This is a comprehensive, no-frills Philadelphia travel guide to the “City of Brotherly Love”; the birthplace of the infamous cheesesteak. Philly is home to some of the most important historical sites in the country, and some of the tastiest food.
More than the aforementioned though, Philadelphia is becoming a brand new city. In recent years, it’s been shedding its mangy reputation as a violent place and catching up to the USA’s most popular city destinations.
Parts of Philly could easily compete with other East Coast cities in terms of beauty and grandeur. Plus, the city already has one of the most underrated foodie scenes in the nation.
This Philadelphia travel guide is all about the city’s bright future. We’re going to talk about all sorts of relevant topics: when to go, what to visit, and where to stay in Philadelphia.
We’ll get into the nitty-gritty as well, and be making plenty of suggestions about foods and things to do at night in Philly.
It’s not the easiest city to visit nor is it the most convenient. But if you put in the time and actually give Philly a chance, you’ll be more than rewarded.
- Why Visit Philadelphia?
- A Sample 3-Day Itinerary for Philadelphia
- Top Things to Do in Philadelphia
- Backpacker Accommodation in Philadelphia
- Philadelphia Backpacking Costs
- Best Time to Travel to Philadelphia
- Staying Safe in Philadelphia
- Working and Volunteering in Philadelphia
- Nightlife in Philadelphia
- FAQS About Backpacking in Philadelphia
- Final Advice Before Visiting Philadelphia
Why Visit Philadelphia?
Aside from being the First World Heritage City in the US, Philadelphia has a whole host of attractions to appeal to all kinds of tourists. It is one of the most historical locales in the United States. So the city is game-on for history buffs.
Foodies will also be hardpressed to find a city that does greasy, gross but oh-so-delicious eats this well. Add in plenty of sporting events and pleasing architecture, and you’ve got yourself quite a destination for travel in the USA.
Though often made out to be the grittiest of America’s Northeast Cities, Philly has a certain charm and soul that’s one-of-a-kind. But if most of the above doesn’t appeal to you, Philadelphia is worth the trip for its cheesesteaks alone.
What Are the Major Attractions in Philadelphia?
Philly is a match made in heaven for foodies, sports fanatics, and history buffs. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, I can assure you you’ll find something appealing to do.
And while there are plenty of places to visit in Philly, some fall more into the “can’t miss” category than others. Here are some of those spots in the city:
- Independence National Historical Park
- The iconic LOVE sculpture
- Museum of Art
- Cheesesteaks (yes, they get their own spot indeed!)
- Eastern State Penitentiary
How Long to Spend in Philadelphia?
A 3-day weekend in Philadelphia is the ideal amount of time for your first visit to the City of Brotherly Love. This will give you enough time to see the major sights, fill up on some delicious eats, and have a fun night out or two.
Thanks to the city’s stellar walkability and reliable public transit system, you’ll be able to visit everything you want relatively easily compared to most other popular places to visit in the US.
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The following is a sample 3-day itinerary for a weekend in Philadelphia. Most of the top destinations mentioned in this Philadelphia travel guide are covered in this section.
Day 1 in Philadelphia: City Center and Old City
There is no better place to start out your Philadelphia trip than in City Hall. This enormous complex dominates the nearby skyline and demands attention. I highly recommend walking in and around the building to see all of the intricate little carvings and tableaus, which illustrate various historical events.
Near City Hall is arguably one of the most photographed attractions in Philadelphia – the iconic LOVE sculpture. For many, grabbing an Instagram photo with a loved one is one of the must-dos in Philadelphia, but you’ll have to share the statue with everyone else.
Let’s wrap up those photos and head directly east on Market Street. After walking about 15-20 minutes, we’ll arrive at the L-shaped Independence National Historical Park.
Here we’ll find all of the most famous historical landmarks in Philadelphia, including the eponymous Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, Constitution Center, and Museum of the Revolution.
