The City of Brotherly Love is best known for its cheesesteaks, but there’s more to the local food scene than the iconic Cheese Whiz–laden sandwich. We joined Lonely Planet Experiences Beyond the Cheesesteak tour powered by Urban Adventures, a two-and-a-half-hour walk through the storied campuses and eclectic food trucks of University City. 

We disembarked from the bus right behind 30th Street Station, where our tour began. The circa-1930s transit hub earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, and when our guide, Adam, ushered us in, it wasn’t hard to see why.

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The station’s neoclassical facade belies a soaring interior with shiny marble floors, Art Deco chandeliers, gilded columns, a 95ft-high coffered ceiling, and five-story windows, not to mention a piece of art history in the form of a sculpture. 

Walker Kirtland Hancock's Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia - the Archangel Michael in bronze, lifting a fallen soldier.
Walter Hancock's war memorial presides over 30th Street Station © Maya Stanton/ Lonely Planet

Unveiled in 1952, Walter Kirtland Hancock’s bronze depiction of the archangel Michael (technically titled the Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial) honors the 1307 Pennsylvania Railroad employees who died in WWII – a cause close to home for the artist, who both worked for the railroad and served in the military. (Fun fact: He was one of the so-called Monuments Men, a group tasked with tracking down looted and stolen art after the war – a story you might recall from the 2014 movie of the same name.)

From there, it was time for breakfast, so we made like the students and headed for the food trucks of Ludlow Street. Just a few minutes later, we were digging into piping-hot sausage, egg, and cheese heroes, doused with ketchup, salt, and pepper and wedged into crusty rolls from Amoroso’s, a 115-year-old bakery that provides the bread for some of the city’s most celebrated sandwiches. 

The owner of Richard's inside his truck, holding up a sign about his "best quality food"
Richard's food truck serves a breakfast hero worth traveling for © Maya Stanton/ Lonely Planet

Properly fueled, we continued on our way. Philly is home to at least 20 colleges and universities, but on this day, at least, we’d be focusing on two of its most illustrious institutions: Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. We popped into Drexel’s Main Building before venturing on to our next stop: an unassuming parking garage overlooking the Schuylkill River. 

We took the elevator to the top and emerged a few minutes later to discover Cira Green, a 52,000 sq foot elevated park – the city’s first. With a “blue-green roof” that routes rainwater to the park’s lawns, meadows, and planters via cisterns below the paved walkways, it’s a remarkable reimagining of a public space. 

The elevated freight line passes alongside Penn Park
An elevated freight line passes alongside Penn Park © Maya Stanton/ Lonely Planet

Back on the ground, we strolled through Penn Park, 24 acres of playing fields linked by pathways and pedestrian bridges to the University of Penn’s main campus.

A statue of Benjamin Franklin in 1723, on the University of Pennsylvania campus
A young Ben Franklin in bronze, on the University of Pennsylvania campus  © Maya Stanton/ Lonely Planet

We worked up an appetite at Franklin Field, home to the Penn Relays, the world’s first annual relay meet, before swinging by another set of food trucks. Ensconced on 33th and Spruce, we lined up for Tyson Bees’s Korean- and Thai-inspired fare, and even though we arrived in the middle of an afternoon rush, the BBQ beef, chicken-basil, and edamame-stuffed tacos were worth the wait. 

Three boxes of tacos from the Tyson Bees food truck, one edamame, one Thai basil chicken, and one Korean BBQ beef short rib.
Korean- and Thai-inspired tacos – edamame, BBQ beef short rib, and Thai chicken and basil – from Tyson Bees © Maya Stanton/ Lonely Planet

We spent a little more time on campus, learning about Penn’s historic buildings and thoroughfares before hitting one more truck for a fruit bowl and venturing over to the James G. Kaskey Memorial Park’s Biopond, a calm oasis in the middle of both busy city and busy campus.

A waterfall near Philadelphia's bioretention pond
The James G. Kaskey Memorial Park's Biopond is a calm oasis in the middle of both busy city and busy campus. Image © Maya Stanton

Tour highlight:

Taking to the track at Franklin Field, site of the oldest relay meet in the country. 

Perfect for:

Anyone missing their favorite college history course, or curious about what the kids are up to these days

Don’t forget:

Comfy walking shoes, a big appetite, and cash to tip your guide. 

Final word:

This is a great tour because between the beautiful campuses and the good eats, it offers the best parts of the university experience – minus the tests, the papers, and the all-night cram sessions. 

Lonely Planet Experiences, in partnership with Intrepid Travel & Urban Adventures, are a new range of multi-day, day and half-day tours offering amazing experiences in the world’s best-loved destinations. 

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