By Mary Ann Treger
Calling all Hogwarts, Gringotts, Ravenclaws, wizards and Slytherins, too. This summer, head north—by train, auto or broomstick—to Philadelphia for the world premiere of Harry Potter: The Exhibition.
While our nearby big-city neighbor may be famous for historic offerings—and luscious Philly cheesesteaks—it continues to refresh itself with dozens of new attractions, especially this summer. Now open at The Franklin Institute, the spell-binding Harry Potter exhibition is packed with daring duels, dragons, Dark Arts and dollops of fun.
One step inside and the world turns magical with interactive experiences that bring to life the mysteries of Hogwarts Castle and the Ministry of Magic. Paintings move, candles float, mandrakes scream and dementors are downright eerie. The exhibition includes many sets, authentic props and original costumes used in the films that made the series jump from the pages to the screen.
First stop is King’s Cross Station. With the magic wristband visitors receive that unlocks interactive displays, magical things happen, including the appearance of a Golden Snitch. Hold on tight when you arrive in Wizarding World. Screens on all sides begin to spin faster and faster until nothing is visible except thick clouds. Once the fog clears, Harry and friends go from a scenic meadow to the grounds of the Quidditch World Cup.
Before leaving, relive Harry’s Pensieve Theater, the magical place that stores memories. It is the most comprehensive touring exhibition ever presented about the wizardly world. Explore more at harrypotterexhibition.com.
If this attraction isn’t enough to woo you to Philly, the city holds plenty of new things to see and do as well as revisiting old favorites.
Museum of Illusions
The world’s first Museum of Illusions opened in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2015 and has expanded to cities like New York, Chicago and now Philadelphia. Located in the Old City, within walking distance of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and Betsy Ross House, the museum offers over 80 exhibits that trick the eye with holograms, stereograms and optical illusions. Learn about vision, perception and the science of how the eyes can fool the mind.
Explore the Vortex Tunnel, where the ground feels like it is moving under your feet, but in reality, it is not. If a spinning vortex isn’t your thing, try defying the laws of gravity in the Rotated Room. Going to the museum solo? The Clone Table provides company. Almost every exhibit is interactive, immersive and experiential. If you think museums are boring, this place will prove you wrong. moiphilly.com
Classic Philadelphia Sights
New attractions are great but don’t neglect the “old.”
Founded in 1682, Philadelphia is where America was born. Stop by the city’s famous favorites. The Liberty Bell is a reminder of our nation’s fight for freedom. Independence Hall is where the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution were debated and signed by the delegates of the Continental Congress.
A visit to the famous Rocky statue in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art provides a great photo op plus plenty of cardio exercise. Walk (or run) up all 72 steps to reach the top, just like Sylvester Stallone did in “Rocky.”
Take a museum break and immerse yourself in Mother Nature along the Delaware River Trail, a scenic protected lane for walkers, joggers and cyclists. Afterward, head to Reading Terminal Market, an eclectic marketplace located below a former railroad terminal. Locals shop the market for fresh produce, seafood, meats and cheeses. Everyone flocks here to savor a world of cuisines from Pennsylvania Dutch specialties to DiNic’s hot roast pork sandwiches or the famous Philly cheesesteaks. Don’t miss out on the fun market-style shopping for housewares, jewelry and linens sold in a crazy, often chaotic, but always entertaining place.
Where to Stay
For the ultimate R&R, splurge and stay at the Four Seasons Hotel, a AAA Five Diamond Hotel atop Comcast Center, the skyline’s tallest tower in the heart of town. After soaking up the awesome views high above the city, head to the spa sanctuary and be surrounded by 700 pounds of healing crystals or simply float high above the city in the 57th-floor infinity-edged pool. When the sun goes down, dine at the Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant serving adventurous cuisine worth writing home about. fourseasons.com/philadelphia
New, Nearby and Worth the Drive
Fields of Light, the new Longwood Gardens Light Installations by Bruce Munro, features 18,000 illuminated stemmed orbs lit by fiber optics along Longwood’s Lake, plus eight indoor and outdoor instillations. Take note of a giant sphere of 1,820 recyclable bottles in the East Conservatory and marvel at a creative, clever way to help save the planet. longwoodgardens.org
Take a jaunt in the new Big Bird oversized, red double-decker bus at Sesame Place. Afterwards enjoy family-friendly rides, including a gentle roller coaster and water slide. sesameplace.com/philadelphia