Spend the next however many hours you like walking around the grounds here and visiting the sites. The relics themselves can feel a little underwhelming at times – the Liberty Bell is a lot smaller in person. But if you give it some effort and join in the atmosphere, either on your own or with a reenactor, this area can be a lot of fun.
Around Independence Park are several other notable locations – such as your next stop: the African American Museum.
Be sure to drop by the Curtis Center to see the Dream Garden painting. It’s very detailed and extremely arresting.
Wrap up the day with a walk down America’s oldest inhabited street, Elfreth’s Alley, and a stroll along the banks of the Delaware River. You can then cross the Benjamin Franklin Bridge into New Jersey if you like to gain some solid views of the city at sunset.
Day 2 in Philadelphia: Ben Franklin Parkway
On the second day of this Philadelphia travel guide, we’re going to continue our cultural odyssey and visit some of the city’s top galleries and museums.
We once again start at City Hall, but head northwest on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This is one of the most beautiful avenues in the USA and, I think, even comparable to some in DC. It’s framed perfectly with trees and, as you’ll see from the Art Museum, provides a wonderful scene of Philadelphia.
Along Ben Franklin Parkway are several museums, the likes of which are must-sees in Philadelphia. There’s the buzzing Franklin Institute, which is where you stop first for a bit of science and history.
Beyond that is the Barnes Foundation, which hosts an amazing collection of ethnic and modern art. Finally, there’s the Rodin Museum, which hosts one of the largest collections of the sculptor’s work in the world.
None of these can top the Philadelphia Art Museum though. This institution was built in the neoclassical style and is one of the most beloved attractions in Philadelphia. It’s the best way to wrap up a museum day.
Aside from being one of the most impressive museums in the nation, it was also the setting for one of the most famous scenes in American cinema: the one where local hero Rocky Balboa ran up the steps in preparation for his fight. Run up the steps yourself and be sure to look back – this is one of the best views in Philadelphia.
End your day on the steps or continue deeper into Fairmount Park. If you choose the latter, you’ll have the chance of visiting Boathouse Row, Philadelphia Zoo, Please Touch Museum, and Shofuso House. Be aware that by the time you reach that last landmark, you will have walked a long way.
Day 3 in Philadelphia: South Street
We end our Philadelphia travel guide itinerary with a walk in South Philly – the beating heart of the city. For many, this is the real Philadelphia.
Before diving into South Philly, let’s start across the Schuylkill River at the University of Pennsylvania. This is one of the most prestigious colleges in the country and one of the most gorgeous as well.
Many of the campus structures here are built in an ornate Gothic style. There are also many museums and galleries around and most of them are open to the public.
Let’s head across the river on Walnut Street and make a quick stop at Rittenhouse Square. Granted, this park is pretty touristy and not what we’d call “local” but we skipped it the first day and it’s still worth visiting.
Our main objective is to reach South Street, which is further south of Rittenhouse. South Street is known as the “alternative” part of town, where bohemians and counterculture people like to hang out.
It is a very diverse street with tons of boutiques, restaurants, and ethnic shops. You can find just about anything here, from international cuisines to vintage clothing to strange baubles.
But first, one of Philly’s greatest treasures: the Magic Gardens. This outdoor art exhibit is a maze of trippy sculptures and mosaics, the likes of which you wouldn’t think to find in Philly. The area reminds me a bit of Gaudi if the man were high on PCP or crack.
Nearby to the Magic Gardens is where you’ll be stopping next: the 9th Street Italian Market. This is the oldest outdoor market in the USA and is chalked full of local vendors selling their wares.
Running a grand total of 10 blocks, you could spend the entire afternoon just browsing and sampling everything you see. It’s a very active area and hands-down one of the top sites in Philadelphia.
Here are some of the best things to do in Philadelphia. The city surely has something for everyone.
1. Dive into American History
It’s common knowledge that the historical sites in Philadelphia are among the most significant in the USA. It’s not the First World Heritage City for nothing. You can learn the history of the Founding Fathers all around Philly, but most easily at Independence Hall, Valley Forge, and the Museum of the American Revolution.
