Downtown Philadelphia features many vibrant neighborhoods including Washington Square West, the Gayborhood, and Midtown Village. The three are just a short walk from all downtown hotels and the Pennsylvania Convention Center, making it easy to reach by foot, bike, or public transit. When visiting the area, be sure to check out these spots to see the best of Philadelphia.
Start your visit by exploring Washington Square, one of William Penn’s original five squares in his plan for Philadelphia. Over 60 species of trees can be found throughout the six-acre park, along with a fountain and plenty of benches and lawns to relax for a picnic. Don’t miss the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier near the park’s central fountain – marked by an eternal flame and statue of George Washington – which honors the thousands who lost their lives during the American Revolution, many of which lie in unmarked graves within the parks’ grounds.
Just north of the square is The Curtis, the former home of the Curtis Publishing Company. The building, featuring apartments, shops, an event space, and P.J. Clarkes restaurant, also houses one of Philadelphia’s hidden gems just inside its 6th Street entrance: The Dream Garden. This mosaic installation was installed in 1916 and consists of hundreds of thousands of glass pieces representing a broad spectrum of over 260 color tones.
Hidden Gem: Edward Bok, senior editor at the Curtis Publishing Company in Philadelphia, headquartered in Philadelphia, commissioned artist Maxfield Parrish for a custom piece in the lobby of the new Curtis Center, built in the Beaux Arts style in 1910 just steps from Independence Hall. The result is a tremendous glass mosaic, 15 feet high and 49 feet long with over 100,000 pieces of glass called “favrile,” glass fired by hand to create an iridescent appearance. The stunning piece, that took over a year to create, was made by Louis Tiffany and Tiffany Studios in New York in 1916 and first exhibited there to much acclaim before being installed.
Not far from Washington Square is historic Pennsylvania Hospital. Founded by Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond in 1751, Pennsylvania Hospital is the nation’s first hospital and is where you will also find the nation’s first surgical amphitheater and medical library – both of which can be viewed during a tour of the historic Pine Building, one of the finest examples of Colonial and Federal period architecture. The grounds and gardens outside of the Pine Building (accessed via 7th Street) are also worth visiting, especially during the spring months when they’re filled with colorful flowers and magnolia blooms.
Note: Restrictions to patient visitors at Pennsylvania Hospital are currently in effect.
Washington Square West
For more history, explore the charming and historic streets found throughout Washington Square West, such as Quince Street. Lined with towering gingko trees that turn a vibrant shade of yellow in the fall, this narrow north-south pathway runs the length of Washington Square West and is one of the area’s top photo spots.
Washington Square West also boasts a strong concentration of boutiques and storefronts, which are the perfect way to take advantage of Philadelphia’s tax-free shopping on clothes and shoes. Stroll 13th Street and shop from locally owned boutiques such as Open House – sellers of quirky home goods and Philadelphia-themed gifts – and Verde – featuring a collection of jewelry, bags and artisan chocolate by Marcie Blaine. Nearby, shop for handmade, all-natural bath products such as bath bombs, soaps, and lotions at Duross & Langel.
Shopping and Experiences
Sports fans should visit Shibe Vintage Sports, also found along 13th Street, which sells retro-inspired sports apparel, such as t-shirts depicting the iconic Veterans Stadium or calling back to the “Steagles” team of 1943, when the professional football teams of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh merged due to losing players to military service during World War II. Even more vintage sporting gear can be found at Mitchell & Ness along 12th Street. Here, look for throwback jerseys from local teams like the Phillies, Flyers, Eagles, and Sixers, as well as vintage apparel, hats, and accessories from other teams around the country.
Other nearby shopping destinations include Macy’s – a multi-level department store inside the historic Wanamaker Building, which houses the grand Wanamaker organ and the annual holiday light show – as well as the collection of storefronts that line Chestnut and Walnut streets. Just a short walk away is the one-million-square-foot Fashion District Philadelphia, where you will find local and national retailers, a movie theater and bowling alley, the interactive art gallery Wonderspaces, and the part-restaurant, part-winery, part-music venue, City Winery.
Art and Murals
A significant collection of Philadelphia’s 4,000+ murals can be found within Washington Square West, mostly along 13th Street, dubbed the “Mural Mile.” Intrepid art explorers can navigate these paintings on their own via a self-guided tour with the help of a downloadable map. Those looking for more background into the artwork, artists, and history behind these murals can join one of Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Mural Mile walking tours. Local tour company WeVenture also offers a two-hour mural tour via Segway that includes stops in Washington Square West.
CraftNOW Philadelphia unites the leading institutions and artists of Philadelphia’s community in a celebration of the city’s rich legacy in the field, its internationally recognized contemporary scene, and its important role as an incubator for arts based in wood, clay, fiber, metal and glass.
TIP: Keep active and infuse a bit of exercise into your mural expedition by registering for one of SeePhillyRun’s running sightseeing tours.
Learn more about Philadelphia’s Gayborhood by joining Beyond the Bell Tours’ LGBTQ+ walking tour, during which you will learn more about Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ history, notable community leaders, and murals that highlight their contributions. One of the stops on the tour is Giovanni’s Room, the nation’s first and oldest LGBTQ+ bookstore, at the corner of 12th and Pine streets.
In the evening, revel with pride at one of the area’s LGBTQ+ clubs and bars, such as Woody’s and Tabu, or settle in for a stage production at the Walnut Street Theatre – the oldest continuously-operating theatre in America.