Get to know the city’s most vibrant and historic neighborhoods.
Grab your walking shoes and become an urban adventurer. Natalie Pompilio guides you through 30 unique walking tours in this comprehensive guidebook. Go beyond the obvious with self-guided tours that showcase famed fare (such as cheesesteaks, pretzels, and beer that make Philadelphia a foodies’ paradise), as well as vintage boutiques, high-end shopping destinations, and one-of-a-kind local goods. Discover Philadelphia’s many “Firsts”the first zoo, first library system, and first hospitalplus dozens of historic sites you learned about in school. Explore a Museum District that’s second to none, an all-encompassing park system, America’s Most Historic Square Mile, and much more.
Walking Philadelphia is the only guide to the city that makes you feel like you’re being led by your smartest, closest, funniest friend. The tours not only include all the important historic facts and figures, but Natalie also shares behind-the-scenes stories and tidbits that you’ll later rush to tell others. Plus, Tricia Pompilio’s photography brings these walking tours to life. Walking Philadelphia is recommended for locals, as well as tourists, promising something for everyone.
About the Author
Freelance journalist Natalie Pompilio lives and writes in a house on an alley off an alley in South Philadelphia. A former staff writer with The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News , she loves hearing and telling stories. Her idea of a perfect night is sitting on her roof deck at dusk with her husband, Jordan Barnett, their two cats, and a bottle of wine while watching the chimney swifts emerge for their nightly dance. This is her third book featuring Philadelphia. More Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell , with coauthors Jane Golden and Robin Race, was released by Temple University Press in 2006. She partnered with New Orleans photographer Jennifer Zdon (twirlphotography.com) to self-publish the children’s alphabet book Philadelphia A to Z in 2010. Find her work at nataliepompilio.com.
Tricia Pompilio is a lifestyle and portrait photographer based in Philadelphia. After 15 years in television, she decided to focus on her children and her photography. When she’s not following her husband, Vince Savarese, and their three daughtersFiona, Luna, and Poppywith a camera, she’s probably re-reading Harry Potter 1–7 with her two black cats while Rob Thomas sings softly in the background. To see her work, visit instagram.com/triciapphotography.
Read an Excerpt
The Heart of the City
BOUNDARIES: S. 17th St., S. 20th St., Delancey Pl., Walnut St.
DISTANCE: 1.1 miles
PARKING: Street parking is a challenge near Rittenhouse, and the few paid lots are overpriced. Public transportation may be the best option.
PUBLIC TRANSIT: SEPTA buses 9, 12, 21, and 42 stopping on Walnut St. The SEPTA subway stop is at 19th and Market Sts., two blocks north of the square.
Rittenhouse Square is one of the city’s five original squares, part of William Penn’s plan for a “greene country town.” It’s a popular meeting place for locals, offering greenery and great people-watching, and is the site of an annual art fair, weekly farmers’ markets, and occasional concerts. In 2010, the American Planning Association put Rittenhouse on its list of the top 10 Great Public Spaces in the United States.
That’s ironic, as in the 1700s, Southwest Square was a popular pasture for livestock and for dumping “night soils.” It was cleaned up and renamed in honor of astronomer David Rittenhouse in 1825. This walk highlights the square, its art, and the surrounding upscale residential neighborhood.
Begin at South 18th Street and Rittenhouse Square East. The nonprofit Philadelphia Art Alliance, at 251 S. 18th St., was founded in 1915 to present a variety of art forms in one venue. It presents up to 12 exhibitions a year.
Walk north on South 18th Street, with Rittenhouse Square to your left. The former Barclay Hotel, 237 S. 18th St., was considered the finest hotel in the city when it opened in 1929. It was converted to condominiums in 2005. Unit 14Aa 5,000-square-foot space with 5-plus bedrooms and 5.5 bathswas offered for sale in 2016 for $5.7 million. The monthly $4,000 fee covered extras such as doormen and a chauffeur-driven Mercedes S550.
Continue to the Curtis Institute of Music, which boasts that 30% of musicians playing with the country’s “big five” orchestras are alums. Other notable graduates include Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber. Curtis provides full-tuition, merit-based scholarships to all students.
Parc and Rouge are neighboring posh restaurants with prime park-side seating. Both have a Parisian air, which makes sense for Parc, a brasserie, but not Rouge, an American bistro known for its burger. Both restaurants draw visiting celebritiessuch as Denzel Washington and Justin Timberlakeand aspiring ones.
At Walnut Street, turn left. Cross South 18th Street and enter the park via the path on the left. The Evelyn Taylor Price Memorial Sundial, installed in 1947, honors a past president of the park-improvement association. One art historian called the piecewhich features two children holding up a sunflowera “poetical reminder of the fleeting joys of sunshine.”
Follow the diagonal path toward the park’s center, passing a sculpture called Giant Frog , which is... a giant frog. The next statue shows a lion crushing a serpent. This isyou guessed it Lion Crushing Serpent. A bronze cast of the original piece by Antoine-Louis Barye, which is in the Louvre, it is an allegory for the French Revolution, with the lion symbolizing the power of good and the serpent representing evil.
Turn right. Follow the path toward the fountain, passing a small guardhouse. Rising from the water is Paul Manship’s Duck Girl , a local favorite.
Walk to the back of the fountain to read the tribute to a founding member of the Rittenhouse Square Improvement Association. While this drinking fountain no longer works, the shell-shaped spouts are still a nice touch.
Continue on the path, going down four stairs and turning right at the first opportunity. Follow the bench-lined walkway to a clearing. On the right is a goat sculpture, Billy , a landmark for locals. Legend has it that rubbing its horns brings good luck. His tail, too, has been rubbed to a shine, although there’s no luck attached to that practice.