2. Go to a sports game
Philadelphians are some of the rowdiest sports fans in the nation. They are diehard souls who will follow their teams through the worst of draughts and calamities.
At the moment, most of their teams are doing pretty well actually. If you can snag tickets to the likes of an Eagles, 76ers, or Flyers game, it will be rewarding to see the locals in their natural element.
3. Explore the creepier side of the city
Let us not forget that some of the most haunted stories came from Philly. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven and the Sixth Sense immediately spring to mind.
For those looking for strange, secret places in Philadelphia to inspire their ghastly delights, there are plenty of options. Eminent locations include the Eastern State Penitentiary, Mount Moriah, and Grip the Raven in the Philly Free Library.
4. Check out the collection at the College of Physicians
The College of Physicians was one of the first and most important medical schools in the country. It hosts a splendid collection of medical artefacts and curiosities, the likes of which are open to the public.
5. Go shopping at the Italian Market
The Italian Market is a staple of Philadelphia life and is one of the most beloved parts of the city. On weekends, people pour over this modern-day bazaar looking for the best local ingredients.
It’s one of the best places to eat in Philadelphia; there are plenty of little shops and stalls selling meals as well.
6. Run, walk, jump, or whatever at the Art Museum
It’s more well-known for its steps but the Philadelphia Art Museum is worth visiting as well. This is one of the most respected cultural institutions in the USA and you could spend an entire day touring it.
Don’t feel bad pretending you’re Rocky as you run towards it though – it’s a little fun.
7. Feel the love
One of the best things about Philadelphia is the sense of camaraderie in the air. Philadelphians are super proud of who they are and will stick by their city through thick and thin.
In fact, the original Quakers founded Philly upon the principles of fraternity, thus owing to its name “The City of Brotherly Love.”
8. Go to the Magic Gardens
Tucked away in a corner of Washington Square is an oasis of weird and wild art. The Magic Gardens is a wonderfully eccentric place, filled with tile mosaics and random sculptures. It’s an awesome respite from all of Philly’s historical attractions.
9. See the Cherry Blossoms in Fairmount Park
Like DC, Philly is famous for its cherry blossom displays, which peak in April and May. For a period of about 2-4 weeks, the whole of the city is blanketed in pink petals. For the best shows, best head slightly outside of Philadelphia to Fairmount Park.
10. Find the murals
The local Mural Arts Philadelphia program is one of the most active street art societies in the nation and produces some absolutely breathtaking pieces. Many serve a very explicit purpose and illustrate a part of Philadelphian life that you might not have seen otherwise.
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Backpacker Accommodation in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is actually one of my favorite cities to visit due in part to its quaint, historical housing. Cute brownstones, which are commonly associated with New York and Boston, can actually be found in Philly and these are only a tiny slice of the available lodging in the city.
When in Philadelphia, staying in a local apartment is highly recommended. And luckily, there are plenty of cozy Philadelphia Airbnbs to choose from. There’s a good possibility that you’ll be staying in a building that could be hundreds of years old. While some of these may be drafty, most are excellently maintained and renovated.
Like the rest of America, hotels in Philadelphia are just meh. They’re usually overpriced, underwhelming, and just not really ideal. There are always decent hotels in every city but I just find Airbnb to be more consistent.
There are also some epic glamping sites in Philadelphia for those who love to stay close to nature. These sites are often a little more remote and away from all the best attractions, but if you have time to spare you should consider one or two nights exploring the nature spots outside the city.
There are a few decent hostels in Philly that are spread throughout the city. Whether or not you’ve actually stayed at an American hostel or not, let me just say that it’s a little different than Europe or Asia and can attract a different crowd than your usual backpacking bunch.
The Best Places to Stay in Philadelphia
Wondering where to stay in Philadelphia? Here are the coolest neighborhoods in the city:
Old City is our recommendation for where to stay if you’re visiting Philadelphia for the first time. The city’s historic quarter, this is the neighbourhood where the seeds of American Independence were sown
Center City is set at the heart of Philadelphia. The city’s central business district, this neighbourhood is the second most inhabited downtown in the USA
If you’re someone who loves to stay at the centre of the action, then Rittenhouse Square is for you!
