Old City Neighborhood Guide

You don’t need to be a history buff to appreciate all that Old City, Philadelphia has to offer. Although, if you are planning to visit America’s most historic square mile, you’ll want to map out a few of the must-see landmarks. If that’s not your vibe, opt for an afternoon stroll through the Bourse, the neighborhood’s modern food court, or explore The Book Trader for great deals on books you may have never heard of before.

While Old City is filled with cafes and boutiques, there are also plenty of fine dining establishments for a night out or a romantic evening. Finish off a day of museum hopping with the swordfish and lamb chorizo at Fork. If you’re looking to explore the area’s cultural scene, plan your visit on an early spring weekend to catch First Fridays—an evening of open art galleries, free wine, and underground artists showing off their work.

Whether you’re here for the food, fun, or founding fathers, Old City is easy to navigate and ripe for first-time visitors. Home to attractions like Elfreth’s Alley—the oldest continually inhabited street in America and Independence Hall—the birthplace of the Constitution, Old City is undeniably Americana with a signature urban twist.

Entrance to home in Elfreth's Alley with green door, shutters, and a wreath covered with the colonial American flag
People still live in the historic part of the city

History 

One of the city’s first settlements, Old City’s beginnings were characterized by burgeoning international trade and the novel concept of American democracy. In 1685, Europeans began laying out the district to allow for waterfront access. Row houses were erected to expedite the flow of exports and imports, a few of which still stand today, most notably found in Elfreth’s Alley.

By 1971, however, half of the district’s warehouses were vacant or damaged and the population consisted of a mere 80 residents. Old City’s renaissance came in the late 90’s as the neighborhood became a hotspot for art and entertainment. Today, the city mainly attracts tourists due to its historic nature and educational opportunities. However, it has also risen to the ranks of a cool neighborhood in a city that never stops getting cooler.

Museums and Attractions

Christ Church and Burial Ground

Christ Church, The birthplace of the American Episcopal Church, offers daily talks and tours of the grounds located at 2nd and Church, and the burial yard, located a couple of blocks away at 5th and Arch. The burial ground is the final resting place of many Revolutionary War figures and early leaders, including Benjamin Franklin.

Independence Hall

On a 20-minute guided tour of Independence Hall, visitors can see the original drafts of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence prominently displayed and explore the very courtroom that our nation’s founding fathers once occupied. 

Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell with Independence Hall visible through the window

When Philadelphia comes up in conversation, many of our minds go to this symbol of freedom, human rights, and liberty for all. Today, the bell is free for all to visit in Old City.

Elfreth’s Alley

For the past 300 years, the thirty-two colorful homes in Elfreth’s Alley have held the stories of many generations. Built in the pre-industrial era, thirty of these residences continue to house locals and the two apartments at the end of the row act as the designated museum and gift shop.

Explore the street on your own or join a 45-minute guided tour to enrich your existing knowledge. 

Betsy Ross House

Exterior of Betsy Ross House
This was the home where Betsy Ross created the American flag

Enter Betsy Ross’ 1740s home to learn all about her experience with the American Flag, the first President, and, of course, the home itself.

The President’s House

When Philadelphia was the capital of the United States from 1790 to 1800, George Washington and John Adams kept their families, their belongings, and, less openly, their slaves in their Old City residence.

Today, the building acts as an open-air exhibit to commemorate the nation’s first executive mansion and, more importantly, tell the stories that hid behind its walls.

The National Constitution Center

Using modern technology, the National Constitution Center has created interactive, high-definition ways to explore America’s most influential that was drafted just a few blocks away. The 160,000-square-foot building allows for an experience that is both immersive and educational.

Museum of the American Revolution

You’ve learned about the American Revolution over and over again in the classroom and beyond, but what about seeing it for yourself? Immersive exhibitions and priceless artifacts, including General Washington’s original headquarters tent, Revolutionary War weaponry, and centuries-old military documents bring this historic occasion to life. With so many options for virtual learning, you’ll have no problem keeping the kids entertained.

Franklin Square

Enjoy this outdoor amusement oasis during one of the Square’s numerous community events throughout the year. Between mini golf, carousels, and mouth-watering burgers, Franklin Square will transport you back to the good ol’ days.

Spruce Street Harbor Park  

Floating gardens and people sitting on floating platform in Delaware River
The floating gardens at the Spruce Street Park are popular in the summer.

Spruce Street Harbor Park is hard to miss with colorful hammocks, floating gardens, LED lights strewn throughout tree branches. Relax above the Delaware River on a floating net while savoring an ice cream cone from the Franklin Fountain stand or take a load off in the beer garden over select craft brews and seasonal cocktails.

Whether Fall, Winter, Spring, or Summer, the Spruce Street Harbor Park has something to offer for everyone. 

