20 Hidden Gems in Philadelphia: Beyond the Expected

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Philadelphia is packed with things to do. The city is teeming with parks and gardens, unique spaces, and other hidden attractions that even long-time residents may not know. Once you’ve visited all the top sites, what’s next?

If you’re a visitor with time on your hands or a local looking to explore something off the beaten path, there are lots of hidden gems in Philadelphia. This list has some of our favorite spots we’ve discover over the years and will help you get started in uncovering some of the city’s best kept secrets.

Bartram’s Garden

Stone home surrounded by trees and flower gardens
John Bartram’s house and part of the gardens

Bartram’s Garden is one of the best places in the city to enjoy the outdoors. Visitors can wander the River Trail and enjoy wildflowers, plants, and trees whose history stretches back centuries.

The oldest botanical garden in North America, Bartram’s Garden was founded by John Bartram in 1728. In his later life, Bartram became the “King’s Botanist” for King George III in recognition of his knowledge and accomplishments. Many of the native plants on the grounds owe their cultivation to Bartram’s efforts.

The original garden and stone house can still be visited. Descriptions around the property identify the plants and explain those that had medicinal properties or other uses in the colonies, making a visit here both refreshing and a bit of a history lesson for those who are interested.

Masonic Temple of Philadelphia

Room with red benches and wall covered with Arabic calligraphy.
Oriental Hall’s design is influenced by Islamic architecture

An architectural gem, The Masonic Temple of Philadelphia is a sumptuously decorative building just north of City Hall. Celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2023, it is the meeting place for over 15 local Freemason lodges.

The Masons are an enigmatic organization, and lots of conspiracy theories abound regarding their inner workings. Unfortunately, a tour of the Masonic Temple won’t shed any light on that—there is very little information shared about the fraternity, and almost all the content is about the building.

Visiting the temple on its hour-long guided tour gives you passage into several of its brightly colored, ornate meeting halls. You’ll see replicas of statues from Greece’s Partheon and columns with Egyptian designs, among other unique things. We particularly enjoyed the Arabic calligraphy in Oriental Hall. Did we mention the 13-foot-tall Ben Franklin statue? Yes, the Philadelphia resident who was famously a Mason is memorialized here, too.  

Zagar Mosaics

Cafe exterior covered in multi-colored mosaic tiles
Isaiah Zagar’s distinctive mosaic

The Magic Gardens—a whimsical, artistic experience surrounded by mosaics and reclaimed objects—is one of the top attractions in the city. Its creator artist Isaiah Zagar is a prolific artist beyond his greatest known work, however.

One of our favorite things about driving around the city (especially in South Philly) is finding the unexpected Zagar mosaics. On a random street corner, gracing a storefront, on a wall beside a school—you never quite know where one of his distinctive pieces will turn up. They’re easily identifiable and never fail to make us smile because they’re always a surprise.

Pennsylvania Hospital Garden

Garden with a statue of William Penn in the center behind a building
William Penn watching over the Pennsylvania Hospital Garden

Pennsylvania Hospital was the first hospital in the United States, built in 1755 decades before the country even existed. Its Pine Building— located on Pine between 8th and 9th Street—is still in use today.

The back of the building features a gorgeous garden with azaleas, wisteria, and towering colorful trees that dates back to the hospital’s founding. In the center is a statue of William Penn that was provided to the hospital by Penn’s grandson. It’s free to visit and many people don’t know that it’s open to the public.

Shofuso Japanese Garden

Bridge in front of a Japanese house surrounded by a pond and garden
Shofuso’s lush garden

The Shofuso Japanese House and Garden is tucked away in Fairmount Park just a few miles from Center City. The Japanese house, heavenly garden, and koi pond are the definition of a Philadelphia hidden gem.

The site features a traditional-style Japanese house that visitors can walk through to see the rooms as well as a collection of murals on display that were inspired by the waterfall on the grounds. Outside, there is ample space to explore the sections of the garden and the pond. March is a particularly good time to visit when the cherry blossoms on the property and right outside the walls are blooming–it’s one of our favorite places to see them.

