Philadelphia City Guide

Philadelphia, or better yet, “Philly,” is a true East Coast city, in part feeling and looking like a mixture of Baltimore, Boston, and Washington D.C. But it has its own unique charm. It’s a city that can be quite beautiful in its parks and green spaces, quant in its colonial-era neighborhoods, and appealingly grungy, for now, in old industrial areas like Fishtown. You’ll see landmark words like Schuylkill or Passyunk, the pronunciation of which you’ll need to screw up as a right of passage. There’s also slang that you just don’t find anywhere else, like “jawn,” or better yet, the pronunciation of the word “water” (woo-der) is incredibly unique to Philly. 

To make the most of this Philadelphia city guide for endurance athletes, note a few patterns and features. Facilities are broken into categories according to their running, cycling or swimming focus, with a separate section highlighting quality gym facilities in Philadelphia. Finally, the Sleeping & Eating section towards the end of the guide provides an insight into good places for sleeping and fuelling during your time in Philadelphia. A full directory of Google Map-linked addresses are found in the Directory section.

Orientation & Logistics

The city is located largely sandwiched between two rivers, the Schuylkill to the West and the larger Delaware River to the East. The city’s western boundary extends beyond the Schuylkill, but across the Delaware lies New Jersey and the city of Camden. Philly’s southern boundary also happens to be the Delaware, which wraps around the city from the East. To the north, the city slowly transitions from urban to suburban, into the broader state of Pennsylvania.

Philly is a city of many, many neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods. This article will use a combination of broad strokes, such as “West Philly,” referring to much of what’s west of the Schuylkill, as well as more nuanced neighborhood names to get more specific when necessary. To that end, the city is oriented largely around what’s known as Center City, where City Hall is located. Nearby you’ll find landmarks like Reading Terminal Market and its many food stalls, in addition to many of the city’s top-end hotels. Surrounding Center City is the ritzy Rittenhouse Square, as well as Chinatown. Benjamin Franklin Parkway extends out to the northwest towards many of the city’s museums, the famous Love sculpture, and the Rocky Steps. To the east is the Old City, which includes the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. As you head south of Center City, you’ll come across the Gayborhood and its painted streets, bars, and bookstores. South Street cuts from river to river, and is a hotspot for record stores, shops, and bars. Further south, you’ll find two of the best places to eat in Philadelphia: East Passyunk Avenue and 9th Street, which includes the Italian Market. All of the city’s sports stadiums can be found at the southern edge of the city. 

Across the Schuylkill River from Center City, you’ll enter West Philly, starting with University City, and the campuses of Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). Further West you’ll find Spruce Hill and Walnut Hill, where you’ll find great Middle Eastern and Ethiopian food.  Northeast from Center City includes the neighborhoods of Northern Liberties and Fishtown which include some of the city’s best bars (both divey and expensive), and in Fishtown in particular, lively music venues. 

Fairmount Park is a massive park that lies on both sides of the Schuylkill to the northwest of Center City, and beyond that includes neighborhoods like Manayunk, which offer easy access to the river and the sprawling Wissahickon Valley Park, as well as a fun Main Street. 

Getting around the city is pretty easy. In fact, many of the bus routes have been categorized as “max routes,” indicating that you’ll never have to wait longer than 15 minutes. And thankfully, the city now has contactless payments, so purchasing passes or metro cards is not necessary anymore. Simply tap your credit card or pay with your phone through systems like ApplePay, which works for both buses and the city subway. For a comprehensive look at the full public transit, here’s a map

For getting around on two wheels, the bike share option unique to Philadelphia is Indego. Its footprint of stations across the city is pretty wide-ranging, but candidly stations get a bit sparse in North Philly. A day pass, which includes unlimited 60-minute rides for 24 hours, costs $15. 

There will be no It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia weather jokes – it’s too easy and the people of Philly are over it. But Philadelphia is a city that fully experiences all four seasons. It’s not Washington D.C., where humidity is a daily topic of conversation, but it has its hot, muggy summers. At summer’s peak in July, the average high temperature sits at about 87 degrees Fahrenheit (31 degrees Celsius). And a Philly winter can bring in biting cold, and of course, as a city on the I-95 corridor, the occasional Nor’Easter and its blizzard conditions typically make an appearance at some point during the winter months. The coldest month of the year is typically January, with an average low temperature of 27 degrees Fahrenheit (-3 degrees Celsius), bringing with it about 6 inches of snow for the month. 

