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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
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Max Brown, Ugo Ndife and Ezra Brooks enjoy the sunset on the Schuylkill River Trail.
Max Brown, Ugo Ndife and Ezra Brooks enjoy the sunset on the Schuylkill River Trail.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Philadelphia

Max Brown, Ugo Ndife and Ezra Brooks enjoy the sunset on the Schuylkill River Trail.
Max Brown, Ugo Ndife and Ezra Brooks enjoy the sunset on the Schuylkill River Trail.
  • By Swabreen Bakr
  • Photos by Michelle Gustafson
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From the outside, we’re known for cheesesteaks, history and “Rocky,” but there’s more to Philly than those popular touchpoints. The city can be a bit rough around the edges, but the more time you spend here and the more you explore, the more you come to love it. Our food scene, with award-winning chefs and restaurants, has put us on the global map. We’re a city spoiled for arts and culture, with world-class museums, and you can’t beat the walkability and ease of getting from one neighborhood to the next in under 30 minutes, whether on foot, by public transportation or taxi alternatives.

Philly has its grit (and an aptly named mascot, Gritty), along with beauty, both of which come together to make a pretty memorable town.

Meet Swabreen Bakr

Swabreen grew up in South America and settled in Philadelphia for college at Drexel University in 2002. She loves exploring cities both locally and internationally. She’s been writing about Philadelphia for about 10 years.