Mural Arts Tours

Persistence mural: a woman in a red polka dot dress
Persistence mural in Fishtown

Thousands of murals grace the walls and buildings of Philadelphia thanks to the Mural Arts program. They’re relatively easy to find when exploring the city. The best way to dig deeper, though, is on a walking tour with the organization.

There is a broad range of options for the tours that explore different themes and neighborhoods around the city. Popular options include the Mural Mile and highlights of Center City West.

James G. Kaskey Memorial Park

Water pouring over the rocks of a small waterfall surrounded by plants
The waterfall at the BioPond is one of Kaskey Park’s main features

The James G. Kaskey Memorial Park is an ecological oasis on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. If you didn’t know to look for it, it would be very easy to pass by this nearly secret spot. The cascading waterfall and singing birds almost make you forget about the busy city barely a block away.

The quiet space, which has been here in various forms since 1897, is surrounded by research labs and buildings of the Biology Department. Hence the name of the lovely pond at the park’s center—the BioPond. Life sciences and art students use the area as part of their studies and plenty of other people come to enjoy the turtles, koi, and variety of wildflowers.

John F. Collins Park

Bench in front of an ivy-covered wall
Collins Park is full of flowers, trees, and ivy

Ornate gates mark the entrance to the charming John F. Collins Park. This pocket park just off 17th Street occupies a narrow space between Chestnut and Ranstead.

Its ivy-covered walls, wooden benches, and tables are welcoming for the lunch crowd or anyone looking to rest their feet for a moment in Center City. Native trees shade the space, and a cascading fountain of concrete pillars is at its center.

Bok Bar

Buildings and skyscrapers of the Philadelphia skyline
The incredible skyline view from Bok Bar

There are few better places to appreciate the skyline than from Bok Bar in South Philly. This seasonal bar occupies a space in the former Bok Vocational High School, which opened in 1938. Though the school closed years ago, many of its architectural details have been preserved, making it one of the most unique places in the city for a drink with a view and a perfect date night experience.

Food vendors change monthly at Bok and regularly include some of the city’s best chefs (we’ve had food from Kalaya here more than once). There are also frequent special events, including drag brunches, rooftop yoga, salsa dancing nights, and more.

Headhouse Farmers Market

Brick building with a cupola in front of market tents and shed
The Head House building dates from 1804

The Headhouse Farmers Market is one of the best places around for produce, flowers, and artisanal food and is one of the best farmers market in the city. Every Sunday, the market shed fills with vendors from around the region selling their wares in the building whose history dates to 1745. Come hungry and ready to shop.

Some of our favorite vendors include Birchrun Hills for cheese, empanadas from Jezabel’s cafe, and produce from Beechwood Orchards. Some of the vendors accept preorders, so check ahead of time if there’s something you’re particularly interested in.

The Rosenbach

Books in display cases in a museum
Herman Melville’s works on display at The Rosenbach

The Rosenbach Museum & Library is a book lover’s dream. This 19th-century townhouse in Rittenhouse features a remarkable collection of rare manuscripts and books. From Lewis Carroll’s own copy of Alice in Wonderland to a handwritten manuscript for Ulysses by James Joyce, the museum is filled with treasures.

Beyond the books, there are other special items to see. Several rooms are set up as they might have been when the Rosenbach brothers lived here. They showcase ancient statues, artwork, and artifacts collected from around the world. You’ll see everything from a jewelry chest that belonged to King Charles II to an unusual clock made by Marie Antoinette’s clock maker.

Don’t miss the charming garden outside. It’s a lovely place to linger.

Cliveden

Brick Georgian style house.
Cliveden dates from 1767

In 1777, the Cliveden estate cemented its place in history when it became the site of the Battle of Germantown, the only Revolutionary War battle to happen in Philadelphia. Visitors to the estate can enjoy the grounds and take a guided tour to learn about the history of the house and the seven generations of the Chew family that lived here.

On the first Saturday of October, Cliveden hosts the Revolutionary Germantown Festival, which features a battle reenactment on the lawn.

Southeast Asian Market

Hand holding a beef skewer with food market stands in the background.
Grilled beef skewers are a market staple

On weekends from April through October, FDR Park buzzes with the sights and smells of the Southeast Asian Market. From humble beginnings in the 1980s, this amazing market has grown to over 70 vendors.

