Philadelphia, “The City of Brotherly Love,” often referred to as “Philly,” is also the “Birthplace of America” and its modern democracy. Being the 6th most-populous city in the United States, it’s located near the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware borders.
New York City, Washington D.C., and Jersey Shore (Atlantic City, Cape May, Ocean City, Wildwood) are all only a few hours of drive away.
Philadelphia is known for its rich history (Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Constitution Hall, home of the American Declaration of Independence), sports, and cheesesteaks.
Things To Do In Philadelphia
Note: Travelers planning to visit multiple attractions may benefit from Philadelphia CityPASS, which grants admission to 6 Philadelphia attractions within 9 days of first use for a much-reduced rate and includes an expedited entry in some cases.
The included attractions in the CityPASS are:
- The Franklin Institute
- Adventure Aquarium
- Phila Trolley & The Big Bus Company (24 hours of on-off privileges)
- Philadelphia Zoo
- The Academy of Natural Sciences or the National Constitution Center (Option 1)
- Please Touch Museum or Eastern State Penitentiary (Option 2)
For most visitors, the focal point of their travel will be:
- Center City (Downtown, City Hall, Convention Center, Chinatown, Washington Square West, and Gayborhood)
- Old City
- West Philly
- South Philly
Philadelphia offers many public statue displays. “The Clothespin” is a sculpture by Claes Oldenburg that resembles a clothespin located just across from City Hall on West Market St.
LOVE Park near the City Hall is known for its Robert Indiana “LOVE” sculpture (that has come to represent the brotherly love that Philadelphia was founded on.)
Just across the JFK Blvd. from City Hall at the Municipal Services Building, visitors can find many larger than life game pieces from popular board games as well as a statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia is known for two world-famous art museums (both located in Center City West):
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Barnes Foundation
Center City area also hosts:
- Academy of Natural Sciences
- Franklin Institute Science Museum
- Mutter Museum
- Rosenbach Museum & Library
- Rodin Museum
- African American Museum
- Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia History
The Mummers Parade
The Mummers Parade is held each New Years Day. The first official parade took place on January 1, 1901. Local clubs (usually called New Years Associations) compete in one of four categories (Comics, Fancies, String Bands, and Fancy Brigades).
They prepare elaborate costumes and moveable scenery, which take months to complete. The parade of over 10,000 marchers travels approximately 3 miles northward on Broad Street, beginning in South Philadelphia and concluding near City Hall in Center City.
Ice Cream Festival
Every year at the beginning of July, an All-You-Can-Eat Ice Cream Festival is held down Penns Landing. Children under 2, eat FREE.
Fairmount Park is a large park on both sides of the Schuykill River northwest of Center City.
East Fairmount Park is home to the Smith Memorial Playground, Dell East Concerts, and a driving range.
West Fairmount Park, much of which has been renamed The Centennial District, includes the Mann Music Center (where The Philadelphia Orchestra plays in summer), the Japanese TeaHouse, Please Touch Museum for kids in a restored Memorial Hall (from the nation’s Centennial celebration).
Independence National Historic Park
Independence National Historic Park is Philadelphia’s signature historic site in the Old City. It features the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Constitution Hall (home of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution), and other historic buildings.
American Jewish History Museum
Old City is home to the National Museum of American Jewish History and Independence Seaport Museum.
Eastern State Penitentiary
Eastern State Penitentiary is billed as “America’s Most Historic Prison.” It is also the site of an annual Bastille Day recreation. In October, the notoriously haunted penitentiary is home to one of the city’s most popular Halloween attraction: the “Terror Behind the Walls” haunted house.
Edgar Allan Poe Home
The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site contains the former home of the famous American author of mystery and the macabre.
Fairmount Water Works
The Fairmount Water Works features information on local watersheds as well as interpretive art.
Public Art in Philadelphia
Thanks to Philadelphia’s innovative Mural Arts Program, the city has a truly massive amount of art that can be seen without paying a dime or entering a single building.
Originally designed to help stop graffiti and enliven the city’s buildings, the Mural Arts Program has led to Philadelphia now has the largest collection of public art in the world, with over 3500 murals completed since its inception.
The Philadelphia Zoo was the first zoo in the United States. If you are into Zoos, this is a good visit.
West Philly is home to the Penn Museum (for archaeology) and the Please Touch Museum.
Nearby Places of Interest
- Lancaster – home of Pennsylvania Amish community
- Poconos and Endless Mountains – home to ski and mountain resorts
Getting around in Philadelphia
There are plenty of public transportation options to get around the downtown core of Philadelphia. Buses, trains, and trolleys gather at 30th St. Station and the 69th St. Transportation Center.
