All About Philadelphia, By Locals Who Love It

published Jul 25, 2017
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(Image credit: Caitlyn Cartlidge)

You probably already know Philadelphia is a city rich with history and things to do, but unless you’ve experienced it first-hand, you might not know just how great Philly is—it’s more than just cheesesteaks and Rocky movies, it’s a big city with a tight-knit community feel that’s chock full of culture. Ask any local what they love about their city, and they’re sure to tell you the same (and more).

To prove it, we asked Philly residents to share what makes their city so great, from the food and music scenes to the overall vibes of the city and its people—not to mention, when to visit and what to do while you’re there. They just have one request: please don’t move there! (Many of them half-joked that transplants are welcome, but too many transplants would be a bit of a nightmare). But regardless of whether you make a move or not, here’s why you’ll fall in brotherly love with Philadelphia.

(Image credit: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock)

So…why Philly? Why do locals love it there?

“It’s not like New York, which is too big to wrap your arms around and can never truly belong to you or anyone. Philly is personal. It’s communal, and that makes it truly special and unique among cities its size. It’s more like an oversized village than a huge city.” — John I.

“I love Philly for so many reasons. It’s a wonderful small-big city that’s rich in culture, lots of museums, history, fantastic food. It’s walkable. It’s changing all the time and there’s plenty of fun stuff to do any time of the year. It’s a great city to live and work in. My favorite aspects of it are the food and arts and entertainment scenes.” — Mikey

“I love Philly because it has something for everyone and because everyone is here. There are people here from all over the world, which means there is culture, food, music, and more, from every corner of the earth. There’s always something to do in Philadelphia, always something to see, somewhere to go. It’s driving distance from many other major cities, and the airport is a major hub, so if I do want to travel I can do so very easily. Philly has everything I could want in a city and more.” — Lauren

“I love Philly because it is a big city with the sense of community of a small town. I always say ‘Philly loves Philly’ because the people who live here are so devoted to the city. It’s a really amazing thing to be a part of.” — Erin

“There is a buzz all over the place with new buildings, parks and restaurants. There is a sense of togetherness and pride that you can feel from the residents of the city that they are proud of what is being built and want to continue to contribute to the development. On the flip side of that, the city is also filled with a lot of history and culture and while you can feel the newness, the preservation of what the city was built on is also ever-present. Old City is still filled with cobblestone streets, tiny alleyways and rich tradition. Which leads me to my favorite part of living here…the neighborhoods. Unlike any other city, in my eyes, is the ability to identify different sections of the city. When you’re in Old City, you know it, when you’re in Rittenhouse, you know it, when you’re in Northern Liberties, you know it. Each section of the city has it’s own identity and the residents reflect it.” — Ben

“Oh, Philadelphians have a reputation for being…rude, but I like to think of our inhabitants as being raw and honest. There’s no bullshit! I actually really appreciate that. If someone doesn’t like what you’re doing, they’ll let you know. You learn to either laugh it off, apologize, or tell them you don’t much like what they’re doing.” — Melissa

“Philly is a large city that offers a lot of opportunities, but at the same time is easy to navigate throughout its different neighborhoods, each with a little different personality. I love all the history Philly has to offer. There’s no shortage of stuff to do around here: museums, food, entertainment, parks. At the end of the day, I love the neighborhood feel encompassed by a city vibe. Public transportation might not be the most modern, but it covers the city to a decent extent. The Philly ‘attitude’ misnomer may have stuck with us from over the years (think sports fans throwing snowballs at Santa), but in actuality, the city has come a long way.” — Dan

Oh man, why not love Philly? If you’re the kind of person who likes cities, Philly’s perfect. it’s big enough to have something for everyone no matter what you’re into, but still small enough that you run into your grade school best friend at the deli. Plus, we’re not as mean as people say we are. We’re just real as hell. If you think Philly people are mean, you’re probably the jerk.” — Beth

If you’re curious about the food and culture scene, wonder no more:

“Philadelphia has a vibrant cultural scene which is easy to get involved in, with the kind of diversity of interests and styles that can only be supported by a large city (the sixth largest in the country!). We have all kinds of arts, music, dance, and theater communities, dozens of different ethnic communities, and delicious food (and cheesesteaks, if that’s your thing). You can work off all that great eating by getting around on a bike; we have bike lanes all over the place and if you get tired, there are public transport options (many of which will also transport your bike). Our city also has a rich character and history that can’t be matched by many others. When we started construction on the foundation of our home, we uncovered two Revolutionary War era privies filled with historical artifacts, and when I researched the history of our property going back to 1745, I was able to easily find detailed biographical information about the inhabitants–a testament to the preserved documentation available in a city with a disproportionate number of lawyers, journalists, and Quakers among its founders.” — Melissa

Philadelphia has a world class food scene that flies so far under the radar. It’s actually my favorite part of living here. People who aren’t from here are shocked at how many celebrity chefs have restaurants here, and the real hidden gems are the mom and pop shops and holes in walls. With so many people from all around the world, you can have authentic cuisine from anywhere, which I’m sure is a little slice of home for a lot of people. As for culture, obviously Philadelphia is overflowing with incredibly curated exhibits and museums, as well as local businesses that support local artists and communities that rally around their own. Tattooed Mom is a great example of a Philly staple that continually supports local artists, musicians, and causes.” — Lauren

“Philly has so much culture it’s incredible. There is every type of restaurant imaginable and some of the best Italian food can be found in South Philly. The music scene is my favorite part. There are so many talented local bands and the support they get from radio stations and the community is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else.” — Erin

“Music scene is solid, but I have little to compare it against. From the small venues like Johnny Brenda’s, to the mainstays like TLA and Electric Factory, to the newer larger venues like Union Transfer and The Fillmore, there are always a few shows to see. I love the restaurant scene, especially in the East Passyunk section of South Philly. As far as culture, beside the historical sites, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Museum are world class collections. The Academy of Music is a great place to see an opera or musical and The Philadelphia Orchestra is fantastic.” — John C.

