Located just to the east of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia’s Chinatown – the second largest on the East Coast – is a concentration of restaurants, markets and shops featuring goods from Asian countries including China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea, Myanmar, Japan and Malaysia. About 3,000 people, the majority with ancestors from Asian countries, live in this bustling yet tight-knit community.
Snap a photo then pass beneath the 40-foot-tall Friendship Gate, an authentic arch curving over N. 10th Street at Arch Street that serves as one “unofficial” entrance to the district. The gate – with bright carvings and red and gold accents – was a gift from Philadelphia’s sister city, Tianjin, China in 1984. The four Chinese characters at top read “Philadelphia Chinatown.” Just a few blocks north of the arch, at N. 10th Street and the Vine Street Expressway, is Chinatown’s other welcome mat: 10th Street Plaza, which features an Asian-style pergola and two seven-ton Chinese lions, the neighborhood’s “protectors.”
Nearby, the “History of Chinatown” mural features workers wringing clothing and the number “913” – an ode to the first business in the district, a laundry at 913 Race Street owned by a man named Lee Fong. Admire the dragon mural on the side of the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Engine 20/Ladder 23, which is also known as “The House of Dragons.”
Observe Asian-inspired architecture throughout the neighborhood, including a Buddhist Temple featuring red columns accented with coiling gold dragons, jade-colored tile awnings and a building with characteristics of a Mandarin Palace. Shop for gifts, toys, candy and snacks at Asia Crafts Inc. and then stop by the Asian Arts Initiative to browse their rotating series of exhibitions, performances, and other events celebrating Asian American artists. For beauty supplies, including Korean skincare products, don’t miss Ga-In Beauty Zone along 11th Street.
Head to nearby Franklin Square for family-friendly outdoor fun, including a carousel and Philadelphia’s only mini-golf course (featuring miniature versions of city landmarks throughout the 18-hole course). The historic square activates its recently restored fountain in a thrilling fashion throughout the year, with dancing water performances set to pop music in the summer and a dazzling holiday light show in the winter. Not to be missed is the park’s Chinese Lantern Festival, typically held each spring.
Visit Chinatown around the Lunar New Year holiday to enjoy a series of festive events including midnight lion dances, neighborhood-filling parades and parties, and other ceremonies and activities.
EAT & DRINK
Most visitors to Chinatown come for its culinary and commercial delights and multiple companies give guided food tours of the neighborhood. Savor some of the best duck in Philadelphia at local favorite Sang Kee Peking Duck House, which has called Chinatown home since 1980. For hand-drawn and hand-shaved noodles, head to Spice C or Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House. If ramen is more your style, Japanese noodle shop Terakawa Ramen has you covered with a menu of unique ramen variations, including several vegetarian options.
Stay refreshed with a cup of bubble tea, available from local shops such as Tea Dó, Bubblefish Bubble Tea & Sushi, and Mr. Wish. For buns, rolls, dumplings, and other dim sum options, order from Tom’s Dim Sum – a convenient option just across the street from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, known for soup dumplings and scallion pancakes. Even more dim sum awaits at Dim Sum Garden, Nom Wah Philadelphia, Ocean Harbor, and Bai Wei.
In the evening, grab drinks at Bar-Ly Chinatown, which has a whopping sixty beers on tap alongside a menu of Asian-American pub favorites. Sing along to karaoke while you enjoy a menu of sushi, robatayaki, and cocktails at popular bar Yakitori Boy. If you’re in need of a late-late-night meal, head to David’s Mai Lai Wah, which serves Cantonese dishes until 3 a.m.
Thanks to its central location in the heart of Philadelphia’s larger Center City district and close proximity to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, there are ample hotels found around Chinatown for those looking to stay nearby.
Options include the newly renovated Hampton Inn Convention Center, the stylish, 92-room Four Points by Sheraton, the 248-suite Home2Suites Philadelphia Center City, and the Hilton Garden Inn Philadelphia Center City, whose on-site restaurant, The Garden Grille, offers impressive city views from the 10th floor.