Now, for dedicated athletes, and those who grew up in the Northern half of the U.S., the winter weather likely won’t inhibit training too much. That said, the spring, summer, and fall months offer more optimal training and visiting conditions. At the summer solstice, the sun rises around 5:30 a.m. and sets at 8:30 p.m. The winter solstice sees only about 9 hours between sunrise and sunset, with the sun rising at 7:20 a.m. and setting at 4:40 p.m. 

Before going any further, a shoutout is in order – many of the following running and cycling recommendations are from Pennsylvania native and former Philly resident, Erik Reitinger. Thank you, Erik!  

Running

Philadelphia is a great running city, with its many parks, tracks, and miles of riverfront pathways.

Let’s move in order of speed, working towards where to get in a long run, so first let’s head to the track. There are a number of options throughout the city, with a couple at the city’s many universities. In North Philly, the Temple University track is open from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. every day, from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. on weekdays, and from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on weekends. In North Philly, the track at LaSalle University’s McCarthy Stadium is open from dawn to dusk. 

If you head to the farthest southern reaches of the city, there’s the South Philadelphia Supersite, but hours tend to be a bit finicky and difficult to pin down – so have a backup plan in case you can’t get in (FDR Park is a good one). And up in the neighborhood of Roxborough, there’s a track at Roxborough High School, which is usually open to the public as long as it’s not in use by the high school. For reference, the Manayunk Running Club hosts “Track Tuesdays” there at 6:30 p.m. year-round.  

In the nearby suburbs, you can also find tracks at Lower Merion High School, and Haverford College, both about a half hour from the city center. 

The longer trails that’ll be covered next are perfectly suitable for tempo runs, but there are also some loops that are well-suited for those medium-length, uncomfortable tempos. FDR Park, in the far southwest corner of the city, has flat, paved, and dirt trails that are perfect for loops ranging from a mile to three miles. There was once a golf course here, but now some of that terrain can be used for off-road running as well. For anyone familiar with the legendary Harvard Tempo Loop in Boston, there are similarly flat routes that circumnavigate the athletic facilities around the UPenn campus, ranging from half a mile to a mile long. 

The classic long run for a Philly runner is likely to include a long stretch along the Schuylkill River Trail, which extends from Southwest Philly along the river and includes a segment of about 26 miles up to Valley Forge, and well beyond, which will be covered in the cycling section. Throughout this long segment, there are stretches of paved path, some crushed gravel, and some boardwalk, and it passes alongside Fairmount Park and the Manayunk Canal as you get farther north. It’s an easy one to follow, which is perfect for a simple, easy-to-navigate long run. 

Another route that has gained popularity after the trail received a touch-up is the Delaware River Trail.  Extending from Penn Treaty Park on the waterfront in Fishtown, the main section of this path stretches relatively seamlessly all the way down to South Philly, to Pier 68, just over three miles in one direction. 

For cross-country style running, Belmont Plateau in the West side of Fairmount Park is the place to go. This section of the park has been hosting cross-country races since the 1960s, and using this link, you can follow the official 5k, 6k, 8k, and 10k courses. More broadly, within Fairmount Park, which covers both sides of the river, there are miles and miles of varying trails available, one of the more popular loops being The Boxer’s Trail

Given the plethora of running routes throughout Philly, it’s not surprising that there are an overwhelming amount of running groups for visitors and locals to join. The preeminent club in the city is the Philadelphia Runner Track Club, but there’s truly a group for everyone, and some that host joinable group runs include the Wissahickon Wanderers, West Philly Runners, Point Breeze Runners, Fishtown Beer Runners, Black Men Run Philadelphia, Philadelphia Front Runners, and the South Philly Striders, to name a few. For a comprehensive list, check out Philadephia Magazine‘s full rundown

In the event you forget your gels for a long run or are in the market for a new pair of super shoes, check out one of the four locations of the Philadelphia Runner. This locally-owned running store has locations in Glen Mills (not in Philly), Manayunk, Center City, and University City. 

