Travel

Great Day Trips: Philadelphia

Two big museum shows—one honoring Cleopatra, the other Renoir—and new restaurants turning out creative fare make Philadelphia an enjoyable trip. Plus it’s an easy train ride.

Blockbusters ‘R’ Us could be the slogan for Philadelphia museums this season.

“Late Renoir,” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (26th St. and Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.; 215-763-8100; philamuseum.org) until September 6, features 79 paintings, drawings, and sculptures from the artist’s later decades, one of his most fertile periods. Among the luminous portraits is “Girl in a Red Ruff.” The Renoirs are shown beside a selection of works by artists he inspired, including Matisse and Picasso.

“Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt,” at the Franklin Institute (222 N. 20th St.; 215-448-1200; fi.edu), is a world premiere, a look at two ongoing expeditions that have uncovered Cleopatra’s royal palace and two ancient cities that earthquakes and tidal waves buried beneath the sea. Among the 142 amazing artifacts are 16-foot red-granite statues of a Ptolemaic queen and king.

Philly also claims the world’s largest outdoor art gallery. A mural-arts program that began a quarter century ago as an anti-graffiti campaign has grown to more than 3,000 murals. You can’t miss them as you walk around the city; an audio tour is available at muralarts.org along with a schedule of guided trolley or walking tours.

Two favorite murals are “Philadelphia Muses,” at 13th and Locust streets, a fanciful tableau of dancers, musicians, and actors by Meg Saligman, one of the city’s most revered mural artists, and 4 “Mural at Dirty Frank’s Bar,” at 13th and Pine streets, artist David McShane’s witty collage that features well-known “Franks” including Frank Zappa, FDR, Aretha Franklin, Benjamin Franklin—and the humble frankfurter.

Along with a choice of art, day-trippers can feast at some notable new restaurants, including restaurant impresario Stephen Starr’s Butcher and Singer (1500 Walnut St.; 215-732-4444; butcherandsinger.com), a lavish steakhouse that’s also a find for lunch, when you can try the $9.95 ten-ounce Butcher Burger with English cheddar and fried onions or a salad topped with tuna steak or slices of filet.

For something lighter, Sampan (124 S. 13th St.; 215-732-3501; sampanphilly.com) serves inventive small-plate Asian fare. A mural of trees constantly changing color adds drama, while an outdoor “graffiti bar” is a calm haven in good weather.

Or try one of Philly’s famous cheesesteaks at Rick’s Steaks (Downstairs at the Bellevue, 200 S. Broad St.; 267-519-9253; rickssteaks.com). The proprietor is the grandson of Pat Olivieri, who is credited with inventing the cheesesteak 78 years ago.

For dinner, hail a cab to Bibou (1009 S. Eighth St., between Carpenter and Washington aves.; 215-965-8290; biboubyob.com), the 32-seat French charmer near the Italian Market. BYOB and a cash-only policy don’t deter those who know the cooking of Pierre Calmels, whose credentials include many years as executive chef at Philadelphia’s five-star Le Bec Fin.

Can’t get into Bibou? Try the Modern American menu at sleek Square 1682 (Hotel Palomar, 121 S. 17th St.; 215-563-5008; square1682.com). Chef Guillermo Tellez—an alum of Stephen Starr and Charlie Trotter restaurants—uses fresh local ingredients. His roasted Amish chicken elevates the bird to a new level.

Note: Both museum shows have timed-ticket admissions, so advance reservations, available online or by phone, are necessary. Ditto for Bibou, where reservations are hard to come by.

Getting there: You can drive, which takes about 2½ hours. The Philadelphia Parking Authority has lots with low weekend rates; philapark.org. An 8:20 am Amtrak train gets you in at 10:15 (amtrak.com; $81 round-trip). Or go by bus: Megabus (megabus.com) leaves at 5:30 am from DC’s H and Tenth streets, arriving at 8:30 at Philly’s 30th Street Station; a return trip leaves at 7:55 pm. The ride home is 2½ hours; seats are as little as $1 each way online.

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