Philadelphia is one of America’s most walkable cities. This has been taken advantage of and the city is marked extremely well by “Walk! Philadelphia” signs that are placed on each block, sometimes only several feet apart, that guide visitors toward shopping, dining, gallery perusing, cultural enjoyment, local must-sees, and public transportation should it need to be taken. The city has two very walkable shopping districts as well as the walkable Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which is home to many museums, including the Franklin Institute and the Museum of Art that was made famous in the “Rocky” movies.
SEPTA Bus. SEPTA runs an extensive bus network in Philadelphia. Buses are a convenient (if slow) method of getting almost anywhere within the city. On-time performance is relatively lacking especially in the suburbs, and it’s bound to happen to you at least once in a weekend if you take the bus heavily. Frequencies are spotty in the outer suburbs so plan ahead. In Center City, bus routes will be fairly well documented on bus shelters, but in all other locations around Philadelphia, route maps and schedules will generally not be posted; in fact the stops or route markers may only be posted on a tree branch, so do your bus route research early. Seniors ride free with a Medicare Card or a Senior Citizen Transit ID Card.
Fares can be paid with cash at $2.50 but passengers must have the exact amount as change will not be given. Tokens (to be discontinued on 30 April) will effectively reduce the cost of a single ride to $2.00 but must be bought in groups of 2 ($4), 5 ($10), or 10 ($20). Because tokens are discounted, you might want to buy tokens in bulk when given a chance; token purchases are most easily done at machines located in the busiest subway stations in Center City and at some convenience stores, but unfortunately, not all stations have token machines. SEPTA also has a reloadable chip Key Card which works like most other contactless SMART cards and the fares are the same as when a token is used ($2). SEPTA Key Cards are also available in selected locations. Passengers who require a transfer need to pay $1.00 on the first mode of transport they take (either through a deduction of their Key Card balance or payment of exact cash amount).
Phlash Bus. Philadelphia has a seasonal (May-October) trolley bus for tourists called the Phlash. It runs in a 20-stop east-west circuit of major tourist locations, from the Museum of Art in the west to Penn’s Landing in the east. It is $2 per ride or $5 for a one day pass. SEPTA pass and key card holders ride free, as do children ages 4 and under and seniors 65 and older. Look for the purple trolley bus or the winged purple & blue logo.
The 69th St. Transportation Center and 30th St. Station are the main hubs of major commuter (regional) rail, subway rail, and trolley lines.
SEPTA Regional Rail regional commuter rail trains stop in Center City at underground commuter rail tunnels. The three major Center City stops, 30th Street Station, Suburban Station, and Market East Station serve most of the city’s major attractions. Suburban Station is adjacent to near City Hall, the shopping district, the financial district, and many cultural attractions; Market East Station connects to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, shopping at The Gallery, and the Reading Terminal Market, a famous local marketplace. Traveling within Center City is considered a “Zone 1” fare and will cost $4.75 if purchased in advance and $6.00 if purchased on board the train. Seniors ride for $1. Fares to other destinations are up to $10. Between Temple University, the city center stations and University City, service is generally frequent enough that you won’t need a schedule. Service in other areas tends to be about every half-hour, with more frequent service during peak hours. The Airport Line comes every 30 minutes from about 4:30 AM to midnight 7 days a week, and Paoli/Thorndale Line (between Center City and Malvern) and Lansdale/Doylestown Line (between Center City and Lansdale) also have half-hourly service during the day on weekdays. The lightly-used Cynwyd Line only comes Monday through Friday on an erratic, rush hour centered schedule.
New Jersey Transit Atlantic City Line provides service to suburbs in New Jersey and to Atlantic City. Service patterns are somewhat uneven; be sure to check the schedule online in advance. These trains pick up passengers from the Amtrak concourse at 30th Street Station.
SEPTA operates two metros (subway/elevated) lines and a “Subway-Surface” trolley line which crosses Center City in a tunnel but runs in the street elsewhere. Just like SEPTA buses, the cash fare is $2.50, but one can buy tokens ($2.00 per ride) in packets of two ($4.00), five ($10.00) or 10 ($20.00). A subway ride also costs $2.00 if a SEPTA contactless Key Card is used. Seniors ride free with ID.
