FACT: Philadelphia is cool. You might think Philly is all about the history. And while it’s an important part of the city, there’s actually a lot more going on in Philadelphia today.
Award-winning restaurants pop up regularly and big-name music festivals such as Jay Z’s Made in America Festival call the city home. But it’s the old-fashioned charm of historic streets and the colonial architecture, mixed with a resurgence in new ideas, creative companies, and a vibrant street life which make Philly as cool as it is historical. Venture outside the historic old city and explore some of the lesser known neighborhoods and you’ll find Philadelphia has an exciting underbelly made up of a diverse and creative community.
Cool Things To Do in Philadelphia
Hang out in Northern Liberties
Just north of the city center and situated south of the recently trendy Fishtown neighborhood, the Northern Liberties area of Philadelphia is especially hip. Sure, Fishtown has some incredible street art murals, plenty of street life, bars, cafés and restaurants, but the Northern Liberties Philadelphia neighborhood has all of that and far fewer people. There’s even a super hip pool club, Vesper Dayclub, hidden behind an industrial park and pumping pop music all day during the summer. To really take in the Northern Liberties neighborhood, take a stroll down North 2nd Street, the unofficial “restaurant row” of the district with cool places to eat like Blackbird (vegan) Pizzeria and Green Eggs Cafe. The district even hosts an annual fundraiser for local businesses each August during the 2nd Street Festival.
Read more: Hipster Guide to Philadelphia
Have coffee at La Colombe Coffee Roasters
One of Philadelphia’s most hipster exports, La Colombe is famous for their cold brew bottled coffees available across the country. There are even coffee shops in New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles, but La Colombe’s homebase is in Philadelphia’s own Fishtown. Their flagship café is spacious with a rustic interior design and you’ll find plenty of people hanging out there for brunch and fresh coffee, but take note that they don’t offer wifi.
Lounge in a hammock at Spruce Street Harbor Park
The summertime pop-up along the Delaware Riverside at Penn’s Landing is a favorite for locals and tourists alike. Decked out with rainbow hammocks, regularly scheduled events, and food trucks (plus a beer garden), Spruce Street Harbor Park is one of the coolest hangouts each summer. On particularly hot days, it might be hard to snag a spot on one of the free hammocks, but just grab a drink and some food while you wait. Or find a buddy to share a hammock with.
Go for the happy hour at CHeU Fishtown
Happy hour is serious business in Philadelphia and CHeU Noodle Bar has one of the best. The fun and funky restaurant serves some truly unique ramen dishes, and their happy hour menu is a great bargain with $5 appetizers and $1 off drinks. Try the brisket ramen and the goat cheese rangoons with jalapeños.
Eat vegan scrapple, cheesesteaks, pizza…
There’s been a surge in vegan restaurants and cafés in Philadelphia and nowadays, sometimes the best restaurants and foods you’ll find are at the vegan places. Front Street Café is renowned for their vegan dishes, though they serve everything. Go for brunch and try the vegan scrapple—it’s so good! And Wiz Kid in Philly is a vegan steak shop—famous for their signature vegan cheesesteak. It’s part of a larger group of vegan restaurants including the popular V Street, but Wiz Kid is an affordable, fast-casual eatery.
Get drunk at the Saint
This Fishtown bar and club is probably the coolest spot in the area and a longtime favorite for just about everyone. The style is pretty eclectic and you can expect club nights to range from techno to indie rock. It’s always a fun and young crowd and the parties can get a bit sweaty.
Read more: Gay Weekend in Philly – Travel Guide
Explore the Fishtown street art
Did you know the country’s largest mural arts program, Mural Arts Philadelphia, runs an extensive program in Philadelphia? While the organization supports local and visiting artists in creating murals across the city, there’s a large percentage of street art, graffiti, and commissioned murals especially in the Fishtown area. Many murals focus on social justice issues and local culture.
Shop at Philly AIDS Thrift
There are a handful of cool vintage and thrift shops in Philadelphia—scattered around the city center, South Street in South Philly, and the Fishtown/Kensington neighborhoods. But it’s Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room which is especially cool—thanks in part to its commitment to the building’s legacy in gay Philadelphia, and their donations to LGBTQ causes. The bookstore and thrift shop sells books, art, clothes, movies, music & so much more. It also hosts small events and serves as a cornerstone for the Philadelphia LGBTQ community. And bonus: it’s America’s oldest LGBTQ and feminist bookstore—operating since 1973!
Catch a free exhibit at the ICA
Near the university district, the ICA exhibits contemporary art and photography with works by Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe part of their permanent collection. It’s their temporary exhibitions, though, which are often especially interesting. Topics are wide-ranging but several have featured queer and LGBTQ-themed art. And bonus: the museum is FREE!
Get lost at the Philadelphia Magic Gardens
In South Philly, the Magic Gardens gallery space features floor-to-ceiling mosaics by local artist Isaiah Zagar. It’s a funky space with a weird collection of found objects, carefully laid out to create a thousand different reflective surfaces. And it’s 100%, absolutely without question, the perfect place for a selfie. The mosaics cover both indoor and outdoor spaces with a small maze winding across two floors in an outdoor garden. Look closely at what’s on the walls and you’ll discover some truly weird but cool installations.
End your night at Wawa
Yes, Wawa is a chain across the northeast, but in Philly—it’s just a way of life. The 24-hour convenience stores kind of a focal point for most locals at the end of the night. It’s not really about the coffee or the food at Wawa, but the experience. (Okay, it’s a little bit about the food—especially when/if you’re a lil drunk.) And if you don’t want a full Philly cheesesteak at 3 a.m., just go for the Tastykakes—a local Philadelphian processed sugar desert.
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More cool things to do in Philly…
Okay, so obviously there are a lot more hipster and cool things to see and do in Philly. It’s not easy to put together a fully comprehensive guide to the coolest stuff in Philadelphia, because, well, everyone is opinionated and thinks there own things are more cool or hip than someone else’s. There are great pizzerias (sorry NYC) serving some really cool and unusual meals across the city. Then there are the markets and shopping and, of course, the Reading Terminal food market.
South Philly has a pretty diverse community as well and the area is home to some small, local, independent coffee shops serving some great brews. And there are just SO. MANY. RESTAURANTS. More and more chefs are making Philadelphia their base, bringing international and original culinary creations to the city.
If you’re looking for a cool hotel or place to stay in Philly, try the tiny boutique hotel at the Wm. Mulherin’s Sons restaurant. Besides some extraordinary whisky cocktails and wood-fired pizza, there are four mini-apartments available to rent on the property. Each one is exquisitely designed and the location in the heart of Fishtown makes it a great place to stay.
Get more fun and cool things to do in the Hipster Guide to Philadelphia — available exclusively here at travelsofadam.com.