Fishtown & Northern Liberties
Set north of the city centre are the neighbouring district of Fishtown and Northern Liberties. Once an ignored area of the city, these two districts have risen the ranks over the last couple of decades to become the coolest neighbourhoods
Stretching across central Philadelphia is Midtown Village and Washington Square West. These side-by-side neighbourhoods are home to an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars, shops, museums, and historic landmarks
Philadelphia Backpacking Costs
Although Philadelphia has been growing and renewing itself just as much as any other American city, it is vastly more affordable than many others of its size. Cities like Seattle, Denver, and Boston have all become worrisomely expensive over the years. Though Philadelphia is still moderately inexpensive to visit.
Philadelphia is still an American city though, which means that it is still pricey by many international standards. You’ll have to be just as mindful of your spending habits in Philadelphia as anywhere else in the USA. But with the right budget backpacking skills, you may even get by for $10/day…
A lower daily budget for Philadelphia would be around $50-$70. This will get you a dorm bed, groceries, bus tickets, and some extra spending money. Couchsurfing and only eating real cheap is how you stretch that budget further.
Accommodation in Philly is actually very affordable, at least when compared to its neighbors. Hostels here are some of the most inexpensive in the nation and Airbnb deals are pretty good too.
Food is affordable depending on what and where you eat. If you stick to cheaper, more “filling” meals like cheesesteaks and pizzas, you may leave the city with more cash. If you intend on dining out at restaurants or bistros, kiss that money goodbye.
Be mindful also of drinking in bars or restaurants in Philadelphia. Local liquor laws have made booze more pricey than it ought to be. You’d be better off bringing your own bottle or drinking at home. Thankfully, beer is still cheap in Philly.
A Daily Budget in Philadelphia
Below is a breakdown of a daily budget in Philadelphia including the average costs of each expense.
|Expense||Broke Backpacker||Frugal Traveler||Creature of Comfort|
|Total per day:||$10-$70||$70-$155||$155+|
A Few Free Things to do in Philadelphia
If you’re looking to save some extra cash, then try doing one of these free things in Philadelphia while visiting!
- Get active – Feeling a little bloated after all of those cheesesteaks? Try dancing it off with Salsadelphia or join a free yoga session at the Race Street Pier to limber up.
- Get a history lesson – Being the historical treasure that it is, there are lots of history lessons to be found all over Philly. Listen to a speaker at a Once Upon a Nation marker or join in one of the many reenactments that take place regularly at Philadelphia’s many historical sites.
- Festivals and events – There are lots of arts and cultural events being held on a regular basis in Philly. First Fridays are always a great way to see local artists. Both the PECO Multicultural Series and FRINGE Arts are among the top festivals in Philadelphia. All are free.
- Museums and galleries – There are several museums in Philadelphia that are free at certain times of the week and month. Check out the websites for the Museum of Art, Institute of Contemporary Art, Science History Institute, and Edgar Allen Poe Museum to see when each is gratis.
- Kimmel – Aside from offering complimentary tours of the theater, check out the Kimmel Center’s free events, which are particularly common in the summertime.
- Symposiums and talks – Philadelphia has a large and very active academic community. Many of the local institutions hold public lectures and discussions that are totally free to the public. Ask around for the next gathering.
Travel Tips – Philadelphia on a Budget
It’s easy to spend without thinking, and even easier to go broke. If you want to visit Philadelphia on the cheap, then you’ll have to be strict with your spending habits.
For your benefit, I’ve created a list of Philadelphia travel tips to help you explore this historic city on a budget. Follow these words of advice and you’ll find that your dollar goes much further.
- BYOB – Pennsylvania has some strange liquor laws and these make drinks at bars/restaurants prohibitively expensive at times. Many establishments let you bring your own booze and you should absolutely do this to save money!
