In Philadelphia, rental housing is readily available, so you won’t be totally out of luck if you wait until the last month before move-in. Regardless, it’s best to start your apartment search about 90 to 60 days before you hope to move. That way, you get the widest choice of location, perks, and plenty of time to set up showings.
Two of Philadelphia’s main campuses — University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University — are both located in one pocket along the Schuylkill River, known as University City. Naturally, this is where you want to find an apartment if you’re hoping to be surrounded by your college-age peers. Just to the north of University City is Powelton Village, another hotspot for college apartments.
Philadelphia is tough to beat when it comes to transportation. WIRED rated Philly as the fourth most walkable city in the nation — which makes sense, since the city was established well before vehicles were a thing. If you nab an apartment downtown, you might not ever need public transportation. But if you do, the crazy-comprehensive Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation, aka SEPTA, has you covered with various buses, subways and commuter rails. Also, don’t overthink it: Two wheels will get you far on the city’s 435 miles of dedicated bike lanes. That’s what makes it one of the best biking cities in the country.
Whatever you’re looking to do, you’ll find it in Philadelphia, from pro sports to historic sites. But if you’re looking for something lighter to pass an afternoon, try walking through Friendship Gate and into Philly’s Chinatown for an immersive experience of culture, food and art. Or run the Rocky Steps and pose next to a bronze statue of the Italian Stallion. Another Philly gem is the Spruce Street Harbor Park, one of the best urban beaches in America. On the Delaware River, this pop-up park offers one of the best places in the city to spend a summer night, with a floating restaurant, beer garden, games and waterfront boardwalk decked out with colored LEDs.
As you can imagine, the “Birthplace of the Nation” has an incredible amount of history within its borders, to the tune of 67 national historic landmarks. The Liberty Bell, housed in Independence National Historical Park, alone draws 4.3 million visitors each year. An absolute must is a visit to Independence Hall and Congress Hall, where American independence was officially declared and where the Constitution was drafted.
While you’re tripping through time, tour the Eastern State Penitentiary, which originally opened in 1829 and housed inmates for 142 years — until 1971. Its gothic architecture and 11 acres used to house the likes of Al Capone and Willie Sutton.
Two words: Philly Cheesesteak. The famed food was first served — depending on your allegiance — at either Pat's King of Steaks or Geno’s Steaks, right across the street. (The debate is over who cheesed it first.) Naturally, those are your top stops if you’re looking for authenticity, but some of the locals’ favorite savory sammies are also at John’s Roast Pork and Dalessandro’s. When you order, be sure to say what type of cheese you want and whether you want onions, reduced down to either “with” or “without.”
For a fancier affair, check out R2L Restaurant and Lounge. From the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place, you’re treated to expansive views of the city skyline while you dine. Nearer to the campus cluster, the Fat Ham serves up Southern favorites.
A hotspot for the college crowd is New Deck Tavern, an old-fashioned pub conveniently located on the University of Pennsylvania campus. With English brews on tap, weekly trivia and its namesake deck, it pulls students from neighboring campuses as well. Near Rittenhouse Square, the Franklin Bar serves up swanky cocktails, while Cavanaugh’s Restaurant and Sports Bar offers cheap beer, lots of food and HDTVs to catch the game — any game. There are unique bars scattered throughout the city, so wherever you grab an apartment, a hip hangout will be just moments away.
There are countless ways to experience our national history in Philly. The Benjamin Franklin Museum takes you through the life and mind of the famed inventor and founding father, located right in Historic Philadelphia within blocks of Independence Visitor Center, the United States Mint and National Constitution Center. Soon, in 2017, Philadelphia will also be home to the Museum of the American Revolution. When you’ve had your fill of Philly history, check out the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The third-largest art museum in the country, this Parthenon-inspired building houses Renaissance, American, modern and impressionist art, plus more than 80 period rooms. After that, get grabby at the Please Touch Museum, a tactile museum generally aimed at children — but who doesn’t like hands-on exhibits? Plus there’s a restored 1908 carousel.
It probably goes without saying that Philadelphia has an incredible July Fourth celebration, with an enormous fireworks display. But the festivities in the city go year-round. For the rest of the summer, check out Night Market Philadelphia for street food and a celebration of Philly neighborhoods, and dozens of free outdoor movie screenings. Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest — nearly all summer long — includes food, drink, games and loads of fun cruising on skates. In the winter months, the Blue Cross RiverRink transforms into an ice rink for Winterfest, and the international Philadelphia Auto Show also hits in the winter months.
There’s serious shopping to be had all over Philadelphia. Several malls, including the Philadelphia Mills Mall and nearby King of Prussia Mall, offer popular national chains, while others focus on a more upscale experience, found at The Bellevue Philadelphia. For more specialty and independent shops, locals love Rittenhouse Row in the Center City neighborhood and University Square right in University City, where many college students center their apartment search. Fabric Row, just south of Historic Philadelphia, is where to go for vintage goods and collectibles from local boutiques.
Before launching into the plethora of sports teams, both collegiate and professional, that unite Philadelphia sports fans, we need to cover the ways that you can prove your athletic abilities, like the Rocky 50K — roughly 31 miles. It’s free to enter and totally unsanctioned, so don’t show up looking for route markers and free water. For those that would rather take a seat and cheer for a team, Philly is home to four professional sports franchises: the Eagles (NFL), 76ers (NBA), Phillies (MLB) and Flyers (NHL) franchises — so there’s not really an off-season. Nearly all the pro teams play at the South Philadelphia Sports Complex near Center City. College sports are just as exciting, home to the Big 5: University of Pennsylvania, La Salle University, Saint Joseph’s University, Temple University and Villanova University basketball teams.
Philadelphia is one of the best cities for biking in the country, with hundreds of miles of dedicated trails to explore, such as the scenic Schuylkill River Trail. In southeastern Pennsylvania, Nockamixon State Park is perfect for a day of boating, across more than 1,450 acres. Once the site of Revolutionary War encampment, Valley Forge is now a historical park dotted with monuments and statues. The trails in the Valley Forge National Historical Park connect to both the Schuylkill River Trail and the Horse Shoe Trail, for a total of 75 miles of freedom. Without even nearing the Philadelphia city limits, you can get a taste of both nature and history, such as at the Girard Fountain in Historic Philadelphia, which boasts a bust of Benjamin Franklin. Fairmount Park, stretching 9,200 acres along the Schuylkill RIver, is the largest landscaped urban park in the world.