Planning a trip to Philadelphia soon? I will give you my top 10 shocks I had when I visited Philadelphia for the first time.
When I first visited Philadelphia it was with Barbara in 2013 for her cousin’s wedding. It was my first time visiting the city, but she is from South Jersey and would visit Philadelphia often. I honestly didn’t know much about Philly before my first visit. I knew the common things like the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Cheesesteaks, and Rocky. I had no idea that I would fall in love with this city and move here in less than 6 months after my first visit.
Philadelphia goes by “The City of Brotherly Love”. William Penn named the city after Greek words Philos (love) and Adelphos (brother). So the city’s name is actually said to translate to “The city of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.”
I’ll be honest, I thought the locals were going to be rude and unfriendly. I couldn’t be any more wrong! People here are very nice and will actually go out of their way to help you. I was shocked when I would see people helping each other on the streets. I saw people opening doors for each other, saying “Hello”, and helping children and older people load the buses.
Anthony Bourdain said it best in his show, The Layover when he was asked what was his favorite thing about Philly?
“The Attitude, it’s a town with a lot of heart. If somebody thinks something sucks they are going to tell you right away. There’s not much of a douche economy.”
It’s amazing how quickly I felt at home when I figured out that the people here were really down to earth and not full of BS.
This should go without saying but Philadelphia is the birthplace of American Democracy. Lucky for 21st-century visitors, so much of Philadelphia’s history has been preserved. That includes, of course, two of the city’s most important attractions: Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
I was shocked at how much I like American History! It wasn’t until my first visit here and I could actually see all these landmarks in person that it felt real. Reading about these things in a history book in school didn’t really connect with me.
I would say my number one thing to do in Philadelphia is to walk around Old City at night. It’s hard to explain but I can feel the history in the air at nighttime in this area, especially near the Old City Tavern. The Old City Tavern is said to be the most important place in the city of Philadelphia during the founding of our nation. When I’m walking around this area I always imagine our founding fathers walking on these exact same streets after having a nice dinner and some drinks. I highly recommend you take a nice night stroll in the Old City area when you visit Philadelphia.
I was shocked at the food scene in Philadelphia! I’m a huge foodie and love to try all different types of food. The food scene here goes well beyond the cheesesteak and soft pretzel. When you’re here, you are no more than a block or two from a good meal. We have everything from world-class celebrity restaurants to cash-only holes in the wall. One of the main reasons the food scene is doing well here is the cost. It’s not nearly as expensive to operate a restaurant here in Philadelphia when compared to NYC and DC.
You will be amazed at our massive food market Reading Terminal. This place has been around since 1893. You can find pretty much anything you want under this one roof. Everything from locally grown & exotic produce, locally sourced meats and poultry, local restaurants, plus the finest seafood, cheeses, baked goods, and confections. I knew the second I walked inside that I wanted to move to Philadelphia!
I’ll go on record and say Philadelphia has the best food scene in this country. Take a walk throughout the city and you will see why Philadelphia continues to dominate.
Philadelphia at its core is just a bunch of small neighborhood tied together. You will be shocked at how many neighborhoods there are and the differences between them. No two neighborhoods are the same and all offer different things. For example, some neighborhoods are more family driven while others can be a huge drinking neighborhood.
Coming from Florida I didn’t quite understand how different neighborhoods could work together in a city center. Once I started to walk around and explore different neighborhoods, it started to make sense. For example neighborhoods in South Philadelphia are full of long-time residents while a place like Graduate Hospital is full of short term renters. No matter what, there’s a neighborhood that will make you feel right at home!
This stands for “Bring Your Own Bottle”. A BYOB restaurant allows patrons to bring their own wine, spirits or beer of choice to accompany their meals. The main reason why BYOBs exist in Philadelphia is that the liquor licenses are expensive and time-consuming to get for businesses. There are currently over 300 places around Philadelphia that have BYOB service. This state is way behind with their liquor laws, but this isn’t a bad thing when it comes to saving money for consumers.
