Old City is the sort of place where you might expect Benjamin Franklin to stroll past on his way to pay a visit to Betsy Ross at her home at 239 Arch Street. After all, the neighborhood is home to Independence National Historical Park and the many buildings where our Founding Fathers hammered out and debated the principles that guided the founding of the United States of America.
Many cobblestone streets still exist. Walk through this area (preferably in flats rather than heels) and it truly feels like a step back to the late 18th or early 19th century. Little historic streets, wide enough to accommodate a carriage, are lined with historic brick rowhouses, many quite modest in comparison to those in nearby Society Hill. Still, their charm is apparent. Elfreth’s Alley, America’s oldest residential street, is in Old City between Front and 2nd Streets just north of Arch Street. The homes on this street range from 1720s to 1830s.
After the sun goes down in Old City on Friday and Saturday nights, the modern world invades. Streets are crowded with young men and women heading to the many bars, restaurants and small nightclubs tucked into the neighborhood. These parts of Old City still bear witness to its history as a busy center of commerce, though instead of 18- and 19th-century factories, the commercial buildings now house art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and loft-style offices, condominiums and apartments.
It all adds up to a highly creative environment with a younger edge than, say, Society Hill. Parts of Old City have excellent views of the Delaware River as the neighborhood runs up against it. Penn’s Landing, a waterfront recreation area that straddles Old City and Society Hill, hosts summer concerts and winter ice skating, plus fireworks on every appropriate occasion. Old City is highly convenient for those who do reverse commutes as it has easy access to commuter roads and, via the beautiful Ben Franklin Bridge, New Jersey.