A Visitor’s Guide to Philadelphia Neighborhoods
Old City – As the name suggests, this neighborhood is the oldest part of the city – it is where William Penn and the Quakers first settled, and it is packed with historical treasures. Old City runs from the Delaware River to 4th Street and includes the Betsy Ross House and Elfreth’s Alley, a cobblestone street off of 2nd Street with 300 year old historic row houses. Within a few blocks of Old City are Christ Church and Burial Ground, and the house where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, Penn’s Landing, and the Independence National Historical Park with the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center. The neighborhood is not just about the past – it comes is also has a vibrant nightlife with everything from dive bars to music clubs to classy restaurants. The 3rd Street Corridor is home to art galleries and boutique clothing shops. The part of Old City along the waterfront is known as Penn’s Landing for self-explanatory reasons. There, one can find the Independence Seaport Museum and its WWII USS Becuna submarine and the USS Olympia cruiser from the Spanish-American War.
Market East – Market East is a loosely defined area downtown that was historically known as the place where farmers and merchants would meet to sell their goods. The area still has the Reading Terminal Market and many merchants and restaurants, including the sandwich shops Tommy DiNic’s and Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagies. There’s also Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Thai food, plus bakeries and stores that sell Amish goods. Just to the North of Market East is Philadelphia’s Chinatown.
Washington Square West – this established, popular neighborhood stretches west and south from Washington Square Park and is notable for its historic rowhouses and lively nightlife. Many of Philadelphia’s most in-demand bars and restaurants, including ones run by famed chefs Jose Garces and Mark Vetri, can be found along 12th and 13th Street, and Antique Row is located along Pine Street. Philadelphia’s “Gayborhood” is located on the western side of the Washington Square West neighborhood.
Bella Vista – many of Philadelphia’s Italian immigrants made their home in the Bella Vista neighborhood, and the area still retains much of its Italian culture. The 9th Street Italian Market is here, as well as sandwich shops like Paesano’s II and Sarcone’s Deli.
Society Hill/South Street – most of Society Hill is residential and contains the nation’s highest concentration of 18th and 19th-century rowhouses situated along narrow cobblestone streets. On the southern edge of Society Hill is South Street, a bustling hive of activity both day and night. Anything and everything can be found here, including cafes, bars and beer halls, music venues, tattoo parlors and body piercing shops, cheese steak joints, and all manner of shops from bargain to upscale. Many of Philadelphia’s festivals take place here.
Queens Village – south of South Street, Queens Village is Philadelphia’s first suburb and oldest residential neighborhood. Along 4th Street, Fashion Row is aptly named, as it contains a healthy selection of clothing and fabric stores, as well a few coffeeshops and restaurants, including the Famous 4th Street Delicatesen. The Headhouse Square area where 2nd Street intersects with South Street is another commercial district full of restaurants.
East Passyunk Avenue – the diagonal E. Passyunk Avenue gives this area it’s name, and it’s known for its vast and diverse selection of restaurants. Food & Wine magazine named the street one of the “10 Best Foodie Streets in America” recently. Cheesesteak rivals, Patâ€™s King of Steaks and Genoâ€™s Steaks, are at the center of it all, but there’s also plenty of Mexican, Italian, sushi, and other choices. The are is also becoming known as the “New Gayborhood” for its gay population.
Rittenhouse Square – this well-to-do neighborhood is anchored by Rittenhouse Square Park – one of Philadelphia’s five original open-spaces planned by William Penn in the 17th century. The Square attracts all types of people and makes for great people-watching. Surrounding the Square are some of the finest hotels and fashionable clothing stores in town, and the neighboring blocks house the monied elite in high rise apartments and stately old apartment buildings.
Fairmount/Art Museum Area – Fairmount, which is also referred to as the Art Museum Area, is the name of the hill where the Philadelphia Museum of Art sits, and it is where William Penn originally planned to build his house. The neighborhood is mostly upper-middle-class residential, but it also lures many visitors for attractions such as the Museum of Arts, The Rodin Museum, the Barnes Foundation Museum, Boat House Row, and the Eastern State Penitentiary. Benjamin Franklin Parkway was designed based on the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es in Paris and leads into beautiful and expansive Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River. The neighborhood also boasts many great restaurants.
Northern Liberties – the area north of Old City along the Delaware River was originally known for being the mills and factories, and for being a famous red-light district. In the 1960’s it was the home of such regal breweries as Schmidt’s, and Ballantine. Now, the hipsters have arrived and turned the industrial area into lofts, dive bars, coffee houses, and trendy restaurants. Come for the nightlife, or come for the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site during the day. As Northern Liberties has gotten gentrified, many of the artists have moved further north to Fishtown.
South Street – the South Street District runs along South Street from the river to about 8th Street, and it is a bustling hive of activity both day and night. Anything and everything can be found here, including cafes, bars and beer halls, music venues, tattoo parlors and body piercing shops, cheese steak joints, and all manner of shops from bargain to upscale. Many of Philadelphia’s festivals take place here.
University City – the area to the west of the Schuylkill River is also known as the “Left Bank” for its academic and liberal leanings. The resplendent University of Pennsylvania is the dominant campus, but Drexel University and the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia are also here. To the west of the campuses are historic residential neighborhoods full of old brick rowhouses and Victorian mansions. The population is ethnically diverse, with many Indian and African residents.