When people come from out of town they are all shocked that there are so many places have BYOB in this city. When you are planning a night out it’s best to figure out ahead of time if a place is BYOB. It’s actually a lot of fun to have a large group of people all bring different drinks to dinner, not only does it allow you to try different drinks but it will save you tons of money on the bill. Now that I’ve lived in Philly for 5 years, it’s kinda weird to me when I travel and places aren’t BYOB.
Finding a public bathroom in Philly can sometimes be a challenge. NYC is the only other city that I felt finding a public bathroom was near impossible. Finding a bathroom in most cities isn’t a big deal or something that you even think about, but when you come to Philly be prepared to experience a lack of restrooms.
In most cases, you will need to be a customer to use a businesses bathroom. There are a few public bathrooms in the touristy area of Independence Hall. Once you explore more of the smaller neighborhoods you won’t find any bathrooms at all. It’s not really a big deal once you get used to it, but I can say it was a shock for me when I first came here.
This is my favorite thing on this list! I was shocked when I saw how many people walked in this city. Philadelphia continues to rank in the top 5 cities for walkability. All of Center City is very walkable and you won’t have any problems navigating the city on foot. In some cases, walking is faster than driving or public transit. The fastest way around the city is actually by bike, but if you bike in this city you better be an advanced cyclist.
This is another weird PA thing. You will see a lot of businesses that are cash only. Yes, in 2019 there are still some places that don’t take credit cards! The cash-only thing is common for small restaurants, as they simply don’t want to pay the credit card fees. On the flip side, Philadelphia just became the first major city to ban cashless stores and restaurants.
I highly recommend you always have some cash on you when you’re in Philly. Some of my favorite places are cash only. Just like the BYOB thing, it helps if you do a quick Google search on places before you visit for the first time. They will normally tell you up front if a place is a cash only.
Parking / PPA
Parking in this city will be a shock for anyone! I will say it’s possibly the hardest city to park a car. Remember this city was built way before cars existed and once cars were invented they didn’t remodel the streets to make more room. There are parts of the city where you see cars parked in the middle of the street! If you go down Broad Street in South Philly you see tons of cars illegally parked in the median. To say Philly has a car problem is an understatement!
The PPA is our ticketing authority and they generate a lot of money for the city. They don’t care if you’re 1 minute over the time limit, they will write you a ticket. The hardest part about parking in the city is trying to figure out where you can’t park. For example, you can’t park within 15 feet of a fire hydrant. You also have to watch out for small driveways and hidden garages, you, of course, can’t block someone’s driveway or garage, but it can sometimes be very hard to see them especially at night time.
When you visit Philadelphia you will notice tons of Murals throughout the city. We have a great Mural Arts program that enables professional artists and young Philadelphians to showcase their artistic talent in a constructive way. There are over 3,600 murals in the city making Philadelphia the mural capital of the world! How cool is that!?
The murals are one of the real reasons why walking in this city is always a pleasure. It’s a never-ending art exhibit! There are new murals being added to the city all the time. The Mural Arts program has official tours that showcase some of the best murals in the city.
It’s pretty clear that we love our city of Philadelphia! I feel like this city has something for everyone. To me, the Pros heavily outweigh the cons.
4 thoughts on “10 Things That Will Shock You About Philadelphia”
So true. All of it. Anthony Bourdain’s Layover was the best representation of the real Philly. I always say Philadelphians aren’t rude, we’re just really direct. It was a thing that drove me crazy when I moved west: people didn’t say what they mean, and they were shocked that I always do! 😁 my whole family lives in Center City and I love taking the train up from DC and walking around AND eating in Philly 🔔 ❤️
Yes! Isn’t Philly great!? I don’t think people believe me when I say Philly has the best food scene!
I would’ve never known most of these things! I have also found that I connect so much more to history when I am physically able to experience something. On paper, it’s hard to visualize. In person, it’s transformative. I love the murals and walkability, among many other details. Thanks for sharing!
You’re Welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the article.