Philly is also home to some of the best running events in the country – including races like the Broad Street Run 10-Mile, the Philadelphia Marathon (a late-Fall marathon that allows runners to avoid training in the dead of summer heat), and of course, the Penn Relays.

Cycling

The same Schuylkill River trail mentioned above that’s used for long runs can also be used to get out and fly for a while on a bike. In fact, it’s actually about 71 miles long in total, extending well beyond Valley Forge, heading all the way to Landingville. For more detail on the route segments, the full Schuylkill River Trail is broken down here. Additionally, if you follow up the northward extension of the Delaware River Trail (there may be detours as trail maintenance and extension is in progress) about 10 miles from Center City to Ten Mile Point, there are an additional 18 miles of trails starting along the Pennypack Creek trail to follow. 

A bit further out from West Philly lies Cobb Creek, and the adjacent Cobb Creek trail. It’s about four miles long, but its flat terrain and few crossings make it a good place for some short, high-intensity efforts on the bike.

To explore the many trails extending in, out, and beyond Philly, take a look at this interactive trail map, which includes (at the time of writing) over 400 miles of existing trails, in addition to over 330 miles of either planned or in-progress trails that will only extend the network in the future.  

For group rides, look to the cycling cafe PAPERtrail. The cycling cafe hosts a weekly ride every Wednesday at 6:00 pm (April through October), aptly called the Gravel Espresso ride for its 16-mile route on gravel trails through Wissahickon Park. There’s also the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia, which hosts rides every Thursday through Sunday, most of which depart from Azalea Garden, near the Philadelphia Art Museum. The organization’s website is also a useful resource for anyone looking to cycle in Philadelphia. 

If you’re a little more competitive, the Quaker City Wheelmen is a cycling group with a racing team that also hosts group rides almost every day of the week, in Philly-proper as well as the broader Philadelphia area. Check out their “area rides” page on their website, which includes hill rides, 30-mile “drop rides” (meaning they will not wait for you), short sprint rides, and more casual ones that may finish at a cafe or bar afterwards. 

If you come to Philly and don’t have a bike with you, there are a couple of spots around the city that can lend you some wheels. First of which is Cadence Cycling, which has a location in Center City, as well as Manayunk. There’s a wide range of bike brands and styles to choose from, depending on which location you visit. You can also visit Fairmount Bicycles, where you can rent road bikes and mountain bikes, with the price depending on the style of bike and length of the rental, typically at a per-day rate. 

Swimming

The city of Philadelphia has over 60 public pools, making it relatively easy to beat the summer heat. Most of them are summer-only, but here’s a link that maps out each and every public pool, along with their hours across the city. 

But if you’re looking to get in a few laps uninterrupted by kids splashing or greased-up watermelons (An It’s Always Sunny reference), there are a couple of opportunities.  

In the Passyunk Square neighborhood of South Philly, swimmers can take advantage of the 50-foot (note that it’s feet and not meters) Fitness Works pool. There are three lanes available, and lanes can be reserved for non-members for $15. Just be sure to give them a ring ahead of time so they can block off a lane when you’d like to make a reservation. Farther north, in Mt. Airy, FitLife Fitness has a four-lane, 60-foot pool. There may be aqua therapy or acquacize classes at times (confirm on their website), but the lap lane is always left untouched. For $20, non-members can purchase day passes.

You may see people swimming in Wissahickon Creek, but not only is it against the rules, but it’s not recommended for sanitary reasons. For outdoor swimming that is not only allowed, but with lap swimming available, look to the public O’Connor pool on the farthest Western edge of South Street. In the summer months, there is an adult-only lap swim across five lanes, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on weekdays, and 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekends. There’s also the massive, free, 50-meter, eight-lane John B. Kelly pool in Fairmount Park. It can get busy in the summer, but on weekdays from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. there is lap swim, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. there’s open swim, and from 6:00 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. there is an adult-only swim. Weekend hours include open swim from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. 

