Heading to Philly and want to experience everything, from arts and culture to history and entertainment? Make your way to the city’s bustling downtown: Center City Philadelphia. Spread between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, Spring Garden Street, and South Street, Center City is the busiest and most densely packed neighborhood.
Adorned with towering skyscrapers, Center City is home to some of Philadelphia’s most iconic buildings, such as the Comcast Center and One Liberty Place. Nestled between these architectural behemoths are cultural gems like the world-class Philadelphia Museum of Art and historic sites like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
Downtown Philadelphia also boasts an array of shopping destinations if you need some retail therapy. Iconic Walnut Street is lined with upscale retailers, while the bustling Reading Terminal Market provides a unique experience with its diverse food vendors and fresh produce. Escape the city in beautiful green spaces like Dilworth Park next to City Hall and the scenic Schuylkill River Trail.
Ready to start exploring Philly’s beating heart? Plan your adventure around Center City Philadelphia with this complete guide for what to see & do, where to eat & drink, and where to stay!
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What to see & do in Center City
It goes without saying that when visiting Philly, your first stop should undoubtedly be the birthplace of America: Independence Hall. Set at the center of the Independence National Historical Park on Chestnut Street, this historic landmark served as the backdrop for the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the United States Constitution in 1787.
Originally constructed as the Pennsylvania State House, Independence Hall stands as a symbol of freedom and democracy. The Georgian and Palladian’s red brick façade and white columns exude elegance and grandeur.
Explore the famous building on a guided tour and visit the Assembly Room, where the Founding Fathers debated and adopted the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Venture into the Supreme Court Chamber, which served as the meeting place for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania from 1791 to 1800.
After checking out the centerpiece building, stroll around the rest of Independence National Historical Park and admire other significant landmarks like the Liberty Bell Center, Congress Hall, and the Benjamin Franklin Museum.
Another must-visit on your wanderings around Independence Park is the iconic Liberty Bell. Housed in the Liberty Bell Center, next to Independence Hall, this historic artifact with its distinctive crack carries immense historical and cultural significance.
Originally cast in London, England, in 1752, the Liberty Bell was commissioned for the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) to mark important occasions and summon lawmakers to legislative sessions.
Explore the Liberty Bell Center and discover the bell’s history, role as a symbol of liberty, and impact on American culture. Interactive displays and multimedia presentations provide insight into the bell’s significance and how the Liberty Bell became a powerful symbol of the fight for independence.
Over time, the bell developed a distinctive crack. Despite efforts to repair it, the slash remains, serving as a poignant reminder of the bell’s enduring symbolism and the struggles faced by the nation. The bell’s tolling during significant events, such as the deaths of notable figures or the celebration of important anniversaries, has added to its historical resonance.
Museum of the American Revolution
Gain a deeper understanding of the Revolutionary War era at the Museum of the American Revolution. Located just steps away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, this captivating institution offers a comprehensive insight into the events, people, and ideas that shaped the birth of the United States of America.
Spend time exploring interactive exhibits and thought-provoking displays that highlight the American people’s struggles, sacrifices, and triumphs during the Revolutionary War. Admire the museum’s impressive array of authentic objects and artifacts like weapons, clothing, manuscripts, and artwork.
Enjoy multisensory experiences that bring history, like walking through a military encampment, boarding a privateer ship, and visiting a tavern at the Revolution Place: Philadelphia in the War for Independence exhibition.
Elfreth’s Alley Museum
Explore the architectural and cultural heritage of the city at the Elfreth’s Alley Museum. Nestled between North 2nd Street and North Front Street in Philadelphia’s Old City, it’s the oldest residential street in the United States, dating back to the early 18th century.
Elfreth’s Alley is a picturesque cobblestone street lined with impeccably preserved row houses, creating an ambiance that transports visitors back in time. Many homes are still privately owned and occupied, making Elfreth’s Alley a unique living museum.
The unoccupied historic homes offer a fascinating look into the lives of the artisans, tradespeople, and working-class families who once lived there. Wander through the museum’s exhibits, displaying period furnishings, colonial-era kitchenware, vintage clothing, and personal belongings of former residents.
