After studying in Boston for three years I moved to West Philadelphia. All Fresh Prince jokes aside, Philadelphia, particularly certain neighborhoods in Philadelphia, have gotten a bit of bad rap (pun intended). Philadelphia is a culturally rich city, home to many hipsters, intellectuals, sports fans, and artists alike. No matter what you may be into you’ll find something to do, if you know where to look.
The city is divided into various neighborhoods/buroughs. Center city is downtown Philadelphia, Old City is further east and home to the liberty bell and other historical sites, but is also full of great tattoo parlors, food, and night clubs. West Philly/University City, near UPenn and Drexel campuses, is home to many college students and also is filled with its share of history and sites (Penn campus is beautiful and walking down Pine street you can see beautiful old houses). Both Center City and West Philly are centered around Market Street and the distinction depends on what side you are of Schuylkill River (pronounced Scook-gal) which divides the city a little east of 30th street. Northern Liberties is also a cheaper area north of old city. South Philly starts on South street, which is the lively home to philly’s Italian American community.
Food (more than just Philly Cheesesteaks)
Philly is known for its underground foodie culture, with fresh high quality ingredients streaming in from numerous Amish farms nearby and a diverse ethnic makeup the city you can find food for any price range and taste. I cannot emphasize enough the awesomness that is philly food scene. Being vegetarian, I find Philly is great for herbivores and omnivores alike. A good rule of thumb is the cheaper food is usually outside of center city, but there are some amazing can’t miss restaurants in Philly. I’ve made a list of great places in various areas.
Favorite Pizza Place and Bar: Philly is beer place without question and the best place for that goes to West Philly’s Dock Street, built in an old fire house with their brewery in house. My best friend and I frequently go here just to get the a la coca pizza and some great in-house beer. I also recommend the panko crusted fried fresh mozarella.
Favorite Latin Food: Sazon Restaurant in Northern Liberties, which has the best Venezuelan (speaking as a Native Venezuelan) food and hot chocolate bar in the city. They are also health conscience catering to both vegetarians and gluten-free patrons. Get tequeños and an arepa with fillings of your choice. Finish off with hot chocolate (I stick with the classic) nom nom nom nom.
Favorite Chinese: Beijing at Penn, I think I lived off their fried rice while writing my master’s thesis. There’s also a bunch of great places in Chinatown but I’m less familiar.
Favorite Asian cuisine: Tampopo, I usually go to the West Philly location just because they also have awesome sushi, but the bibimbap is also fantastic.
Lastly to really get the philly experience you need to try a philly cheesesteak.
There are two places in south philly that are famous for their cheesesteaks and they are across the street from each other.
GO TO PATS! The other cheesesteak place was the birthplace of the English only movement and I will not advise anyone to go there purely for political reasons. Plus according to many of my meat eater friends Pats is actually better in price and quality. 3 notes: 1. there’s always a really long line, especially when there is a sports thing going on. 2. Pats is open 24/7 3. Get cheesewhiz if you want to be legit.
If you are vegan/vegetarian you can still have the cheesesteak experience by going to another popular tourist stop Reading terminal market. This indoor market has everything including a vegan eatery with amazing vegan philly cheesesteak. Also recommend getting cookies from 4th Street Bakery or their chocolate in the shape of lungs or other body parts.
My favorite splurge meals: Amis– right before I ran in philly marathon I went here just to have an excuse to eat their tonarelli pasta.
Philly Night Life
Philly is mostly known for its expansive bar scene (despite last call being at 2am city wide which is pretty lame), but in addition to the bar scene there’s also plenty of dance clubs to meet your night partying needs. My personal favorite is Cuba Libre with its great mojito bar, Cuban food, and Latin dancing (just make sure come dressed within the dress code, no sneakers). A few other great dancing places are: