Pennsylvania’s largest city, Philadelphia, may be known for its bustling economic activity and world-class schools, but it’s also rich in arts and culture, and has one of the largest collections of murals and outdoor sculptures in America. Philadelphia — or Philly, as many lovingly call it — is full of surprises.
When Caroline Lees, todays’ city guide writer, first moved to Philadelphia, she wasn’t sure how long she’d call the city home. But in the years since, she has been pleasantly surprised to find herself unable to picture living anywhere else. Caroline (a copywriter for terrain by day) spends her evenings catching concerts or searching for the best bites in the city, but her favorite way to find new and noteworthy spots? Taking a run through one of Philly’s many distinctive neighborhoods.
Although she’s only lived here for a relatively short time, she considers herself a “lifer” and spokesperson for the city’s many tasty restaurants, beautiful parks, vibrant culture, and historic sights to glimpse at every turn. Today, Caroline is taking us along with her to run through a list of her favorite spots to see, enjoy and dine at — a diverse list of restaurants and bars which include BYO options (and arguably some of the coolest names). –Sabrina
PLACES TO EAT
This was the hardest part of the guide to write, because Philly is such a great restaurant city! There’s something for every palate, whether you’re in the mood for authentic Cypriot cuisine or the ever-popular cheesesteak (I’ll leave the title of best cheesesteak for another guide). Friends from out of town are always surprised by the number of BYO’s, but Philly residents really embrace the BYO culture — how nice to bring your favorite wine to dinner! I’m constantly on the hunt for new places to try, but here are a few staples in my rotation:
Arguably Philly’s best place for dinner, the tasting menu at East Passyunk’s Laurel showcases Chef Nicholas Elmi’s refined, French-influenced cuisine. With just 26 seats, it can be tough to snag a table, but this meal is well-worth planning ahead!
A tiny, BYO gem in Fishtown, stock serves up delicious pho, salads and banh mi against a minimalist backdrop. Sit at the counter for a firsthand view of the chefs at work.
Pumpkin is my go-to for date night with my boyfriend. This long-running BYO in Graduate Hospital offers a small, super-seasonal menu to enjoy in a cozy space. Their staff is consistently great, too!
A longtime Philly favorite, Kanella recently moved to new digs in Queen Village. Stop in for delicious and authentic Greek Cypriot dishes, grilled fresh on their wood-fired hearth.
Heritage set up shop last year in Northern Liberties with an ever-changing menu of locally sourced dishes, plus live jazz and a pretty patio for the warmer months. Try the vegetable board to enjoy the chef’s choice of seasonal picks, from hen of the woods mushrooms to fiddlehead ferns.
Honey’s is the best casual breakfast/brunch in the city, and great for fueling up before a busy day of sightseeing. Stop in on a weekday to avoid the line, and try Sabrina’s or Morning Glory for other unpretentious, early morning bites.
Abe Fisher in Rittenhouse is one of the latest openings from Mike Solomonov, the chef behind perennial favorite Zahav. Check it out for a modern, playful take on traditional Jewish dishes, from chopped liver to blintzes. Neighboring hummusiya Dizengoff —another Solomonov spot — makes the perfect casual lunch.
Kensington Quarters is a Fishtown restaurant/butcher shop hybrid with a devotion to delicious, humanely-raised meats. Their upstairs space also serves as a teaching kitchen for those interested in butchery and cooking.
Start your day with a signature Draft Latte from the La Colombe flagship in Fishtown. They’ve created a gorgeous space with light bites where you can also take a peek at their roasting operation. I also love Reanimator for a morning caffeine boost.
Monk’s Cafe is a don’t-miss for beer aficionados, with an insanely extensive bottle list that focuses on Belgian brews. Order the mussels if you’re in the mood for a snack to go with your beer.
If you’re feeling adventurous, head to University City for Fiume, a bonafide, no-website-no-phone-number speakeasy tucked above Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinia. A great selection of beer and whiskey pairs with live music on many nights.
Perhaps the most unexpected bar in Philly, The Yachtsman brings tiki kitsch to Fishtown. The perfect late-winter oasis when it’s snowing outside and you’re yearning for a tropical vacation.
For craft cocktails, excellent bars are scattered all across the city. Try out Ranstead Room or The Franklin Bar in Rittenhouse, head to Midtown for Charlie Was a Sinner (which also offers vegan bites), or visit Chinatown for Hop Sing Laundromat.
Inspired Brews recently opened in Old City, fermenting small-batch kombucha in seasonal flavors. Delicious, beautiful, and good for you, too.
Gran Cafee L’Aquila is a little slice of Italy just off Rittenhouse Square. The café was originally located in Abruzzo — after an earthquake struck the city, the owners designed and built a new café, then shipped the whole thing (!) to Philly. Take a seat at the marble counter for an affogato featuring their ever-changing gelato flavors.
Franklin Fountain and neighboring Shane Confectionery are the creations of brothers Ryan and Eric Berley. Grab an old-fashioned sundae or soda, then enjoy some prime people-watching in the heart of Old City at the outdoor tables.
Stop by Marcie Blaine to watch chocolatiers at work on exquisitely delicious and equally beautiful sweets inspired by seasonal flavors from Mexico, Spain, and the Mediterranean.
PLACES TO SHOP
For offbeat yet understated pieces, you can’t beat Old City’s Vagabond. A curated collection of women’s clothes, classic shoes from Rachel Comey, and a selection of home goods and vintage items await.
