20 Things to Know Before Moving to Philadelphia

Josh Middleton
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It’s an exciting time to live in Philadelphia. Once mostly known for its cheesesteaks and the place where Rocky climbed those steps, the city is having itself a heyday. You’re coming to a town rife with diverse neighborhoods, world-class art and music, a culinary scene to rival the snottiest foodie cities, and intensely proud locals who will rip you to shreds if you refer to their city as New York’s sixth borough.

1. Call It Center City, Not Downtown

Philadelphia doesn’t call its downtown “downtown.” It’s Center City. It’s the second-most densely populated downtown area next to Manhattan in the U.S., so expect hustle-bustle, a lively restaurant and bar scene, and countless selfies with our gothic City Hall in the background.

2. Let Your Neighborhood Find You

This is a city of neighborhoods, and there’s one for every type of personality. Rittenhouse is sophisticated, characterized by well-manicured streets, stately row homes and well-kept public parks. Go south to Passyunk, where skinny-jeans-wearing urbanites mingle with young families along one of the most innovative dining corridors in the city. Fishtown feels gritty in all the right ways. Go there for dive-bar vibes and some of Philly’s best indie rock venues. West Philly welcomes the hippy-at-heart with crunchy cafes, ethnic eateries and the ever-present scent of a certain illegal herb wafting through the air.

3. Avoid the Schuylkill at All Costs

Also known as I-76, the interstate is almost always jammed up with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Smart drivers take a detour along picturesque Kelly Drive.

4. Skip Pat’s and Geno’s

One of the first things you’ll want to do when you arrive in town is lose your face in a big ol’ cheesesteak. Don’t do that at Pat’s and Geno’s. That’s where the tourists go. You’re better off standing in the line wrapped around Jim’s Steaks on South Street, or cozying up to the counter at Carmen’s in the Reading Terminal. Want to order like a true Philadelphian? Ask for “one whiz with” to have your sandwich smothered in Cheese Whiz and grilled onions.

5. Our History is Unparalleled

Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Madison and so many other Founding Fathers once called Philadelphia home. Remnants of their stay continue to draw tourists from around the world to Philly’s Old City district, where you can tour Constitution Hall, ogle the Liberty Bell’s crack, and throw a penny on Ben Franklin’s grave for good luck. The National Constitution Center tells the story of the Declaration of Independence in a streamlined museum setting, and is worth at least one visit to brush up on your history.

6. Philly Loves a Pop-Up Beer Garden

Pop-up parks are all the rage in Philly right now, especially when they involve beer. You’ll find seasonal beer gardens in neighborhoods across the city—from ritzier spots in Center City to more laidback offerings out in the hoods. The grandaddy of them all is Spruce Street Harbor Park, which opens every summer along the Delaware River Waterfront. Crowds flock there for hammocks swaying in LED-lit trees, a boardwalk with arcade games, and a floating beer garden with all the suds your heart desires.

7. We’re Crazy About Our Sports

You’ve likely heard the stories. There seems to be no limit to what Philadelphia’s most impassioned sports fans will do to stand up for their teams—even when they’re losing (and they are in a big way right now). A trip to an Eagles, Phillies, or Flyers game is a must for anyone craving an authentic Philly experience—just brush up on your smack talk if you want to do it right.


8. Our Liquor Laws Will Baffle You

Pennsylvania is rather backwards when it comes to liquor laws. Here’s the quick rundown: Wine and liquor can only be purchased in state-owned Wine and Spirits stores—several of which you’ll find in and around Center City. You’ll have to go elsewhere for beer, which is sold in plenty of delis, some boutique suds shops and a handful of beer distributors throughout town. The plus side is that many restaurants are BYO, so you won’t have to fork over inflated bottle prices when you’re dining out.

9. Pick Your Favorite Shore Town

The city goes quiet in the summer, when locals head to the Jersey Shore for a little R&R. With a little time, you’ll find the shore town that’s right for you. Families dig Ocean City or Wildwood, where kids stay entertained for hours on the boardwalks. Low-key types choose Cape May for its quaint downtown and charming Victorian mansions. High rollers go to Atlantic City to hedge their bets at a handful of cheesy casinos along the beach.

