College life in Philly

Beginner’s guide: 30 things to do and see in Philadelphia

New college students, consider this your bucket list.

Philly from above the Schuylkill, looking southeast

Philly from above the Schuylkill, looking southeast

Mark Henninger
michaelawinberg-square-crop-feb2018

Minds of the next generation: Welcome to Philadelphia.

Fall college classes are starting, which means our university-filled region is welcoming thousands of new students.

Some of you hail from the city or the surrounding suburbs, but there’s also plenty of folks who are new to Philadelphia area. Speaking from personal experience, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed. We’re here to help.

Think of this as a guide to your first round of exploration. There are a few tourist attractions (the better ones) and certainly doesn’t include everything you should see in the city, but it should get you well on your way to being a knowledgeable resident.

Here’s a beginner’s bucket list of things to do and see in Philly.

LOVE Park

Love Park, next to Philadelphia City Hall

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Go outside

Bike along the Schuylkill River Trail

Don’t have a two wheeler? You can rent one for the day with Indego.

Lay in a hammock at Spruce Street Harbor Park

Do it before the park closes for the season on Sept. 29.

Take in the quaint beauty of Jewelers’ Row (especially in the wintertime)

You won’t know which twinkles more, the diamonds or the lights.

Tour the traditional Shofuso Japanese House and Garden

Bonus points if you do it when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

Hang out on the water at Cherry Street Pier

This newly restored public space boasts a bunch of different events: fireworks, free movies, markets.

Cool off at your community pool… next summer

They close for the season pretty early, but Philly has a ton of free neighborhood pools that are basically paradise in the summer heat.

The far end of Cherry Street Pier is an open-air garden

The far end of Cherry Street Pier is an open-air garden

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Shop

Take in the masterpiece that is Philly AIDS Thrift

A seriously killer thrift shop — eccentric items, cheap prices and all for a good cause. Don’t miss the stuffed animal tree outside.

Get good eats at Reading Terminal Market

The best coffee, cannoli, cheesesteaks, roast pork, pretzels, cheese, sausage, and everything else you can think of, all under one roof in a bustling marketplace.

Decorate your dorm at Open House

But be prepared to empty your wallet.

Pick up some gems at Halloween

This rowhome-turned-jewelry-store is a Philly must see.

Dress like a trendy grandpa at Retrospect

Vintage and second-hand clothing with all the magical weirdness of South Street to boot.

Fill up your bag for cheap on Baltimore Avenue

The University City District runs regular dollar strolls in the Cedar Park neighborhood.

Inside Reading Terminal Market

Inside Reading Terminal Market

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Visit other neighborhoods

Experience sensory overstimulation at the 9th Street Italian Market

Curbside vendors in one of the nation’s oldest open-air markets offer cheap produce, freshmade pasta, just-pressed tortillas, hundreds of cheeses, the city’s best barbacoa, paper-thin prosciutto and plenty of dessert. The good smells alone are worth a stroll through.

Explore the textiles of Fabric Row

The historic Fourth Street corridor offers an outstanding collection of cloth. Even if you’re not looking to buy, it’s a pleasure to look it all over — and there’s cafes and bookshops along the way.

Tour Germantown’s historic district

Ride the 23 bus up the mostly cobblestoned Germantown Avenue and you’ll find remarkably intact Underground Railroad stop and Revolutionary War sites.

Enjoy the eats in Chinatown

Lots of yummy noodles, inexpensive baked goods, great banh mi, plus boba tea and rolled ice cream. You can’t miss the giant, decorative gate at 10th and Arch.

Be a hipster in Fishtown

A neighborhood where the new and old unite. On Frankford Avenue you’ll find a warm mix of River Wards lifers and brand new city residents.

The Chinatown gate

The Chinatown gate

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Get in some arts and culture

Stare into the fragmented beauty of the Magic Gardens

The Isaiah Zagar masterpiece is basically the first stop for any and all Philly tourists.

Ride the Market-Frankford Line west to see mural love letters

You can find a lot of cool stuff while riding SEPTA.

Listen to some live tunes at Union Transfer

A solidly intimate concert venue where big names still play. The building once functioned as a place to store baggage for the railway company. That’s Philly for ya.

Get some drama in your life at the Kimmel Center

Hamilton? Legally Blonde? The Wiggles? All this and more.

Artist Isaiah Zagar's mosaic murals are found all over South Philadelphia, but the place to start is the Magic Gardens on South Street

Artist Isaiah Zagar's mosaic murals are found all over South Philadelphia, but the place to start is the Magic Gardens on South Street

Facebook / Philly Magic Gardens

Learn something

See some famous artworks at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Founded in 1876 to celebrate America’s 100th birthday, the PMA is an essential stop in Philly. It’s not free for college kids anymore, but it’s definitely worth a visit — don’t miss the collection of swords and armor on the second floor.

Get spooked at Eastern State

You get to walk through the corridors of the closed prison, once known for the cruel practice of constant solitary confinement — and housing Al Capone.

Embrace some oft-overlooked history at the Colored Girls Museum

One of very few venues where you’ll get a comprehensive look at the African diaspora, through the lens of young girls.

Read up at America’s first library

As its name suggests, Philly’s collection of Free Library branches are totally free to the public. And your library card can get you a ton of cool stuff.

Inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art

R. Kennedy / Visit Philly

Have fun

Sing karaoke in Chinatown

No shortage of venues in the neighborhood to relieve your academic stress with song.

Ride to the top of City Hall

Or as we experts call it: William Penn’s hat.

Break stuff at the Rage Room

Trust us, it’s fun. And only a little scary.

Throw pottery at The Clay Studio

Looking for a hobby? Try this out, but be warned: it’s harder than it looks.

Defeat your new friends at Thirsty Dice

Tons of board games at your disposal, plus a menu of beer and food. Nothing says you love your roommate like crushing her in The Game of Life.

Philly skyline above the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk

Philly skyline above the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

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