Revived Philadelphia Neighborhoods That Romantics Adore

WHY GO: From its inception, Philadelphia has been a city of diverse neighborhoods. Founded as a center of commerce rather than a religious colony, newcomers were not required to pay Church tithes, so dreamers from all backgrounds sought their fortunes here.

By 1740, Philadelphia was the largest city in the colonies –  an engine of industry. In 1754, one German immigrant observed, “Pennsylvania is heaven for farmers, paradise for artisans, and hell for officials and preachers.”

This “paradise for artisans” has gone through a rebirth in recent years, revitalizing Philadelphia’s flagging neighborhoods, and consequently bringing a distinctive energy to each.

You can visit Philly’s 14 identified neighborhoods full of green spaces, art museums, and their own charms. None are more than a 15-minute walk, public transit, or drive from Center City.  Highlighted here are a few neighborhoods to get you started.

Looking for more weekend getaway ideas? Check out our list of top Romantic Getaways in Pennsylvania.

Philly's oldest residential street Elfreths Alley Homes Philadelphia PA
Elfreths Alley Homes Philadelphia PA

Old City – Philadelphia’s Most Historic Neighborhood

For sure, this area within Center City is the Philadelphia that most tourists know. Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Constitution Museum – all here.  But as you can see, Old City encompasses so much more.

TOUR: Elfreth’s Alley

Established in 1702, the cobblestone street, Elfreth’s Alley, is known as “America’s oldest residential street.” Artisans, including a free African tailor, a Jewish furniture maker, German shoemakers and bakers, and dressmakers Mary Smith and Sarah Milton, among others, lived side by side in 32 tiny homes that also served as shops, sales rooms, and studios.

Take a tour for a few “clues” about how to tell 300-year-old homes from the newest 200-year-old homes (hint – it’s in the bricks and number of steps).

You’ll discover some of Ben Franklin’s innovations still in use, including the triple mirror outside 2nd floor window to see who was at front door, and street lamps made with replaceable panes of glass and vent for oil heat.

National Liberty Museum Philly PA
National Liberty Museum Philly PA

VISIT: National Liberty Museum

The National Liberty Museum is a quirky little gem dedicated to the idea of Freedom and its definition.  Though you’ll be captivated by beautiful Chihuly glass art, there is one compelling reason to visit. Listen to the peal of our “original Liberty Bell,” made in the same foundry in England with the same materials – this one without the crack.

New Fringe Arts Headquarters, Philadelphia PA

SEE: A Show at Fringe Arts

Fringe Arts is based inside a 1903 Fire Pumping Station, the first of its kind in the country. The station created enough pressure so water could reach the highest floors of newly built, early 20th century, 30-story skyscrapers.

Decommissioned in the 1950s and vacant until 2012, “this building used to save lives and now it will enrich lives,” says David Harrison, VP, who points out the cast iron pipes and pressure gauges kept as architectural elements.

With year-round programming, classes, concerts, and events in a 240-seat theater– not to mention a soaring bar/restaurant designed for live entertainment priced for starving artists to billionaires, Fringe Arts brings offbeat-theater-loving mobs to this special spot under the Ben Franklin Bridge on the Delaware River.  Consult the website for shows and time

Best Restaurants Old City Philadelphia

EAT: Zahav

James Beard winner, Michael Solomonov elevates Israeli cuisine to remarkable heights in this contemporary golden space, Zahav, ( “Gold” in Hebrew). A selection of salads, fresh-baked breads, humus, Moroccan Chicken, Veal Stuffed Grape Leaves –  this is not your father’s Falafel restaurant.

You’ll want to order from the four course-tasting menu –  an insider favorite – so you can all share every single delight.

EAT: Wedge and Fig

On temperate nights, opt to eat in Wedge and Fig’s adorable outdoor patio garden you’ll discover down a long narrow alleyway in back of this great neighborhood “Cheese Bistro.” Bring your own wine and order cheeses “bundled by region.” It’s a perfect nibble after a full day.

EAT: Han Dynasty

This is the original, the first, and the incredible authentic Szechuan food Han Dynasty restaurant that swept the New York Magazine’s food critic, off his feet after his foray to Han Dynasty’s NYC outpost.

Yes, there are multiple restaurants in the group, but go to the first on Chestnut.  Signatures like the Dan Dan Noodles,  Spicy Cucumbers, and Cold Sesame Noodles, and entrees identified by “heat” on a 1-10 scale, represent the Gold Standard in Szechuan cuisine.

Franklin Ice Cream Fountain Philly PA
Franklin Fountain Philly PA

ICE CREAM: Franklin Fountain

Although not as dense and creamy as say, Ben and Jerry’s, Franklin Fountain’s creations are just as inventive. The black and white mosaic floor, tin ceiling, Chinese take-out cups, and servers dressed in bow ties and pearls, together create a heartwarming throwback to simpler times.

