Famous for cheesesteaks, lawyers and liberty, America's original capital is rich with revolutionary history, culture and symbolism. Home to the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independence, today's Philadelphia is far from a historical relic. Urban and urbane, Philadelphia is a rich mix of traditions, races and immigrant cultures, as well as home to an exciting collection of cultural, culinary and recreational amenities that only a city of Philadelphia's heritage can provide.
Epicenter: N. 2nd St. and Race St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
As its name might indicate, the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia is the great grandfather of the city, a tightly packed web of historical buildings founded on the banks of the Delaware River by William Penn and his Quaker followers in the late 17th century. Elfreth's Alley, a tiny nook off 2nd Street that is popular with tourists, features row houses that have been continuously occupied for 300 years. Elsewhere in historic Old City, visitors can see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the house where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, all fitting reminders that blue-collar Philadelphia was once America's capital city.
Epicenter: Corinthian Ave. and Fairmount Ave., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Fairmount, sometimes referred to as the Art Museum Area, is a comfortable upper-middle-class neighborhood perched on the edge of Philadelphia's downtown. While some consider Fairmount's southern reaches, bordering the Vine Street Expressway, seedier than the blocks north of Fairmount Avenue, the neighborhood is by and large both sophisticated and safe. To the west is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, made famous by Sylvester Stallone's triumphant Rocky jogging scene. The nearby Fairmount Park rivals New York's Central Park in size and beauty. The neighborhood's north and east sections are occupied by Spring Gardens, a former drug market converted by neighbors into a community garden, and the historic Eastern State Penitentiary, which holds only tourists these days. And, if you count yourself among the comfortable class in Fairmount, you can probably afford to splurge on the chocolate dusted almonds at the nearby Whole Foods.
Kensington & Richmond
Epicenter: E. Allegheny Ave. and Frankford Ave., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
For Philadelphia's rendition on the American metropolitan classic known as the post-industrial warehouse neighborhood, look no further than the revamped blocks of Kensington spread beneath the shadow of the Delaware Expressway. The Kensington neighborhood encompasses the once-industrial districts of Port Richmond and Bridesburg, territory commonly associated with Roman Catholicism and its Polish, Italian and Irish immigrant practitioners. Though plenty of churches and their attendant cemeteries dot the neighborhood, Kensington is also home to the kind of food and nightlife stand-bys you expect to find in Philadelphia: Tacconelli's Pizzeria on Somerset Street and Byrne's Tavern right beneath the expressway on Richmond Street.
Epicenter: N. 10th St. and Race St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Just as every major American city must have its Chinatown, every Chinatown has its gilded gates. Philadelphia's Chinatown features its most ornate entrance gate at 10th and Arch streets, where visitors enter this tiny Asian enclave beneath the gaze of fire-breathing dragons. Hemmed in on three sides by the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Gallery at Market East and the Independence National Historical Park, Chinatown boasts less space and fewer residents than its sister neighborhoods throughout the United States. But the inhabitants of Chinatown have utilized their limited city blocks well, building numerous churches, an array of typically diverse restaurants and the magnificent Fo Shou Buddhist temple (open to the public). If the exotic shopping at stores like Shanghai Bazaar or the subterranean Asia Supermarket overwhelm visitors, they can escape to Washington, D.C. or New York City the Chinatown way—a $20 round-trip bus ticket.
Epicenter: N. 2nd St. and Poplar St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Northern Liberties, like the Richmond neighborhood to the north, was once a slightly decrepit warren of wharves, loading docks and metal shops until industrial decline brought cheap rents, a youthful, artsy vibe and enough eats and nightlife to occupy the weekends and draw a new crowd. Now, Northern Liberties has been christened with official hipness: write-ups in the New York Times. Rents are low, so the newly employed have money left over to spend at alehouses like the Standard Tap on North Second or Ortlieb's Jazzhaus on North Third, where Dizzy Gillespie's former drummer has been known to cameo. The Silk City, formerly a greasy diner that catered to truckers and drunk youngsters looking for cheap, late-night food, is emblematic of the Northern Liberties revival. Silk City is now one of Philadelphia's most hopping clubs, where the fashionable sweat to a variety of beats and international DJs like Diplo look on from the dining car.
