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JC Stays: AKA University City, Philadelphia

Feel at home in Philly with this luxurious hotel chain

Living room with view (Photo: AKA University City)
Living room with view (Photo: AKA University City)

What could be a better cure for jetlag than to plunge, late at night, into a deserted, immaculate 72-foot infinity pool?

The 28th floor swimming pool, with panoramic views across Philadelphia, is just one of the many luxuries that make the new AKA University City a tempting choice in a city crowded with hotels.

AKA — a luxury hotel chain with locations from London to NYC — took over the top 18 floors of landmark new skyscraper Cira Center South last year.

The hotel’s lowest floor, the 28th, is where the fun begins; here I found a private members’ club open to Philly residents and complimentary for hotel guests.

Not only is there the tranquil pool but a cosy private cinema with weekend screenings, a trendy lounge bar and roof terrace, gym, yoga studio and 3D golf simulator room.

My suite, on the 30th floor, was huge and swish. Set up for long-stay as well as short-stay travellers, I had a kitchen–diner (fully equipped with all manner of cooking equipment and a coffee grinder), leading into an open-plan living room with enormous windows.

From here, depending on the weather, I could see swirling clouds or half the city, cars like toys below. Down a corridor there was a sleek bedroom with an extremely comfortable king-size bed, and large dressing room and bathroom, all designed in minimalist and modern style.

Close to Philly’s university quarter, I found myself ideally placed to explore both this up-and-coming neighbourhood as well as the traditional tourist trail.

The hotel is on the banks of the Schuylkill river, directly overlooking the city’s transport hubs — round-the-clock rattling from goods trains was no match for my well-soundproofed suite’s windows though.

Within a few blocks was the historic, if now slightly rundown Rittenhouse Square district. Often gritty and urban, Philly may not be the prettiest of cities but it has a certain “take me as I am” pride combined with friendliness befitting the city of brotherly love.

From Rittenhouse, it’s not far to Reading Terminal Market and the museum district while the cheap hop-on hop-off tourist bus called the Philly Phlash loops around the city’s other famous attractions, including the National Museum of American Jewish History (the only one of its kind in the USA) and various buildings linked with the country’s founding.

In the other direction from the hotel, I found a cool student neighbourhood with bars and restaurants scattered around its streets, plus the small but provocative Institute of Contemporary Art.

The hotel has no restaurant space of its own but the café next door offers room service, even if the food wasn’t a patch on the Reading Terminal Market. There’s also a coffee shop and deli-grocery store, where I stocked up on breakfast basics and freshly prepared salads.

A few hiccups during my four-night stay were less than ideal — the hotel driver who didn’t know where to meet me at the airport, housekeeping who packed away my things having not been informed of my late check-out, an incorrect bill at check-in and then my credit card debited twice.

However staff were very courteous and happy to sort out any mix-ups with an apology. The fact they arranged for me to be chauffeured the 30 minutes to and from the airport in a Tesla and the superb room more than made up it — not to mention that glorious pool in the clouds.


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