Philadelphia ranks among the nation's top ten largest metropolitan areas, but it's often referred to as a "city of neighborhoods." Some of these neighborhoods pride themselves on their cosmopolitan sophistication, others on their hometown feel; some are almost overrun by tourists while others are Philadelphian through and through; some bustle during business hours while others only wake up after dark. In other words, there's something here for any combination of interests.
This is a brief guide to some of Philadelphia's most interesting neighborhoods, starting with our own and heading outward in all directions. Many of them are within walking distance of Drexel's University City Campus, and all are easily accessible by public transportation.
Taking its name from the three universities located in the triangle between Market Street, the Schuylkill River, and Grays Ferry and Woodland Avenues, University City generally encompasses the area around Drexel, Penn, and University of the Sciences and thus has a very high student population. In addition to food trucks and student hot spots, there are a number of Indian restaurants, some with lunch and dinner buffets.
West Philly was originally built as a suburb of Philadelphia. You'll see lots of trees and large stone duplexes (as compared to the brick row homes popular in the rest of the city). Despite the hills in West Philly, it's popular among bike messengers, as well as vegans, straight-edge and punk cultures, community-living houses, University faculty members, and hippies. There is also an African population in the area and several terrific Ethiopian restaurants.
Center City is Philly's downtown business district, so it's a major destination for students on co-op. It's also home to Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions. But unlike some downtown areas, Center City doesn't close at night or on the weekends. While being full of skyscrapers and business, Center City is also a hot spot for gourmet dining, designer shopping, and nightlife.
Rittenhouse Square is one of Philadelphia's most beautiful parks, perfect for people watching on a sunny day. The upscale neighborhood surrounding the square is home to boutiques, restaurants, and high-rise residences that overlook the park.
The Parkway-Museum District extends from Center City to the world-class Philadelphia Museum of Art on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Along the Parkwa,y you'll find the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Franklin Institute, the Barnes Foundation, and the Rodin Museum. Even locals have a hard time resisting a run up the steps of the Art Museum in tribute to Rocky.
Chinatown is a few square blocks just north of Center City (between 9th and 11th streets and Arch and Vine streets). It's full of authentic Chinese restaurants, shops, and the Friendship Gate. Located at 10th and Arch, the Friendship Gate was constructed in 1984 by Philadelphia and its Chinese sister city, Tianjin.
South Street has had several incarnations over the years and remains an iconic destination for tourists. Stretching along South Street from Broad Street to the Delaware River, there are shops, restaurants, coffeeshops, bars, and venues that line the street and make it a popular spot for nightlife, giant slices of pizza (Lorenzo's), and cheesesteaks (Jim's). There are also several highly rated American-style restaurants along South Street for a finer dining experience.
The general name "South Philly" encompasses a large area made up of many neighborhoods from the Italian Market to the stadiums. Historically it's a very traditionally Italian area with lots of Italian restaurants, cheesesteaks (Pat's and Geno's), water ice, and generations of Italian families. There are also fairly large Asian and Latino populations in South Philly as well, and along Washington Avenue east of Broad Street you'll find specialty Asian markets and restaurants and Mexican tacquerias.
Old City — the original downtown area of Philadelphia — is the location of many of the city's historic sites. In addition to being a major area for art galleries, artisan boutiques, and First Friday events, it is also a popular area for weekend nightlife and independent movie theaters. Penn's Landing runs along the Delaware Riverfront, providing areas for outdoor gatherings such as concerts and festivals, as well as hosting free outdoor movies in the summer. There are many pubs and restaurants in the neighborhood, including Franklin Fountain, which serves homemade ice cream made from local ingredients.
North of Old City, Northern Liberties is a popular area for young professionals. Second and 3rd streets between Spring Garden Street and Girard Avenue are lined with restaurants of every flavor, bars, shops, and parks. Here, Philly's typical row houses are interspersed among condominium complexes. The Piazza is a European-style plaza surrounded by shops and restaurants where people gather for festivals, farmers' markets, and to watch movies and sporting events on the giant outdoor TV screen.
Fishtown, just north of Northern Liberties, is traditionally an Irish working-class neighborhood located near the Delaware River. Yes, they used to actually fish (you still can, but don't eat it). Recently it's become a popular neighborhood for students, artists, musicians, and hipsters. The Frankford Avenue Arts Corridor supports galleries and an active First Friday scene. The area enjoys many gastropubs, coffeeshops, and a couple of great Indian restaurants.