How to use the Philadelphia public transportation system to access the city and all its must-see attractions in a jiffy
By Patrick Rapa|
When you’re trying to see Philly on a limited time frame, stick to Philadelphia public transportation or—as it’s called around these parts—the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). Philadelphia’s SEPTA lines give you quick access to all the must-see Philadelphia attractions, best restaurants in Philadelphia and, with 24-hour service every weekend on the Philadelphia subway lines and many bus routes, it can come in handy as a designated driver when you’ve had a little too much Philadelphia nightlife. Below is our comprehensive guide to Philadelphia transit, including a couple non-SEPTA options especially for tourists. For newcomers, the subways are easy to figure out. The regional rails and trolleys take a bit more work. And the buses, well, it can be a case-by-case scenario. Listen up and we’ll steer you in the right direction.
PHLASH Tourist Bus
A great option for visitors, the purple PHLASH tourist bus runs on a continuous loop around the city with 22 stops at popular Philadelphia attractions—from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Zoo to Independence National Historical Park and sites along the Delaware River Waterfront. The PHLASH bus offers daily service between May 1 and September 4 and from November 24 to December 31. You can access it Friday through Sunday from September 8 to November 19. Besides being convenient, it’s also inexpensive at $2 per person per ride or, if you’re planning on hopping on and off all day (each stop gets serviced every 15 minutes), consider an all-day pass for $5. Children 4 and under and senior citizens ride for the low, low cost of zilch. For more information, including routes and ways to purchase tickets, visit the PHLASH website.
One-Day Independence Pass
Snag a One-Day Independence Pass for $12, which grants you 24 hours access to all SEPTA Philadelphia transit lines—from buses to subways to trolleys and trains. A family pass can be purchased for $29 for families up to five with at least one member being 18 or over. The tickets can be purchased from conductors on regional rail lines or at a SEPTA Ticket and Sales Office at a Philadelphia train station.
Market -Frankford Line (aka the El, the Blue Line) Elevated at both ends and subterranean in the middle, the Market-Frankford Line runs from the deep northeast through Northern Liberties, Fishtown and Old City, then up Market, through West Philadelphia and all the way to 69th Street. It runs 24 hours on weekends.
Key Stops: 2nd Street to land in the heart of Historic Old City; 5th Street for Independence Mall and surrounding sites; 11th Street for Reading Terminal Market and the Convention Center; 15th Street for City Hall; and 30th Street for 30th Street Station, Philadelphia’s train station that offers access to Amtrak.
Broad Street Line (aka the Orange Line) It’s just a straight line running north-south underneath Broad Street from Fern Rock station up north to Pattison aka AT&T station in South Philly, where all the stadiums are. The City Hall stop, specifically, is an ideal spot to catch a bus on down Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia Museum of Art and more. Like the Market-Frankford Line, this also runs 24 hours on weekends.
Key Stops: City Hall for Reading Terminal Market and surrounding attractions; Walnut-Locust for Rittenhouse Row, the Gayborhood and Midtown Village; Tasker-Morris for shopping and dining along East Passyunk Avenue; Race-Vine Station for Convention Center; Spring Garden Station for Loft District and Chinatown; and Cecil B. Moore for Temple University.
Septa Bus Routes
Though it may not seem like it on a cold winter night, SEPTA buses—there are about 70 routes in all—are fairly trustworthy. Generally, the routes run along most streets named after a number or a tree, but watch lots of them make twists and turns based on top secret bus logic. It’s recommended you employ all manner of maps, apps and friends before planning your trip. Pull the string when you want to get off.
Key Routes: The No. 38 for access to Independence Mall and museums along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway; No. 21 for transportation to University City via Walnut Street (which also includes stops at Washington Square Park, Rittenhouse Row, Rittenhouse Square and more. If you want to take a bus to Philadelphia International Airport, you’ll need to hop on Routes 37 or 108, but a better option from Center City may be the Airport Line on the regional rail (see below).
SEPTA Regional Rail Regional Rail SEPTA’s commuter trains connect Center City to popular surrounding areas like East Falls, Manayunk, Chestnut Hill and Ardmore. These cars are cleaner and less frequent than the subway. The SEPTA regional rail Airport Line runs directly between Center City and the Philadelphia International Airport in about 25 minutes. The train runs from 5am to midnight and costs $5.25 to $6.75 in advance and $7 to $8 if purchased by a conductor on the train.
PATCO High Speedline The 24-hour Speedline starts at 16th and Locust streets, makes a scenic sprint across the Ben Franklin Bridge into New Jersey, stops in Camden, Collingswood and so on, and ends up in Lindenwold. FYI: This is not SEPTA, so a separate ticket is required.
Subway–Surface Trolley (aka the Green Line) Though their vestigial tracks are the bane of city bicyclist, this city’s active trolley lines are generally appreciated for their reliability and adorability. Routes originate beneath City Hall, emerge from a West Philly warren and split off toward various destinations, including Overbrook, Yeadon and Eastwick. It feels like you’re on a train, but you have to pull the string when you want to get off, like a bus.
Girard Avenue Line (aka Route 15, Girard Trolley) Unlike its subterranean counterparts, this surface-dwelling trolley line doesn’t pass through City Hall. Instead it maintains a mostly east-west trajectory just north of Center City, starting at Richmond and Westmoreland streets and ending up at 63rd and Girard. Pro tip: Check out the Girard Avenue Line’s historic streetcars, recognizable for their green-and-cream color scheme and ‘40s-throwback design.
Once a common sight in Center City, SEPTA’s fleet of trolley buses—that is, buses linked to overheard electrical wires by swiveling rooftop antlers—is down to just three active routes (59, 66 and 75) in North and Northeast Philly.
Routes 101 and 102 These above-ground trolleys depart from the 69th Street Terminal and coast through Delaware County toward Media and Sharon Hill, respectively.
Ferries and More
RiverLink Ferry From May to September, this ferry crosses the Delaware to connect Penn’s Landing to the Camden waterfront. FYI: This is not SEPTA.
Customized Community Transportation
This is a paratransit service for seniors and people with disabilities.