Cherry Street Pier

Inside the Cheery Street Pier
The tables and cafe inside the Cherry Street Pier

An indoor/outdoor hub for local creatives, Cherry Street Pier offers a revolving event space with a spectacular view of the Delaware River. Enjoy an impressive selection of local food vendors while admiring the work of Philly-based artists in the 14 artist studios housed within the pier. 

Check out the complete list of things to do in historic Philadelphia.

Restaurants, Bars, Eateries

Fork

A fan-favorite, this contemporary American bistro showcases the region’s finest produce, seafood, meat.

Amada

Get the ultimate bang for your buck with Amada’s outstanding Spanish tapas menu. The patatas bravas are out of this world

Royal Boucherie

Spend a night in Paris without ever leaving Old City at this intimate French bistro. The outdoor patio is the perfect spot to enjoy a tasty gin cocktail under the lights.

The Bourse

Can’t decide on what to eat? No problem. The restored Bourse building contains twenty-seven high-quality food vendors and four anchor restaurants so there’s something for everyone in the group.

Cafe Square One

For a quick but delicious bite, grab a wrap or salad from Café Square One. The employees are super friendly, and you won’t have to wait long for a healthy lunch on the go.

Khyber Pass Pub

Khyber Pass has been a fixture since the 80’s and continues to find a way of bringing in newcomers with their signature southern comfort food and homey atmosphere.

Independence Beer Garden

After a long day of walking the city, a drink may be in order. IBG is the perfect place to cool off with a beer or cocktail. Don’t forget the soak up the booze with an order of everything-flavored pretzel bites.

2nd Story Brewing Co

2nd Story offers a diverse variety of craft beers made on-site and a good selection of tasty finger food.

Lucha Cartel

Come for the vibrant, Day of the Dead décor, stay for the margarita pitchers and pork belly tacos.

La Peg

For dinner and a show, attend a cabaret performance at La Peg over a plate of goat cheese raviolis.

Cuba Libre

Put on your dancing shoes and waltz into the island paradise tucked away from the city streets. Cuba Libre serves authentic Cuban food, complete with a rum bar and large, tiled dancefloor.

Old City Coffee

After walking through the gardens of Christ Church, walk over to Old City Coffee for house made baked goods and freshly roasted Arabica coffee. This is one of the best coffee shops in Philadelphia.

Exterior of Independence Hall

Shopping and Businesses

Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Pick up some new toys for your bar cart, taste Quaker City Mercantile’s newest innovations, and pick up some new mixology skills at Art in the Age.

Briar Vintage

Briar is a vintage men’s clothes mecca. Gems are easy to find and the prices are unbeatable.  

Lost + Found

This cute Old City boutique offers a curated mix of secondhand and brand-new clothing.

The Book Trader

Specializing in hard-to-find books, this second-hand shop also has plenty of CDs, cassettes, and albums to dig through. Not to mention a bookstore kitty!

Brave New Worlds

An industry leader in comics, games, and toys, Brave New Worlds will help you to unleash your inner child.

Annual Events

First Fridays

On the first Friday evening of every month, art galleries and shops keep their doors open to the public for all to enjoy. The casual atmosphere of this event encourages inclusivity and shines the spotlight on underrepresented Philly artists.

Small Business Saturday 

Every year, the Old City District supports small, local businesses the Saturday of Thanksgiving week. With so many locally-owned boutiques, it’s not hard to show your love for small business owners in Old City.

Old City Fest

Old City Fest is a celebration of art, food, and culture on the streets of America’s most historic square mile.

Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest

For the complete winter wonderland experience, strap on a pair of ice skates and glide under the glow of a candy-cane colored Ferris wheel. If you get too chilly, warm up by in a ski-lodge worthy log cabin or by the firepit area.

View of Ben Franklin Bridge from inside Cherry Street Pier
Ben Franklin Bridge towers above the Cherry Street Pier

Where to Stay

Kimpton Hotel Monaco

The Kimpton Hotel Monaco is a modern luxury hotel complete with a rooftop lounge with breathtaking views.

Lokal Hotel- Old City

Lokal’s charm is in right in its name— feel like a local for the night in one of six apartment-style suites, designed to feel like home.

Morris House Hotel

The most historic square mile would not be complete without a hotel in a National Historic Landmark. The restored eighteenth-century mansion that is the Morris House Hotel includes a library, restaurant, and outdoor courtyard.

Penn’s View Hotel

Embrace the colonial era in the cozy bed and breakfast that is the Penn’s View Hotel, featuring exposed brick walls and riverfront views.

How to Get There

SEPTA’s Market-Frankford (blue) line has two stops in Old City. The 5th Street stop drops visitors off right at Independence Mall, and the 2nd Street stop puts visitors right in the middle of Old City’s shopping and restaurant scene.

The Philadelphia PHLASH Downtown Loop also serves 22 popular stops throughout Old City, Center City, and Fairmount.

Explore More of the Neighborhood

Things to Do in Historic Philadelphia