United By Blue is my men’s gifting go-to, with well-made and stylish outdoor apparel that’s environmentally conscious — for every item sold, they remove a pound of trash from global waterways. The flagship location in Old City is a hybrid clothing store/coffee shop featuring local artisans. Head a few blocks away for more rugged menswear, home goods, and gifts at Art in the Age.
Jinxed is a mini-chain of vintage home and furniture shops dotted across Philadelphia. Their quirky finds are snapped up quickly via Instagram posts, and there’s new inventory to explore all the time.
Knit Wit and Joan Shepp are the queens of the Philadelphia boutique scene, both located in Rittenhouse. Expect sleek, blogger-approved pieces from designers like 3.1 Phillip Lim, Alexander Wang, Ann Demeulemeester, and Rick Owens.
Third Street Habit is a staple among Old City boutiques, with an extensive denim selection, refined leather goods, and casual finds from Mara Hoffman, Cynthia Vincent, Maison Scotch and more.
The Geisha House is a must-visit for lovers of Free People and similar boho fashion. Stop in for playful collections from For Love & Lemons, One Teaspoon and Stone Cold Fox, plus on-trend and affordable jewelry.
A mixture of jewelry and objects, Egan Day is an oasis of beautifully-curated, semi-precious gemstone adornments. The elegant merchandising changes frequently, drawing inspiration from the seasons.
Omoi Zakka is a gift-giver’s dream shop, filled with thoughtful and useful items anyone would be glad to have at home. An apothecary of luxurious bath items, beautiful Japanese linens, sweetly simple toys, and many more surprises await.
PLACES TO STAY
The centrally-located Sofitel provides upscale accommodations and contemporary rooms with a French twist.
If you’re in the mood to splurge, consider a stay at The Rittenhouse, home to a gorgeous spa, well-regarded restaurant and bar, and perfect views of the park that shares its name.
Hotel Palomar is housed in an Art Deco building in Center City. It underwent extensive renovations to become a stylish space with LEED Certification.
PLACES TO VISIT/SEE
Mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar’s visionary creations can be spotted all over Philadelphia, but his masterwork is the Magic Gardens on South Street. Created over the course of 14 years, every surface of the indoor-outdoor installation is covered in glittering mosaics of tile, mirror, and found objects.
Morris Arboretum is an educational garden owned by the University of Pennsylvania. Take in the view from the treetops at the elevated Tree Adventure — complete with a human-size bird’s nest! — explore the historic buildings that dot the property, or visit the Victorian fernery for a truly magical getaway from the world.
Philadelphia is bursting with pop-up gardens in almost every season — one of my favorite parts of the warmer months is seeing everyone out and enjoying the city! In the summer, head to the waterfront for Spruce Street Harbor Park, or visit the River Rink in winter for ice skating, a cozy lodge, and fire pits. The PHS Beer Garden and Independence Beer Garden also come to life in the city each summer.
Located in the heart of Philly, you (quite literally) can’t miss City Hall. Take a tour and climb its iconic tower for unbeatable skyline views. While you’re there, check out Dilworth Park, which becomes a skating rink in winter and an urban hangout during the warmer months.
Housed in a historic building that was once a farmers’ market and railway baggage hub, Union Transfer is one of Philly’s best places to catch a concert. A reliably strong lineup of indie artists, plus a great view from upstairs if you like a more laid-back musical experience.
For those willing to venture a bit outside the city, Chanticleer is a gorgeous garden in Wayne, PA. Once a private estate, it’s sure to wow with bright blooms across the seasons. Check the schedule — they close up shop for the winter months.
If you’ve got time for a class, consider a session at the aptly-named Cook, which offers in-depth demonstrations from a constantly changing roster of the city’s best chefs. If you’re more of an artistic type, check out the extensive offerings of Fleisher Art Memorial, from art history to sculpture and printmaking.
From spring through fall, take in a concert at The Mann Center in Fairmount Park. A diverse lineup each year includes popular artists along with orchestra performances and special events. In good weather, bring a blanket and grab a spot on the Mann’s expansive lawn.
If you’re a runner, schedule time for a jog across the Ben Franklin Bridge and enjoy great views of the city on your return trip.
Franklin Square makes the perfect afternoon for kiddos or kids at heart, complete with a carousel, Philly-themed mini golf course, and Tastykake-inspired shakes at SquareBurger.
Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continuously-inhabited residential street in America. It’s a short stroll in Old City, and showcases the best of Philadelphia’s quaint, colonial architecture.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art and nearby Barnes Foundation are two very different but equally excellent stops for art lovers. Visit the PMA for a bountiful collection of art and historical objects — plus yoga on select evenings — then take a stroll behind the museum for a waterfront sculpture garden and great views of Boathouse Row. (Don’t forget to climb the famous “Rocky Steps” out front!) Once the private collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, the beautifully modern Barnes Foundation is one of the country’s premier collections of Impressionist art, all idiosyncratically arranged as it once was in Dr. Barnes’ home.
The Navy Yard is one of the most rapidly developing sites in the city. Still home to a number of retired Naval vessels, it’s now the headquarters for major Philly companies including Urban Outfitters, Tastykake, GSK, and the 76ers.
For fans of classical compositions, the Curtis Institute of Music is a must-visit. The gifted students “learn by doing” with 200 performances a year, many free.
On Sunday mornings from spring through fall, take a stroll through the Headhouse Farmers’ Market. Food trucks and farmers alike gather in the historic Shambles, a colonial-era marketplace that also served as a fire station.