The Philadelphia Fins, dually affiliated with International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics, as well as U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS), is a swim group that practices year-round, and if you’re registered with USMS, you can drop in to swim with the group. Rates are $15 for the 25-meter Friends Select School pool, and $20 for the 50-meter John B. Kelly pool. 

Gym

As a big city (the sixth largest in the country as of the time of writing), most major gym chains can be found here. But in the spirit of supporting local businesses and the Philly residents that run them, here are some independent gyms – all of which offer drop-in options – scattered throughout the city.  

Starting with traditional gyms with free weights, there’s FIT Gym in University City in West Philly. Day passes are just $15, and with dumbells up to 250 lbs, pretty much anyone can pump out a max rep or two. Located in Spring Garden, Retro Fitness and its free trial guest passes offer plenty of machines and free weights, in addition to a smoothie bar. And while it’s a chain, City Fitness is a Philadelphia-based local chain with seven locations scattered across the city. The facilities are quite nice, and aim to represent the character of each neighborhood they reside in. There are yoga classes, saunas, HydroMassages, and best of all, you can claim a complimentary experience and hang out at one of the locations for a full day. 

If you’re in Philly and you need a fix of CrossFit, there’s OpenBox Athletics, a massive 6,000-square-foot gym located in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood. Drop-ins cost $20, and all you’ll need to do is fill out a waiver on their website when signing up. About a mile north, there’s also CrossFit Rittenhouse, where you can book a free trial session, with future drop-ins priced at $25.   

And of course, in the city that serves as the setting of boxing movies such as Rocky, Creed, and the Executioners, a boxing gym must be included in this list. There are many options, but in Northern Liberties, Maleek Jackson Fitness Boxing Gym offers day passes for $40, in addition to introductory classes for just $10 (which is refundable if a package is purchased later). The eponymously named gym was founded by Maleek Jackson, a once-incarcerated man who has rebuilt his life through fitness, training, and inspiring others.  

Sleeping & Eating

It’s important to note that there are many, many excellent bars, restaurants, and cafes to try in Philadelphia, and nearly all of them will be missing in the following section. So consider this as a sample, or a starting point, rather, for a culinary exploration of Philly. 

There are a couple of cafes throughout the city dedicated to serving a cycling clientele. Aside from the cafe at the Cadence Cycling location in Center City and PAPERtrail, there’s Kayuh Bicycles, in the Fairmount neighborhood, which has a cafe that serves pastries, bagels, and coffee surrounded by walls of bikes. Kayuh also has a mobile bike repair, if you happen to get a flat. Musette is located near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and is in a convenient spot for anyone riding up the Schuylkill. It’s not a bike shop, but it is explicitly tailored and welcoming to cyclists. If you head further up the Schuylkill and find yourself in Conshohocken, The Tricycle is right on the river and serves up wraps, pastries, and coffee. 

Although all of the aforementioned cafes are great options even if you didn’t bring your bike, there are in fact cafes without a cycling theme. With two locations, one just south of Queen Village and one on the west side in Spruce Hill, Grindcore House is known for playing punk and metal music, in addition to a vegan menu. Also in Spruce Hill is the Ethiopian Alif Brew, which serves spiced coffee and has an attached mart selling Ethiopian provisions, not to mention that its outside seating catches the afternoon sun just right. Coffee nerds will like Thank You Thank You, just a few blocks from the Liberty Bell, where they serve up small-batch coffees. They also have a “Bean Head Concierge Service,” which will ship curated beans each month to those who subscribe.

The city of Philadelphia is undoubtedly known for certain dishes, starting with the Philly cheesesteak. But there’s also the roast pork sandwich, soft pretzels, water ice, hoagies, cannolis, and scrapple. 

Now, making a recommendation on a Philly cheesesteak can be a risky endeavor for any writer or author. There are so many destinations throughout the city to try this classic dish. But perhaps the best way to get a taste is to head to one of the two locations in the city with fierce rivals operating just across the street from each other. In South Philly, there’s Pat’s versus Geno’s. To the northwest in Roxoboroug-Manayunk, on the edge of Wissahickon Valley Park, is the rivalry between Dalessandro’s and Chubby’s. So pick a destination, order one of each, and make an opinion on which is best for yourself. 

