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Philadelphia 101

The how-to guide to the City of Brotherly Love



Every year, 42 million travelers get to know Philadelphia’s layout, customs, food and dialect during their visits.

First-timers may wonder: What’s the best way to get around (walk); why do so many restaurants refuse to serve alcohol (BYOBs); where are all the bagels (soft pretzels for breakfast); is that Ben Franklin on the top of that building (no); and is wooder ice really that big of a deal (yes)?

The reasons to visit the country’s first World Heritage City have been well-covered in U.S. News World Report, The New York Times, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet and Condé Nast Traveler — and that’s just the recent list. The less-apparent ins and outs reveal themselves over time to captivated repeat visitors, but here’s a Philly 101 cheat sheet to get a head start.

Grid Layout

The directionally challenged can thank city founder William Penn for Philadelphia’s logical downtown, called Center City. Perpendicular streets run north-south (numbered streets) and east-west (named mostly after trees, including Walnut, Locust and Spruce).

What would be 1st Street is named Front Street, and what would be 14th Street is Broad Street, also called Avenue of the Arts. Pro tip: William Penn continues to give direction to the city. His statue atop City Hall faces northeast, so he can help people get their bearings.

Philadelphia grid

Philadelphia's layout follows a grid pattern, making it a fairly easy city to navigate. (B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia)

"Greene Countrie Town"

Another Penn gem, Philadelphia’s five main squares date back to the original city. It was all part of the founder’s plan for a “greene countrie town.”

Today they’re known as:

Residents and visitors enjoy relaxing, picnicking and playing in these public spaces, as well as newer parks that honor Penn’s vision. Beyond Center City, Philadelphia holds dozens of diverse neighborhoods filled with row homes, famed foods and quirky traditions.

Washington Square

Rich in both history and greenery, Washington Square offers a relaxing refuge in the heart of its namesake neighborhood. (M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia)

Philadelphia’s Champs-Élysées:
Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Cutting through the city grid, the diagonal Benjamin Franklin Parkway stretches from near City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the edge of Fairmount Park. Planner Paul Philippe Cret and designer Jacques Gréber modeled the mile-long thoroughfare after the Champs-Élysées of their native country.

Some of the city’s most important cultural institutions line the Parkway — the Barnes Foundation, The Franklin Institute, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Rodin Museum, the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building and the crowning Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Parkway is celebrating its centennial in 2017, with 14 months of special Parkway 100 exhibitions, events, community conversations and promotions.

Logan Square

Stretching from City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway offers a scenic walkway that connects many of the city's most important cultural institutions. (B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia)

A Tale Of Two Rivers

Center City Philadelphia sits between two waterways: the Schuylkill River on the west and the Delaware River about 30 blocks to the east. Recent developments on both waterfronts have made them bigger draws than ever before.

Schuylkill Boardwalk

The Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk provides picturesque daytime and nighttime views for walkers, runner and bikers. (M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia)

The Schuylkill River Trail and Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk welcome walkers, runners and bikers who take advantage of this piece of the East Coast Greenway, while Spruce Street Harbor Park and Blue Cross RiverRink along the Delaware attract crowds with food, beer and a roller rink or ice-skating rink, depending on the season.

rafts on the delaware river

The Delaware River offers everything from free yoga on a pier to pop-up parks to roller skating to swan boats. (Photo courtesy DRWC)



Here in Philly, cheesesteaks are a civic icon, a tourist draw and a cultural obsession.

Often imitated around the world, the cheesesteak — a long, crusty roll filled with thinly sliced sautéed ribeye beef and melted cheese — is rarely duplicated successfully outside of Philadelphia. Popular spots for the specialty include South Philadelphia’s across-the-street rivals Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks and South Street’s Jim’s Steaks. The meat-and-cheese (and sometimes onion) icon is delicious and worth the praise.


Outside of the Philadelphia and New Jersey area, they’re often called “subs” or “heroes.” Philly takes its hoagie game seriously: The bread has to be just right — slightly crunchy on the outside, and soft enough to allow a hungry eater to bite through to the hearty supply of deli meat, cheese and toppings.

Roast Pork

Outside of the cheesesteak, there’s another Philly sandwich that many locals consider to be the real hometown choice: roast pork.

Like its more popular cousin, the roast pork starts with a quality long roll, then topped with roasted sliced pork, provolone cheese and broccoli rabe. Some people add long hots (peppers) for even more flavor.