- Cook at home as often as possible – One of the most proven ways of saving money for backpackers; buying your own groceries and cooking at home will save you heaps of cash.
- Take advantage of happy hour – Happy hour is everyone’s favorite time of day! From around 4-6 pm and sometimes a bit later, lots of bars and restaurants have special drink/food prices. If you must eat out, try and go during this time.
- Pizza and cheesesteaks – Aside from being delicious, pizza and cheesesteaks are among the cheapest eats in town! Try not to indulge too much though – these foods really stick to your bones and may cause your clothes to not fit anymore.
- Buy a special pass – If you’re planning on seeing a lot of the city, then you may want to invest in a City Pass. This card will allow free entry into many entering a lot of Philadelphia’s must-see places and will even give you special rates for public transport.
Why You Should Travel to Philadelphia with a Water Bottle
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Best Time to Travel to Philadelphia
Philadelphia is part of the mid-Atlantic seaboard and is subject to four distinct seasons. None of these seasons are terribly extreme compared to some other American destinations (we’re looking at you, Denver and Miami) and there really is no real bad time to visit Philadelphia… except January and February when it’s too cold to really enjoy the city.
Summers in Philadelphia are known for being warm and muggy, much to the gripe of locals. From June-August, the weather in Philadelphia is quite humid or “sticky” as people like to say.
Still, you’ll encounter plenty of sunshine, and enjoy walking and eating outside, making it one of the best times to visit.
Autumn means changing foliage and, more importantly, Eagles kickoff. The weather is still quite pleasant during the day until Thanksgiving, which happens in late November.
September and October are particularly fantastic times to visit temperature-wise, and you’ll get to see some amazing fall colors as well.
If there was time to avoid Philadelphia, it’d be the winter.
The thing that makes winters unideal–besides the fact that it gets COLD–is that there’s just nothing to do in Philadelphia in winter.
The holidays can be quite festive and the city can even feel alive during sports matches but, if you don’t care for either of these, you might end up being pretty bored.
Spring is a lovely time to visit Philadelphia. The weather is pleasant and the prices are reasonable. In the spring, the flowers are blooming and, in particular, the cherry trees put on quite a show around the beginning of April.
What to Pack for Philadelphia
What you bring to Philly will largely depend on the season, but here are a few packing essentials I never leave home without!
Osprey Daylite Plus
Any city slicker needs a SLICK daypack. In general, you can never go wrong with an Osprey pack, but with its array of awesome organisation, durable materials, and a comfy build, the Daylite Plus will make your urban jaunts buttery smooth.
Grayl Geopress Filtered Bottle
Save $$$, save the planet, and save yourself the headache (or tummy ache). Instead of sticking to bottled plastic, buy a Grayl Geopress, drink water no matter the source, and be happy knowing the turtles and fishies thank you (and so do we!). 🙂
OCLU Action Camera
Wait, it’s cheaper than a GoPro and… better than a GoPro? The OCLU action cam is the cam for budget backpackers that want to immortalise all their wildest adventures – including that time you dropped it off a Himalayan mountain – WITHOUT breaking the bank.
Resourceful travellers know how to find power outlets anywhere on the road; smart travellers just pack a solar power bank instead. With 4-5 phone cycles per charge and the ability to top up literally anywhere the sun is shining, there’s no reason to ever get lost again!
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
ALL travellers need a headtorch – no exceptions! Even in the hostel dorm, this beauty can save you in a real pinch. If you haven’t got in on the headtorch game, DO. I promise you: you’ll never look back. Or at least if you do, you’ll be able to see what you’re looking at.
Staying Safe in Philadelphia
As far as safety in the USA goes, Philadelphia is often considered one of the sketchiest and most unsafe places to visit. The caveat is that most of the city’s crime is found in the outer, more impoverished neighborhoods like the infamous Kensington.
As such, Philadelphia is safe for tourists, generally speaking, since most of its points of interest are located in the central areas of the city. Philadelphia’s City Center is pretty secure and you’ll notice a security presence around the city’s top attractions.
