Looking for things to do in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania?! You’ve come to the right place!
I grew up right outside Manhattan, and am a bit embarrassed to admit that I’ve only made the short trip down to Philadelphia just once. One time.
In all of my years living in NYC, I only managed one short weekend trip to Philly. Pitiful if you ask me! I’d absolutely love to return and therefore, have asked my friend Megan from Beat, Broke, Backpacking to give us some insight on the best things to do in Philadelphia. She lived in Philly for a number of years, so I’m really trusting her advice!
Enjoy, and let me know if you have any more items to add to this list of things to do in Philadelphia.
I developed my nomad spirit while living in Philadelphia for four years. The city’s history, diversity, and energy are downright contagious and overly exciting. And let me tell you, there are just so many things to do in Philadelphia it can get a bit overwhelming. Philly locals walk with a watchful eye and an inner fire that is commonly found in the Northeast, but is hard to find anywhere else.
As I prepare to head back to Philadelphia for a few weeks before traveling, I’ve realized that I’m falling back in love with the city. There is never a dull moment in Philly, and you’ll never be bored, I can promise you that. There are a million things to do in Philadelphia, but let me trim it down to 15 (ish).
The city provides all the life and wonder of New York City, but let’s be real…Philly is certainly more budget-friendly. I hope you fall in love with the city as much as I have.
Pre-Travel Guide to Philadelphia
How to Get Around Philadelphia
Most of the city is laid out in a grid, so Philly’s public transportation system will get you where you need to go quite easily. Grab an Independence Pass ($12/day) and you can take the Broad Street Line up and down, you guessed it, Broad Street. The buses run up and down the main streets of the cities.
Consider buying a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Ticket (good for 1-3 days) in order to easily navigate around the city. For a little over 30 bucks, you can zig zag around Philadelphia as much as you’d like! Stops the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross House, the Philadelphia Zoo, Rodin Museum, Eastern State Penitentiary, and so much more. Find all the stops of the bus ticket/tour here.
If you’ve only got a little time and want to cram in as many sites as you can but don’t feel like spending time on a bus, consider taking a segway tour around Philadelphia!
Important Things to Pack
- Stretchy Pants: The number one thing to do in Philadelphia is eat.
- Notebook: The art around the city, including historic museums and cool street art everywhere, serves as great inspiration.
- Cash: The city is full of food trucks that serve amazing Mediterranean food, but most of them are cash-only.
Where to Stay in Philly
If you’re new to the city and would like to be able to walk, I would recommend staying in Center City, Old City, or surrounding neighborhoods. These spots can be pricy, so a hotel or an AirBNB in Queen Village or Bella Vista will save you some cash, but keep you close to the action. Fairmount is a good neighborhood with some good eats, and Northern Liberties/Fishtown are both up-and-coming neighborhoods that younger, more artsy people will enjoy.
Editors Note: Kimpton has two fantastic hotels in the Philly Area, including Hotel Palomar and Hotel Monaco. Both properties are uber chic and the most perfect spot for a girls getaway or a modern romantic weekend! I’ve stayed at both (more info on my stays here), and can most definitely recommend either one!
When to Go to Philadelphia
Philly has seasons to share. One of the reasons I moved down south was to escape the winters, but in reality, they’re not as bad as a place like Boston or Detroit. Regardless, I still recommend going in the summer when the city’s beer gardens and parks are open and ready for your picnic blanket. You’ll find yourself with even more things to do in Philadelphia during optimal summer temps.
Let’s begin, shall we?
Things to do in Philadelphia
1) Take a Tour of America’s Beginnings
A lot of people come to Philadelphia for the historical sites, so I’ll get this one out of the way quickly. One of the coolest things about Philadelphia is that much of the original city is preserved. You’ll get used to walking on cobblestone after walking into Olde City for a few blocks. If you’re really interested in all things history, consider joining a 2-hour historical walking tour to get personalized information about all the top sites (plus some hidden gems)- glass of craft beer included!
