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 to help you get started in uncovering some of the city’s best kept secrets.
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” by 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.
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
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
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.
Mural Arts Tours
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, including exploring different themes and neighborhoods around the city.
James G. Kaskey Memorial Park
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
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.
There are few better places to appreciate the skyline than from Bok Bar. 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.
Head House Farmers Market
The Head House Farmers Market is one of the best places around for produce, flowers, and artisanal food. 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.
The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia is a book lover’s dream. This 19th-century townhouse in Rittenhouse Square 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 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.
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 learn about the history of the house and the seven generations of the Chew family that lived here.
Cedar Park Houses
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.
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 creations 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.
View of 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.
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.
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.