First leg of USA road trip: Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Washington DC

The US northeast is easily accessible from Toronto either by plane (1 hour) or car (approximately 8 to 10 hours), making for great weekend getaways to places such as NYC, Boston, and Vermont.  Since we’ve explored these areas before, on this road trip we decided to explore three new cities.

While each of these cities has enough attractions to easily fill up it’s own post (or multiple posts!), because we were only about to spend about a half day in each, I’m sharing the highlights all together.

Philadelphia is a city brimming with US history, featuring attractions such as Independence National Historical Park, known as the birthplace of American democracy, and the Reading Terminal Market, America’s oldest farmer’s market.  On our way into the city centre we stopped in Manayunk, a charming neighbourhood full of renovated Victorian storefronts, to check out the delicious microbrews at Manayunk Brewing Company.  We spent the rest of our time strolling through the historic downtown and South Street looking at the many row houses and shops.

Being a little food obsessed, we of course also sampled the Philly Cheesesteak.  While you can get a cheesesteak at tons of restaurants all around Philly, Pat’s King of Steaks is generally credited with inventing the sandwich around 1930.  Located at 1237 E Passyunk Ave directly across the street from its chief rival Geno’s, we tried the original cheesesteak. While it was tasty, I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed and at $9.50, I thought it was overpriced, so I suspect this is a tourist trap.  If any local Philadelphians out there can confirm or refute this, that would be helpful!  Otherwise, Philly was really great and I would definitely come back for a long weekend.

For more about Philly’s attractions, check out the city’s tourism page.

Atlantic City wasn’t high on my list of places to visit, but my boyfriend is a huge fan of Boardwalk Empire and wanted to check it out.  Generally, if you have been to or plan to visit Las Vegas, you can probably skip Atlantic City, which reproduces that Vegas magic on a smaller scale.  The boardwalk though is pretty and unique, with plenty of activities, particularly during the summer.  Tropicana seemed to be the place to be, with the most restaurants, live music and activities of the 3 casinos we visited (the other two were Bally’s and Caesar’s).  The advantage of Atlantic City is that there are cost saving opportunities, with rates for on GroupOn posted for as low as $56/night, making this an affordable option for northeastern-based friend or family getaways.  The other advantage is opportunities for people watching — my guess is your jaw will drop more than once if you visit this town!

For more info about Atlantic City, check out the city’s tourism page.

Washington DC‘s Cherry Blossom Festival is legendary and we were so lucky that it started on the day we visited.  Except with this year’s dreadful northeastern winter, there was not a Cherry Blossom in sight and in fact, it was an utterly miserable grey and rainy day.  We made the most of it though, visiting Ben’s Chilli Bowl and Oohhs and Aahhs on U Street to get our fill of smoked chilli dogs, soul food and homemade lemonade. We then spent most of our time walking through the National Mall checking out all the iconic monuments and buildings located in the US Capital Region including the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and much more.

There were a couple of things that really surprised me about Washington, DC. The first was its grandeur — the large buildings and wide open spaces reminded me more of Paris than other American cities I have visited.  There are so many impressive buildings and monuments to see here that I’m not sure you could cover it all in a week.  This city must be stunning in the spring and summer.  The second surprise was how much you can do for free.  The museums are free, many of the sites are free, and even parking is free most of the day!  I found the city’s official Visitor’s Guide and the 20 Best-Kept Secrets of Washington DC to be really great resources for identifying interesting and cost effective things to do. For example, did you know that First Friday’s Art Walk in Dupont Circle offers access to galleries, plus free wine and snacks?  Or that every night at 6pm you can watch a free performance at the Kennedy Center?  Keep it up DC, I will be back for sure!

So while the weather in the North East was not entirely cooperative, we still had a great time eating, drinking and site seeing along the way.  These three cities are easily accessible from one another by car, each within a 1 to 2 hour drive of each other, making them a great option for seeing together if you have a week or more available.  Otherwise, you could easily spend a long weekend in each city.  One note, if you are driving, we found the tolls to be more expensive than we expected.  From the time we crossed the border at Niagara Falls to our final destination in Washington DC, we spent over $40 USD on toll roads and bridges.

Have you visited Philadelphia, Atlantic City or Washington DC?  Do you have any other tips?


19 thoughts on “First leg of USA road trip: Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Washington DC

  1. DC is definitely a great city! Also, I was wondering how you set up your pictures on your page. My are all jumbled and different sizes! I like how clean yours looks!

    Great post!


  2. Next time you visit Philly be sure to check out the Magic Gardens and I had a life altering meal at a Burmese restaurant named Rangoon in Chinatown.
    Sorry that the weather sucked while you were in DC, I went in December for the first time in like 3 years and before that it’s literally always been great weather. The National Archives are a cool spot, the river walk near K street in Georgetown is cool and the Little Ethiopia strip near U Street is a must. I’ve actually been curious to visit Ottawa to see if it has the same grandeur as our capital here.


    • Awesome, thanks for these suggestions! So the thing about Ottawa is that Parliament and other key buildings are grand, but there are not nearly as many of them as in DC. Ottawa is very small….good for a day trip. If you are looking for a weekend getaway, a better choice might be Quebec City, which is so charming and unique, or combining Ottawa and Montreal…and of course don’t forget Toronto 🙂


      • My husband is a flight attendant so quick getaways are my middle name. Already planning on visiting Quebec City and Toronto this summer 🙂 Montreal I’ve been to already but I would definitely go back. Also have my eyes on Vancouver since I’ve got a friend to stay with over there.


  3. Pingback: An afternoon stroll through Charleston, South Carolina | MyTorontoLife

  4. Loved your post on Washington DC…always nice to hear impressions of visitors from across the globe. I last visited the Capitol city in 1987, but am returning for a short visit in August. Your post has recharged my excitement! 🙂


  5. Pingback: What I learned travelling through 24 states in 31 days | MyTorontoLife

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