Many Philly residents will say that the roast pork sandwich, not the cheesesteak, is actually their favorite sandwich in the city. Typically a roast pork consists of provolone cheese, broccoli rabe, and of course, slices of roast pork (and the juices), served on an Italian roll. Like the cheesesteak, there are many places to choose from to find the sandwich, but John’s Roast Pork, operating since 1930, is a great place to start. For Philly’s signature soft pretzels, which are traditionally in a neat figure-eight shape, the simplest way to get a taste is to hit up one of the many locations of the Philly Pretzel Factory, which makes a nice representation of the classic pretzel. And for hoagies – which is a bit of a catch-all for the many variations that center around sliced deli meat, cheese, an array of veggies, and maybe some oil, all served on a long roll – Ricci’s Hoagies has been serving them up since the 1920s, so why not go with a classic.    

Scrapple, for the uninitiated, is essentially a pan-fried loaf made from various pork scraps, cornmeal, and spices. Try a version made from black-eyed peas from Honeysuckle Provisions, a grocer that sources from Black farmers in the region, located in Walnut Hill in West Philly.   

For cannolis, it makes sense to head to South Philly, to the Philly Cannoli King, where you can try just about any variation of cannoli with a freshly pulled espresso. For water ice, try Pop’s Homemade Italian Ice, an institution that’s been around since 1932. Just know that it’s a summer treat, and the location is closed in the winter. 

But beyond the classic Philly fare, the city is also a place to indulge in the food of its immigrant communities that have made Philadelphia home over the years. For Ethiopian food, head to Amsale Café in Walnut Hill. For Mexican food, there’s the famed South Philly Barbacoa. If you’re in need of some breakfast or fuel after a morning ride, Jezabel’s offers an array of Argentinian pastries. There’s also a sizeable Cambodian population, and the cuisine can be sampled at places such as Sophie’s Kitchen. The small but mighty Chinatown is home to EMei, which specializes in Szechuan cuisine. For Taiwanese food in Chinatown, try Rays Cafe & Tea House. And for Vietnamese food, try Bánh Mì and Bottles.  

When it’s time to drink, whether it be as a post-ride reward or a pre-concert pregame, you won’t have to look for long. At the top-end of cocktail bars, of which there are many, the intimate Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company, hidden within the Franklin on Rittenhouse Hotel, is known as one of the best in the country, serving the tastes of those looking for innovation as well as the unfussy classics. On the other end of the spectrum (in price and ambiance), Tattooed Mom is a South Street classic. You’ll find stickers and writing adorning the walls, cheap drinks, and free candy and toys at the bar. 

Philly has a history of great musicians – from Jill Scott to The Roots to Meek Mill to Hall & Oates to DJ Jazzy Jeff – so seeing some live music while in town is fitting for any visit. Fishtown has two of the best venues in the city, starting with Kung Fu Necktie. The decor is decidedly metal, and while they do host metal bands, they have a variety of artists from indie to punk, and they often have emo nights. Johnny Brenda’s is another live music fixture just down the street, but it’s also open for drinks and decent bar food. Down on South Street is Bob & Barbara’s, another iconic Philly live music joint, serving its now-ubiquitous “classic,” or “citywide” special of a shot of Jim Beam and a can of PBR. 

Pennsylvania, and Philly in particular has a taste for quality beer, highlighted by Philly Beer Week, a 10-day event every summer. But for any other month of the year, those looking for beer can find many bars with extensive tap lists, including Fountain Porter just off of East Passyunk, Local 44 in Spruce Hill, and Khyber Pass Pub in the Old City. 

To class things up a bit before moving on, Fishtown Social is a cozy wine bar and bottle shop that is home to an impressive array of wines from all over the world, as well as some tasty charcuterie boards and bar snacks.

