Where to Stay in Philadelphia

SD › Best Places to Stay in Philadephia
Updated: February 2, 2021

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Best Areas to Stay in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is crammed with great places to stay. Most options fall in the city center, but more choices are gradually springing up in Philly’s famously idiosyncratic outer neighborhoods.

Most of Philly’s top attractions are also in the city center, a two-and-a-half mile grid wedged between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. The Old City is the home of Independence National Historical Park and numerous sights associated with the American Revolution, while the Parkway Museum District boasts some of America’s best art museums, as well as the famous “Rocky Steps”. Anchoring the two neighborhoods at the heart of Downtown is Center City, with its skyscrapers, malls, and towering City Hall. Yet there’s a lot more to Philly. South Philadelphia is famed for its diverse eating scene and the celebrated cheesesteak sandwiches, while University City, across the Schuylkill to the west, is the home of the University of Pennsylvania. To the north lie the hip neighborhoods of Callowhill (Philly’s “Loft District”), artsy Northern Liberties, and Fishtown, a former working-class neighborhood now brimming with cool bars and restaurants.

While it’s relatively easy to explore the city center on foot, the Philly Phlash Downtown Loop bus service connects all the main attractions for just $2 ($5 for a one-day pass). To travel to the outer neighborhoods use SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority) buses and subway services (there are two subway lines, the MFL/Blue Line, and the BSL/Orange Line). Fares are $2.50, paid in cash or with the stored value SEPTA Key Card. Taxis and Uber/Lyft cars are also easily available throughout the city.

Navigating central Philly is easy thanks to its grid pattern. Numbered north-south streets start at the Delaware River (so Front Street is also “1st Street”) and move west in ascending order. The central point in the grid is City Hall, where Broad Street (14th Street) intersects with Market Street. The numbered streets come with a “north” or “south” prefix either side of Market.

Best Places to Stay in Philadelphia

Best Neighborhoods in Philadelphia for…

  • Best Neighborhood to Stay for First Timers… Old City
    The historic Old City is hard to beat for a first-time visit to Philadelphia. This is where William Penn’s city was founded in the 17th century, and where Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Franklin once roamed. Philadelphia’s premier historic sights – Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Museum of the American Revolution, the National Constitution Center and more – are all here. It’s still one of the city’s most beautiful districts and is perfectly placed for just about everywhere – the Delaware Waterfront makes up its eastern boundary, while Center City lies just to the west and the Italian Market to the south.
  • Most Romantic Neighborhood: Chestnut Hill
    Some nine miles northwest of central Philly, at the end of the Chestnut Hill West Line (SEPTA regional rail), Chestnut Hill is a picture-perfect community of quiet, tree-lined streets and elegant mansions. It’s a little off the main tourist path but its village-like charm, cobblestoned streets, cozy restaurants and galleries make it a wonderful location for couples. Adjacent Wissahickon Gorge is laced with hiking trails, while leafy Morris Arboretum covers the northern end of the district. Other than the Woodmere Art Museum, there’s not a lot in the way of must-see sights, but the Chestnut Hill Hotel and Pilgrim’s Rest Bed and Breakfast (on the other side of Wissahickon Gorge) are some of the most romantic places to stay in the city.
  • Best Neighborhood for Nightlife: Fishtown
    Fishtown, a couple of miles north of Old City, is one of Philly’s liveliest and most fashionable neighborhoods. Once a humdrum base for the local fishing industry, today its narrow streets and working-class shingle homes feature indie bars, restaurants, music venues, studios and galleries. Highlights include gastropub and live venue Johnny Brenda’s, cash-only El Bar (1356 N Front St), indie band favorite Kung Fu Necktie, and the beer garden at Frankford Hall. At Barcade (barcadephiladelphia.com) drinks are served along side classic arcade games. Fishtown also boasts some of Philly’s best boutique hotels: Wm. Mulherin’s Sons Hotel, and Lokal Hotel – Fishtown. The “El” (aka MFL/Blue Line) links Fishtown with central Philadelphia in under nine minutes.
  • Best Neighborhood for Food and Restaurants: Old City
    Though the neighborhoods of South Philly are better known for their diversity (and the best Philly cheesesteaks), Old City packs the most punch when it comes to dining in Philadelphia. At the top-end there’s Amada (philadelphia.amadarestaurant.com) from celebrity chef Jose Garces, and Fork, while Han Dynasty knocks out lauded Sichuan food, and Forsythia blends French dishes with local ingredients. Zahav is Chef Michael Solomonov’s celebrated Israeli restaurant. For old-fashioned ice cream and desserts, there’s the Franklin Fountain.
  • Best Neighborhood for Shopping: Rittenhouse Square
    Rittenhouse Square is one of the city’s ritziest neighborhoods, just south of Center City, and also one of its best shopping destinations. Walnut and Chestnut streets are lined with all the major national chains, from Nordstrom Rack and Anthropologie to Apple Store and Target, but there are plenty of indie stores here: Bauman Rare Books, Govberg Jewelers, David Michie Violins, Frankinstien Bike Worx, Boyds Philadelphia and many others.
  • Best Neighborhood for Local Vibe: East Passyhunk
    This South Philly neighborhood, anchored by East Passyhunk (“Pashyunk”) Avenue, retains plenty of local color, home to murals and street art, mom-and-pop shops, no frills bars, indie boutiques and world-famous cheesesteak spots such as 24hr-hour Geno’s Steaks, and Pat’s King of Steaks. There’s also plenty of traditional red sauce Italian restaurants, along side newcomers like Malaysian favorite Saté Kampar (1837 E Passyunk Ave) and Perla for modern Filipino cuisine. Other than apartment rentals, there’s nowhere to stay in the neighborhood itself, though the charming Bellavista lies on its northern edge. East Passyunk is a short walk from the Tasker Morris Station on the Broad Street Line (BSL/Orange), or a quick cab ride from central Philly.
  • Unsafe Areas of Philadelphia
    Central Philly is generally quite safe, though the usual precautions should be taken at night. In North Philadelphia, the section known as “Philadelphia Badlands” posts high crime rates and should be avoided, but there’s no reason to travel anywhere near this area.

