Full disclosure: some of the very best attractions in Philly are tourist traps, but there are a ton of non-touristy things to do in Philadelphia that you should definitely try to tackle after climbing those famous Rocky steps and gazing at the Liberty Bell.
Only got 12 hours in town? Worry not: follow our guide and you'll be able to explore top neighborhoods, restaurants, bars and even snap photos at the most Instagrammable spots around town in whatever time you have.
Speaking of time, let's not waste any: go on and take the City of Brotherly Love in all of its glory.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Philadelphia
12 hours in Philly
If you start at Suburban Station (16th St and JFK Blvd) or 30th Street Station (2955 Market St), drop $2.50 to jump on the Market–Frankford El and ride it westbound. This rolling perch provides killer views of Stephen “ESPO” Powers’s “A Love Letter for You,” (muralarts.org), a series of 50 elevated murals between the 46th and 63rd Street stops. (Though he’s now based in Brooklyn, graffiti writer turned Fulbright scholar ESPO (which stands for Exterior Surface Painting Outreach) is a West Philly native.) Playing with the precepts of classic commercial art, the works ruminate on the expression of love. Seen together, they form a beautiful urban valentine.
Backtrack eastbound on the El and hop off at 46th Street to take a stroll through Spruce Hill, an unassuming enclave that’s one of Philadelphia’s most diverse neighborhoods. Between Pakistani fried chicken at Wah-Gi-Wah (4447 Chestnut St; 215-921-5597), craft beer at Local 44 (4333 Spruce St; 215-222-2337), burritos at Honest Tom’s Taco Shop (261 S 44th St; 215-620-1851) and Lebanese sweets at Manakeesh Cafe Bakery (4420 Walnut St; 215-921-2135), there is plenty to consume en route to…
…Dock Street Brewery (701 S 50th St; 215-726-2337), one of the oldest post-Prohibition craft-beer producers in the country, dating back to 1985. This welcoming brewpub and pizzeria, which acts as a hub of the Cedar Park community, has also added a slightly boozier sibling: Its adjacent canning facility doubles as a cocktail bar, serving drinks like the Dock ’n Stormy (its own Rye IPA, plus rum, lime, ginger beer and cayenne syrup).
Time to sober up. One of William Penn’s original city parks, the six-acre Rittenhouse Square (Walnut St to Rittenhouse Sq between Rittenhouse Sq West and S 18th St) boasts a leafy, centralized space for primo people-watching. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, check out the new exhibition “Wild: Michael Nichols” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy; 215-763-8100). The show displays never-before-seen pieces from the legendary photographer.
Only a few blocks away from Rittenhouse Square, Goldie (1526 Sansom St; 267-239-0777) is a bustling Israeli snack shop from Steve Cook and Michael Solomonov, the minds behind the famed Zahav, Dizengoff and Federal Donuts. Finish your harissa-doused falafel and shawarma-spice fries with a Turkish coffee shake made with tahini sauce instead of ice cream (it doesn’t make a fuss over it, but the shop happens be fully vegan). For another early-dinner option: Goldie sits right above Rooster Soup Company (215-454-6939), another CookNSolo Restaurant Partners production that donates its proceeds to support the homelessness outreach of the nearby Broad Street Ministry.
Bartender Paul MacDonald’s Instagram account @express_and_discard boasts some of the prettiest cocktails on the web. Good thing the quaffs taste good, too, a fact drinkers can personally confirm at the handsome Friday Saturday Sunday (261 S 21st St; 215-546-4232), MacDonald’s home base. Summertime options include his False Prophet, a refreshing blend of mescal, lime juice and a lemon-juniper syrup shaken with Eden Orleans Herbal Aperitif cider.
A quick 10-minute walk from Friday Saturday Sunday sits Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk (2501 Walnut St), a 2,000-foot-long walking path that juts out over the Schuylkill River and provides gorgeous city views. It also connects directly to the Schuylkill River Trail, providing easy access to…
…Walnut Street Cafe (2929 Walnut St; 215-867-8067), a brand-new all-day spot from the team behind Manhattan’s Rebelle in Nolita. Depending on the day, you can either follow an all-out assault on the wine list here with a show at World Cafe Live (3025 Walnut St; 215-222-1400), broadcast home of NPR’s World Cafe, and/or board the Market–Frankford El at 30th Street Station once more for a brief eastbound ride to…
…Fishtown, via the Girard Avenue stop. A bona fide Philadelphia nightlife destination, this neighborhood has seen a serious influx of bars, restaurants and performance venues in the past decade—and the street-art presence is strong too. Stroll over to the corner of Front and Master Streets for a firsthand look at more original ESPO work—this time, the intricate Pop Art mural that appears on the cover of the local Kurt Vile’s 2013 album Wakin on a Pretty Daze.
But here are three venues to prioritize if you’re in a musical mood: The El Bar (1356 N Front St; 215-634-6430), for cheap drinks, inimitable bric-a-brac bar decor and sporadic live performances; Johnny Brenda’s (1201 Frankford Ave; 215-739-9684) for an ever-changing regional tap list and a versatile second-floor space that hosts local and touring rock bands; and Saint Lazarus Bar (102 W Girard Ave; 267-258-8332), a gritty but welcoming Philly pub that doubles as the neighborhood’s nighttime headquarters for DJs.
Surprised we made it this long without talking cheesesteaks? Get your griddle-cooked fix at Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop (1 W Girard Ave; 215-423-5637), a solid steak counter open for business till 3am on Friday and Saturday nights. (It does damn-tasty shakes, too.) If you’re in the area on a night that Joe’s is closed, don’t fret; head to nearby Mexican bar Loco Pez (2401 E Norris St; 267-886-8061) to acquire your life-saving post–last-call munchies.