If you’ve only seen Philadelphia through social media, you might think the city is nothing but rowdy fans and demonic mascot memes. But beyond that eccentric reputation, you’ll find a city full of young people, artists, and immigrants, with dozens of different neighborhoods that all share a passion for their city. As the first city in the United States to be recognized as a World Heritage City, it’s the perfect destination for history buffs or anyone who enjoys a leisurely stroll along cobblestone streets. Art is everywhere in Philadelphia, with murals and sculptures on almost every street corner, and there’s plenty of parks and rivers for nature lovers. There’s always something to do at night, whether it’s an outdoor dance party, punk rock drag show, or library-themed lounge. Whether you want to shop at the quirky and hip South Street, go to the biggest Fourth of July party in the country, or visit a museum with a skull collection, you’ll find it in Philly.
Philadelphia doesn’t have beaches or ski resorts, so there isn’t one tourist season. Winters here range from mild to apocalyptic, so if you visit during the colder months make sure to brush up on the forecast. Otherwise, it’s personal preference. Fall can be a great time to visit the historic sites, since many of these old structures can put you in the mood for Halloween, and Terror Behind the Walls at the Eastern State Penitentiary may be the most fun haunted attraction in the entire country. Late spring and summer are perfect if you want to enjoy the warm weather and urban parks. Just be mindful that Philadelphia’s summers can be humid, so make sure to stay hydrated and cool.
English is the predominant language in Philadelphia, but the city’s large immigrant population means you’re bound to hear many languages. Spanish is the most common second language, but you might also hear Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, and Arabic during your stay.
Philadelphians also speak in slang that’s in its own category. For example, “jawn” is a big word around here. It doesn’t have a set definition, but can take the place of pretty much any noun, making sentences like “pass the jawn” or “what’s that jawn?” common. “Hoagie” is the term for a long sandwich — never ask for a hero or sub. Don’t be confused if you hear people asking for “wooder,” as that’s how many Philadelphians pronounce “water.”
During your stay in Philadelphia, you’ll become familiar with the acronym SEPTA. SEPTA is the public transportation system that connects every neighborhood in the city and the suburbs, and it includes trains, the subway, buses, and trolleys. If you need to get around and can’t drive or take Uber, SEPTA is everywhere.
Philadelphia has two main subway lines: the Broad Street Line and the El (officially the Market-Frankford Line, but you’ll never hear a native call it that). The El earned its nickname by being partially elevated above the city. It can take you anywhere from the Northwest to the suburbs west of the city. The Broad Street Line runs along Broad Street, connecting you to the Avenue of the Arts and Avenue of the Sciences, through City Hall, and to the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.
Bicycling is always an option. Philadelphia is repeatedly ranked among the top cycling cities in the country, and the city is expanding its bike paths. In Center City, where everything’s close together, you might prefer to walk. There are signs posted on most major streets, so it’s easy to find your way around.
As for driving, it’s fine in most neighborhoods, but watch out around Center City and Old City. The roads in these neighborhoods are older than the country itself, so it’s a landmine of narrow and one-way streets.
The media makes Philadelphia seem dangerous, but those fears are overblown. Like all major cities, Philadelphia has its good neighborhoods and its not-so-good neighborhoods. The busy downtown areas are safe day or night. Just be mindful of your surroundings and use common sense. As long as you don’t wander back alleys on your own in the middle of the night, you should be fine.