The version at Tommy DiNic’s in the Reading Terminal Market earned the title “Best Sandwich in America” by the Travel Channel.

a Roast Pork sandwich from john's roast pork

Like the cheesesteak, roast pork has become a quintessential Philly sandwich experience. (Photo by E. Teel)

Soft Pretzels

Introduced by early German settlers, this doughy pleasure serves as more than a snack. In the morning, locals can be seen dipping pretzels into cream cheese for Philly’s version of a breakfast bagel. Other times of day, mustard is the condiment of choice. Food carts and the multiple Philly Pretzel Factory locations sell the oblong version, and the Amish vendors at Reading Terminal Market bake the more recognizable (to non-Philadelphians) circular twisted shape with a delightful buttery finish.

Soft pretzels

Grab a soft pretzel and dip it in a dab of mustard for a classic Philly snack. (J. Varney for Visit Philadelphia)

Water Ice

Called Italian ice in other parts, water ice dominates the summer dessert market in Philadelphia. It’s smoother than a snow cone or shaved ice, and the flavor is mixed right in, rather than poured on top.

Lemon and cherry win the most-ordered contest, though the sweet treat comes in a variety of flavors. South Philadelphia’s John’s Water Ice and multiple Rita’s Italian Ice locations keep people cool in the warmer months.


Philadelphia’s difficult-to-acquire liquor licenses and Pennsylvania’s let’s-call-them-quirky liquor laws created a dining phenomenon: the BYOB, short for bring your own bottle.

What began as a restaurant workaround has become an essential ingredient to the Philadelphia restaurant scene. Diners bring their bottle of choice — wine, champagne, beer, even spirits — to the more than 300 BYOBs in the city, and chefs bring their best to the plate.


Mercato, an Italian restaurant located in the Washington Square West neighborhood, is one of many BYOBs in Philadelphia. (G. Widman for Visit Philadelphia)

Where to Buy Alcohol

Those looking for liquor need to find a Fine Wine and Good Spirits outlet, called a “state store” by locals because they’re run by the state government. More than half a dozen operate in Center City (some are closed on Sundays). For wine, shoppers can seek out specialty grocers, select restaurants and aforementioned state stores.

For beer, there are bottle shops like the Foodery and larger distributors, mostly on the outskirts of Center City. Select bars also sell a small selection of to-go six packs.

man looks at beer at the foodery in philadelphia

The Foodery offers one of the best selections of to-go beer you could find. (J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia)



There are plenty of them. To keep it simple, this piece focuses on the city founder (William Penn) and its prolific adopted son (Benjamin Franklin).

William Penn

Founded in 1682, Philadelphia was William Penn’s “Holy Experiment.” King Charles II repaid a debt he owed to Penn’s father by giving the young Quaker a parcel of land the king called Pennsylvania, meaning “Penn’s Woods.” Penn decided to design a city based on his religion’s ideal of equality — radical for the time — where Quakers, Catholics, Anglicans and Jews lived alongside one another.

He also named the city to reflect this spirit of harmony: “Philadelphia” is a combination of the Greek words for “brother” and “love.” (Fun fact: Humble Quaker that he was, Penn didn’t like the name Pennsylvania.) Though many think it’s Ben Franklin, that’s a statue of William Penn on top of City Hall.

William Penn

William Penn stands prominently on the top of City Hall. (G. Widman for Visit Philadelphia)

Benjamin Franklin

Philadelphia’s favorite Founding Father continues to influence his adopted city. His name, likeness and philosophies permeate Philadelphia, and for good reason. The short list of things he did:

  • discovered electricity in storm clouds
  • founded the University of Pennsylvania, the American Philosophical Society and the country’s first volunteer fire department
  • invented bifocals, swim fins and the lightning rod
  • published Poor Richard’s Almanack and the country’s first political cartoon
  • helped to draft the Declaration of Independence, and
  • signed the Declaration and the Constitution.

Franklin fans often visit the Benjamin Franklin Museum near the site of his former home.

What does his gravestone say? “Printer.” Franklin fans throw pennies on it — in honor of his penny-saved-penny-earned advice — at Christ Church Burial Ground.