SEPTA one-day passes
Passengers who wish to use a combination of SEPTA trolley, bus and subway around downtown Philadelphia may purchase a One-Day Convenience Pass. It costs $9 and may be purchased from the ticket booth at a SEPTA subway station. It can be purchased either as a paper pass or loaded into a SEPTA chip Key Card. Unlike other metropolitan transit systems, the one-day pass does not entitle the passenger to unlimited rides on the entire system and is limited to eight rides on the day it was first used. That said, it still effectively brings down the cost of each ride to $1.13 (compared to the standard fares of $2.00 to $2.50).
To use the paper pass, just present it to the driver or station attendant at the fare gate who will punch in the current date and ride number (from 1 to 8) you have taken to indicate how many rides were already used. If the pass is loaded on a SEPTA Key Card, just tap the card against the reader you normally would. Transfers that require you to exit the station fare gates (including subway-to-bus transfers) will be counted against your ride allowance.
The Convenience Pass is not valid on regional/commuter rail lines. However, SEPTA also offers the Independence Pass, which is a one day pass that is valid on all modes of transit, including the regional rail lines (except to Trenton and West Trenton, which are $5 extra each way). The Independence Pass cannot be used on Regional Rail trains arriving in Center City prior to 9:30 am on weekdays, with the exception of the Airport Line where it is valid at all times. The Independence Pass costs $13 for an individual and $30 for a family. The Independence Pass does not have the 8-ride limit of the Convenience Pass.
Taxis are regulated by the Philadelphia Parking Authority and display a medallion license on their hood. As a result, Go2Go does not serve Philadelphia and the surrounding area. All taxis are metered. Rates are $2.70 at flagfall and $2.30 per mile (1.6km). There is also a variable gas surcharge. In July 2012 it was $1.15. For trips from the airport, a flat rate, including fuel surcharge, of $28.50 applies. An additional $1 per passenger ($3 maximum) after the first passenger will be charged on flat rate trips between the airport and Center City for those passengers over the age of 12. Tipping for good service is common.
By ride-hailing services
Ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft can be used to get around Philadelphia.
Philadelphia is also home to Enterprise CarShare and Zipcar, where, after registering, you can book vehicles by the hour or day for significantly less than a rental car. Enterprise Car Share has vehicles including Toyota Prius, Volkswagen Beetle and Mini Cooper stationed at various locations called ‘pods’ around Philadelphia. You first book online and then use your personal key to unlock the vehicle and away you go. Rental is $5.90-7.90 per hour, or approximately $50 for a full day, plus a few dollars booking fees and $0.09 per mile (1.6km) traveled.
You can park at the ends of the subway lines for very little. Remember that Philadelphia is the center of a metro area of 6 million, so the roads are congested from early morning until the mid-evening, and parking is not cheap. Should you choose to bring a car, check with your hotel about parking in the city. Legal street parking is available but is very difficult to find close to Center City attractions or hotels. Secured parking garages can cost $10-35 per day or higher in some cases. In the historic district, there were several parking options under $20. Visitors should also be aware that the Philadelphia Parking Authority is renowned (even notorious) for its efficiency, and PPA parking enforcement personnel are as quick to write tickets as they are unlikely to yield to a violator’s plea for leniency. Tickets that are not paid promptly quickly accumulate additional penalty fees. It is also worth mentioning that the only coins that the meters accept are dollar coins and quarters. Putting other coins in the meter will not give you extra time. Fortunately, depending on where you are in the city, a quarter can give you up to a half hour of parking. However, in such busy places such as Chinatown and Center City, a quarter can get you only eight minutes of parking. A new parking method has been brought about in the city — although there are still parking meters throughout the city, some areas have a kiosk at which patrons can use bills or credit cards (not just quarters) to print a ticket which they leave on the dashboard. You can park and ride for $1.00 at AT&T Station (the southernmost stop on the Orange subway line) on Mondays through Fridays until 7PM, but you must get there before 12 noon.
In terms of congestion Center City Philadelphia compares favorably to most large U.S. cities. Gridlock does occur, however, particularly during rush hour. Traffic generally moves at the slowest pace in the Chinatown neighborhood, on the numbered streets west of Broad and in the South St. and Old City areas on weekend evenings. Broad St. is typically only moderately congested. The most heavily-traveled roads in the area are I-95, I-676/I-76 (The Schuylkill Expressway), which connects Center City to the various suburbs west of the city, and I-476 (the “Blue Route”) which curves from the south to the northwest of Philadelphia, connecting I-95 with I-76 and, beyond that, the PA Turnpike. Rush-hour delays are common on all these roadways: During the morning rush-hour I-95 south-bound typically backs up between the Bridge St. and Girard Ave. exits; and eastbound I-76 typically jams from Gladwynne to 30th Street. During the evening rush-hour, I-95 usually slows from the Bridge Street to Academy Road exits. On I-676 and the westbound Schuylkill, traffic can be stop-and-go from roughly Broad St. potentially all the way to the so-called “Conshohocken Curve,” just east of the town of the same name, effectively doubling the time it normally takes to drive from Center City to the PA Turnpike entrance at King of Prussia. Anyone planning to drive through Philadelphia during either rush hours would do well to anticipate traffic conditions and plan accordingly.
