Featuring spectacular restaurants, bars, and shops, Philadelphia’s Chinatown is a cultural and economic hub for the city’s Asian-American population. Chinatown is within walking distance from the Pennsylvania Convention Center and Center City, making it one of the best neighborhoods for travelers who want to explore more unique sides of the city. When exploring Chinatown, here are some must-stop locations to check out.
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 four Chinese characters at the 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.”
Fun Fact: The Friendship Gate was given to Philadelphia in 1984 as a gift from our sister city of Tianjin, China.
You can 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.
Art in Chinatown
Philadelphia is the mural capital of the world and Chinatown hosts some of the city’s most significant ones. 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.”
Stop into the Asian Arts Initiative, a multidisciplinary arts center exploring the diverse communities of Asian Americans with exhibitions, performances, artist residencies, youth workshops, and a community gathering space. Admission to the gallery is free and open every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Explore the African American Museum in Philadelphia, first institution built by a major U.S. city to house and interpret the life and work of African Americans. The collection includes over 500,000 negatives and photographs by Jack T. Franklin (1922-2009) that covers social, cultural and political events in Philadelphia’s African American community during Franklin’s lifetime, as well as the major events of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
Shop for gifts, toys, candy and snacks at Asia Crafts Inc. then stop by Ga-In Beauty Zone along 11th Street to browse beauty supplies, including Korean skincare products.
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 in the spring or summer.
Every year, Chinatown is host to the most stunning events in all of Philadelphia. Not to be missed is the Franklin Square’s Chinese Lantern Festival, typically held in the spring or summer. The festival features more than 30 larger-than-life illuminated lanterns, festival admission includes three main stage live performances every night, including Face-Changing, Diabolo, Foot Juggling, Folk Dance, and Cube Arts. 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.