Philadelphia/Center City West

Philadelphia's Center City West is the downtown area west of City Hall. It contains downtown's upscale shopping district, the financial district, and the museum district along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, culminating in the Philadelphia Art Museum and Fairmount Park. To the east is Broad Street, Philadelphia's arts corridor, and the east side of Center City; to the south is the quieter end of South Street and South Philly; and to the west, beyond the Schuylkill River, is West Philly and University City.


When Philadelphia was first settled, the core of the city was on the eastern part of the city, nearby the Delaware River, in what is now Old City. City founder William Penn plotted out the entire grid street structure of Center City from the Delaware to the Schuylkill Rivers so that the city would develop in an organized fashion, and over time the city did extend development westward and beyond.

Since Old City was originally where the business and market areas were concentrated, much of the western half of Center City became the residential neighborhood. A lot of the housing stock dates from the 1800s, when wealthy businessmen built their homes alongside communities of working-class neighborhoods. In the 1950s, Philadelphia began to expand the business district westward as well, and with the University of Pennsylvania located just across the Schuylkill River, the area has retained its desirability for many residents. In particular, Rittenhouse Square is surrounded by high-rise apartment towers housing the moneyed elite, and the neighboring blocks have long been one of the most desirable residential locations in Philadelphia. Fortunately, the park itself has retained a unique ability to exclude no one, no small feat considering Philadelphia's history of tension between different racial and social classes. On any given day, especially weekends and in the summer, the park will be populated and used by just about anyone and everyone.

Commercial businesses came westward with the planning of Penn Center, a rather unwelcoming business district west of City Hall just north of Market Street. However, this enabled other commercial development to occur in the area, and in 1985 One Liberty Place became the first building to break the unofficial height limit in Philadelphia, which was top of Penn's hat on City Hall. With a ground floor mall at the base of the building, this development helped spur retail development, which in turn contributed to the reversal of urban blight and flight in the early 1990s. Today, the three blocks north of Rittenhouse Square (Walnut, Sansom and Chestnut Streets) and eastward to Broad Street is Center City's upscale shopping district, where fashionable clothing brands have established a presence. In addition, many restaurants, bars and nightlife destinations are located in this particular area as well.

North of the business district is the spectacular Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a grand boulevard that begins at the famous LOVE Park near City Hall and continues northwest, through Logan Circle, and ends at the Philadelphia Art Museum and Fairmount Park. Designed in 1917, the Parkway is one of the city's earliest urban renewal projects and takes many of its cues from similar boulevards in France. Today, the parkway is the spine on which most of the city's museums are located.

Get in

By train

Center City is served by SEPTA trains, both the subway and regional rail. All regional rail lines stop in Center City West, at Suburban Station (16th St and JFK Blvd). If you are coming in from the airport, or Trenton, trains will stop here. Note that Suburban Station only serves SEPTA trains, so if you are coming into Philadelphia on Amtrak, you will disembark at 30th Street Station, just across the Schuylkill River.

SEPTA has only two subway lines, both of which run through Center City. The Market-Frankford Line (or the El, because it used to be elevated) is a east-west line running underneath Market Street, connecting West Philly to Northeast Philadelphia. Unfortunately, because the subway was constructed at a time when nothing much existed between the Schuylkill River and City Hall, it does not stop in the middle of Center City West. The Broad Street Line is the second subway line, running north-south. However, as Center City is best explored on foot, just get off at City Hall and walk; no need to make a transfer on the subway line unless Center City is not actually your final destination.

A third train line, operated by the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) is called PATCO and comes in from Camden across the Delaware River. The train terminates in Center City West at 15th and Locust.

By trolley

SEPTA runs trolleys from West Philly and University City into Center City West, which stops at 22nd, 19th and 15th Streets before terminating at City Hall. If you are coming in from the west, trolleys are slower but can be more convenient depending on your final destination. In Center City, trolleys run underground.






Rittenhouse Square


Center City West has an active nightlife scene around the Rittenhouse Square area. As it's also one of the wealthiest neighborhoods, crowds here can be young, hip, and beautiful—or at least pretending to be—which leads some other people to gripe about how it's all turning too "tacky" and "Manhattan-esque." Depending on how you look at it, this is either changing Philadelphia for the worse, or this is the kind of scene Philadelphia needs to keep people from leaving for the actual Manhattan. Either way, this clash of cultures results in a larger range of options this side of Broad, from the dark, blue-collar dives to the super-ritzy cocktail lounges.

If you're in Center City during the summer months, be sure to take advantage of Center City Sips, a downtown-wide Happy Hour every Wednesday from 5PM-7PM where many bars and restaurants all participate in drink specials: $2 beers, $3 wines and $4 cocktails, and usually some selection of food specials. As it's right after the hump of the office work week, you'll see a lot of young professionals in business casual, and some places will get really crowded, but the prices are definitely right.



Rittenhouse Square

Art Museum area


Free wifi

If there's something Philadelphia's plethora of students need, it's a local cafe with free wifi Internet access, and there are a handful of them scattered throughout Center City West. Of course, they can be of use for the traveler as well; most places will provide the password after you've purchased your coffee. However, unlike Starbucks, which are never in short supply, most of these locally-owned cafes encourage faster turnover and less "mobile office" syndrome by not providing electrical outlets.

Go next

Routes through Center City West (by subway)

Northwest Philadelphia North Philadelphia  N  S  South Philadelphia END
Upper Darby West Philadelphia  SW  NE  Center City East Northeast Philadelphia

Routes through Center City West (by commuter rail)

North Philadelphia Center City East  N  S  West Philadelphia Philadelphia International Airport
Northwest Philadelphia Center City East  NW  SE  West Philadelphia END
Northwest Philadelphia West Philadelphia  NW  SW  Center City East North Philadelphia
Bala Cynwyd West Philadelphia  NW  SE  END
END West Philadelphia  SW  NE  Center City East Northeast Philadelphia
Norristown Center City East  NW  SE  West Philadelphia END

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, March 12, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.