We at Free Tours by Foot love to walk - we think it's a great way to see the city but it's also a good excuse to eat your way through a city. In Philadelphia, there is more than just cheesesteaks (though we like those, too and here you can find the best in the city). A great place to sample fare from all over is the historic Reading Terminal Market.
A stop on our 4.5 hour Real Philadelphia walking tour, this market could be a tour on it's own. Located on Market Street (not a coincidence), the original Farmers' and Butchers' Market was meant to be demolished in 1890 when the block was bought by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company. The railroad planned to build their new terminal here but ran into problems when the market vendors refused to move!
A compromise was reached and the vendors stayed. The new construction of the terminal would include space for the market underneath between the train shed and tracks. The new Reading Terminal Market opened in 1892 and found success amongst the rumbling of the trains above. Within two decades there were 250 food dealers and 100 farmers occupying the grid shaped space. "Market brats" would deliver food from the vendors to customers within the city. Being located in a railroad terminal had it's advantages - vendors would deliver to nearby train stations for customers to pick up their orders!
Unlike many during the Great Depression, the market prospered as farmers brought their goods into the city where food was scarce and prices were high. However, as the railroad industry and city itself declined, so did the market. A few hard core vendors and loyal customers kept the market afloat until the 1980s when it was finally reinvested in.
Today, the Reading Terminal Market attracts visitors and vendors from all over. One of the most well known aspects of the market are the Amish vendors who "drive" in their goods from their farms in Lancaster. (insider tip: Amish vendors are not there on Sundays!)
In addition to Amish homemade food, the market has a collection of delicious fare. One of the must try's is Tommy DiNic's Roast Pork and Beef. Their roast pork sandwich was crowned "Best Sandwich in American" on Travel Channel show, Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America and was featured on Man vs. Food. Beginning out of their father's butcher ship, the Nicolosi brothers began selling sandwiches in 1954. When a DiClaudio cousin joined, DiNic's was born. The Reading Terminal location is run by the fourth generation Nicolosi.
After lunch (insider tip: a late lunch or early dinner will avoid the crowds), dessert here is a must! Bassett's Ice Cream has been a Reading Terminal Market vendor since it opened, in fact it was the first vendor to sign a lease. Bassett's Ice Cream began in 1861, making it America's oldest ice cream company and it is still operated by the same family. Try the Gadzooks! flavor for a truely decadent experience.
For a more modern taste of sweetness, one of our favorites is Flying Monkey Bakery. All handmade from fresh ingredients in small batches, this bakery opened in 2010. It is the inventor of the Pumpple Cake: Chocolate cake with pumpkin pie baked inside and vanilla cake with apple pie baked inside, also known as heaven.
Reading Terminal Market
51 North 12th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Only about 6 blocks from Independence Hall, Reading Terminal Market is conveniently located.
It is accessible by train:
-Regional Rail (Market Street East Station)
-Subway (Broad Street Line @ City Hall, Market/Frankford Line @ 11th Street Station, Subway-Surfact Trolleys @ 13th Street Station)
-PATCO (8th and Market Streets)
Or by car. Parking is $4 with $10 purchase and merchant validation. Limit 2 hours.
11th & Arch Streets (Expert Parking)
12th & Filbert Streets (Parkway Garage)