As you walk around, you’ll find beef skewers (our favorites), Cambodian stuffed chicken wings, Thai noodle dishes, and much more. There is even a lemongrass chicken cheesesteak at the Sahbyy Food’s stand, which is not to be missed.

Come early to miss some of the lines and bring a picnic blanket or folding chair to make yourself comfortable for one of the most delicious lunches around.

Cedar Park Houses

Brick Queen Anne style twin homes with blue accents.
Decorated twin homes

Some of the prettiest houses in the city are in the Spruce Hill and Cedar Park neighborhoods at the edge of University City. Filled with brightly painted Queen Anne Victorian twins and homes with other unique features, the neighborhoods are a delight for architecture lovers.

Shane Confectionery

Two parallel candy counters filled with candy and chocolate.
Shane Confectionery is filled with chocolates and candy

A confectionery has occupied the space at Letitia and Market for over 150 years, making it America’s oldest candy shop. Shane Confectionery pays homage to that history in its offerings of old-fashioned candy and chocolate alongside modern products.

Shane is known for its creations like the Pennsylvania Dutch Christmas gift called Clear Toy Candy, its buttercreams based on a 100-year-old recipe, and the products they make with the honey from the beehives they keep on their store roof. If you stop in, don’t miss the variety of drinking chocolates available in the café in the back. It’s hard to go wrong with any choice here, but we particularly like their caramel truffles.

View of Independence Mall

Building with a clocktower next to a grassy square beside an open air exhibit.
Beautiful Independence Mall

Independence Visitor Center offers lots of information about things to do in the city. You can get pamphlets about tours, tickets to visit Independence Hall, and there’s a café to take a break at. Our favorite thing about this spot, though, is the view.

From the deck, you can see Independence Mall, which includes many of the most famous places in Old City—Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the President’s House. Occasional pop-up events turn the terrace into a beer garden with one of the best atmospheres in the city.

Pizza Brain

Just a small fraction of the Pizza Brain memorabilia

A combination museum and restaurant, Pizza Brain has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as having the largest collection of pizza memorabilia in the world. You can browse the pizza-related toys, books, ads, and other unusual items while munching on pizza topped with brisket, buffalo sauce, or just any other topping your heart desires.

Rail Park

People sitting on swings and benches
Visitors enjoying Rail Park

A section of overgrown, unused rail lines has been revitalized into Rail Park. The free, pet-friendly space has native plants and trees, walking paths, and even swings above Center City.

The quarter-mile stretch of park will ultimately be three miles long, which will make the Rail Park twice the length of New York’s famous High Line.

Fountain Street Steps

The steps covered in mosaic

If you’ve ever walked near the river in Manayunk, you’ve probably seen the Fountain Street Steps. If you haven’t, you’re missing out.

Properly known as “Water Under the Bridge,” this stunning work by mosaic artist Beth Clevenstine and muralist Paul Santoleri has 70 steps adorned in colored glass that combine to look like a waterfall. In a city full of great public art, the steps are truly a standout.

Germantown White House

Table set for tea in a room with a fireplace.
Parlour of the Germantown White House

Visiting the Germantown White House is a step back in time to the years when Philadelphia was the US capital. Dating from 1772, the home on what is now Germantown Avenue is more formally known as the Deshler-Morris House after two of its previous owners.

During the 1793 yellow fever pandemic, George Washington and his family fled the city to the Germantown countryside where they took up residence. The president liked it so much that he returned the following year for vacation and even held meetings here with his Cabinet.

The home is decorated in 18th-century style, and guided tours show you Washington’s workspace and the family’s accommodation as well as providing background about the roughly 20 enslaved people the Washingtons brought with them. Unfortunately, the property is truly a “hidden gem” for the moment because it is closed for renovations. Keep an eye out for reopening.

3 thoughts on “20 Hidden Gems in Philadelphia: Beyond the Expected”

  1. I lived in Philly all these years and never heard of these places. I love it 🥰. More places to explore this summer.

  2. Margaret Ernst

    Giving exact addresses would help. Where would I find some of these places. Also you might add the Heinz Wildlife preserve at Tinicum. This the only place in the US with a federal reserve in a city!

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