Granted, there may still be shady characters around, but they will be less inclined to target anyone when cops are around.
After dark is when there are more criminals and fewer cops around. If you intend on participating in one of Philadelphia’s many things to do at night, then just make sure you put all your top travel safety tips to use.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Philadelphia
Breweries and bars are plentiful and you can definitely find your fair share of lit nightlife in the city.
Drugs are plentiful in the City of Brotherly Love. This means virtually anything can be acquired with the right connections.
But be careful while partaking in such activities of drug tourism in Philly. Accidental Fentanyl overdoses are common. So test anything before you try!
I wouldn’t say that Philadelphia is an ideal place to get into sex on the road. But if you do happen to meet anyone worth seeing more of, be respectful no matter what.
Getting Insured BEFORE Visiting Philadelphia
Traveling without insurance would be risky so do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure. Many companies let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.
It’s good to get lost sometimes, but it’s also good not to get too lost. There are people that want you home in one piece.
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How to Get Into and Around Philadelphia
Philadelphia is located smack-dab in the middle of the Atlantic seaboard and near just about every other major East Coast city. In less than 4 hours of driving, you can reach the likes of New England, New York, Washington DC, and even Appalachia country.
Add in a very well-connected international airport and a fleet of long-distance trains, and Philadelphia is a very convenient city to get in and out of.
Philadelphia International is the largest airport in the city limits and handles most of the air traffic. It’s a fairly busy airport and is serviced by lots of international carriers.
The airport is connected to the city via a commuter train and travel time is around 30 mins. Tickets can be purchased on the train for $8 or with the Mozio app for $6.75.
There is a myriad of interstate highways running in and out of Philly that connect the city to all of the surrounding states (New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware).
East Coast highways are fairly well laid-out and are easy to navigate. But keep in mind that Philly is a large urban metropolis so intercity traffic is a problem.
Plying the same highways are lots of mainliner buses. Buses are often direct so travel times shouldn’t be too long. Boasting reasonable prices as well, buses are a great alternative for those without cars.
Finally, trains make for a wonderful traveling experience. Amtrak is the major train company in the region and has near equal coverage as buses. Note that trains are a bit of a luxury in the USA and that they are significantly more expensive than any other form of ground transport.
Getting Around Philadelphia
Philadelphia is a major American city and has a public transit system that befits something of its scale. There is a fleet of buses, trams, and trains that link the city itself as well as the surrounding suburbs.
SEPTA is the major public transportation agency in Philadelphia and most of the city’s buses and trains are managed through it. There is a fairly extensive transit network and you’ll be able to get just about anywhere using it.
You can buy individual tickets for the trains/buses, but using a SEPTA Key (card) or an Independence Pass is much more convenient.
SEPTA Keys store a certain amount of credit and are used by simply tapping the card to a reader at the entry of the station or bus. An Independence Pass behaves in the same way but gives unlimited rides for a single day ($13 for one rider).
Honestly, Philadelphia is a pretty compact city. So if you don’t want to deal with public transport, you could probably get away with walking.
In fact, Philadelphia prides itself on its walkability and is often ranked as one of the most walkable cities in America. With most of the city’s attractions all within 30 mins of each other, you probably won’t use the bus/train very often.
If you did need to get across town, there are always rideshares like Uber and Lyft. These operate as you’d expect – efficiently, affordably, and sometimes with a bit of flair.
Bike lanes are becoming more and more apparent in Philadelphia so biking is a reasonable way to get around. The city itself is about as flat as cities get and there aren’t many hills to worry about (if you stay in the center).
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Working and Volunteering in Philadelphia
While working in the US will be very difficult without the proper paperwork, you can certainly live the digital nomad lifestyle in Philly if you wanted. With numerous universities in the city, you can rest assured that coffee shops and other co-working spaces are plentiful, even if the number of other nomads may not be.
