Planning to spend a weekend in Philadelphia? Your local guide to Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, written by local Jacquelyn Kyle. This guide to Philly includes off the beaten path Philadelphia and local food recommendations on where to eat in Philadelphia besides cheesesteaks. Keep reading about your perfect weekend in Philly.
Jacquelyn Kyle is an archaeologist and the founder of Traveliste. She’s on a mission to help people throw out the packaged tours and plan the trips that are perfect for them.
This post contains everything you need to know to have an amazing weekend in Philadelphia off the beaten path. If you were staying with me, these are all the places I’d take you if you only had two or three days in Philadelphia. I’m here to stop you from visiting all the tourist traps in Philadelphia, eating at mediocre restaurants, and waiting on long lines.
South Street is, in my opinion, the best way to get a feel for the real Philadelphia. It’s not exactly a clean, classy place, but then again–neither is Philly. It’s on the gritty side. As the night gets later, the atmosphere gets more electric. Don’t be surprised if you pass rappers spitting fire or magicians mesmerizing crowds.
This artsy mosaic gallery and art center is a must-see. It’s well worth the $10 adult ticket price (and it’s even cheaper for kids and students), even if just for the drool-worthy Instagram posts you’ll create. It’s closed on Tuesdays and while it’s open 11:00AM-6:00, tickets do sell out fairly often–so plan ahead….
Consignment and Oddities Shops
South Street is a treasure trove of vintage shops and oddities parlors. I love popping into The Strange and Unusual to see the latest gothic pieces (even though it’s not my style at all–it’s just a fascinating place). It’s right across from Jim’s by Starbucks, and definitely worth the few extra steps. If you stop in, say hi to Justin Beaver, a taxidermied beaver who will never be for sale.
Then, pop into Bella’s Consignment right next door for luxury pieces. People constantly ask me where I found a formfitting, sparkly black gown that I wore for a photoshoot at the Plaza in NYC–and are shocked when I tell them it was a consignment find from Bella’s that cost me a little over $100.
There are tons of other vintage and consignment stores on and near South St. You could spend the whole day combing the area for amazing pieces. Try Greene St. Consignment, Retrospect Vintage, Tucker’s Digs, Moon + Arrow, and RareCo (shown above).
If you’re a cat lover, don’t forget to head over to the Kawaii Kitty Cafe on 4th and say hello to the adoptable kitties that you can play with as you sip your latte (with cat-themed latte art, of course)!
The quintessential Philly experience of eating a cheesesteak is not just hype; they’re truly delicious. Tourists tend to go to Pat’s or Geno’s, but locals know that Jim’s on South Street has by far the best cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. Important note: They only take cash. You can’t go upstairs and save a seat until you have your food.
Make sure to order like a local: say “wiz wit” if you want Cheese Wiz with fried onions or “wiz witout” if you don’t want onions. Don’t make the same mistake that I made my first time at Jim’s and order provolone under the mistaken impression that fake cheese product is gross (I mean, it is, but not on a cheesesteak!). Wiz is the only way to go.
If you’re looking for a bar with character on South Street, make sure to check out Tattooed Mom. It has two floors, both of which are packed with interesting artwork and a lot of hipsters. This isn’t the place to wear your loafers and work clothes; the people are part of the scenery, so show your personality.
Day 2: Enjoying the Waterfront
Enjoy Philadelphia’s cutest streets
For a taste of Phildelphia’s cutest streets, head to 200-300 Delancey St. for Philadelphia’s most picturesque old town filled with stunning trees (especially in fall). Similarly, Jacqueline loves Elfreth’s Alley. This alleyway dates back to the early 1700s. This national landmark is perfect for a quiet morning stroll.
Delaware River Waterfront/Penn’s Landing
You can technically walk here from South Street, but I always find that South Street is quite enough for one day. There are a million things to do on the waterfront, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
You can go onboard some of the ships, which have been converted into museums, skate at the Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest (which isn’t a festival, heads up), or check out the Seaport Museum or some of the war memorials. It’s nice to do those things if you have a lot of time, but there’s one place I love to visit time and again: the Spruce Street Harbor Park.
Spruce Street Harbor Park
This is hands down my favorite place in Philadelphia. It’s only open in the warm seasons. It’s filled with hammocks and happiness, food trucks and beer tents, and it’s right on the water. What more could you ask for? Oh, a weekly arts market? Check. A kids’ play area? Check.