Check out the following historical spots, all within walking distance of each other:
- Liberty Bell
- President’s House Site
- Betsy Ross House
- Independence Hall
- Ben Franklin’s Grave
- National Constitution Center
2) Run Up the Rocky Steps
Rocky is certainly a hero to local Philadelphians, especially on the South side of the city. (If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it.) Just like Rocky is a piece of cinematic history, the Rocky Statue and Rocky steps are certainly pieces of Philadelphia history. Download the Rocky theme on your iPod or phone before you run for extra effect!
Or if you’ve got a whole group of Rocky fans, book a private half-day Rocky Movie Locations tour – walk in the footsteps of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa and discover the Philadelphia film locations from the blockbuster “Rocky” movies.
3) Philadelphia Museum of Art
Don’t run down the Rocky steps before you head into the Philadelphia Museum of Art! Philadelphia has a fantastic selection of museums to explore, and a lot of them can be found along the Ben Franklin Parkway. In a few minute walk from the main train station in the city (Suburban Station) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (and the Rocky steps) you can visit the following museums:
- Rodin Museum
- Academy of Natural Sciences
- Franklin Institute
- Barnes Foundation
Consider buying tickets to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Rodin Museum ahead of time to save some time once you arrive!
4) Mac’s Tavern
While you’re in Old City, you may not see Paddy’s Pub anywhere, but you will see a tiny bar called Mac’s Tavern. The bar is partially owned by Rob and Kaitlin McElhenney, aka Mac and Dee from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (yup, they’re married in real life)!
The gastropub isn’t exactly a tourist trap for Sunny fans, but certainly holds a place in the history and appeal of Philadelphia. Fun fact: the building has been around since 1693, and while it’s not the oldest bar in the city (that title goes to a college favorite, McGillin’s Olde Ale House,) the building is older than the country. Wow.
Looking for a day-time pub crawl? This 2-Hour Philly on Tap Pub Crawl may be exactly what’s needed after a day of exploring.
5) Eat Vegan For A Day (Or Maybe Just a Meal)
Okay, I went vegan for the last year and a half that I was in college, but in my travels, I haven’t found a city with a better vegan scene. The annual VegFest only continues to grow past expectations, and every time I see another contest for the best vegan restaurant in Philly, I learn about a new place serving a plant-based menu. (And yes, there is a vegan cheesesteak contest. I’ve even had a vegan cheesesteak burrito.)
If you’re vegan, or if you’d just like to add some plants to your list of Philly foods to eat, check out this entire blog post dedicated to the vegan scene in Philly, and consider the following dishes:
- Blackbird Pizza’s Cuban Sandwich
- HipCityVeg’s Bistro Bella (pictured above)
- Govinda’s Vegan Chicken Cheesesteak
- Anything at Vedge (if you would like to get fancy)
- A Coffee at Grindcore House
6) Reading Terminal Market
If you’re not into vegan food, or want to see more of Philly’s food scene, you’ve got to make a stop by Reading Terminal Market. In the words of my favorite SNL character Stefan, “this place has everything.” My personal favorite stops include an Amish-run juice stand and the famous Flying Monkey bakery, but I’ll leave the rest to a surprise.
Reading Terminal Market beautifully displays the diversity and excitement that can be found throughout the city. If you’re staying for a few days and would like to see the best in produce and cheeses, also check out a tour of the Italian Market and taste samples of all kinds of iconic Philly food.
Any cheese-steak lovers out there? You’ll love this Philly Cheesesteak Tour via Segway – what’s better than rolling from cheesesteak to cheesesteak?!
7) Eastern State Penitentiary
Fairmount Avenue is a fun street if you are still looking for delicious restaurants, but the most notable attraction on the street is the Eastern State Penitentiary. The Penitentiary is the first modern prison and its formation (by the Quakers in the 1800s) shaped the way our prisons are constructed today.
The self-guided tour comes with narration from Steve Buscemi, and takes you through Al Capone’s former cell. The tour ends with an exploration of the current prison system and makes a comment on America’s mass incarceration. Tour is included in The Philadelphia Pass, along with 40 other popular attractions.
If you’re in Philadelphia before Halloween, the Eastern State Penitentiary turns into Terror Behind the Walls, a notorious haunted house that is often considered the best in the country.
8) Mutter Museum
If you like creepy feelings, but have a few months before Halloween, don’t worry! The Mutter Museum is here to freak you out. The museum of medical oddities includes the world’s largest colon, the infamous “Soap Lady,” and pieces of Albert Einstein’s brain.
