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Sleep: Philadelphia

One of America’s most historic cities, Philadelphia wears its illustrious past well and is home to countless grand old hotels, each with impressive stories to tell. But there are also enough hip-and-happening options in Philly to keep things interesting

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Morris House Hotel, Philadelphia

Morris House Hotel

Old City

If you’re on a flying visit to see the sights, this is the place to stay — where America as we know it began. The US Constitution was signed in what’s now Independence Hall, the first White House was built next door, and the nearby Liberty Bell was (probably) rung at the Declaration of Independence. The surrounding cobbled streets are lined with 18th-century buildings — today home to shops, galleries and, of course, boutique hotels.

Best for value: The Independent Hotel
Four blocks from the famed Walnut Street Theatre and set in a stately Georgian Revival building, this 24-room hotel strives to acquaint guests with the neighbourhood (the staff’s favourite joints are even listed on room keys). The style is classic meets boutique — animal-print rugs over parquet floors and exposed brick below original pressed-tin ceilings in some rooms. The freebies are great too: wi-fi, a nightly wine reception and breakfast (delivered to your room) are all included in the rate.
■ Rooms: Doubles from $109 (£74), B&B. theindependenthotel.com

Best for history: Morris House Hotel
Dating from 1787, this colonial townhouse is immersed in history — Morris House is a National Historic Landmark, no less. Rooms, spread between the main house and the adjoining Carriage House, have been sympathetically restored, with carved wooden beds, period furniture and original marble fireplaces. With just 15 rooms, it has the friendly intimacy of a B&B, but the real draw is the pretty courtyard in between the buildings — unique in Philadelphia.
■ Rooms: Doubles from $149 (£99), B&B. morrishousehotel.com

We recommend: Hotel Monaco
Part of the ever-sassy Kimpton group (now owned by InterContinental Hotels Group), the Monaco brings a splash of fun to the staid historical area, with clashing colours, animal-print bathrobes and a nightly wine hour in the Living Room. Located in the 1907 Greek Revival-style Lafayette Building, right across the street from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall (a third of the 268 rooms overlook the Independence National Historical Park), it retains original features such as marble elevator banks and wooden coffered ceilings in the public areas, and there are nods to the past in the rooms with marble-topped desks, and 17th-century art reproduced on the bathroom wallpaper. This being a Kimpton, though, the historical elements are paired with navy-and-gold patterned walls, armchairs monogrammed with sausage dogs, and bedside tables that resemble disco balls more than nightstands. Bikes are available for guests wanting to hit the surrounding cobbles and, true to its name, the Living Room is a lobby you’ll actually want to spend time in, with plush sofas and armchairs grouped around a fireplace. And to take in those views, there’s the Stratus Rooftop Lounge on the 11th floor, perched over the historical area below.
■ Rooms: Doubles from $159 (£106), room only. monaco-philadelphia.com

The Rittenhouse

The Rittenhouse

Rittenhouse Square

It may take its name from the neighbourhood’s park, but there’s more to this upmarket area than the (admittedly rather lovely) Rittenhouse Square itself. West of the Old City, its streets are full of stylish cafes (their tables line the pavements), upmarket boutiques and excellent restaurants. This is the place to go for nightlife, whether that’s theatres (the oldest in America is here) or bars — the cocktail scene is strong, particularly on Walnut Street and Rittenhouse itself, with a focus on speakeasy-style bars. The only downside is it can be hard to find a table at weekends.

Best for local sights: The Rittenhouse
The Rittenhouse — a Beaux Arts-style grand dame built in 1913 — contains artwork by Impressionist Mary Cassatt (her brother was the building’s original owner), four bars and restaurants, and a Clefs d’Or concierge. The rooms may exemplify that slightly anonymous American-luxe look but they’re full of creature comforts, from marble-clad bathrooms with oversized bathtubs to the odd four-poster bed and kitchens in the suites.
■ Rooms: Doubles from $469 (£312), room only. rittenhousehotel.com

We recommend: Rittenhouse 1715
This hotel on Rittenhouse Square — built in 1903 as a carriage house for a wealthy home designed by Princeton University architect, Walter Cope — is a cross between a boutique hotel and a B&B. Rates include not only breakfast but that Philly staple, an evening wine reception in the grand drawing room. And with 23 bedrooms, it’s small enough to provide a personalised service yet large enough not to be claustrophobic. This being a period building, every room is different, although all are styled classically — from marble bathrooms to Frette sheets, it’s extremely comfortable, although quite safe in terms of design. However, the rooms are a little on the small side, so the upgrade to the ‘superior’ category is worth it — just be sure to ask for one that isn’t on the ground floor. It’s the service that really stands out, though, from the friendly staff (‘5 heart service’ is their hippy-ish motto) to the little touches — like chocolates from legendary local confectioner Shane Candies at turndown.
■ Rooms: Doubles from $299 (£199), B&B. rittenhouse1715.com

