art world; the Papermoon Diner in Remington is packed with mannequins, a giant Pez collection and carousel horses; and Graffiti Alley is a hidden spot covered in constantly changing colorful street art.
Rochester, New York
Like Philadelphia, Rochester is steeped in interesting American history. For one, Susan B. Anthony, a pivotal member of the women’s suffrage moment, was born in the city. You can learn more about her life and work at the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House. Then pay a visit to her grave at Mt. Hope Cemetery, where the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who lived in the city for 25 years, is also buried.
If you want to learn even more about women’s suffrage, Seneca Falls, New York, the location of the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848, is on the way from Philadelphia.
Another famous historical house in the city is the George Eastman Museum, which is the former home of the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company and pioneer of photography and motion picture film. The museum holds one of the biggest collections of photography equipment in the world and hosts a variety of rotating photography exhibits. It has a large film archive that houses the private collections of filmmaker greats, including Ken Burns, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese.
Later in the summer, Rochester will host a variety of festivals, including the Little Italy Festival, Carifest, Flour City Brewers Fest and Puerto Rican Festival.
For active nature-lovers, Richmond is the place to go, with plenty of kayaking, hiking, white water rafting and biking spots easily accessible from downtown. The James River flows through the middle of the city and offers many options for outdoor adventure.
Belle Isle is a popular island destination with wooded trails, a fishing pond, a climbing wall and flat rocks perfect for picnicking.
For those more inclined toward urban activities, Richmond boasts cool neighborhoods with independent shops and restaurants. Carytown, Church Hill and the Fan District are charming areas to walk around with quirky small businesses and eateries.
Richmond also has its fair share of museums, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, to name only a few. If you’re missing Philly’s street murals while you’re there, don’t worry — Richmond has more than 100 of its own throughout the city painted by local and international artists.
While it’s the other big city of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh is plenty different than Philadelphia, which makes it worth the drive. No visit to the Steel City is complete without a ride on its iconic inclines. It boasts two — the Duquesne and Monongahela — that run up the side of Mount Washington and offer brilliant views of the city’s rivers, bridges and skyline.
The Andy Warhol Museum is a must-see, dedicated entirely to the famous Pittsburgh-born pop artist. An even more unusual museum in the city is Bicycle Heaven, the world’s largest bicycle museum and shop, which holds more than 3,000 bikes from around history.
For a unique experience you can’t find just anywhere, check out the National Aviary, America’s only independent indoor nonprofit zoo, which holds more than 500 birds representing more than 150 different species, many of which are rarely found in other zoos.
If you’re looking for food, it’s hard to go wrong with Primanti Brothers, a local staple where they put fries and coleslaw inside your sandwich. There are multiple locations throughout the city to satisfy your hunger anytime.
Wilmington, with its unique historical destinations and family-friendly activities, is only a short 45-minute drive away.
The Nemours Estate is a Wilmington must-visit. Constructed by Alfred I. du Pont, the 300-acre estate has the largest French formal gardens in North America, inspired by the grounds of Versailles, and a 77-room mansion filled with paintings, antique furniture and tapestries. Another fascinating house from the du Pont family is the Hagley Museum and Library, which was the former industrial site of the black powder works of the DuPont Co. You’ll be able to see restored buildings, the first du Pont family home built in America and stone ruins of the black powder industry among its 235 acres of rolling hills.
If you have kids along, they’ll love the Brandywine Zoo, which is open daily and holds a wide range of special events. The city is home to the Delaware Children’s Museum, which has a variety of interactive exhibits that teach kids about science, technology, engineering and math through fun and engaging activities.
Some special Wilmington events to check out this summer are the Delaware Shakespeare Festival, which runs for three weeks in July, and the 27th annual People’s Street Festival Tribute to Bob Marley at the end of August.