The best non-touristy things to do in Philadelphia

Go beyond the tourist traps to discover the real City of Brotherly Love with this perfect 12-hour itinerary
Philadelphia
Photograph: Shutterstock
By Drew Lazor |
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When you have visitors looking for things to do in Philadelphia, odds are they’ll want to carve out some time to see the most famous parts of the city like the Liberty Bell and the Rocky Steps. But after you get those must-see Philadelphia attractions out of the way, try hitting up some of these more under-the-radar things to do in Philadelphia for a taste of the real City of Brotherly Love. And don’t worry. There’s still time to grab the best Philly cheesesteak in Philadelphia at the end of the day, and hit up one of the rooftop bars Philadephia has to offer.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Philadelphia

12 hours in Philly

Steve "Espo" Power, A Love Letter for Philly Series
Photograph: Courtesy Mural Arts Philadelphia/Adam Wallacavage

2pm

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.

local 44 philadelphia
Photograph: Courtesy Visit Philadelphia/J. Fusco

2:30pm

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…

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Dock Street Brewery
Photograph: Courtesy Dock Street Brewery

3:30pm

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).

philadelphia museum of art
Photograph: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

4:30pm

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.

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goldie philadelphia
Photograph: Courtesy Goldie

5:30pm

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.

friday saturday sunday

6:30pm

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.

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Schuylkill River Trail
Photograph: Courtesy Visit Philadelphia/R. Kennedy

8pm

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
Photograph: Walnut Street Cafe

9pm

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…

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Fishtown, Philadelphia
Photograph: Flickr/CC/DMdeathwalker

9:30pm

…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.

Photograph: Flickr/CC/DMdeathwalker

Johnny Brenda's
Photograph: Ryan Collerd

10pm

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.

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JOE'S STEAKS cheesesteak
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

1am

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.

Looking for something free to do in Philly?

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