SEPTA operates 8 trolleys lines including the 5 subway-surface branch lines and the two suburban trolley lines, numbered 101 and 102, that leaves from the 69th Street terminal on the Market Frankford Line. In addition, the 15 line (running along Girard Ave.) has been renovated and vintage trolley cars are now in use on this route. Connections to this line can be made at either the Broad Street Line or Market-Frankford Line Girard Stations; a transfer should be purchased upon boarding the trolley or entering your origin subway station for $1 to avoid paying an additional fare when making the connection. Among its other uses, the 15 line provides the only rail link to the Philadelphia Zoo. SEPTA has also been studying whether to restore trolley service on former lines, as many miles of rail are still in place.
Philadelphia is thoroughly covered by all of the major American cellular telephone companies. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile phones will all receive full service in most parts of the city. As always, service indoors varies according to signal strength, phone brand, and the composition of the building itself. AT&T has contracted with SEPTA to provide wireless service in transit tunnels.
While Philadelphia still bears the brunt of a history riddled with violence and decay – resulting in the notorious moniker of Killadelphia -, the city has seen a marked decline in its overall crime rate since the late 2000s, now boasting a lower crime rate than more tourist-friendly cities such as Chicago, Washington D.C, and New Orleans. This is the result of continued gentrification, community involvement, and a more efficient police force. As a rule of thumb, it’s important to know that the places visitors are likely to spend time in are safe and well policed.
Center City and the surrounding neighborhoods have very low crime rates (arguably some of the lowest in the country). Wealthier neighborhoods like Rittenhouse Square, Old City, and Society Hill, are safe, as are Northeast Philadelphia, Northwest Philadelphia, the Art Museum Area, Chinatown, the Parkway, and Bella Vista. Some petty crimes (mostly muggings) happen but much less often than the media suggest. South Philadelphia is generally safe, though certain parts should be avoided (especially those near I-95).
On the flipside, other parts of the city still struggle with rampant crime. The city’s criminal activities are overwhelmingly concentrated in North Philadelphia (with the very notable exception of Temple University), West Philadelphia (though this area has seen improvements), and Southwest Philadelphia. These areas are of little interest to tourists, but do be careful if you do end up venturing there.
Pickpocketing and scams in Philadelphia are nowhere nearly as common as in other cities, but the threat of being mugged or approached by unwanted individuals remains real, so keep an eye on your belongings. One known scam is being “photographed” by homeless men near the Rocky statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Arts.
Be careful of traffic when crossing at major intersections—in Philadelphia, as in many major cities, one must always walk, cross, and drive defensively. The winding Schuylkill expressway provides some beautiful views, particularly around Boathouse Row, but do not try to enjoy them from your car; with the high speeds, the river on one side, and jagged rocks on the other, this is a sure way to cause an accident.
Although it is frequently blown out of proportion, Philadelphia sports fans have earned a reputation as a very passionate and notorious bunch. It is advised to be extra vigilant when attending a major sports match at the Sports Complex, particularly those who have the courage to wear the opposing team’s gear in hostile territory. For these fans, it is best not to provoke the Philadelphia faithful and take their jabs in stride, as fans have been assaulted and even seriously injured in fights in and around the Sports Complex and around town.
Culture & History
Philly was founded by William Penn in 1681. The city has been a seat of religious and economic freedom since its inception. Originally settled by Quakers, the Philadelphia colony promoted religious freedom by living up to its name, “The City of Brotherly Love.”
Best Time to Visit
Philadelphia sits at the northernmost boundary of the humid subtropical climate zone; it has many features of a humid continental climate, and the climate has four distinct seasons. Winters are cold and often snowy, with temperatures usually hovering around 32°F (0°C) during the colder months. Average annual snowfall is 24 inches (59 cm) which is spread out mainly from December to March, but the area is sometimes hit by devastating blizzards that can dump up to half that total or even more on the city in one day, such as in 1996 when a single storm dumped 30.7 inches (78 cm) of snow on the city in just a couple days.
Spring and fall are rather pleasant, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s F (15°C-25°C). Summers are hot and humid, and conditions can get quite unpleasant when the air temperature is near 90°F (32°C) and humidity is high.
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