Knowledgeable guides provide insightful commentary and detailed narratives about the street’s origins and significance in Philadelphia’s history.
Reading Terminal Market
Time for some food! And there’s no better place to find farm-fresh produce, freshly baked goods, and delicious handmade meals around Center City than Reading Terminal Market. Housed in a beautiful historic building at 12th Street and Arch Street, this iconic market has been a beloved institution since 1892.
Reading Terminal Market is a bustling hub of activity and a must-see on your Philadelphia trip itinerary. As you step inside, you’re greeted by an enticing array of sights, sounds, and aromas. The market boasts an impressive selection of food stalls and vendors, each offering unique specialties.
The Reading Terminal Market is a food lover’s paradise packed with local farm-fresh produce to artisanal cheeses, freshly baked bread, and mouthwatering pastries. Tuck into a classic Philly cheesesteak, snack on a hearty Amish pretzel, or relax over a bowl of homemade soup and watch the world go by.
Beyond the culinary delights, the market also hosts special events, cooking demonstrations, and workshops that immerse you in the vibrant fabric of Philadelphia’s food culture.
The Franklin Institute
Follow in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin and pay homage to his spirit of curiosity, exploration, and scientific discovery at the Franklin Institute. Named after the prolific inventor, the renowned science museum houses a world of wonders where science comes alive.
Embark on a journey of scientific exploration as you explore the awe-inspiring displays, interactive exhibits, and hands-on activities at the Franklin Institute. Seamlessly combining entertainment and education, this popular Philadelphia museum makes complex scientific concepts enjoyable!
Don’t miss the iconic Giant Heart exhibit. Standing three stories high, this walk-through display is a captivating exploration of the human cardiovascular system. Venture inside the heart, learn about its functions, listen to its beats, and gain a deeper understanding of this vital organ.
The Franklin Institute also houses various permanent exhibits covering multiple scientific disciplines. There’s something for everyone, from the astonishing world of outer space at the Fels Planetarium to the exploration of physics, electricity, and magnetism in the Electricity exhibit.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Whether you love beautiful architecture or enjoy exploring world-class art, visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a must! Nestled at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, this iconic institution is renowned for its world-class collection, stunning architecture, and rich cultural heritage.
The museum’s magnificent Beaux-Arts building is a work of art, with its grand staircase and imposing columns reminiscent of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. Famously known as the ‘Rocky Steps’ after appearing in the film Rocky, the staircase has become a famous symbol of the city and is one of Philadelphia’s must-see attractions.
When you’re done running in the footsteps of Rocky, head inside to admire one of the world’s most impressive collections of art. From Renaissance masterpieces to Impressionist paintings, from Asian ceramics to African sculptures, the Philadelphia Museum of Art offers a comprehensive exploration of artistic traditions from around the world.
Among its many treasures, you’ll find paintings by Renoir, van Gogh, and Picasso, a collection of suits of armor, and a complete 14th-century Buddhist temple. Head to the outdoor sculpture garden to reflect on the art you’ve seen and enjoy a quiet moment.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
Soak some art of a different kind at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. Spread across half a block on South Street, this mesmerizing and enchanting space is a sprawling labyrinth of vibrant colors, intricate tile work, and dazzling mosaics.
Created by artist Isaiah Zagar, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens boasts a kaleidoscope of imagery, blending mythology, folk art, and personal narratives into a tapestry of creativity. Zagar’s unique artistic style is evident in every inch of the space, with intricate patterns, whimsical sculptures, and recycled materials coming together to create a truly magical experience.
Wander through the iconic mosaic-covered walls and walkways, explore indoor galleries, and discover hidden treasures in a beautiful outdoor sculpture garden. Admire how Zagar used found objects and recycled materials in his mosaic creations to create a visual feast.
Where to eat & drink
Center City Philadelphia is a food lover’s paradise with a vibrant culinary scene. Whether you’re in the mood for Asian fusion, Mexican delights, American comfort food, or a lively bar experience, there are plenty of fantastic options to explore!