Graduate Hospital Philadelphia Neighborhood

Named after the large research hospital that has since closed, the Graduate Hospital Neighborhood excels at nightlife and overflows with an eclectic mix of restaurants.

Transformed over the last few years, it’s an easy access 15-minute walk from Center City, growing in popularity with the young professional crowd.  You’ll recognize some of the residential areas from the movie The Sixth Sense, as the main characters lived here.

NextFab Studio Philadelphia PA
NextFab Philadelphia PA

DO/TOUR: NextFab Studio

Proclaimed a “Gym for Innovators,” this collective workspace and idea incubator brings industrious creative’s together. NextFab is the nationally recognized premier facility of its kind in the Northeastern US.

Founded in 2009, NextFab is a workshop on steroids. A for-profit, membership-based derivative of the FabLab movement, members pay per month to access millions of dollars worth of machinery and top-notch instructors.

But even non-members can pop in and take a 2-hour class in creative hands-on projects. Consult the website for free tours.

Best Restaurants in Graduate Hospital Philadelphia Neighborhood

COFFEE: Ultimo Coffee

“Trained and certified baristas, sweet, sweet milk from Lancaster County,” Ultimo Coffee has been named “One of the Best Coffee Shops in America.”

DRINK/SCENE: Bob and Barbara’s

Where else can you imbibe with “liquor drinking music” out of a Hammond B-3 Organ combo? Bob and Barbara’s let you enjoy “Thursday Drag Night” with the “Philly Special” – a shot of Jim Beam followed by a can of Papst Blue Ribbon Beer.

Rittenhouse Hotel exterior

Rittenhouse Square and Fitler Square

One of the most expensive neighborhoods to live in Philadelphia, Rittenhouse Square is also where you’ll find The Rosenbach Museum and Library – a key destination for literary types. For a splurge, stay at the Rittenhouse Hotel, considered one of the top (if not THE top) luxury hotel in Philly.

Nearby Fitler Square neighborhood is home to both the “Disturbingly Informative” Mutter Museum, and the lovely Schuylkill River Park. (See our Haunted Philly post for more on the Mutter).

Sitting area in Room 6 The Guild House Hotel Philly

Washington Square Park Neighborhood

Newly buzzy, as evidenced by its astounding murals and surprisingly luxurious Guild House Hotel (within an historic building that housed the first Business Guild for Women in 1882) the Washington Square Park neighborhood has long been known for a couple of eateries, including the Italian hotspot, Little Nona’s and funky restaurant, Bud & Marilyn’s.

South Philadelphia

South Philly is bounded by South Street to the north, the Delaware River to the east and south, and the Schuylkill River to the west. Notable neighborhoods within its borders include Queen Village and Society Hill.

Perhaps best known for Pat’s Philly Cheesesteaks, South Philly is actually home one of the largest and oldest open air markets in the country: the 20 block long Italian Market on 8th, 9th, and 10th streets.

For over 100 years, these bakeries, butcher shops, and specialty stores – selling everything from Cannolis to Ziti, have been providing locals and tourists with personal service and homemade delights. Lately, newcomers from diverse nations have established their own independent shops, adding to Philadelphia’s great immigrant story.

Northern Liberties Neighborhood Philadelphia

Northern Liberties Philly PA
Northern Liberties Philly PA

In 1682, William Penn gave away plots of land to those who also purchased acreage in Center City. Now known as Northern Liberties, steel and glass contemporary buildings coexist with original brick row houses drawing artists and hipsters to this once-blighted former domain of Schmidts Brewery.

The Northern Liberties district, developed by Bart Blatstein, was re-imagined as a place where people can live, work, shop and eat within a cozy few blocks. So it’s no surprise that the neighborhood exudes a trendy European/Founding Fathers vibe.

Yard's Brewing Company, Philadelphia PA

VISIT: Yard’s Brewing Company

The owner of Yards Brewing, Tom Kehoe, is as innovative as his brews are awesome. Kehoe brewed “Ales of the Revolution” named for Washington, Jefferson and “Poor Richard.” following our founding fathers’ own recipes from the 1700’s.

Belly up to the tasting bar- a recycled bowling lane –  to sip dark but mild Brawler, bestseller citrusy Philadelphia Pale Ale and “sweeter than most” IPA among plenty more.

EAT: Honey’s Sit ‘N Eat

The former Schwemmer’s Hardware store is a perfect venue for comfort food. “Nothing healthy but all delicious,” says our waitress at Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat.

To whit: Honey Cristo – challa French toast stuffed with double-smoked ham and Swiss cheese. It is the ultimate calorie-counting be damned signature dish.

COFFEE: One Shot Cafe

Philly is known for coffee-shops-that-are-not-Starbucks. That’s a good thing.  Indie One Shot Cafe fuels this energetic neighborhood.

More Weekend Getaways In Philadelphia

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  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine,, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

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