The wall of abnormal fetuses is not for the faint of heart, but will certainly appeal to someone looking for an out-of-the-ordinary museum in the heart of the city. The Mutter Museum is included in The Philadelphia Pass as well, along with 40 other popular attractions.
9) World Café Live’s Free at Noon
If you’re looking for a diverse list of things to do in Philadelphia, look no further than the local music scene. While much of it can be found in house shows and underground churches throughout the city, the best introduction to Philly music is through WXPN.
The listener-funded radio station is based out of University of Pennsylvania, and may be familiar to NPR music fans. On Friday, WXPN hosts a free show at the World Café Live. All you have to do is RSVP ahead of time. I fondly remember my senior year in college grabbing a beer at Free at Noon between classes.
Free entertainment from up-and-coming bands? There’s nothing better.
10) Lush Spa
If you love Lush Cosmetics and want to treat yourself, book a massage at the cosmetic company’s spa on Walnut Street right in Center City. The Lush Spa has only two locations in North America: Philadelphia and New York. The treatments cost a pretty penny, but trust me: they’re worth it.
Every detail, from the secondhand British décor to the drinks after each treatment, will validate and pamper you after a long few days in the city.
11) Rosa’s Fresh Pizza
When you enter Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, you may be overwhelmed by colorful Post-It Notes. Look a little closer, and you’ll see loving and encouraging messages from locals and visitors.
The pizzeria, which has been featured on The Ellen Show, allows customers to buy $1 slices for homeless people around the city. Anyone can come into the pizzeria, grab a Post-It note, and redeem it for a slice. They don’t call Philly the City of Brotherly Love for nothing!
12) Spruce Street Harbor Park
If you have the pleasure of visiting Philadelphia in the summer, you’ll more than likely catch it in good weather. Therefore, you’ll also have the opportunity to hang out at Spruce Street Harbor Park. Locals and visitors alike look forward to the park’s opening every summer, bringing hammocks, beer, and sunshine to the Delaware River.
13) Magic Gardens
Worried you won’t get the best Instagram photo while you’re in Philly? Never fear! Magic Gardens is the perfect backdrop for your souvenir Philly photo. The venue is a work of art, with no area left untouched. Be sure to plan your visit ahead; this is one of the most sought-after things to do in Philadelphia.
14) South Street Shopping
If you’re already on South Street, hold your plans for a few hours. South Street is a more “touristy” part of Philadelphia, but still showcases some of the best bars and shops that speak to Philly’s gritty charm. Want the classic Philly cheesesteak? Skip the Pat’s and Geno’s lines and grab a steak at Jim’s (you will still have to wait.)
15) Phillies Game At Citizens Bank Park
I’ve been to a few baseball games in a few different cities, and as infamous as Philly fans are, they are worth watching. Standing spots at Citizens Bank Park aren’t more than a few bucks, and the Broad Street Line subway will take you right to the park. Afterward, you can check out the bars around the stadium (including the shopping mall of bars, XFinity Live.)
Additional things to do in Philadelphia if you’ve got even more time:
- One Liberty Observation Deck: Visit Philadelphia’s newest attraction and see the best 360-degree views of the city both day and night with the special lightening pass! At 883 feet above street level, you’re bound for a special treat. Book tickets in advance (less than $20) in order to bypass the long lines!
- Philadelphia Universities and Food Carts 2-Hour Weekday Tour: Taste Philly’s finest street food on this 2-hour walking tour indulging in the best of the best of the food carts from numerous universities nearby!
- Historic & Haunted Pub Crawl in Philadelphia: Any Al Capone, Legs Diamond, and Mickey Duffy lovers out there? In the spirit of some of Philadelphia’s most notorious prohibition-era gangsters, you’ll explore Philly’s early tavern and waterfront drinking culture.
Is anyone planning a trip to Philly soon?! Any of these things to do in Philadelphia tickle your fancy?!
BIG THANKS to Megan: yogi, traveler, and general promoter of happy feelings. Her blog, Beat, Broke, Backpacking, follows her journey backpacking to Southeast Asia with a new yoga teacher certification and no return ticket.
Photos via: skyline | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15
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