A Philly Local’s Tips for First Timers

Philadelphia Skyline

As a Philly local, I was just as surprised as everyone else here to find out Lonely Planet named us one of the top destinations in the world for 2024.

But not because this city isn’t awesome. But because it’s so quirky, usually only people from here are able to appreciate it. To us, it’s the most European American city, with intimate, tightly-knit blocks, built for simpler times. Part Rocky, with its perennial underdog status, sports fans, and sarcastic but lovable east coast attitude. And, Part M. Night Shyamalan movie, because everywhere you look, a quirky story is waiting to be told. \

There’s no other city quite like Philly. It’s just that I never thought you’d notice!

A few hours from Manhattan, DC, Baltimore, the “Jersey Shore,” and the Poconos, with farms, hiking, and amazing food almost everywhere, it’s affordable, vibrant, and connected. I’m excited you’re curious about exploring. You can find all the must-sees and tourist traps in the guide books. But here? Just a few tips from a Philly local.

16 Tips for Visiting The City of Brotherly Love

Graffiti Pier
Graffiti Pier

Cash is King. In Philly, many mom-and-pop shops and even some of the city’s favorite spots only accept cash (They usually have an ATM in the building).

Walkability and Safety. The greater Center City area–from Girard Avenue to Washington Avenue, and from river to river–is very walkable and safe. Stick to well-lit areas and walk in groups at night. While University City and West Philly are accessible on foot, crossing a river might be a challenge for some.

Public Transportation. The SEPTA bus system is reliable and affordable, but the subway hasn’t quite bounced back post-pandemic. But most of where you want to go is on the downtown grid, so it’s easy to navigate by bus. With the SEPTA App, the bus system never costs more than $2 a ride and is a convenient and safer alternative.

A City of Neighborhoods. Don’t confine yourself to Center City. Explore neighborhoods like Fishtown and Passyunk for a village-y vibes and excellent shopping, dining, and nightlife. In 2019, the USA Today mistook Manayunk for a small town, with its cobblestone streets and quaint main street feel. But it’s in the city a short drive, train, bus, or bike ride, from Center City.

You might be afraid to enter some of the best spots. Places like Graffiti Pier–a sprawling temple of tagging on the river where you can legally spray paint the pier. And, Graffiti Bar, a speakeasy down an alleyway in Center City, might require a bit of adventure to enter, but they offer unique experiences that are quintessentially Philly.

Philly After Dark

Philly skyline at night
Philly skyline at night

Nightlife is a little confusing. Bars and clubs close at 2am. But, but then it becomes members only after hours clubs, which are miraculously open to anyone till about 4am, for a cover. My favorite is the Ruba Club–one of the longest continually running speakeasies in the world, operating in a theater nestled amongst the storied town homes of Northern Liberties.

Know what a City Wide is. A well shot and a cheap beer usually for $2-$3 available at almost every bar.

Rooftop Views. For a stunning view of the city, check out one of Philly’s rooftop bars. Places like Bok Bar offer not just great drinks, but also an unparalleled view of the Philadelphia skyline. The crown jewel, though, is the bar at the Four Seasons hotel in Center City–a mirrored sky top nest, the tallest in Philly, with endless views in all directions.

Eat Your Way Through Philly

Tattooed Mom's in Philly
Tattooed Mom’s in Philly

You don’t need to go to the best restaurants to get the best food. Go to the buzzed-about restaurants. The Mediterranean at Zahav is incredible. The Mexican at Philly Barbacoa is beyond. The Starr restaurants are all very cool. But, make some time for a dive or local corner bar. The food is almost always good. What makes Philly such a unique food town is that you can just about walk into any neighborhood bar and order a fantastic hamburger, chicken sandwich, steak frites, tacos, and fish. But also find ambiance. Places like North 3rd, Tattoo Mom’s, Johnny Brenda’s, Franky Bradley’s, and Tavern on Camac offer great pub food in some unique settings.

BYOB Culture. With Pennsylvania’s strict alcohol regulations, BYOB restaurants are a popular choice. If you’re coming from New Jersey, stock up on alcohol at one of the huge booze emporiums just outside the city.

Outdoor Attractions

Wissahickon Park
Wissahickon Park

Bring Hiking Boots. Just 15 minutes from downtown, in the Northwest neighborhoods of Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill, East Falls, to name a few, 50 miles of wooded hiking trails await. These paths wind through a gorge along Wissahickon creek that reflect the languid trees. Wissahickon Park is Philly’s other “down the shore” and in the summer, people set up camp and play in the water. In fall, It’s the best palace to leaf peep in the city and in the spring, blooming wildflowers charm you into thinking you’re miles from civilization. There are plenty of trailside attractions such as Toleration Statue, Fingerspan Bridge, Devil’s Pool, and the covered bridge. Don’t miss Valley Green Inn, a cozy gastro pub with great food and creek views, making it unnecessary to pack a lunch.

Better Fall Leaf Peeping than the Poconos. You’d imagine that the sprawling mountains and forests to Philly’s North would have the best fall foliage. And they do have some lookers, like in New Hope, which blooms from late September to mid October. But it’s over in the blink of an eye. The leaves stick around a little longer in Philly, from Early October to Mid-November.

The Cemeteries whisk you away. For example, Christ Church Burial Ground in Old City, the country’s oldest, where Benjamin Franklin’s grave can be visited. East and West Laurel Hill Cemetery, located along the Schuylkill River, have some of the best examples of Victorian funerary art in the country. Plus, it is the final resting place of Gene Kelly and Phillies announcer Harry Kalas. The sprawling hills are a favorite for cyclers and hikers, who approach via the Cynwyd Trail.

Philly Local Culture

The Penn Museum
The Penn Museum

Off the beaten path are just as interesting as the big names. Discover hidden gems like the Penn Museum, Vampa Museum of Paranormal Oddities, and the Mutter Museum (go soon before it closes!). Tom Hanks’ favorite, Philly Typewriter, is a vintage Typewriter boutique where you can learn about the writing tools of some of the world’s most renown authors.

Indulge in the Coffee Culture. Philly’s coffee scene is booming. The café from hometown coffee company, La Colombe in Fishtown offers a great atmosphere and even better coffee, just no Wi-Fi, so you can truly shut off. That said, Philly didn’t let the onslaught of corporate coffee erase it’s strong indie roots. Places like Higher Grounds, One Shot, Three Graces, and ReAnimator, all serve the traditional WiFi and work all day model.

The other Elfreth’s Alley. Elfeith’s Alley is known as America’s oldest continually inhabited residential street. It’s cool to snap a photo of, but it’s not longer than a few minute-experience. Better, is a longer stroll up Delancey Place, about a quarter-mile south, from 2nd to the Schuylkill river. Lined with historic mansions, leafy trees, and even more windy residential alleyways that whisk you away to another time. You can be steps from a skyscraper, yet feel like you’re strolling through history.

This Philly Local Welcomes You!

Philadelphia Skyline at Dusk
Philadelphia Skyline at Dusk

Lastly, people from Philly aren’t as bad as the PR, or some of the sports fans. We just have passion. And if you express interest in our town, we’ll be excited to show you. So, pack your bags (and some cash), and get ready to discover the heart and soul of the City of Brotherly Love.

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