Best for fashionistas: Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel
Not your standard chain hotel, the Radisson Blu Warwick is the latest incarnation of the Warwick Hotel, which first opened in 1926. Following a $20m (£13.9m) overhaul, everything beyond the grand facade of the registered building has been thoroughly modernised, with the sun-drenched lobby pepped up by Missoni sofas and ‘word wall’ art installations themed around the city’s tagline of ‘brotherly love’. The 301 rooms are business chic but well sized, with photo montages of Philly landmarks above each bed.
■ Rooms: Doubles from $200 (£133), room only. radissonblu.com

Le Meridien Philadelphia

Le Meridien Philadelphia

Museum District

Philadelphia is home to some world-class museums — the Franklin Institute, Rodin Museum, Barnes Foundation and Philadelphia Museum of Art are all found in Fairmount, an area north west of Rittenhouse bordering the Schuylkill River. At the front of the Museum of Art are the iconic ‘Rocky Steps’ from Sylvester Stallone’s boxing film. Elsewhere, Fairmount Park is one of the largest in the US, while the area also incorporates bustling Logan Square, with the surrounding skyscrapers giving it more of a big city feel.

Best for business: Le Meridien Philadelphia
Once a YMCA, this grand, Georgian Revival-style building has gone back to its plush beginnings as a luxury hotel in the business district, with views of Love Park and City Hall. Vast, arched windows, wood-panelled walls and carved Corinthian columns dominate the lobby and bar area, while upstairs, the 202 cosy rooms are modern and comfy, with some overlooking the internal atrium.
■ Rooms: Doubles from $198 (£131), room only. lemeridien.com

Best for singles: The Logan
The Logan is part of the Curio Collection, one of the brand’s new boutique hotels aimed at a younger, trendier audience. Fittingly for the area, the theme here is art, with work by local artists dominating the building. Rooms have been given a stylish update, and they’ve added a pool table and firepit to the lobby. As the weather heats up, expect the crowds to form for The Assembly, the rooftop cocktail lounge.
■ Rooms: Doubles from $229 (£152), room only. curio.com

We recommend: Loews Philadelphia Hotel
Located in America’s first modern skyscraper, this 581-room behemoth is still crowned by the neon sign of the original occupant, the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society. Inside, the minimalist lobby is dominated by sleek marble flooring, while there’s a photo mural behind the check-in desk and a heavy bank vault door by the entrance. Rooms are wholly modern — neutral walls, scarlet armchairs and bright, abstract photos of local landmarks above the beds, with views of the skyscrapers that have mushroomed around the building over the past 80 years — while bathrooms hark back to the building’s art deco origins. As befits a hotel of this size, there’s a spa, pool, fitness centre and even a FedEx outpost in the lobby. And for once, there’s a hotel restaurant worth visiting — the recently opened Bank & Bourbon has won plaudits galore for its speakeasy-style decor and barrel-ageing programme — they age their own bourbon, whiskey and rye and even offer private lockers in which aficionados can age their favourite tipples.
■ Rooms: Doubles from $149 (£99), room only. loewshotels.com/philadelphia

Cornerstone Bed & Breakfast

Cornerstone Bed & Breakfast

University City

In West Philadelphia, across the Schuylkill River from the city centre, this is Pennsylvania’s academic heart. Two of the East Coast’s most prestigious universities — the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University — are here. As a result, there’s a thriving community of restaurants, galleries, bookstores, coffee shops, street food stalls and, of course, bars. It’s more residential in feel than the other areas mentioned — and a little more bohemian, too.

Local hideaway: Cornerstone Bed & Breakfast
This six-room, Victorian-era home sits on a historic block in Powelton Village, right across the Schuylkill River from Fairmount Park. The tasteful rooms keep it simple with dark wooden furniture and the odd hot tub in the suites, while the house itself is a trove of antiques, stained glass windows and a wraparound porch, which comes into its own in summer. Stay at weekends for a fulsome cooked breakfast — it’s Continental during the week.
■ Rooms: Double from $165 (£110), B&B. cornerstonebandb.com

We recommend: The Inn at Penn
Right on campus for the University of Pennsylvania, this is an eco-friendly option, with fabrics, wall coverings and bathroom tiles made partly of recycled elements. Beyond the anonymous facade, the interior has an unusual Arts & Crafts style, with flashes of Frank Lloyd Wright in the delicate lamps, low ceilings and wood-heavy public areas — as well as a collection of 19th-century sculptures. The 243 rooms, meanwhile, keep it modern with brightly patterned carpets, colour-pop furniture and slick, neutral bathrooms. For allergy sufferers, there are ‘Pure’ rooms with air filters plus special linen and mattresses.
■ Rooms: Doubles from $209 (£139), room only. theinnatpenn.com

Best for nightlife: The Pink House on 45th
This traditional row house in tree-lined Spruce Hill (west of Penn University) — a 10-minute trolley ride from the city centre — isn’t your average historic home. Painted a flamboyant pink, it’s divided into three apartments, two of which are available to rent, while the manager lives in the other. The first-floor Guest Suite, available all year round, is a beautiful, book-filled space that sleeps four and includes a kitchen and living room, while the Owners’ Apartment — rented to students during term-time, but bookable during the holidays — sprawls over two floors, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large kitchen.
■ Rooms: Flats from $120 (£79), room only. pinkhouseon45th.com

Published in the March 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)