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Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods.The first area a visitor would see is probably the center of town. Native Philadelphians call it Center City. This area is broken into smaller neighborhoods, too.
There is Society Hill where all the fancy townhouses and historic dwellings meet with upscale condos and the beauty of Washington Square.
There is Washington Square West, the trendy neighborhood situated just west of Washington Square. There are smaller townhomes and luxury condominiums, but the buildings adhere to the old Philadelphia law of not going any higher than William Penn's Hat. This area has become a hotspot for bars and restaurants, especially around and along 13th street with Barbuzzo, Zavino, Sampan, El Vez, Vetri, Opa, Time, Raw, Jamonera, Spice 28, and Fish to name a few. James Beard winning, Iron Chef Jose Garces has made his name known as well with Garces Trading Company, and well known Chef Mark Vetri has two of his best in the neighborhood with Vetri and Amis. The area has a lot of boutique shopping and is home to Philadelphia's antique row along Pine Street. At night it comes alive with the restaurants and bars all packed along 12th-13th streets between Chestnut and Spruce. It is an excellent spring and summer location with lots of outdoor seating.
There is Penn’s Landing which is located along the Delaware River. You can see the Independence Seaport Museum, an old WW2 submarine, a battleship from the Spanish American War, a Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, and boats of many shapes and sizes anchored by the water. Many outdoor festivals take place in this area during the warm weather months. Something is happening at Penn’s Landing almost every week when the weather is nice. And when the weather is cold you can go ice skating at the River Rink and view fireworks at midnight on New Year's eve.
Another area of Center City which is close to Penn’s Landing is the South Street area. South Street is a place where things are happening all the time. There are many unique and funky shops in this neighborhood. The area attracts quite a crowd --lots of young people like to hang out there. You can also find lots of good restaurants here -- along with bars and nightlife. Be sure to try Jim's Steaks (at 4th and South Street), one of several famous "cheese-steak" places in the city.
Just south of South Street is Queen Village which stretches from Front Street to 6th Street. This neighborhood has a concentration of historic homes and small streets and alleys, some with hidden gardens. Some of the city's best new BYOB restaurants are here as well.
West of Queen Village is Bella Vista and to the south of that, mostly along 9th Street, is the famed Italian Market. The market has changed very little in the past 100 years and has a very old world feel to it. You can buy delicious cheeses, pasta, bread, olive oils and more here. Everything you need for a spectacular anti pasto can be aquired in the shops of the Italian Market. The more recent arrival of Mexican and Asian immigrants is in evidence by the appearance of Mexican and Asian shops and restaurants.
For a more upscale taste of Center City you can go to Rittenhouse Square. This neighborhood has lots of fancy stores (expensive) and fancy housing. Ornate old buildings, and newer high rise condos combine with a bustling commercial area to make up the more exclusive urban neighborhood. Rittenhouse Square is a good place to people watch. It's like a parade of the fashionable and the frumpy --the freaks and the geeks-- and everything in between.
At the heart of Center City is Market Street. There is always a lots of traffic and congestion there. But, this is a big city and that is what happens here. One of the best places in this area is the Reading Terminal Market. It is a Farmer’s Market, and more --with vendors and food stands that boggle the mind, stimulate the appetite, and appeal to all your senses.
One of the newer trendier neighborhoods in Center City Philadelphia is Old City. This is the area just north of Market Street and centered along 2nd and 3rd streets. The area is home to the historic Philadelphia Locations such as the Liberty Bell and Independance Hall. Many of the older industrial buildings have been converted to luxury condos, but there is still a slightly gritty feel to the neighborhood. Used restaurant supply stores still survive amidst the numerous art galleries and chic clothing and furniture boutiques. The first Friday of each month is, not surprisingly, First Friday when all the art galleries are open to the public and hordes of hipsters, suburbanites and artists stroll the streets. There are usually street performances as well that night and the neighborhood has a definite party atmosphere.
If you head a little further north on 2nd Street and cross Spring Garden Street you'll be in Northern Liberties. This area is verging on the uber trendy. Lots of good new restaurants, pubs, a hip bowling alley/bar, and some interesting shops. The area still feels pretty industrial, but the hipsters have arrived.
Art Museum / Fairmount section of the city includes several popular tourist desitnations. The area is bordered by the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on the south, Girard Avenue on the north, 20th Street on the east, and extends westerly to the border of Fairmount Park. This mostly residential neighborhood is adjacent to the
Philadelphia Art Museum,
The Rodin Museum and the newly opened
Barnes Foundation Museum, and several Fairmount Park sites, including
Boat House Row and
Lemon Hill. It is also home to the
Eastern State Penitentiary, a Thursday farmers' market, restaurants and shops, all within walking distance of the Art Museum.
University City is the area around the University of Pennsylvania, and beyond that is West Philadelphia. This area has become much more gentrified over the last several years and is bustling. Indian and African restaurants abound in this neighborhood, and it is home to the city's anarchist and lefty communities.
If you want to travel even farther afield from Center City, you can take the Septa train out to Manayunk or Chestnut Hill. Both have good shopping and restaurants. Manyunk has some beautiful old stone mills that have been converted to upscale housing and shops. Chestnut Hill's main street, Germantown Avenue, has lots of upscale shopping and restaurants as well. Both also have some beautiful historic homes and buildings and are very pleasant neighborhoods to stroll through.