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.
- 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 Rittenhouse Square, located in one of Philly’s most desirable neighborhoods; Washington Square, home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; Franklin Square, sporting a playground and carousel; Logan Square, now a circle along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with the stunning Swann Memorial Fountain; and Center Square, where City Hall and Dilworth Park reside. 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. Rittenhouse, 18th & Walnut Streets, friendsofrittenhouse.org; Washington, 7th & Walnut Streets; Franklin, 6th & Race Streets, historicphiladelphia.org; Logan, 19th Street & Benjamin Franklin Parkway; Center Square/Dilworth Park, Broad & Market Streets, (215) 440-5500, dilworthpark.org
- Philadelphia’s Champs-Élysées: 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 this year, with 14 months of special Parkway 100 exhibitions, events, community conversations and promotions. Benjamin Franklin Parkway between 16th & 26th Streets, parkwaymuseumsdistrict.org
- A Tale Of Two Rivers: Center City Philadelphia sits between two waterways: the Schuylkill River on the west and the Delaware River 30 blocks to the east. Recent developments on both waterfronts have made them bigger draws than ever before. The Schuylkill River Trail, Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk and Bartram’s Mile 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. Schuylkill Banks, 25th & Locust Streets, schuylkillbanks.org; Spruce Street Harbor Park, Columbus Boulevard & Spruce Street, (215) 922-2386, sprucestreetharborpark.com; RiverRink, 101 S. Columbus Boulevard, (215) 922-2386, riverrink.com
All About The Food:
- 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. Pretzel Factory, phillypretzelfactory.com; Reading Terminal, 12th & Arch Streets, (215) 922-2317, readingterminalmarket.org
- Cheesesteaks and Roast Pork: Philadelphia is known for the cheesesteak. 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. But 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. Geno’s, 1219 S. 9th Street, (215) 389-0659, genosteaks.com; Pat’s, 1237 E. Passyunk Avenue, patskingofsteaks.com; Jim’s, 400 South Street, (215) 928-1911, jimssouthstreet.com; DiNic’s, 12th & Arch Streets, (215) 923-6175, tommydinics.com
- 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. John’s, 701 Christian Street, (215) 925-6955, johnswaterice.com; Rita’s, ritasice.com
- Hoagies: Outside of the 215/267/484 area codes, 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 bite through to the hearty supply of deli meat, cheese and toppings. Various locations of Primo Hoagies set high standards. primohoagies.com
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.
- 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: He 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 museum near the site of his former home and his final resting place at Christ Church Burial Ground. Franklin Museum, between 3rd & 4th and Chestnut & Market Streets, (215) 965-2305, nps.gov/inde; Burial Ground, Arch Street, between 4th & 5th Streets, (215) 922-1695, christchurchphila.org
How To Drink In America’s Best Drinking City:
- BYOB: 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.
- Where to Buy: 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. Fine Wine and Good Spirits, finewineandgoodspirits.com; The Foodery, 10th & Pine Streets, (215) 928-1111; fooderybeer.com; The Foodery Rittenhouse, 1710 Sansom Street, (215) 567-1500, fooderyrittenhouse.com
- Liberty Bell: The cracked Bell served as a symbol for the abolitionist movement, and it also makes for a very American profile picture. Liberty Bell Center, 6th & Market Streets, (215) 965-2305, nps.gov/inde
- Independence Hall: #historyhappenedhere #america #wethepeople. 6th & Chestnut Streets, (215) 965-2305, nps.gov/inde
- City Hall: No filter needed to make this ornate building look like a work of art. Alexander Milne Calder designed the sculptures that adorn the exterior and the bronze William Penn statue at the top. Broad & Market Streets, (215) 686-2840, phila.gov/virtualch
- LOVE Sculpture: Currently undergoing restoration, Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture is due to return to a newly renovated LOVE Park (16th Street & John F. Kennedy Boulevard) in early 2018.
- AMOR Sculpture: Robert Indiana’s sibling work appeared in town in time for Pope Francis’ visit in 2015 and now resides at Sister Cities Park, across the street from the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. 18th Street & Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 440-5500, ccdparks.org
- Philadelphia Museum of Art: The majestic Art Museum tops the Ben Franklin Parkway. Its location and its massive Greek revival design provides a stunning sight, perfectly captured at various points along the Parkway or from The Logan’s rooftop lounge, Assembly. Art Museum, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100, philamuseum.org; Assembly, 1840 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 783-4171, assemblyrooftop.com
- Avenue of the Arts (a.k.a. Broad Street): On any Friday or Saturday, brides and grooms cross Broad Street to stand on the median for a coveted photo that stars City Hall as the backdrop. Broad Street between Chestnut & Lombard Streets and between Arch & Race Streets, avenueofthearts.org
- Benjamin Franklin Bridge: Spruce Street Harbor Park, Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest and Winterfest, Race Street Pier and Morgan’s Pier restaurant and beer garden offer fantastic views of the bridge that stretches over the Delaware River to New Jersey. Columbus Boulevard between Spruce & Callowhill Streets
- Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens: Weird and wonderful, indoor-outdoor space glistens with glass, tiles, found objects and even bike tires. 1020 South Street, (215) 733-0390, phillymagicgardens.org
- Skyline: The South Street Bridge features a skyline-and-river view that also shows off the Schuylkill River Trail. South Street, west of 27th Street
- On Foot: Locals like to walk. It’s the easiest way to get around. In fact, Philadelphia ranks fifth among most walkable cities in the country, according to WalkScore.
- Philly PHLASH Downtown Loop™: Fast, convenient and affordable. That’s the visitor-friendly PHLASH bus. Riders pay $2 per ride or $5 for an all-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. ridephillyphlash.com
- SEPTA: 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. septa.org
- Indego: 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. rideindego.com
- Taxis: They’re easy to flag down, especially in Center City. The light on the top of the cab means it’s available.
- Uber, Lyft, 215-Get-A-Cab: Need a ride? There are a few apps for that. uber.com, lyft.com, 215getacab.com
Sound It Out:
- Pronunciations: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
VISIT PHILADELPHIA® is our name and our mission. As the region’s official tourism marketing agency, we build Greater Philadelphia’s image, drive visitation and boost the economy.
On Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website and blog, visitphilly.com and uwishunu.com, visitors can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages. Compelling photography and videos, interactive maps and detailed visitor information make the sites effective trip-planning tools. Along with Visit Philly social media channels, the online platforms communicate directly with consumers. Travelers can also call and stop into the Independence Visitor Center for additional information and tickets.