The 6 Best Neighborhoods in Philadelphia for Tourists

1. Old City

Old City encompasses the area settled by William Penn and his fellow Quakers in the late 17th century, on the banks of the Delaware River. Much of the neighborhood is part of Independence National Historical Park, the home of Independence Hall (where the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed), and the Liberty Bell, the iconic symbol of American freedom. Today in the Old City numerous historical churches and homes dating to the 18th and 19th centuries stand amongst modern buildings and high-rises. Benjamin Franklin’s Grave is here, as is a museum dedicated to his memory, as well as pretty cobblestone streets such as Elfreth’s Alley, the National Museum of American Jewish History, and the National Constitution Center.

2. Center City

Philadelphia’s modern downtown is dubbed Center City, a grid of gleaming skyscrapers anchored by the impressive bulk of City Hall – staying here allows convenient access to all the city’s neighborhoods as well as a decent range of restaurants and bars. The city’s two tallest skyscrapers, Comcast Technology Center and Comcast Center, stand just to the west of City Hall, while Chinatown and Reading Terminal Market, crammed with food stalls, lie at the eastern end. Panoramic views are on offer at One Liberty Observation Deck, while the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is a lesser-visited gem packed full of Old Masters.

3. Rittenhouse Square

Rittenhouse Square, the neighborhood in the southwest corner of Center City, contains some of Philly’s most expensive apartment buildings, its plush sidewalks home to alfresco dining, high-end stores, indie boutiques and art galleries. Shady Rittenhouse Square itself is a popular place to relax for locals and downtown workers, surrounded by high-rises and high-end apartment blocks. It’s a pleasant area place to be based in, buzzing with activity year-round. Though there are no must-see sights here, the neighborhood is within strolling distance of the Parkway Museum District and Old City.

4. Parkway Museum District (Logan Square)

Philadelphia’s premier art museums line the green swathe of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from Logan Square northwest to the Schuylkill River. Art lovers will enjoy the convenience of staying here: the Barnes Foundation, Rodin Museum, and Philadelphia Museum of Art, equally famed for the statue of beloved movie character Rocky outside as the art inside, are within a short walk of several hotels, while families will want to check out the science exhibits at the Franklin Institute and dinosaur bones at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (ansp.org). The hotels here tend to be clustered around Logan Square at the southern end of the Parkway. Just to the north, the Fairmount district boasts a thriving restaurant scene.

5. Society Hill

Just to the south of Old City lies Society Hill, one of Philadelphia’s most attractive and high-end residential neighborhoods. There are no major sights here, but Society Hill is perfect for aimless wandering, taking in the charming red-brick Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, and Beaux Arts townhouses, leafy cobblestone streets, and stylish cafés such as the Lombard (542 Lombard St). While there are no hotels in the neighborhood itself, the Philadelphia Marriott Old City and Morris House lie on its northern fringes.

6. University City

Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania claims to be America’s first university, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1749. Today the thriving private research institution – along with adjacent Drexel University – gives its name to a whole neighborhood, just over the Schuylkill River from Center City. It’s home to an eclectic range of bars and eateries on Walnut and Chestnut streets, enlivened by the student population, as well as several attractions on the leafy campus itself: the Penn Museum, Fisher Fine Arts Library and several large-scale art installations, notably the “Broken Button”.

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