The hotel concierge whispers conspiratorially “Lady, go to Franklin Mills tomorrow. You Irish really love those bargains” as he staggers back to my room with the day’s loot. Hotel concierges are experts and they know, as US tourism statistics record, that the Irish passion for shopping is reaching a frenzy, If it was an Olympic sport we’d sweep the board.
Philadelphia as a shopping destination offers a relaxing experience than the buzz and drive of New York.
Cheaper hotels and restaurants and the all-important zero clothing and shoes sales tax mean you get better value for your already valuable euro. And a non-stop flight with US Airways gives ease of access to the almost city centre airport.
But Philadelphia is more than a thrifty shopper’s Big Apple. It has a cityscape elegant enough to compete with that most sophisticated of European cities, Vienna, and a strong cultural and historical heritage which contributes main interesting to dos for the visitor.
The capital until Washington city was built, today the former political heartbeat of the country is preserved in Independence Historical Park, a series of historic buildings which include the birthplace of the nation, Independence Hall, where dissatisfied colonists adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence on July 4 1776, and the Liberty Bell, symbol of the nation’s freedom. One of several really interesting non-fusty museums in the city.
Established by William Penn in 1682, the city’s grid street network between the Delaware and Schuykill rivers was inspired by Penn’s memories of the Great London Fire of 1666. Subsequent developers followed his lead, and today’s city centre is an architectural delight. And a great town for walking.
The US Census Bureau estimates that the Philadelphia metropolitan area has the largest Irish American population in the USA, with more than 1.1m of Irish descent. Not quite as big as the ethnic Italian population, but close.
Philadelphia Premium Outlets opened in November, and is already planning a substantial expansion. An openair complex with high-end outlet shopping like Dolce and Gabbana, Elie Tahari, Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Coach as well as the staples like Levis, Gap, Wilson’s Leather, Nike and Tommy Hilfiger.
Bargains include unbranded real sheepskin ugg boots (ugg was a generic name in Australia before it became associated with brands) in Robert Wayne for $50 with identical branded ones for $129, still a huge saving on Irish prices.
You can get discount vouchers by joining the centre’s VIP shopper club in advance of your visit. Philadelphia Premium Outlets are about an hour’s drive from the city centre, with bus tickets available for about $25 roundtrip. See www.premiumoutlets.com for more information.
Taking the concierge’s advice, we head for Franklin Mills, an older covered complex, far larger than the present Premium Outlets, and with all the staples of US outlet shopping in a weather-protested environment. Nine West, Samsonite, Kenneth Cole, Brooks Brothers, Old Navy, Skechers USA, and Charlotte Russe are among the 200 leaseholders here.
A good rummage in Last Call Neiman Marcus could get you a coveted pair of red-soled Christian Louboutin sandals or a Miu Miu handbag at a bargain price. Well, relatively speaking.
For shoppers more interested in style than bargains the real business in Philadelphia is to be done in the King of Prussia Mall.
The North Gulph road mall has over 400 stores, and lays claim to being the east coast’s premier shopping destination. It boasts eight quality department stores – Lord and Taylor, two Macy’s, Sears, JC Penney, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales and the delightfully chic Nordstrom.
The place is packed with teenagers’ coveted must-haves, the all-important Abercrombie and Fitch, its slightly cheaper but equally trendy partner company Hollister, as well as staples from Old Navy.
For the anti-establishment teenager, Obey and Rebel teeshirts at Buckle are fairly sure to hit the spot.
The city has quite a reputation for good food, epitomised by Reading Terminal market, a 114 year old food market where all ethnic cultures in the city seem to come together.
Shaker farmers and bonneted bakers ply their wares beside Philly cheesesteak vendors and sushi and noodle bars, balti, sauerkraut and pizza stalls.
The market is literally a quality cultural melting pot, and could justifiably be described as a metaphor in itself for this most elegant and historic of north American cities.
- At the King of Prussia Mall with bored companions? Send the darlings to Valley Forge National Historic park to take part in a renactment of the American revolution. General George Washington camped here with 10,000 soldiers in the winter of 1777. Young recruits get enlistment papers and are issued dummy muskets before learning to manoeuver. See www.nps.gov/vafo
- Visit the Liberty Bell Center and the Independence Hall Museum, Sixth and market Streets, www.npss.gov/archive/inde/home.htm
- The Eastern State Coast Penitentiary: See Al Capone’s cell and Death Row. www.easternstate.org.
- Make sure to do a trip to the splendid Philadelphia Museum of Art, a Grecian temple inspired building which adorns the cityscape off Pennsylvania Avenue.
- The gargantuan ten acre building houses a gargantuan collection — and the famous Rocky steps from the Sly Stallone movies, a metaphor for the common man’s power to achieve.On Fridays the museum plays host to ‘Art after Five’, a free jazz and art event.
- The Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, PA 19130, www.philamuseum.org opens Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm, and Friday evenings. until 8.45pm.
- Ida Milne travelled to Philadelphia with US Airways, which operates year-round direct flights from Dublin. See www/usairways.com
- Sunway offers packages for Philadelphia from u463 for three nights, excluding airport taxes and fuel surcharges. See your local travel agent 01-2311888 or www.sunway.ie
- American Holidays packages see your travel agent www.americanholidays.com 01 6733840
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