Benjamin Franklin

Visitors and residents can explore the Benjamin Franklin Museum, Franklin Court and a number of other Franklin-related attractions in Philadelphia. (R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia)


On Foot

Locals like to walk. It’s the easiest way to get around. In fact, Philadelphia ranks fifth for most walkable cities in the country, according to WalkScore.

walking in old city

A fairly flat city, Philadelphia is the perfect place to explore on a foot. (M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia)


Fast, convenient and affordable. That’s the visitor-friendly PHLASH bus. Riders pay $2 per ride or $5 for a day pass to get to 22 stops along its attraction-heavy route. The PHLASH runs every day in the summer and winter holiday seasons and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the spring and fall.


The PHLASH bus takes riders all across the city at an affordable rate. (J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia)


Philadelphia’s public transit system includes buses, trolleys, trackless trolleys, subways and the Regional Rail.

The Broad Street Line (locals call it the subway) runs north and south along Broad Street, making it the best option for getting from Center City to the stadium area in South Philadelphia, where four of the city’s professional sports teams play. SEPTA typically runs express service during game times.

The Market-Frankford Line (dubbed “the El” for its above-ground portions) takes the east-west route along Market Street, and it goes through northeastern neighborhoods including Northern Liberties and Fishtown.

For both lines, riders can pay $2.50 in cash (exact change), purchase multi-ride, one-day, weekly or monthly passes at any SEPTA station or a reloadable SEPTA Key Card which offers a host of fare options. Riders can also purchase an Individual or Family Independence Pass; both provide unlimited travel for one whole day, for one low fare.


Cyclists can traverse the city’s 240 miles of bike lanes by using Indego, Philadelphia’s popular bike-share program named after sponsor Independence Blue Cross. It’s easy to find one of the more than 100 docking stations, and the simple credit card machine takes less than a minute to use. Single 30-minute rides cost $4.

Taxis, Uber and Lyft

Need a ride? Taxis are easy to flag down, especially in Center City. The light on the top of the cab means it’s available. There are also a few apps for catching a ride, like Uber and Lyft.



Many have attempted and few have perfected the local pronunciations of key Philly terms. Schuylkill, as in the river or the I-76 expressway, is skool-kil. Passyunk, the South Philadelphia avenue and neighborhood, is pash-shunk.

East Passyunk

While sometimes a challenge to pronounce, Passyunk, a neighborhood in South Philadelphia, offers tons to explore and a park at its center for relaxing. (J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia)

Philly Accent

Water is wooder. Many words that start with st- get more of a sht- treatment, so street sounds like shtreet. The pronoun “our” sounds like are, and “orange” gets the same sound at its start — are-ange. “Bagel” goes by beg-el (but soft pretzels are better; see above). And jeet? That’s how caring Philadelphians ask if a person has eaten.

Philadelphia Dictionary

  • Center City /sen-ter sit-ee/ noun: Philadelphia’s downtown. My hotel is in Center City, and it’s easy to get everywhere from there.
  • the El /thə el/ noun: Market-Frankford Line that runs east-west (note: the subway, or Broad Street Line, runs north-south); rooted in “the elevated rail.” Hop on the El to get to Independence Mall to see where it all started.
  • gravy /grey-vee/ noun: a South Philadelphia term for red Italian sauce. Villa Di Roma makes gravy like my grandmom’s.
  • hoagie /hoh-gee/ noun: a hero or sub sandwich. The party is sure to have hoagies, cheesesteaks, soft pretzels and the like.
  • independence /in-di-pen-duhns/ noun: the state of being independent; free from control; declared in Philadelphia. Our Founding Fathers declared independence and forged a nation right in Historic Philadelphia.
  • jawn /jawn/ noun: a thing, person or place; multi-purpose fill-in-the-blank word. Wave that jawn when the parade goes by.
  • the Linc /thə lingk/ noun: short for Lincoln Financial Field. “E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!” echoes from the Linc throughout the fall.
  • fans walk into lincoln financial field

    Fans head into Lincoln Financial Field (or the Linc) in South Philadelphia. (R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia)

  • Mummers /muhm-er/ noun: costumed musicians and revelers who march up Broad Street on New Year’s Day; known for the Mummers strut. The Mummers Parade makes for quite a sight on New Year’s Day.
  • yo /yoh/ interjection: greeting; used to get someone’s attention. Yo! Do you know who’s on top of City Hall?
  • water ice /wood-er ahys/ noun: Italian ice treat. Following a full day of touring, he cooled down with a Rita’s water ice.
  • Wawa /wah-wah/ noun: convenience store native to Philadelphia region; rated best in the country; just go there. Stop at Wawa for a hoagie before the game.


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