Washington Square West
Epicenter: S. 12th St. and Pine St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Washington Square West, so named because it extends west from the eponymous square named after America's first president, is an upscale residential neighborhood of rowhouses intermingled with Philadelphia's well-known "Gayborhood." Washington Square West underwent urban renewal decades ago, so while neighborhoods like Northern Liberties are basking in gentrification for the first time, Wash West has established itself as a comfortable enclave with plenty of culture to boot. The gay friendly neighborhood, packed with LGBT bookstores, coffee shops and boutique stores, also features its fair share of gay bars and clubs with names like Bump and Dirty Frank's. The square itself is a beautiful former pasture and an artifact of William Penn's 17th century settlement. Encircled by relics of Philadelphia's publishing industry, the square also features a "Moon Tree" planted in 1975 with seeds from an Apollo moon mission.
Chestnut Hill & Germantown
Epicenter: Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Chestnut Hill and Germantown neighborhoods have long been synonymous with suburban gentility. From the 19th century until the dawn of the automobile age, this enclave of northwest Philadelphia was a "streetcar suburb" for middle-class families who used early forms of mass transit to commute to Center City. Now only cars take the long, meandering drive up partially cobblestoned Germantown Avenue, past houses whose median price of roughly $400,000 has made the Chesnut Hill and Germantown quarter all the more exclusive. With the northern stretches of Fairmount Park and the University of Pennsylvania's majestic Morris Arboretum nearby, resident of Chestnut Hill and Germantown have nature's splendor at their fingertips. As if they could ask for anymore, joints like the Rib Crib at Germantown Avenue and E. Duval St. offer straight-up Philadelphia fare as well. With its combination of spacious residential comfort and Colonial-era Philadelphia character, Chestnut Hill and Germantown would be ideal neighborhoods to make a home, if you have the money.
Epicenter: Main St. and Shurs Ln., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Manayunk, a northwest Philadelphia neighborhood straddling the Schuylkill River, owes its name to the derivation of the Lenape Indian term for river, meaning "a place to drink." In recent years, the neighborhood has lived up to its title, providing students at Temple and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as business commuters, plenty of bars and restaurants to slake their thirst. It wasn't always so; Manayunk, like other improving Philadelphia neighborhoods, was once the scene of industrial decline and disappearing manufacturing jobs. But former factories and abandoned storefronts have been converted into loft apartments and nightlife destinations. Main Street, Manyunk's premier drag along the east bank of the Schuylkill, provides most of the neighborhoods entertainment. There you can forget about next week's midterm or the stresses of working life with the endless local brews at the Manayunk Brewery & Restaurant or the raucous indie bands at Grape Street.
Epicenter: 9th St. and Washington Ave., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The name says it all: Out-of-town visitors craving hearty Italian cuisine, immigrants looking to open their own shops and Philadelphia locals searching for the best focaccia and sopressata in the city all come to 9th Street's Italian Market. The neighborhood, lying outside William Penn's original city plan, was settled in the late 19th century by Italian immigrants and has since attracted new arrivals in America from places like Vietnam, China and Mexico. Residents of the block still live above their shops in traditional rowhouses, but many also make a home in the overlapping Bella Vista neighborhood. Though some say Bella Vista and the Italian Market have a charming, European feel, visitors shouldn't waste their time on a stroll—the gastronomic pleasures of this neighborhood are plentiful, and time should only be spent eating. The hungry traveler simply can't go wrong ordering a hoagie from Sarcone's Deli or sampling the seemingly infinite variety of exquisite cheese at Di Bruno Bros. For Italian cuisine in Philadelphia, it's all about 9th Street.
Epicenter: Rhawn St. and Oxford Ave., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Fox Chase is a lush, park-filled neighborhood that has fringed Philadelphia proper since the 1700s. Given its natural beauty and open spaces, Fox Chase was a favorite for the Philadelphia elite throughout the 19th century; numerous historic mansions and churches still dot the countryside. Fox Chase Farm, the only operating farm in Philadelphia County, opened with a land grant from William Penn in 1683 and now serves mostly to educate schoolchildren and the public. Workers at the farm still sheer sheep, grow apples and make maple syrup, among numerous other tasks, and the Fall season brings stunning views to Fox Chase's open expanses. The roughly 8,900 acres of nearby Pennypack Park also contribute to Fox Chase's reputation as the "Green Heart" of Philadelphia. If all the walking and soaking up of nature tires a visitor out, a trip to the excellent Makiman Sushi (a hidden gem of Northeast Philadelphia) on Oxford Avenue should be enough to revive body and spirit.
-- Evan Hill