“You could spend days and days at the various museums and art galleries (if that’s your thing). One amazing detail about the culture and art in this city is the Mural Arts Program. The program was built on an anti-graffiti principle by this incredible woman, Jane Golden. These murals are EVERYWHERE at this point and have helped to breath some life into neighborhoods that really need it and created an outlet for kids that otherwise may be causing trouble. I try to tell everyone visiting the city to check out the website and try to get to see some pieces. It’s something that may get overlooked and taken advantage of by locals (myself included somedays), but the work itself is incredible.” — Ben

“Philly does something called First Friday, where all of the museums are free on the first Friday of every month. Again, it just helps make sure everything Philly has to offer is available to everyone. And Philly really does have some incredible museums to offer. From the Franklin Institute to the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art, to the lesser known but still incredible collections like the Barnes Museum, the arts are huge here. Add that to the history of the city, with the Liberty Bell, National Constitution Center, and the newly opened Museum of the American Revolution, and there’s plenty to experience in the city where America started.” — John I.

“The food scene is exploding here. It seems like every five minutes there’s a new restaurant or cafe opening. Philly’s got a lot of BYO restaurants, especially in Chinatown, so a great thing to do is bring a bunch of friends and box of wine and go to town on some dumplings. It’s just as easy to get a delicious $7 falafel sandwich or pho as it is to have an incredible 4 course meal. On the first Friday of every month most of the art galleries in Old City have wine and beer, and there will be a sort of flea market of trinkets and artwork for sale outside. Between World Cafe Live, The Fillmore, Underground Arts, Union Transfer, and PhilaMOCA (among others) basically every kind of music you can imagine comes through, and it’s all pretty affordable.” — Molly

If you’re thinking about visiting, here’s when to go:

Summer for sure. It’s a little humid, but the city comes alive. There are beer gardens everywhere, events and street fairs every week, and if you’re patriotic then you’ll never run out of historical places to visit. Especially around Fourth of July.” — Erin

“Anytime around Independence Day is a great time to visit just because of the history. What better place to celebrate the 4th of July than the place where it all happened? The city really goes all out, with events in the days leading up to the 4th, and then a massive free concert and fireworks display above the Art Museum. If you’re a craft beer nerd like me, Philly Loves Beer is a festival you can’t miss. The best craft brewers from all over the country bring their best beer to Philadelphia for a 10-day marathon that’s a great excuse to get into different neighborhood bars all over the city. That always happens in early June.” — John I.

“If I had to pick a time, it would be during our Fringe Festival. It’s in September, so you have a decent chance of Goldilocks weather, and you get your pick of around 1,000 performances of every kind of show all around the city over two and a half weeks.” — Melissa

“I prefer fall when it’s still warm enough to have beer gardens open but the humidly has fallen. Plus the city is very pretty as the leaves are changing, especially Fairmount Park.” — John C.

“There isn’t a bad time to visit, but I would say summer is the best time to visit. (Visitors are bound to hate SEPTA…it’s just something we deal with here). The city is very walkable. Its nice to walk through Rittenhouse Square after a nice meal or hop around the different museums in Old City. There are two great waterfront walking trails, [and] Philly is a runner-friendly city too. Another great thing about the summer is the Parks on Tap pop up beer garden series. Parks on Tap goes to a different park every weekend (Thursday through Sunday) and sets up a beer garden with picnic tables, oversized lawn furniture and games. Philly offers several beer gardens in addition the weekly Parks on Tap option.” — Chris

“I’d say summer is a great time to visit because of all of the beer gardens and Spruce Street Harbor Park are in full swing — and the free public pools that are open all around the city. The Jersey Shore is only an hour away if you want the ocean, and the Wissahickon Park is a short drive for a good hike.” — Molly

And, you know…don’t move there, but if you want to, look here:

“I would say young transplants would do well in Fairmount if they want to be in the thick of things and within walking distance to a lot of local restaurants and bars, or South Philly if they want that same accessibility but a little bit more of Philly’s grit. Northern Liberties/Fishtown has a lot of great things to do and would be a nice option for someone who wants to be a bit removed from the hustle and bustle. I would recommend Center City to anyone who can afford it and doesn’t drive, but keep in mind that when you have friends driving to visit you, you’re basically condemning them to pay a ton for parking every time.” — Lauren

“Neighborhoods like Fishtown and Northern Liberties have a cool Brooklyn vibe. Center City is great if you want to be in the middle of everything. And the air in the Italian market smells like pastries all the time.” — Erin

“In terms of affordability: Fairmount, Fishtown, Francisville, and parts of Northern Liberties. South Philly is also very affordable but I think the neighborhoods that I listed previously offer a more intimate, charming feel (especially Fairmount). The beauty of Philly is that almost any neighborhood is going to feature (some neighborhoods more than others) several small bars and restaurants that are likely unknown by people that live outside of that neighborhood. I prefer these hidden gems to the more mainstream, club-y bar options that are found in Center City, although those are fun too.” — Chris

“It depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re a laid-back hippie type who wants to play guitar on a porch, West Philly is your spot. It’s practically a different city out there. If you love bar-hopping and hungover brunches, South Philly (where I live) is great. You can hop the subway and be anywhere in a few minutes, plus all the best restaurants are here. It’s still affordable—for now. If you have kids, or just prefer a suburban vibe, check out the northeast, like Mayfair or Fox Chase. Property there is pretty inexpensive right now and it’s a great place to live. The schools are excellent, plenty of space to run around and the neighbors are really close-knit and friendly.” — Beth