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IN THE ACTION
Rittenhouse Square
If you’re a traveler who likes to hit the ground running, Rittenhouse Square is the most convenient. From here you have access to shopping, great coffee shops, lauded restaurants and bars, and you can walk to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to take in the museums. At its center is Rittenhouse Square Park, where locals gather to people-watch and picnic when the weather is warm. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Old City
Nothing lets you travel back in time like walking around Old City’s cobblestone streets. The historic 18th-century gardens scattered up and down Third and Walnut streets are especially charming in the summer. A cluster of famous attractions are in this neighborhood, but walk toward the Delaware River waterfront and discover locally owned shops in Old City’s design district. Find this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
Vernick Coffee Bar
Chef Greg Vernick’s flagship Vernick Food & Drink is considered one of the top restaurants in the city, so his second venture, a coffee bar and cafe, in partnership with the Four Seasons Hotel inside the recently opened Comcast Technology Center, was a welcome addition. Start your day off with a selection of in-house baked goods or fuel your morning with made-to-order coffee and the warm seven-minute egg, which comes with English pea hummus, cherry tomato salad and a crispy pita.
BTW: Don’t miss pieces by contemporary artists Jenny Holzer and Conrad Shawcross as you take the escalators up to the cafe.
Vernick Coffee Bar, 1800 Arch St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19103
Temporarily closed
BREAKFAST
Fitz and Starts
One of the first things you’ll notice about this sunlight-drenched cafe are the array of plants arranged around the dining room. A great option to break bread with the locals, Fitz and Starts (once known as Hungry Pigeon) is known for its approachable comfort foods. A cafe by day and restaurant by night, it has an impressive selection of pastries with special selections available on weekends.
BTW: After breakfast, explore the Fabric Row neighborhood. Fourth Street has a collection of historic fabric and vintage stores, boutiques and places to eat.
Fitz and Starts, 743 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19147
LUNCH
The Bourse
This food hall gives you the experience of local Philadelphia gems all under one roof. The historic Bourse building, opened in the late 1800s and housed a stock and commodities exchange. It was later updated for commercial retail use in the late ’70s. After being renovated once more in 2018, it became home to vendors representing a diverse selection of cuisines — encompassing fancy grilled-cheese sandwiches, specialty coffee at locally owned Menagerie and the local distillery Bluebird. It’s a good spot for lunch but also open until midnight on Friday and Saturdays.
BTW: The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are across the street from the Bourse.
The Bourse, 111 S. Independence Mall East, Philadelphia, Pa. 19106
LUNCH
Dizengoff
If you’ve heard of Zahav, you know getting in there isn’t easy. But luckily chef Michael Solomonov has a few fast-casual options dotted across the city. Named after one of Tel Aviv’s most popular streets, Dizengoff is modeled after the hummus stalls (hummusiyas) found around Israel. From the classic tahini hummus platter to seasonal specialties, the menu rotates. Pita is baked fresh, and hummus platters are made to order; each comes with a side of delicious pickles and chopped salad.
BTW: Get your order to go and head toward Rittenhouse Square Park for a meal with a side of people-watching.
Dizengoff, 1625 Sansom St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19103
DINNER
Friday Saturday Sunday
The atmosphere and decor is breathtaking, yet this restaurant still feels super-welcoming and intimate. This is a treat-yourself kind of spot, and it’s totally worth it. Chef Chad Williams’s new American-style menu features a seasonal selection of housemade pastas and fresh seafood. If cocktails are your thing, then this is a must-visit for the unique and classic offerings from Paul MacDonald.
BTW: The restaurant is doing an eight-course tasting menu. Make reservations in advance.
Friday Saturday Sunday, 261 S. 21st St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19103
DINNER
Irwin’s
Want dinner and cocktails with a view? Then head to the eighth floor of the Bok building in South Philadelphia for Irwin’s, an Instagram-worthy space featuring a mix of mid-century modern design, graffiti, exposed concrete and greenery. If the weather permits, take in an aerial panorama of the city on the terrace. Named after the architect of the historic Bok building, the Irwin’s menu features a Middle Eastern-inspired collection of small plates served from an open kitchen. Reservations are encouraged, unless you get there right when it opens, at 5 p.m., for one of the first-come, first-served seats at the bar.
BTW: After dinner, head up to the top floor and grab a nightcap at Bok Bar, which offers one of the best views of Philadelphia’s skyline.
Irwin’s, 800 Mifflin St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19148
LATE-NIGHT
Tattooed Mom
It’s truly all fun and games at this bi-level dive bar-art gallery. The bar on the first floor greets you with bright walls, artist Adam Wallacavage’s signature octopus chandeliers, a counter strewn with lollipops and fun little toys. The top floor functions as an ever-changing and uncurated gallery, covered wall to wall in wheatpastes and graffiti from local and international street artists. Enjoy your drinks sitting in a vintage bumper car or while playing a game of pool. “TMoms” regularly hosts trivia nights, film screenings, readings, pop-up shops, arts and craft shows and live performances, so there’s never a dull moment. It’s also very vegan-friendly (sandwiches, cheesesteaks, burgers). The signature cocktails offer a twist on classics; try a Pickletini, hand-bottled Sazerac or Cosmo Cloud, which involves a traditional cosmo poured over cotton candy.
BTW: Grab a fun, adhesive souvenir from the second-floor sticky-art machine, loaded up with collections from sticker artists.
Tattooed Mom, 530 South St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19147
LATE-NIGHT
The Franklin Fountain
There’s always a line out the door at this ice cream parlor and soda fountain — for a good reason. Opened by brothers Eric and Ryan Berley in 2004 in a turn-of-the-century building, the shop is old-timey, down to the servers in whites and bow ties. They serve homemade sodas, sundaes and unique ice cream flavors and baked goods made from scratch. Ice creams feature premium seasonal ingredients, including milk sourced locally from Berks and Lancaster counties. The sugar and cake-waffle cones are made in-house and cooked on old-fashioned irons. Try a scoop of the signature Franklin Mint Chip: white peppermint swirled with green crème de menthe and dark bittersweet chocolate chunks. Or the Philadelphia Vanilla Bean, which was inspired by the shop’s namesake, Benjamin Franklin. Its blend of Mexican and Madagascar vanilla extracts give it a sweet, spicy and creamy flavor profile. Seasonal sorbets and non-dairy ice creams are also available.
BTW: It is cash-only. Get your scoops to go in one of their signature cartons in the original patented design from 1894.
The Franklin Fountain, 116 Market St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19106
(Philadelphia illustrator Mary Kate McDevitt for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. Don’t try to drive or park within the city; trust us.
  2. If you’re going to order a cheesesteak, keep it nice and simple with the toppings; order it with Whiz.
  3. It’s pronounced “wooder,” not “water.”
(Philadelphia illustrator Mary Kate McDevitt for The Washington Post)

