PHOTO: Liberty Bell, Philadelphia. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Like most great cities, Philadelphia is defined by its many distinctive neighborhoods. Each part of the city of brotherly love puts its own unique spin on dining, shopping and nightlife.
Whether you plan to visit Philly with the one you love or with a group of friends, here’s how to spend five awesome nights in five awesome Philly neighborhoods:
This historic area of Philly is literally the cradle of the country. American democracy was born on the cobblestone streets of what locals fittingly now call Old City.
Thanks to classy dining options and top-flight live theater, this neighborhood is the best place in town to enjoy a sophisticated yet energetic night out.
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Begin your Old City adventure at the hip tasting room and gift shop called Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Here you’ll find bitters, glassware and other modern urban mixology swag.
Next, walk around the corner to catch a play or musical at The Arden Theatre. This is the finest, intimate, off-Broadway quality stage in all of Philadelphia. The Arden has deftly put on Sondheim classics and world premieres from upstart young playwrights alike,. It routinely collects many theatrical awards in the process.
By now, you’re likely famished! Munch on heavenly sweet potato fries drizzled with molasses and powdered sugar, along with fried green tomatoes topped with bacon jam at The Little Lion.
After dinner, take a trip back in time for a late-night piece of old-fashion candy from Shane Confectionery and/or ice cream served by bow-tied gentlemen at Franklin Fountain. Finish off your evening in fine fashion by raising a toast at the Continental Martini Bar.
East Passyunk Ave.
This up-and-coming south Philadelphia neighborhood (pronounced Pash-E-Yunk) takes its name from the diagonal avenue that cuts across William Penn’s brilliantly designed grid of city streets. (If Penn could see what they’ve done, I bet he’d love to spend a night out here.)
Start your East Passyunk evening at Urban Jungle and discover your garden’s full potential this summer. Whether you dream of a raised bed of vegetables in the yard or a series of terrariums hanging indoors, this hipster city garden store will inspire you.
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Once you get your hands out of the dirt, dig into handmade gourmet pizzas at Birra. The Truffle pie and the Pear & Gruyere in particular are ridiculously delicious.
Your next stop is right next-door, and you don’t even have to go inside. Stand on the sidewalk to ogle fluffy puppies though the floor to ceiling windows of Doggie Style. After you’ve pulled yourself away from the cuteness, go a little further up the avenue to peruse Nice Things Hand Made. This quaint storefront sells clever cards, jewelry, and one-of-a-kind pieces of local art.
Finally, enjoy a cold beer while watching a Phillies game in the chill neighborhood hangout Stogie Joe’s Tavern.
If you’re riding the rails into Philly, then you’ll already be in University City when you arrive at 30th Street Station!
Your first order of business is to run over to Hello World at 36th and Sansom Street (before they close for the night) to discover an even cooler Crate and Barrel…with clothes and baby toys too.
There are many great eats in this neighborhood on the other side of the Schuylkill River. Make plans to dine on the best Szechuan and spicy Chinese food at the legendary Philly haunt, Han Dynasty.
A stop in Steven Starr’s Pod for a California roll or hot pot is sure to be equally as memorable. Inside Pod, you’ll discover it is possible to be both retro AND futuristic at the same time. Break out your camera phone to capture this unique dining space.
Since you’re spending a night out in the home of two schools (Penn and Drexel –hence the neighborhood’s name), check the sports schedules of both. If you’re visiting during hoops season, you will not want to miss the chance to see a game inside the cathedral of basketball, The Palestra.
After you’ve eaten, watched a game and shopped, drop into World Café Live for some music and a nightcap to properly close out your awesome University City evening.
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Once the haven of punk rockers, South Street has changed dramatically over the years. Yet, this funky street remains one of Philly’s best destinations for good cheap eats and great people watching.
Start at Lorenzo’s for a slice of the city’s biggest and best pizza. Don’t even ask for toppings here because you’re getting plain slices only, but their slightly sweet red sauce is to die for. And don’t balk at the $3.50 price tag; it’s essentially a meal in itself. Ask for your slice to be double cut, and then share it because there’s more food in your immediate future!
It is customary to eat your Lorenzo’s while walking, so go a few doors down to Mineralistic. This curiosity shop is where you can pick up goth figurines, fairy statues and other oddities.
You may still be chewing your pizza, but one cannot come to Philly without at least taking a few bites of a cheesesteak. Get in line at Jim’s to taste the best, ‘wit’ or ‘witout’ (that’s referring to grilled onions here in Philly).
Continuing west on South Street, grab a beer or cocktail at Milkboy—especially if the weather is warm and the bar action has become an open-air experience. Next, shop for some sweet new and used vinyl at Repo Records before sitting down for some brats and other classic German fare (you are still hungry, right?) at Brauhaus Schmitz.
There are two enticing but distinctly different choices for finishing your night on South Street: at the legendary TLA for live music or at the Parisian creperie Beau Monde for sweet crepes by candlelight.
Fishtown / Northern Liberties
As recently as a few years ago, there was always an unmetered parking spot available in this part of town. But slowly, the coolness of Philly crept north and now this neighborhood is teeming with restaurants, bars and clubs. Parking is harder to come by, but the nights up here are incredible.
One of city’s most exciting new food haunts is Heritage. This bar, urban garden restaurant and jazz club offers a tasty chef’s board of seasonal fare Sunday through Tuesday. After you’ve gotten your ‘eat on’, shoot some stick or knock down a few pins at the decidedly vintage North Bowl before enjoying what Fishtown / Northern Liberties is becoming famous for: remarkable live music.
If seeing bands you know is your thing, buy a ticket for a concert at the new Fillmore. Pro tip: park across the street at the glitzy Sugarhouse Casino for free. That’s assuming you can walk out without giving money to the slot machines and blackjack tables you’ll pass.
If musical discovery is more your style, then Johnny Brenda’s is your nirvana for the night. The most exciting young touring and local bands all play here because it is the best small room for live music and craft beer in the Philly area.
No bands that sound good at Johnny Brenda’s? No worries. Walk three blocks to an even smaller live music bar, Kung Fu Necktie. On the way, pop into the hip beer garden Frankford Hall or make a pit stop at Fette Sau for a little whiskey and BBQ.
Need a laugh more than a sing-along to wrap up your night? Catch the late show at The Punch Line comedy club before heading home.