Fair warning that you may have to wait for a hammock to open up, but I’ve never had to wait longer than 10 minutes. There are other places to sit while you stalk your hammock and stare down the occupant so they get uncomfortable and leave (or wait–is it just me who does that?).
I could spend an entire day lounging in a hammock in the beautiful Philly weather or an entire evening. The trees are hung with multicolored lights that turn the Spruce Street Harbor Park into a magical wonderland once the sun goes down.
Race St. Pier
This might be a quick stop, especially if it’s very hot out when you’re in Philadelphia, but you should definitely stop by. Depending on where you park, Race St. Pier just might be on your way to Spruce St. Harbor Park.
The Race St. Pier has a beautiful view of the Ben Franklin Bridge, which crosses the Delaware River and joins Pennsylvania to New Jersey. If you’re looking across the river, you’ll see the Camden Aquarium, which is definitely worth a visit if you’re in town for a bit. If you want to party on the Delaware, I’d recommend RiverDeck or Morgan’s Pier.
Where to eat in Philadelphia
One cannot subsist on cheesesteaks alone (believe me, I’d know). Luckily, there are many great places to eat in Philadelphia–and as a side benefit, they’re all in the heart of neighborhoods that you should definitely explore.
Pizzeria Stella: 2nd and Lombard
Y’all, this place is glorious. It’s a cute restaurant in a cute neighborhood, but all the atmosphere in the world can’t save bad food; this restaurant made the list because it is always delicious. They have gourmet pizza and a charcuterie plate (Salumi Mixto) that is to die for. The pizzas are large enough that I always end up taking half of mine home, so split one if you can agree on a choice (I almost always go ‘Nduja) and order some appetizers.
Bugambilias: 148 South Street
This tiny gem of a restaurant has traditional Mexican food from three different regions. Everything is made fresh and from scratch, and it shows in the amazing dishes. The margaritas are huge and creative and yummy. The decor is beautiful and traditional.
If you’re looking for a more hipster Mexican food experience, try Sancho Pistola’s or Loco Pez in Fishtown, or Union Tacos in Manayunk (stop in at Insomnia Cookies afterward for warm cookies until 3am). I’m a big fan of Mexican food, and I love all four of these places.
Santucci’s: 10th and Christian
My boyfriend’s family has ordered pizzas from here for
Parc: 18th St. in Rittenhouse
Parc is a French Brasserie with amazing brunch. Definitely on the classier side, so don’t show up in your yoga pants. Give yourself time to wander through Rittenhouse Square before or after your meal, though you’ll have a great view of it if you sit outside to dine.
Reading Terminal Market: 12th Street
The Reading (pronounced ‘red-ding’) Terminal Market is on every tourist’s list, but I’m including it because I go there all the time (and so do locals!). It’s one of the biggest and oldest public markets in Philadelphia and it’s worth a visit over a weekend in Philadelphia.
Inside, you’ll find every kind of food you could want, including groceries and produce. You must try a pretzel log from the Pennsylvania Dutch/Amish booths, but otherwise I’d recommend that you wander around the whole place before you decide on your main meal. Make sure to stop by and see Philbert the Pig in the food court; take along some spare change so you can feed him so he can feed needy children.
Nam Phuong: 1100 Washington Ave.
This is such a good Pho place. I’m especially partial to the egg rolls, which are deep fried and spectacular. The menu has many sections, so order something from each and share with the table.
Where to stay in Philadelphia
Wanderlustingk editor Karen stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Philadelphia Center City on her first trip to Philadelphia. I realize that it’s a chain hotel, but it’s walking distance from the city center, making it easy to visit Philly without a car. For somewhere with more character, consider visiting La Reserve Bed and Breakfast to stay in a historic bed and breakfast in the historic center of Philly. For a bit of luxury, consider staying at the Rittenhouse 1715, a 5* boutique hotel walking distance from Philadelphia’s cutest areas. Philadelphia has a few hostels, including Apple Hostels.
You may not get to visit everything in Philadelphia in a weekend, but hopefully you’ll discover some new favorites while you’re in town! Philly is a place that you’ll want to visit again and again, so don’t stress if you miss something this time around. I can almost guarantee that you’ll be back!