How to Explore Philadelphia Like a Local

Everything you need to know for your next trip to Philly—including where to eat, shop, sleep, and explore.

A long-distance view of Philadelphia's skyline, seen from the river

Philadelphia boasts a thriving arts and culture scene as well as world-class restaurants.

Photo by Ted Nghiem

If there is one word to describe Philadelphia, it’s “proud.” The city of 1.6 million people is a hub of creative energy, supported by a loud and loyal populace passionate about their home.

On your next trip to Philly, use our guide to explore all it has to offer—and check out this story that profiles some of the city’s tastemakers, including Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon of the Thai eatery Kalaya, Chad and Hanna Williams of the high-end restaurant Friday Saturday Sunday, Shannon Maldonado of the boutique hotel Yowie, and Conrad Benner, who documents Philly’s ever-evolving street art scene.

Where to eat

Every few years, Philly seems to undergo a pizza boom. The latest entry in must-have pies is the samosa pizza at Carbon Copy, a brewery in West Philly. A white pizza topped with potatoes and Madras curry oil, it is a contender for one of the city’s best new dishes. Mexican food is equally ubiquitous; head to Cantina La Martina for aguachile and frozen cocktails. Over at Honeysuckle Provisions, an Afrocentric grocer, the café serves such items as grits and eggs, a West Indian patty, and a “Dolla” hoagie (a turkey or turnip sandwich with sesame-seed mayo and Havarti cheese). Historic Reading Terminal Market is a perennial favorite, with 70-plus vendors selling everything from Pennsylvania Dutch baked goods to Georgian khachapuri to, of course, cheesesteaks. Meanwhile, the Breakfast Den’s diner-style thit kho hash (with pulled pork, jalapeños, and cheddar) is an American-style dish with bold Vietnamese flavors.

Where to shop

Harriett’s Bookshop, located in Fishtown, celebrates women authors, artists, and activists and is best known for its salon-like events. Two miles away, in Old City, Omoi Life Goods specializes in stationery, candles, and textiles. In South Philly, visit South Fellini, a favorite for cheeky local apparel and gifts, or Latchkey, a record store that also stocks band merch, graphic novels, and collectibles. Swing over to South Street and peruse the books, art, and records at Wooden Shoe Books.

Things to do

Philly’s Logan Square and Fairmount areas are packed with cultural institutions. Spend an afternoon wandering through the expansive collection at the Barnes Foundation—its galleries are filled with impressionist and post-impressionist works by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso. Nearby, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (with its famous Rocky steps) hosts touring exhibitions, the work of Philadelphian artists, and more. Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the main artery for this part of town, with such cultural heavies as the Rodin Museum, Drexel University’s Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Franklin Institute, a family-friendly science museum.

Where to stay: Four Seasons Philadelphia

The five-star Four Seasons Philadelphia sits atop the city’s tallest skyscraper, the Comcast Technology Center. No surprise then that some of its most stunning attributes include the views. The 219 rooms all have floor-to-ceiling windows. On the hotel’s 57th level, an indoor infinity-edge pool gives guests the opportunity to swim in the sky. A few levels up, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s glass-enclosed SkyHigh restaurant delivers cocktails, crudo plates, and shareable dishes with even more showstopping panoramas. From $850/night.

Joseph Hernandez is a senior service editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer covering news, community, food, and arts and culture. He’s California-raised, Chicago-grown, New York-tested. He has also written for Bon Appétit, Condé Nast Traveler, and Thrillist.
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