Do

Shofuso Japanese house and garden
Located in Fairmount Park since 1956, the house was designed by Junzo Yoshimura and built with hinoki (a Japanese cypress) in Nagoya, Japan. Both the house and garden were official gifts from Japan to the United States to strengthen relations that had diminished after World War II. The garden features small waterfalls and a beautiful pond with colorful koi.
BTW: Visiting can be a serene and meditative experience — if you get there before the crowds.
Shofuso Japanese house and garden, 5070 Lansdowne Dr., Philadelphia, Pa. 19131
Schuylkill River Trail
If you’re a runner or biker, or you just want to go on a long walk to relax, this trail is perfect to hop on. There are multiple access points. If you’re in Center City, for example, start off at the bridge at 2400 Market St. From there go north toward Fairmount Park to get to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and historic Boathouse Row. Or head south to “walk on water” while you stroll along the one of the most iconic segments of the trail, the Boardwalk.
BTW: If you choose to walk south along the boardwalk segment, get off at the South Street Bridge for a shot of the city’s skyline.
2400 Market St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19103
Cherry Street Pier
An addition to the bustling Delaware River waterfront, Cherry Street Pier was built into the shell of a century-old municipal pier. Housed in it are artist studios; food trucks offering Indonesian fare, homemade biscuits, salads and sandwiches; ice cream; a bar serving craft beer and spirits; and art. Practically every weekend brings some type of event, such as flea markets, music and performances. It’s a great place to mingle and take in views of the river, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and possibly groups of folks doing yoga next door at Race Street Pier.
BTW: Try to arrive near sunset for an Instagrammable view of the waterfront.
Cherry Street Pier, 121 N. Christopher Columbus Blvd., Philadelphia, Pa. 19106
Institute of Contemporary Art
Everyone knows the Philadelphia Museum of Art — the columns, the steps, the “Rocky” scene. But the city has more than hits of the classic fine-arts world. The Institute of Contemporary Art, on the University of Pennsylvania campus, was created with students in mind and showcases up-and-coming and not-yet-discovered artists. One case in point: Andy Warhol. The museum hosted his first solo show in 1965, which helped launch his career.
BTW: If you want more contemporary art, head over to the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery on neighboring Drexel University’s campus.
Institute of Contemporary Art, 118 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19104
Yards Brewing Company
Philly loves craft beer and celebrates it at the start of every June with the ultra-popular Philly Beer Week. Yards Brewing Company has been a local institution for over two decades, and at its taproom and brewery, you can try over 20 of their own brews. Its dining menu is beer-friendly (Bavarian-style pretzels, made in-house with an IPA, Yards mustard and Philly Pale Ale beer cheese; a 14-hour smoked brisket; or a BBQ Board, for going all-out with your choice of ribs, brisket or chicken). Want to know more about the brewery and its process? They offer 40-minute tours daily.
BTW: Out late? Head across the street to Silk City for DJ sets if you’re in the mood for dancing.
Yards Brewing Company, 500 Spring Garden St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19123
Swabreen Bakr
Swabreen grew up in South America and settled in Philadelphia for college at Drexel University in 2002. She loves exploring cities both locally and internationally. She’s been writing about Philadelphia for about 10 years.
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Michelle Gustafson
Michelle is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in Philadelphia. Originally from New Mexico, she loves Philadelphia’s bravado and salt-of-the-earth attitude. You may spot her at Little Nonna’s, where she gets closer and closer to eating the entire plate of spaghetti in one sitting.

CITY GUIDES