A lot of cities say this, but Philadelphia is truly a city of neighborhoods. While the downtown core of Philly is compact, the actual boundaries of the city cast a wide net, making it impossible to name-check all of them here. (Apologies to Fairmount, Brewerytown, Girard Estate, Cedar Park, Chinatown, University City and the Main Line and many more.)
These are the areas that will come up in conversation most with locals and real estate agents. Happy hunting.
This is the quintessential Philadelphia neighborhood, the center of the city’s old money class who dwell in high-rise pre-war condos and stately brownstones that appear in Architectural Digest. Rittenhouse Square is also the name of the beautiful park that functions as the area’s hub. The lower parts of Rittenhouse have more traditional residential rowhomes, while the upper side features apartments and condos among the office buildings, brand-name retailers and high-end restaurants of Walnut and Chestnut Streets.
Approximate boundaries: South Street to Market Street, the Schuylkill River to the Broad Street.
This the east-side version of Rittenhouse Square, with a matching park (equally beautiful) and an equally upscale vibe. Washington Square tends to be slightly less congested than its western mirror; residential and business are less dense, with a good chunk of the area given over to Jefferson and Pennsylvania Hospitals. There are overlapping micro-‘hoods within this zone: Midtown Village, also known as the Gayborhood for its early LGBTQ roots, Washington Square West; Chinatown and the Convention Center district sits just above.
Approximate boundaries: South Street to Market Street, Broad Street to 5th Street.
Named for a now-defunct hospital, G-Ho, as it’s sometimes called, has been a hot bed of new construction and aggressive rehabs for more than a decade thanks to its well-maintained housing stock, pretty streets and proximity to Rittenhouse Square and University City. This wide swath of the city is popular with the eds-and-meds crowd and young families.
Approximate boundaries: Washington Avenue to South Street, Grays Ferry Avenue to Broad Street.
More affordable alternate: Situated directly south, Point Breeze is an up-and-comer and developer darling. If space and proximity to the hospitals and universities are motivating factors, try West Philly, where you can still find a deal on a dilapidated Victorian mansion surrounded by old-growth trees.
Occupying a triangular stretch of land in the northeast section of the city, Fishtown is enjoying a sustained real estate boom. New residents from all over mix in amiably with generations of Irish- and Polish-Americans that have lived here since the area was home to Philly’s shad industry. Lined with cafes, restaurants, beer gardens and boutiques, Frankford and Girard Avenues are the main commercial drags; the cozy streets that branch off from them meander off the city’s traditional grid, making Fishtown ripe for exploring.
Approximate boundaries: Girard Avenue, Frankford Avenue, York Street to Broad Street.
More affordable alternate: Head northeast of Fishtown to Port Richmond or west to Kensington.
More established but less au courant than Fishtown, Northern Liberties was an industrial wasteland turned new-construction boomtown in the early 2000s. Emanating from Second Street, the neighborhood’s commercial spine, the compact streets are home to a mix of eco-certified new construction and stylishly rehabbed rowhomes. Who lives here ranges from empty nesters and college grads.
Approximate boundaries: Spring Garden Street to Girard Avenue, 7th Street to the Delaware River.
Old City/Society Hill
These adjacent neighborhoods are Philadelphia’s most historic, containing cobblestoned streets, redbrick trinities and a plethora of national landmarks. Old City is more commercially driven, with vintage shops, furniture galleries and restaurants, while Society Hill (named for the I.M. Pei-designed towers that loom over the district) is more residential. Like Rittenhouse and Washington Squares, if you’re looking to buy here it helps to have money.
Approximate boundaries: South Street to Spring Garden Street, 5th Street to the Delaware River.
Queen Village/Bella Vista
These two residential ‘hoods are often paired together because not even real estate agents know exactly where one ends and the other begins. Originally home to many Italian-Americans—Bella Vista is where you’ll find the famous Italian Market (now more like the Italian/Mexican/Vietnamese Market)—these were among the first to gentrify outside Center City’s immediate orbit. Queen Village tends to be a little quieter and greener than Bella Vista; Bella has more amenities and new construction opportunities.
Approximate boundaries: Washington Avenue to South Street, Broad Street to the Delaware River.
Once South Philly’s solidly Irish-American enclave, Pennsport residents are now a mix of lifers and arrivistés seeking relief from pricier rents in Queen Village. Narrow streets of tidy rowhomes, corner pubs and pocket parks give the area a neighborly vibe; you’ll also find the clubhouses for many of the New Year’s Day parade’s Mummers associations. When they’re not in use, locals rent them out for 16th birthday parties and baptisms.
Approximate boundaries: Snyder Avenue to Washington Avenue, 4th Street to the Delaware River.
More affordable alternate: Whitman is right below Pennsport, and its upper reaches are just a quaint and solid as Pennsport.
Along with Fishtown, East Passyunk is the hottest neighborhood in Philadelphia right now. Like its northern neighbor, Bella Vista, the area is historically Italian-American, but now boasts a diverse mix of residents from all over the city and country (it’s a favorite of transplanted New Yorkers) without having lost its original charm. Collectively called East Passyunk after East Passyunk Avenue, the main thoroughfare lined with independent shops and some of the city’s best restaurants, it’s actually two distinct neighborhoods: Passyunk Square and East Passyunk Crossing.
Approximate boundaries: Snyder Avenue to Washington Avenue, Broad Street to 8th Street.
More affordable alternate: Lower Moyamensing (LoMo), a traditional South Philly neighborhood, is the next to blow up in the Bella Vista/Passyunk totem pole.
Located five minutes over the Walt Whitman Bridge in New Jersey, Collingswood is worth a look for its stable of handsome Arts and Crafts bungalows, vibrant downtown strip and sprawling park. When East Passyunk’s young families decide to make the moves to the ‘burbs, this is often where they head, giving the little Jersey town an extra dose of cool in recent years.