As for volunteering in Philly, you might be able to swing a few opportunities, such as working in hostels or coworking spaces. But if that’s what you’re seeking, I highly recommend doing so with a trusted company like Worldpackers.
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Nightlife in Philadelphia
Philadelphia nightlife may seem a bit tame when compared to nearby powerhouses like New York City, Boston, or Washington DC.
While Philly may lack the sheer selection and grandioseness that these places have, that doesn’t mean people are puritan here. On the contrary, Philadelphians love a pint, a stiff drink, hell, anything that’ll help them forget a long day–or week–of work.
Like most American cities, the greatest concentration of Philadelphia’s nightlife is in the City Center.
Rittenhouse Square and the Old City host a large array of clubs and bars that will cater to just about anyone. One of my favorite spots is the Monk’s Cafe, partly because of the beer but mostly because of its totally unassuming location.
North of the Old City is Northern Liberties, which is Philadelphia’s current redeveloped darling. Here, there are lots of old warehouses that have been turned into bars or clubs and there are lots of parties going on.
Beyond Northern Liberties is Fishtown; another good spot that has a distinctly more hipster vibe than its Northern Liberties neighbor.
South Philly is where you’ll find the really old-school bars and watering holes. Being mostly divey in nature, there is no centralized area to go out drinking in this part of town. Generally speaking though, you’ll find enough pubs along Passyunk Street and around Washington Square.
One of the best things about Philadelphia is that everyone loves beer! There are several breweries located in the central districts and around North Philly.
Some excellent breweries are Evil Genius, Yards, Love City, and Crime and Punishment. Be sure to sample one of these many brewers either at their respective tap houses or at one of the city’s many beer festivals e.g. Philly Beer Week and Philly Craft Beer Festival.
Dining in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is obviously most well-known for its eponymous Philly cheesesteaks, which are sandwiches made from shaved meats, sauteed veggies, and some sort of cheese. Some outsiders may disregard Philly Cheesesteaks as greasy, unhealthy, and gut-bombs. Let me assure you that the locals definitely don’t believe in this.
For Philadelphians, there is nothing more delicious, more wholesome, or more enriching than a good cheesesteak. This sandwich is a great source of pride for the people of this city and many will go to great lengths to find and defend what they believe to be the best cheesesteak.
There are a number of legendary cheesesteak joints around. Steve’s, Jon’s, Gino’s, and Delasandro’s are ranked as having the best cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. Pat’s is considered the birthplace of the sandwich and so receives a fair amount of attention as well.
There’s more to Philadelphia than just cheesesteaks though. In fact, one could argue that Philadelphia is one of the top foodie destinations in the USA.
Philadelphia receives particularly high praise for its pizza and ice cream offerings, which is more good news for your stomach but not your waistline. If you really need to mix things up, there are still plenty more diverse places to eat in Philadelphia.
Budget Travel Tip: if you plan on drinking at a restaurant in Philadelphia, then BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle). Liquor laws in Pennsylvania are crazy and have made the price of alcohol very high. Many restaurants allow you to bring your own booze, which is a great way to save on cash.
Slick Restaurants and Cheap Eats in Philly
Here are some delicious restaurants in Philly that won’t break the bank!
- Reading Terminal Market: This one is first for a reason–this legendary food market cannot be missed by budget travelers. Open daily from 8 AM – 6 PM, you can find everything from pork sandwiches to papusas and everything in between here. Don’t skip Bassetts,
- South Philly Barbacoa: This famous Italian Market joint is known for its lamb tacos, but everything on a menu packs a serious flavor punch. You can find a wide variety of delicious Mexican offerings as well as delicious fresh juices.
- Lorenzo and Sons Pizza: The perfect spot for lunch, after a night out, or really just any time of day, Lorenzo’s serves up some of the biggest pizza slices in the city. Enjoy sizes that are bigger than your head WITH toppings for $4.50.
- Mac Mart: Mac n Cheese lovers, you’re in for a treat here. This casual restaurant dishes out hefty servings of America’s favorite comfort food at budget-friendly rates. You can get real creative with your toppings here, with lots of BBQ-inspired options.
