PHILADELPHIA – With history around every corner - and probably next door to a cheesesteak place - you won't need to spend a lot of Benjamins (Franklins, that is) for a great trip to the City of Brotherly Love.
Philadelphia boasts free tours of many of its most famous places and plenty of other ways to have fun without emptying your wallet. Whether you're looking to learn a little about history or just stuff yourself with a great sandwich, Philly won't let you down.
GETTING AROUND: Subways, trolleys and buses are all $2 per ride. Some of the city's more far-flung neighborhoods are best reached by a regional rail train, but aren't likely to cost you more than $5 for trips to other parts of the city.
The best way to hit the highlights is the Phlash bus, which is $2 per ride or $5 to ride all day and loops through the historic district and up through the city's museums with 21 stops and connections to mass transit. The Phlash bus runs May through November.
HISTORIC PLACES: When in the course of human events you decide to take in Philadelphia's most famous historic locations - Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell - you'll find them right next door to each other. And, fittingly enough, free.
A visit to Independence Hall, where the United States first determined to establish a more perfect union, won't cost you a dime. See the Spartan room where more than a decade of frustration with the British monarchy resulted in the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 and a young democracy struggling for direction drafted the Constitution in the summer of 1787.
Just across the street, visit the Liberty Bell, which once hung in the tower of Independence Hall and later became a symbol of the abolitionist movement in the 1830s. The bell toured the country as an anti-slavery icon before its crack expanded while ringing for Washington's 114th birthday in 1846. It hasn't rung since, but more than 2 million people a year visit the bell in a new visitors center opened in 2003.
MORE HISTORY: Just across the green expanse of Independence Mall is the National Constitution Center, a sparkling new interactive history museum dedicated to the nation's birth. Featuring more than 100 multimedia exhibits in its permanent collection as well as a series of special exhibits, it's a bargain for history buffs at $12.
Philadelphia's most beloved citizen, Ben Franklin, founded the American Philosophical Society in 1743 to promote scientific discovery and scholarship. You can do your part by visiting its museum right around the corner from Independence Hall and taking in scientific instruments and specimens that fostered the growth of the American scientific community. Admission is free, although donations are encouraged.
Educational opportunities abound in Philadelphia's historic district. There's Congress Hall, where the legislative branch met until 1800, and the United States Mint. Both are free to tour. The home of Philadelphia's most famous seamstress, Betsy Ross, is a few blocks away. Admission is $3 or $5 for the audio tour.
ARTS AND CULTURE: Don't worry, Philly isn't all powdered wigs and wooden teeth.
The sprawling Philadelphia Museum of Art is home to a permanent collection of more than 300,000 pieces ranging from Asian art to colonial furniture.
Admission to the museum is $14, but thanks to its pay-what-you-wish admission price on Sundays, it's easy to get lost among its Impressionist paintings or ogle the wedding dress of Philadelphia's sweetheart, Grace Kelly.
As always, a run up the museum's front steps like Rocky - or a breathtaking view of the Schuylkill River and its colorful boathouses from the back steps - is free.
Just down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway you'll find the Rodin Museum, the most complete collection of the artist's work outside of his native France. Pass by "The Thinker" and head inside for a peek at more than 120 sculptures - including the only bronze cast of "The Gates of Hell" on the East Coast. All it will cost you is a suggested $3 donation.
MORE SIGHTS: Philadelphia's city hall, one of the largest municipal buildings in the world, offers spectacular views of the city from its 500-foot-high observation deck for only $5.
Just across the street is the Wanamaker Building, home to the city's first department store, now a Macy's. On the main sales floor is the world's largest operating pipe organ, a 28,000-pipe behemoth that soars seven stories overhead and offers daily performances.
A few blocks away at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia is the Mutter Museum, a spooky collection of medical oddities - sawed-open skulls, disease-ridden organs, a cancerous growth removed from President Grover Cleveland - sure to engross and gross-out.
The new Comcast Center - the city's new tallest building - is home to an enthralling, 2,000-square-foot high definition screen that shows vibrant nature scenes and catchy videos of dancing acrobats. Just walk into the lobby and prepare to stare up at the screen for at least 15 minutes. It must be seen to be believed.
People watching in tony Rittenhouse Square is free. Enjoy it with a smooth espresso from La Columbe, purveyors of fine coffee to some of the nation's top restaurants.
Franklin Square, near the historic district, has a Philly-themed miniature golf course, a restored carousel and a playground for the kids.
DINING: The cheesesteak is the city's most famous sandwich and there are plenty of places to get a good one. Pat's and Geno's are the two big rivals, standing on opposite corners in South Philadelphia's Italian Market area, where the cheesesteak got its start. But Jim's on South Street - the hippest street in town - as well as Tony Luke's and John's Roast Pork are local favorites. You don't need a map or an address, just ask a local and they'll point you toward a good one.
South Philly, long a mostly Italian neighborhood, now boasts an impressive array of small Asian restaurants, taquerias and gastropubs in the Italian Market neighborhood along Ninth Street near Washington Avenue. You can easily have a hoagie for lunch, sample some imported cheese in the afternoon, grab some pad Thai for dinner and tres leches cake for dessert - and not spend more than $20.
Opened in 1892, Reading Terminal Market (12th and Arch streets) is a boon for the hungry or just the gustatorily inclined. The market is home to butchers and fishmongers, sandwich stalls and Amish farmers who bring in homemade jams and jellies from rural Lancaster County.
Delilah's at the Terminal boasts Oprah Winfrey's favorite macaroni and cheese ($7.75 as part of a fried chicken platter), and just steps away, Bassets Ice Cream with give you three scoops of their best for less than $4.
Metropolitan Bakery will provide you with danish, cookies or good crusty bread to go with cheese from Salumeria or Downtown Cheese and a little vino from the Blue Mountain Winery stall nestled in one corner of the market.
BEER: If you're looking for a Yuengling - Philly's favorite brew - pop in to virtually any happy hour in the city. Order a $2 "lager." You'll get a Yuengling.
Unless, of course, you're at Monk's Belgian Cafe (264 S. 16th St.). Monk's offers a dizzying array of beers, domestic and imported, and delicious food. The pommes frites ($4.50) with bourbon mayonnaise are worth the trip alone.
For local flavor, the Standard Tap (901 N. 2nd St.) offers plenty of brews from nearby Dogfish Head, Victory, Flying Fish and Philadelphia Brewing Company.
PARKS: If you find you need a vacation from your vacation, Philadelphia's massive Fairmount Park offers plenty of trails and recreational activities. The park is more than 9,000 acres - all within the city - and boasts more than 215 miles of trails as well as 18th century homes open for tours. See http://www.fairmountpark.org for more information.