If you’re up for some Asian-inspired deliciousness, head to Sampan. Expect bold flavors and creative dishes, like crispy pork bao buns or Szechuan dan dan noodles. Pair your meal with one of their inventive cocktails for a perfect dining experience.
For mouthwatering Mexican fare, El Vez is the place to be. Vibrant and lively, this laid-back spot boasts festive décor and a delectable menu. Dive into a plate of flavorful tacos, dig into some tasty enchiladas, and don’t miss their fantastic guacamole variations. Grab a margarita or two—they’re the real deal!
Looking for American comfort food? Look no further than The Love. Warm and welcoming, this farm-to-table restaurant celebrates the flavors of home with a modern twist. Each plate is a culinary delight that showcases quality ingredients and expert craftsmanship, from crispy fried chicken to roasted veggies. It’s a cozy spot to enjoy a leisurely brunch, a romantic dinner, or a laid-back gathering with friends.
For a taste of Paris in the heart of Philadelphia, head straight to Parc. Capturing the essence of Parisian dining with its elegant interior and charming outdoor seating, this classic French bistro won’t disappoint! Indulge in steak frites, savor escargots, and save room for their delectable pastries and desserts. It’s like a mini vacation to France right in the city.
If you’re looking for a no-frills, classic dive bar experience, Oscar’s Tavern ticks all the boxes. You’ll find a laid-back atmosphere, friendly service, and delicious pub food at this Philadelphia institution. Sink your teeth into mouthwatering burgers, enjoy some crispy fries, and pair it all with a cold beer. It’s the perfect spot to kick back, catch a game, and soak up the local vibe.
For a night of fun and drinks, check out Franky Bradley’s. This lively bar and restaurant ooze a retro aesthetic with a modern twist. Get ready to groove to live music, enjoy drag shows, and dance the night away. Their menu features elevated pub fare like burgers, sandwiches, and shareable plates – perfect fuel for a memorable night out.
Hidden behind a discreet entrance, The Ranstead Room is a speakeasy-style cocktail bar that exudes sophistication. Slip into the dimly lit ambiance and indulge in expertly crafted cocktails. This hidden gem is perfect for a memorable and classy evening with friends or someone special.
Khyber Pass Pub is a gem if you’re a fan of Southern-inspired cuisine and an excellent selection of beers. Comfort food classics like po’boys, jambalaya, and finger-licking fried chicken are menu musts. Sip one of their many craft beers or explore their impressive whiskey selection!
Where to stay
As it’s the heart of the city, Center City sits atop the list of popular neighborhoods to stay in Philadelphia. In the area, you’ll find plenty of accommodation options, including many of the city’s finest hotels.
Overlooking Market Street, Penn’s View Hotel Philadelphia is ideally located for exploring Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Comfortable rooms have pull-out sofas, whirlpool tubs, and balconies with bridge views. A laid-back Italian restaurant serves authentic fare and global wines.
A block from Washington Square Park, Morris House Hotel is an elegant retreat set in a beautiful 1787 colonial home. Plush rooms have period décor and modern amenities, and suites have kitchenettes. Enjoy complimentary perks like continental breakfast, afternoon tea, coffee and cookies, and a glass of wine in the fireside lounge.
This sleek, glass-encased, high-rise hotel has modern rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, studios with kitchenettes, and one-bedroom suites with living areas. Stay fit in a state-of-the-art gym and relax in an elegant lounge. Element Philadelphia Downtown is a short walk from LOVE Park.
You’ll find the Hyatt Centric Center City Philadelphia in the upmarket Rittenhouse Square neighborhood. Polished rooms feature spacious bathrooms, stylish amenities, and floor-to-ceiling windows with city views. Unwind over drinks and dinner in an elegant, laid-back bar and restaurant.
Situated within the towering Comcast Center, the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center offers unparalleled elegance, breathtaking views, and superb amenities. Floor-to-ceiling windows in every room provide panoramic views of Philadelphia’s skyline. Enjoy rejuvenating treatments and therapies at the world-class spa.