When looking for a place to stay in Philly, there are many options to pick from, with many of them located in Center City. There are the usual Ritz Carlton’s and Four Seasons, but give Roost East Market a try, located in Midtown Village, just southeast of City Hall. It has a rooftop lap pool, complimentary bikes, and is designed for long stays if you just can’t pry yourself away from Philadelphia. If you’d like to spend the evenings out in Fishtown and have easy access to the Delaware River Trail, check out the sleekly modern, yet cozy, Lokal Hotel Fishtown. And if you’re looking to give West Philly a little love, AKA University City is a good option. Here you can soak in some of the city’s best skyline views while swimming in its enclosed pool.

Bedroom at LOKAL

In the Gayborhood, the Alexander Inn is a wonderful option for a more mid-price budget. This old inn has gotten a makeover but retained its old-timey charm. The staff is lovely, there’s free breakfast included (and there’s even free wine and cheese every now and then), and many of the rooms offer beautiful views of the Philly skyline that guests can admire over their morning coffee. For an upmarket option, look to LOKAL who have hotels in Old City and Fishtown.

Philly is also home to one of the best hostels in the country, Apple Hostels, a well-run establishment that straddles both sides of a small alleyway in the Old City. The rooms are clean, there’s laundry, and the kitchen is spacious for cooking your own healthy meals for training, or using the space to work remotely. This is a convenient location for accessing the Delaware River waterfront, as well as Market Street, the Old City, and trains that will take you anywhere else in the city.

Directory

Temple University Track: +1 215 204 2605

McCarthy Stadium: (No Phone)

Roxborough Track: (No Phone)

South Philadelphia Supersite: (No Phone)

Lower Merion High School Track (Arnold Field): (No Phone)

Haverford College (Walton Field at Johnson Track): (No Phone)

FDR Park: +1 215 683 3600

Fairmount Bicycles: +1 267 507 9370

Fitness Works: +1 215 334 8190

FitLife Fitness: +1 215 753 8898

O’Connor Pool: +1 215 685 6649

John B. Kelly Pool: +1 215 685 0174

Friends Select Pool: +1 610 871 5934

FIT Gym: +1 215 386 3333

Retro Fitness: +1 267 519 3799

City Fitness: (Multiple Locations)

OpenBox Athletics: +1 267 787 2463

CrossFit Rittenhouse: +1 215 680 3912

Maleek Jackson Fitness Boxing Gym: +1 215 964 9201

Cadence Cycling (Center City): +1 267 909 9224

Kayuh Bicycles & Cafe: +1 215 235 1838

Musette: +1 215 315 8340

The Tricycle Cafe: +1 484 533 3145

Grindcore House: +1 215 839 3333

Fishtown Social: (no phone)

Alif Brew & Mini Mart: +1 215 315 8427

Thank You Thank You: (no phone)

Pat’s King of Steaks: +1 215 468 1546

Geno’s Steaks: +1 215 389 0659

Dalessandro’s Steaks: +1 215 482 5407

Chubby’s Steaks: +1 215 487 2575

John’s Roast Pork: +1 215 463 1951

Philly Pretzel Factory: (Multiple Locations)

Ricci’s Hoagies: +1 215 334 6910

Philly Cannoli King: (no phone)

Pop’s Homemade Italian Ice: +1 215 551 7677

Honeysuckle Provisions: +1 215 307 3316

Amsale Café: +1 215 397 4420

EMei: +1 215 627 2500

South Philly Barbacoa: +1 215 694 3797

Jezabel’s: +1 215 554 7380

Sophie’s Kitchen: +1 215 271 0888

Bánh Mì and Bottles: +1 215 800 1533

Ray’s Cafe & Tea House: +1 215 922 5122

The Franklin Porter & Investment Company: +1 267 892 4557

Bob & Barbara’s: +1 215 545 4511

Johnny Brenda’s: +1 215 739 9684

Fountain Porter: (no phone)

Local 44: +1 215 222 2337

Khyber Pass Pub: +1 215 238 5888

Roost East Market: +1 267 703 4040

Lokal Hotel Fishtown: +1 267 702 4345

AKA University City: +1 215 372 9000

Alexander Inn: +1 215 923 3535

Apple Hostels of Philadelphia: +1 215 922 0222


Thanks to professional running coach Sam Renikoff for this guide. Learn more about Sam in this interview.