Philadelphia, home to so many firsts in U.S. history, has come into its own as a first-class, high-energy metropolitan area for those seeking affordable living, top-notch cultural activities and easy access in and out of the metro area.
William Penn’s original 1683 plan for the city, 1200 acres stretching from the Delaware River on the eastern edge to the Schuylkill River in the west, bisected by what is now Broad (running north-south) and Market (east-west) Streets, called for quadrants with a green public space in each. Those park-like spaces still exist today in the form of Rittenhouse, Franklin, Washington and Logan Squares. In addition, Penn believed it was important for the city to be surrounded by ample open space, and for that reason city residents and visitors today can enjoy Fairmount Park, the largest landscaped park in the United States. It stretches from the heart of city all the way to its outermost northwestern boundaries.
In part because Penn’s original plan is very much intact, Philadelphia is a very walkable city of neighborhoods each with its own ambiance and amenities. It has the largest collection of 18th– and 19th-century residences of any major U.S. city, and one can’t help but appreciate the streetscapes that in many ways are little changed from the time of the Founding Fathers. Narrow streets still paved in cobblestone and just wide enough to accommodate a horse carriage are lined with picturesque residences. Behind the preserved and restored facades are elegant, updated single-family homes and comfortable condominiums. Tucked in between these Colonial- and Federal-era homes are some of the most famous buildings in U.S. history. As of 2019, Philadelphia had 576 properties and districts on the National Register of Historic Places and 67 National Historic Landmarks. Philadelphia is also the only UNESCO World Heritage City in the United States, a much-deserved designation.
For those who prefer more modern living quarters, one look at the skyline shows abundant high-rise-living options, particularly in the Rittenhouse Square, Society Hill, Washington Square and Art Museum neighborhoods, and more are on the way. Concierge, amenity-rich buildings with 24/7 service are quite popular and ease city living, especially for those who are moving from the suburbs to the city.
For those who want to be in the city, but not exactly in the center of things, places like Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy, Manayunk and the Northeast could be the closest the city has to “suburbs” within Philadelphia County. All are about a 20-minute commute from Center City and are within the city limits.
Housing options range from simple rowhouses to classic 19th-century brownstone mansions. Whether one chooses a luxury home in the sky, a jewel-box trinity (that’s what Philadelphians call three-story, stacked three-room rowhouses) or a Gilded Age mansion, what is striking about Philadelphia’s housing market is how affordable it is compared to New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. Its per-square-foot prices are significantly lower, yet the city has a thriving employment market dominated by law firms, healthcare organizations, financial services companies, insurance companies, universities and telecommunications companies, including telecom/entertainment giant Comcast. It is a phenomenal city for restaurants, especially BYOs, cultural activities and walkability. And it has world-renowned hospitals and universities. For city living on a budget, it’s hard to top the City of Brotherly Love.
In addition to affordability, people are choosing Philadelphia because it is easy to get in and out for business and pleasure travel. Philadelphia International Airport is about a 20-minute ride from Center City, and Amtrak’s Acela train service reaches New York in approximately 72 minutes! Yes, people do live in Philadelphia and commute to New York City.
It is also quite affordable to own a car in Philadelphia. As in most metro areas, parking is a top priority for many home buyers and renters, and most newer buildings have been designed with this need in mind. That said, many city residents are content to live without four wheels, particularly with the availability of car-sharing services. The SEPTA bus, trolley, train and subway mass transit system covers all corners of the city as well as suburban areas, and the city has made strides in becoming more bicycle friendly with 30 miles of protected bike lanes criss-crossing Center City. Of course, there are ride-hailing services and plenty of taxis, as well.
World-Class Arts & Culture
Regardless of what neighborhood one chooses, one thing Philadelphians have is a plethora of cultural activities at their fingertips. Truly world-class museums, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the Academy of Music, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Pennsylvania Ballet, Philadanco, live theater, Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, Philadelphia Film Festival… cultural activities provided by organizations large and small go on throughout the year.
The other part of life in Philadelphia that residents enjoy is a superb restaurant scene, including one of the highest number of BYOB establishments in the country. From major-name, four-star restaurants to little storefront mom-and-pop operations to brew pubs, there are quality establishments tucked into every neighborhood.
If sampling the city’s restaurants leaves you feeling like a bit of a pudge, it’s easy to go for a run or a bicycle ride on the Schuylkill River Trail, parts of which take you past some of the city’s most famous landmarks, including Boathouse Row. A new three-mile Rail Park modeled after New York City's High Line trail is being developed with Phase 1 open. Or head deeper into Fairmount Park, where there are acres and acres of space for cross-country skiing in winter or lawn games in summer, an impressive collection of public art, plus the Mann Music Center for outdoor concerts. Those who like to get on the water can pursue kayaking or rowing on the Schuylkill River.
Top-Rated Hospitals and Specialists
Need a doctor or hospital? Philadelphia is probably one of the best places to live for routine and specialty care. Its home to a number of teaching hospitals and its research facilities draw talent from around the world. The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University Hospital, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Cooper University Hospital just over the bridge in New Jersey and other facilities are noted for excellent care.
Universities Enhance Neighborhoods
Students arrive from around the world to study and top professors are recruited to teach at such institutions as the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and Drexel University. Both Penn and Drexel have done much for the University City neighborhood surrounding them, enhancing the quality of the housing stock and the amenities available to residents. Similarly, Temple University in North Philadelphia has seen the blocks around it change in the past 15 years, with much new construction for student housing, other campus buildings and some urban renewal. North Broad Street may be a neighborhood to watch as it develops between City Hall and the Temple campus.
Philadelphia, located in between New York City and Washington, D.C., often is overlooked, but stop in for a visit and see for yourself just how livable it is.
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