Follow the path to the right, walking toward Walnut Street. When four paths meet, go left toward the corner of Rittenhouse Square West and Walnut Street. Exit the square. The Church of the Holy Trinity dates to 1857 and is known for its stained glass, including five windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The bell tower rings on the hour. In the 1860s, the church’s rector wrote the lyrics to the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
Turn left on Rittenhouse Square West, with the park to your left. The Rittenhouse is a luxury hotel featuring La Croix restaurant, which hosts a weekly $60-per-person Sunday brunch that offers items such as whipped foie gras cannoli, carrot bread French toast, and Vietnamese beef broth with quail egg.
Continuing to the corner of the park, look left. These statues, Rittenhouse Square Dogs , are... dogs. They were donated in 1988 by friends of the late art collector Henry McIlhenny, whom Andy Warhol once called “the only person in Philadelphia with glamour.”
Cross Rittenhouse Square South and turn left, passing the Ethical Humanist Society, at 1906 Rittenhouse Square South. At South 19th Street turn right. Metropolitan Bakery is a local favorite known for its homemade granola and many bread varieties.
Turn left on Spruce Street. The Gothic Revival Temple Beth Zion–Beth Israel Synagogue was originally built to house a Methodist congregation but was repurposed in 1954. The renovations included installing new stained glass windows to represent important aspects of Jewish history and worship.
Continue to the now-commercial building at 1710 Spruce St., the former home of Harry K. Thaw. Thaw, an eccentric known to light his cigars with $5 bills, was heir to a Pittsburgh mine and railroad fortune. In 1906, he shot and killed architect Stanford White in New York. Thaw’s wife, actress Evelyn Nesbit, had dated White before their marriage. Thaw felt White had tainted Nesbit. The court case that followed was the original trial of the century. Thaw was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity. E. L. Doctorow included details of the case in his book Ragtime.
At South 17th Street, turn right. At Delancey Place (also called Delancey Street), one of the most beautiful streets in the city, turn right again. Plays and Players is one of the oldest professional theater companies in the country and is still active. Actor Kevin Bacon appeared onstage here as a child in 1974.
The private residence at 1827 Delancey Place, with a curved brick facade topped with an iron balcony, was built in 1861 and has a historic feel, but a 2016 real estate listing revealed it has some distinctly modern touches, including an elevator, a roof deck, and a working waterfall. It was listed for $2.8 million.
The house at 1836 Delancey Place was once occupied by Union General George Gordon Meade, who is best known for leading his troops to victory during 1863’s Battle of Gettysburg. This home was his reward for his service, and his name is still engraved above the door. He died here in 1872.
Cross South 19th Street. The Horace Jayne House was designed by Frank Furness. As one critic noted, the Victorian architect “pushed ugliness to the point where it almost turned to beauty” with this project. The National Register of Historic Places says it is a landmark house with elements that both anticipate the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and recall Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
Turn right (north) on South 19th Street. Turn left on Spruce Street. The Rafsnyder-Welsh House is a visual delightor nightmare, depending on your tastes. Built in 1855 as a flat-roofed, redbrick home like those surrounding it, the building was renovated in the late 1890s to add red sandstone and terra-cotta trim. Note the different window shapes and the off-center placement of both the entrance and the middle window on the third floor. The redesign inspired others on the block to remodel similarly.
Continue on Spruce Street. At South 20th Street turn left. Walk to Delancey Place and turn right. Unlike other area homes long ago converted to apartments, condos, or offices, the Civil War–era mansions here remain largely unchanged. The block, one of the city’s most picturesque, is also its most filmed residential swath, featured in at least five movies or TV shows. In 1983’s Trading Places , Dan Aykroyd’s wealthy character is said to live at 2014 Delancey Place. In a scene from 1999’s The Sixth Sense , the psychiatrist played by Bruce Willis stands before “his” house at 2006 Delancey Place.
The Rosenbach Museum and Library showcases the collections of Phillip and A.S.W. Rosenbach, dealers of rare books and manuscripts who lived here from 1926–1952. Among the 130,000 manuscripts, 30,000 rare books, and other items showcased are hundreds of letters written by Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the only known surviving copy of the 1773 edition of Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard Almanac , and Lewis Carroll’s own copy of Alice in Wonderland. The museum also has James Joyce’s handwritten manuscript of Ulysses and celebrates Joyce and his masterpiece each year on Bloomsday, June 16.
This tour ends here. The Fitler Square tour (page 42) picks up a few blocks away.
Table of Contents
- Independence National Park
- African American Philadelphia
- The Museum District: From Love Park to the Rocky Steps
- The Museum District: From the Art Museum to the Cathedral
- Rittenhouse Square
- Fitler Square and the Schuylkill River
- North Broad Street I: From City Hall to “Hummingbird Way”
- North Broad Street II: Temple University and Urban Renewal
- South Broad Street I: From Navy Yard to City Hall
- South Broad Street II: From the Avenue of the Arts to Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park
- Market Street East: The Gayborhood and Reading Terminal Market
- Market Street West: City Hall and the Skyscrapers
- Center City
- Along the Delaware River
- Old City
- Society Hill
- Northern Liberties
- The River Wards: Kensington and Fishtown
- Fairmount, the Neighborhood
- Antique Row, Jewelers Row, and Rittenhouse Row
- Headhouse Square, Fabric Row, and South Street
- South Philadelphia I
- South Philadelphia II
- West Philadelphia I: University City, The Woodlands, and Clark Park
- West Philadelphia II: 30th Street Station, Drexel University,and More
- Mount Airy and Wissahickon Valley Park
- Fairmount Park
Appendix 1: Walks by Theme
Appendix 2: Points of Interest
About the Author and Photographer