10. Cyclists Are Welcome, Sort of

Philadelphia is home to a thriving biker community, who have access to several bike-laned streets around the city. That being said, not all streets are equipped for bikes, so the intermingling of cyclists and angsty drivers has created more than enough tension on our hectic streets. As a biker, stay aware of your surroundings, wear protective gear and make sure your middle finger is in good working order.

11. You’ll Love Our Quirky Festivals

Philadelphia has its fair share of wacky traditions. They start on New Year’s Day when locals dressed in outlandish costumes parade down Broad Street at the Mummer’s Parade. Zany human-powered vehicles compete in an eight-mile, Double Dare-like obstacle course each spring at the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby. In the fall, bikers cruise through the city sans clothes during the Naked Bike Ride. Sit back and watch it all go down, or join in the fun.

12. You’re Going to Eat Well

Don’t worry, you don’t have to like cheesesteaks and soft pretzels to fit in here. A new crop of top chefs and young restaurateurs are changing the way our city eats. From fine dining options to nondescript holes-in-the-wall and a growing army of food trucks, get ready to chow down on an eclectic, forward-thinking menu that fits all budgets and tastebuds–even vegetarian ones.

13. Long Weekend Trips Abound

If you’re itching for a weekend trip that’s not the Jersey Shore, your options are plentiful. New York City and Baltimore are about two hours away by bus or car, while an excursion to Washington D.C will take you about three. Other popular beach destinations like towns along the Chesapeake Bay, Rehoboth and Asbury Park are within quick driving distance, too.

14. Don’t Stop at the Rocky Statue

There will always (always!) be someone posing for a photo next to the Rocky statue at the base of the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps. Go ahead, take your own picture and send it to dad. Then ascend those steps–much like Balboa did–and step inside the art museum. It’s one of the best in the world, with hallways full of Picassos, Warhols, Brancusis, Van Goghs, you name it. Go on Wednesday evenings for PMA’s after hours night, when admission is pay-what-you-can, and you can browse the galleries with a glass of wine in hand.

15. Our Public Parks Rock

William Penn mapped out the city to include several public parks. Rittenhouse and Washington Square are two of them, and among the most trafficked. Recently more-innovative urban green spaces have cropped up along our waterways. The Schuylkill River Trail is a jogger’s wonderland, a pristine 26.5-mile pathway meandering along the water from Center City, through lush Wissahickon Park and on into Phoenixville. On the other side of town, grab a picnic lunch and watch the waters lap up against the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge at the slick Race Street Pier. Pop open a book and enjoy some private time at one of the many smaller parks situated in nearly all of our neighborhoods.

16. You’re Probably Going to Live In a Row Home

Despite several modern condo complexes popping up around town, chances are you’ll find yourself living in a row home. The layout is pretty similar no matter which one you choose: Two, maybe three levels piled on top of each other, kitchen in the back, bedrooms and bathroom above. If you’re lucky you’ll have a rooftop with a great view of Philly’s skyline. Those are surprisingly easy to come by.

17. We Have an Abundance of Public Art

Street art is an important part of our culture–whether it’s a mural decorating the side of an abandoned building, a craggily glass mosaic from Philadelphia’s Magic Garden, or wheat-pasted gems from local street artists. Some of the murals may be a little past their prime, but their ability to bring character and color to our hoods is something we celebrate.

18. Here We Go a Marketing

Philly is home to two historic markets. The Reading Terminal may be touristy, but savvy locals know how to breeze through for a quick lunch, excellent meat and fish purveyors and to snag fresh, homemade goods from the Amish vendors open there six days a week. South Philly’s Italian influence lives on in a big way at the Italian Market, where you’ll find lively (and cheap!) produce stands, traditional Italian desserts and cheeses that’ll make you want to slap your nona.

19. Bring Your Rainbow Flag

Philly loves its gay community so much that there’s a whole neighborhood named for it. The Gayborhood is situated in the heart of Center City, buzzing with trendy restaurants, boutiques, and a spattering of crowded gay bars. There are not one but two Pride festivals each year: the regular parade and festival in June, and Outfest in the fall.

20. You Are Welcome Here

Philadelphians may have a reputation for being rough-and-tumble (thanks, Eagles fans), but don’t be intimidated. At the heart we’re a population of softies. We will welcome you with open arms, talk your leg off on the street, and happily lend a hand when you’re in need. You’ve picked a great new place to call home.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 4, 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Josh Middleton

Josh is arts and entertainment writer based in Philadelphia.
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