From local parks to outdoor attractions, the city offers plenty of ways to see the sights, connect with nature and unwind outdoors.
EXPLORE FAIRMOUNT PARK
One of the country’s largest urban park systems, with 2,000-plus green acres, Fairmount Park is not just a vast outdoor playground with 63 individual parks, it also offers more than 200 historic buildings, an impressive collection of public art, the country’s first zoo and more, all within its borders. TIP: Fairmount Park Conservancy’s new Digital Guide is a helpful tool that will aid your exploration of the park, highlighting trails, historic landmarks, and more.
A great place to start your park tour is the Fairmount Water Works, a National Historic Landmark along the Schuylkill River. In 1820, the city decided to add gardens and walkways around the groundbreaking pumping station, built five years earlier, as a way of protecting the water system and preserving green space. Today, the iconic Greek-Revival buildings at the foot of the Philadelphia Museum of Art provide excellent views of picturesque Boathouse Row and the Philadelphia skyline.
History and architecture buffs will enjoy the many 18th and 19th century homes found throughout the park that once served as summer villas for wealthy Philadelphians, including Laurel Hill, Lemon Hill, Strawberry and Woodford mansions. Perfect for families is Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse, a mansion-turned-playhouse for kids. Smith’s massive outdoor playground draws kids 10 and under with its giant 40-foot slide and swing city.
Transport yourself across the Pacific at Shofuso Japanese House, a replica of a traditional 17th century Japanese home in West Fairmount Park. Highlights include a pond garden with tiered waterfall, island and koi fish plus a tea garden with a traditional tea house.
Also located in West Fairmount Park is the Horticulture Center, an exhibition hall and greenhouse built in 1979 on the grounds of the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition. Open daily and free to the public, the greenhouse and grounds feature tropical and succulent plants, demonstration gardens, a reflecting pool, butterfly garden and more. Don’t miss artist Martin Puryear’s treehouse-inspired Pavilion in the Trees, a 60-foot-long wooden walkway that overlooks the center.
HIT THE TRAILS
An extensive system of trails winds throughout the Philadelphia region, making it easy to get out and get around. Popular with bikers, runners, walkers and in-line skaters is the section of the Schuylkill River Trail that cuts through the city. It includes the Manayunk Towpath, Kelly Drive, Boathouse Row and the Schuylkill Banks. Ambitious cyclists can follow the trail 25 miles to Valley Forge National Historical Park, site of the notorious Revolutionary War campaign. For trail information, click here.
Go off the beaten path to find hidden gems popular with locals. The Trolley Trail, just off MLK Drive, follows a former trolley route, winding through tunnels and other cool structures, like the Stone Arch Bridge. You can also run the route of a famous Philadelphia boxer—no, not Rocky. Boxers’ Trail, a 3.8- mile gravel and dirt path above Kelly Drive, owes its name to “Smokin’” Joe Frazier, who frequently trained on it. For more trail options, click here.
Head deeper into the woods along the 50 miles of trails in the Wissahickon Valley Park, located in the northwest section of the city. Trails range from easy to challenging, with hidden landmarks located throughout, including a covered bridge originally built in 1737, artist Jody Pinto’s Fingerspan pedestrian bridge and the 1883 Toleration statue of William Penn that sits high above the trail. TIP: You can climb boulders or follow a steep trail to the statue base. For and interactive map of the Wissahickon, click here.
STROLL – AND SHOP – THE NEIGHBORHOODS
Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own personality. What better way to get to know them and their retail spots than by exploring each by foot. Even better, many of the neighborhoods are so close to each other, it’s easy to walk from one to another.
Old City may be your go-to for early American sites, but it’s also home to hip boutiques and cool shops, like Philadelphia Independents and Art in the Age. The Bourse, the country’s first commodities exchange, was recently transformed into a food hall and shopping destination, and is just across from Independence Hall. The First Friday of every month, the area’s many art galleries open their doors in the evening for visitors to explore.
South Street, the city’s edgiest strip, is a go-to for intimate music venues, eclectic shops and plenty of hopping restaurant and bars. Further south on 4th Street, you’ll hit historic Fabric Row, the city’s garment district since the 19th century.
Jewelers’ Row in Washington Square continues to be a destination for fine gems in the area, while the 13th Street corridor between Chestnut and Locust streets in Midtown Village is a newer spot for fun boutiques and gift shops—and some of the city’s top restaurants.
Posh shops and national retailers populate Rittenhouse Row, just off Rittenhouse Square. Cross the Schuylkill River to West Philadelphia, for more shopping options plus a collection of ethnic restaurants.
DISCOVER THE FIVE SQUARES
When Pennsylvania founder William Penn laid out the plan for Philadelphia, he famously included five squares, one at each of the city’s cornerstones and one in the middle. These squares, each with their own identities, remain vital to the city to this day.
Rittenhouse Square, lined with alfresco restaurants, is named for David Rittenhouse, a famous astronomer and first director of the U.S. Mint. Home to fountains and public art, pop-up events and a seasonal farmers market, it’s also an ideal locale for people-watching.
Lower-key Washington Square was named for George Washington and is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier. Located catty-corner to Independence Hall, it is part of Independence National Historical Park and is surrounded by charming restaurants and historic buildings.
Dilworth Park, named after former city Mayor Richardson Dilworth, is on what was Centre Square, the center of the city. The square became the home of City Hall in 1871, with the construction of the famed Beaux-Arts building. Today, Dilworth is also a social hub of the city, with an ice-skating rink in the winter and seasonal pop-ups year-round.
Family-friendly Franklin Square, named after founding father Benjamin Franklin, attracts kids with its history-themed mini golf course, classic carousel and extensive playground. At the centerpiece of the square is a large fountain, with water shows set to lights and music throughout the year.
At the center of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is Logan Square, easily identified by the majestic Swann Memorial Fountain, an Alexander Stirling Calder designed installation honoring Philadelphia Fountain Society founder, Dr. Wilson Cary Swann. Originally called Northwest Square, the city renamed the area after statesman James Logan in 1825.
SURVEY THE DELAWARE RIVER
The Delaware River Waterfront is a vibrant destination for outdoor fun. During the summer and winter months, Blue Cross RiverRink is a great tradition featuring fantastic food, craft beer and drinks, and cool activities. In the spring and summer, experience the festive Spruce Street Harbor Park.
Open year-round is Cherry Street Pier, a mixed use public space converted from a historic pier. The pier hosts pop-up markets, art installations and a garden complete with tasty food and drink. For picturesque views of the Ben Franklin Bridge, head further north to Race Street Pier, perfect for lazing on the spacious lawn while enjoying river views.
At the southern end, Washington Avenue Pier honors the waterfront’s shipbuilding heritage and historic port-of-entry for immigrants. A path brings visitors to the tip of the pier and Land Buoy, a climbable, 55-foot spire by artist Jody Pinto that offers additional city and river views. For more information, click here.
Across the river, tour Battleship New Jersey Museum & Memorial, the most-decorated battleship in U.S. history. Explore the ocean and its inhabitants at Adventure Aquarium, home to more than 8,500 aquatic species. See more than 20 sharks swim through 550,000 gallons of water as you walk through a glass tunnel, journey to the Amazon through the interactive Piranha Falls exhibit, or spot hippos swimming around in the immersive Hippo Haven.
For more outdoor inspiration, including tips on what to explore in Philadelphia’s countryside, click here.
Cover photo: Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, photo by A. Sinagoga for PHLCVB.