- John’s Water Ice: Ok, maybe you won’t be full after sampling Philly’s favorite summer treat, but it’s a prime dessert option that backpackers will love. The shop has been operating since 1940 with just a few simple ingredients: fruit, sugar, and ice.
- Dutch Eating Place: Another hot-spot of the Reading Terminal Market that deserves its own spot on this list is the Dutch Eating Place. The budget-friendly restaurant is comfort food at its best, and portions are hefty too.
Day Trips from Philadelphia
Thanks to its great location, there are tons of options for taking a day trip from Philadelphia. Check out one of these top destinations for the top things to do outside of Philadelphia!
- New York City – New York, New York; home to some of the most distinctive towers, most unabashed people, and most vibrant cultures, ever. This metropolis is arguably one of the greatest on the entire planet and is a must see for those visiting the USA. Traveling to New York from Philadelphia takes only 2 hours by train or bus so day trips between the two are very reasonable.
- Gettysburg – Gettysburg is the historical site for one of the most important battles in the American Civil War. It was an extremely bloody conflict, whose brutality has become well-known among Americans. These days Gettysburg is much quieter; the battleground is mainly a cemetery now and there are a few relics laying around. For anyone interested in American history, Gettysburg is one top things to do outside of Philadelphia.
- Jersey Coast – If the summer heat is starting to get to you, then why not make a day trip from Philadelphia to New Jersey’s beaches? The shoreline here is one of the most beloved and well-known stops on an East Coast road trip. Head to Atlantic City for some partying and gambling, or make for Sandy Hook for a quieter time.
- Baltimore/Washington DC – If you aren’t satisfied with the history that Philadelphia and the surrounding countryside, then head to the nation’s capital, Washington DC. The hallowed city is only 2.5 hours away and has a boatload of historical attractions like the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and National Mall. Along the way, you can stop in Baltimore, which is one of the most underrated cities in the USA. Grab a blue crab at the Inner Harbor.
Getting Off the Beaten Path in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is one of those cities where the tourist spots are completely worth your time. You should absolutely enjoy the delicious famous food spots and epic historical sites while visiting Philly.
But you’ll get even more out of your travel experience if you tread off the beaten path, my favorite type of travel that can be done anywhere–including Philadelphia.
For a bit of urban nature, head to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Besides the fact that most tourists don’t make it there, it’s also the nation’s first urban refuge. PLUS it’s free!
History buffs looking for a less-visited site can check out the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, which is the United States’ smallest national park.
Regardless of where or how you venture off-trail in the City of Brotherly Love, you’ll be glad you did. Places like these always help you peel back yet another layer of a complex metro.
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FAQS About Backpacking in Philadelphia
You’ve got questions about Philadelphia, and I’ve got answers. Here are some top FAQs to be aware of before your trip:
Final Advice Before Visiting Philadelphia
The City of Brotherly Love is a memorable trip just waiting to happen. The neighborly city is compact enough to make it easy to visit while being filled with enough delicious food and unique attractions that all but guarantee a good trip.
While it might not be as glitzy or gorgeous as other US cities, Philly has charm and heart–and a whole lot of history. This brings me to my next point: do delve into the history! US history is admittedly boring compared to that of many other countries, but seeing it all in real life is a game-changer.
It brings those boring high-school classes to life, right on the very streets where such events took place. Even if you swore you’d never be interested in the woes of centuries past, do give at least one site a try while traveling in Philadelphia. You’ll never know how strong your inner history buff is until you give it a try!
Otherwise, enjoy all the cozy city has to offer. Just don’t forget the budget tips mentioned in this Philadelphia travel guide. This is a city for everyone, and yes that includes budget backpackers!
So what are you waiting for? Book that ticket and find an epic place to stay–a weekend (or more) in Philadelphia awaits!
Updated March 2022 by Samantha Shea from Intentional Detours
Thanks for reading – that was fun! 😀
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