My First Trip To Philly Was Met With Some Odd Responses
I had never been, and I heard that they had some pretty rad hostels in Philly. There were also rewards points for free flights burning a hole in my pocket, so I figure “what the hell!” Eight days in the city of brotherly love should be a nice change of pace.
But before I get in to how much of a good time I had, I have to rant a bit. As I got ready to leave home I asked three different people if they had any suggestions for my trip.
The overwhelming and unfortunate consensus consisted of answers like “Don’t go” or “Go somewhere else.”
Now here’s the thing. I know we all have our tales to tell and our history, but I found that pretty depressing. Not really for the city, but for the folks commenting. Really!? You can’t find good things that you like about a city? Or you’ve just decided that there’s nothing this place can possibly do to please you? It kind of sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy to me.
Spoiler alert: big cities are dirty. Deal with it. Philly is no different.
OK. I have to tell you something crazy: big cities are dirty. It’s the name of the game and kind of unavoidable when you have millions of people of all different backgrounds, income levels, and demographics kicking about. Philly is no different, but it definitely has plenty of shine to it.
My first impression, as I lugged my 30lb backpack/luggage around, was that Philly is just freaking neat. Cobblestone streets, some only wide enough for a horse and carriage from 200 years ago, brownstones, bronze statues, cemeteries; all intertwined with new, modern architecture. A fantastic mix of old and new.
And that’s coming from a guy that loves nature, hiking, and being out of the city.
From the Airport to Philly
Upon landing I milled about the airport a bit, called my uncle in Jersey, then found the SEPTA train station that would be my ticket to getting to downtown Philly. Pretty straightforward, but I was happy to find an actual SEPTA employee stationed at the platform, assertive enough to approach me and help me to make sure I knew what to do. Bravo to say the least. I paid my $6ish fair and was on my way. (That’s a flat fee for the airport train, which you can’t get covered in any day passes or anything, just FYI.)
Public Transit in Philly — SEPTA
Once I got to the city, I ended up buying an all-inclusive pass for the week for under $30.00, good on all trains, buses, trolleys, etc. Pretty darn good deal in the end, as I used it at least 2-3 times a day! Do yourself a favor and look at their options. The multi-day options are where it’s at if you’re visiting for a while!
Also, I was pleasantly surprised by the general cleanliness and safe feeling I had in most of the buses and trains. Of course, people still told me to watch it outside after dark on my own, but that’s common sense in any city in my opinion.
Philadelphia also has a bike share program for $15 a month that gets you unlimited 1-hour rides, which is super solid as well.
The city is entirely walkable, to the point that I was actually clocking about 5-10 miles a day in either direction when I headed out, even though I also used the public transit quite a few times a day. Now, when I say walkable, keep in mind that Philadelphia is old, so if you have trouble walking or any accessibility issues, it may be a bit slower and more difficult.
There were plenty of rideshares popping up all over the place, but I didn’t actually feel the need to use them. The trains, trolleys, and buses were just so easy to use with Google Maps that I didn’t see the need!
Cheap accommodations in Philly — hostels or bust
Now, you know I dig a good hostel, and hearing the Philly had two from Hostelling International within their limits seemed like gold.
They are two very different types of hostels though, each good for stroking different folks, or something like that.
The Chamounix Hostel — Philly
The first night I stayed at the Chamounix hostel on the outskirts. I took a bus from the city through West Philly (and kind of figured out why Will’s ma sent him all the way to Belaire…), to the top of Fairmont Park and hiked it about .8mi to the Chamounix hostel. Yeah, closest bus stop.
The hostel is this old mansion in the woods, which is pretty cool. But I would list this one on the more “rustic” hostels in my repertoire. With nothing really walkable (other than the park, really) and no public transit nearby, it’s really a place to go to chill for a couple days or, if you have a vehicle, a viable place to stay to go in and out of the city.
Although this hostel was pretty bare-bones and, um… minimal(?), it really does have a lot of charm and is worth a look. Staying at this hostel would definitely be easiest if you have a vehicle.
The Apple Hostel — Philly
So when I got into Philly I took a quick walk to the Apple Hostel. I was only supposed to stay for 3 nights, just enough time to check it out since I had some free time. It became quickly obvious that this was the place I wanted to be for most of the week. Changed my reservations and after one night in Chamonix, hunkered down here for the rest of my trip. This place boasts being ranked a top 5 hostel in the US for many years. To top it off, they had literally opened their new expansion space the week before I arrived.
I stayed in a 6 person male dorm the whole time, typically about 3/4+ full. The real awesome sauce about the Apple Hostel in Philly is the programming. It really brings together people from around the world, nightly, to congregate and get to know each other. From cheap or free ghost tours to free pasta dinners to wine and cheese night and more, it was fantastic. I sat one night after a free ghost tour drinking free beer with two new friends; one from Bogota Colombia and another from Vietnam. Awesome.
Free and cheap philly
So since you know I’m kind of a tightwad, I spent a lot of my time just walking around the city taking things in. With such a walkable landscape with really cool pockets of different ethnic backgrounds, anyone could spend a majority of the day just taking it all in. Among others, I explored the Harbor area, Little Italy, South Street, The GAYborhood, Fishtown, and so on. Here are some highlights you might want to look into.
The Philadelphia Harbor Park
Along the harbor, in the summer months, they set up dozens of free hammocks, set up food trucks, beer trucks, arcades, and all sorts of fun stuff to just go hang out and meddle in.
Little Italy, Philadelphia
Yeah, every major city seems to have one, and Philly is no different. Get your fill of raw meat hanging in windows, if that’s your thing, and grab a slice of pizza and just enjoy this unique little part of town.
The Reading Market
The Reading Market (pronounced like “redding”, not like you’re reading a book…) was a super rad market that’s been around forever. All sorts of amazing food and hustle and bustle. And neon signs as far as the eye can see! Last time I was this stoked about a market was Pike’s Market in Seattle. Check this market out!
The Barcade and the Badass Bike Shop in Fishtown, Philadelphia
Locate over in the “Fishtown” area, and really close to one another, there is one of the coolest bike shops I’ve ever been in. And the Barcade had easily the most impressive collection of vintage arcade games I’ve ever seen in one spot. If you’re lucky, the bookstore next to the Transport Cycles bike shop might actually be open too. I hear it’s a sight to see.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art area and Franklin Park
Although I didn’t actually go in the museum, I did pay homage to Rocky Balboa and walk the park areas, which are adorned with statues and beautiful landscaping.
The Rogue Gallery Bar & The Philly Cleveland Browns Backers
Well, you may have heard that if you’re looking for any other sports teams than PHILLY sports teams, you’ll be out of luck. As a die-hard Cleveland Indians and Browns fan, I have to say I agree. It was impossible to find an Indians game, even during the late days of their best in MLB history 22-game win streak. But I did finally find a place to watch my Brownies, along with dozens of other masochists donning their orange and brown. The Rogue Gallery Bar is just a downright cool bar to grab a beer at if you’re into those old, dark, oaky bars. Check it out.
Benjamin Franklin’s printing press
Although it obviously wasn’t the real press, the free Benjamin Franklin printing press exhibit on the actual grounds where he spent many of his days was pretty cool. If you’ve never seen an old-school crank press and hand-placed metal type, you definitely want to spend a few minutes here.
Roller skating in the Harbor
Yeah, there’s actually an outdoor roller skating rink in the summer which appropriately turns into an ice skating rink in the winter. Pretty cheap too, only a couple of bucks I think. I watch from a bird’s eye view from the landing above.
The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall
I didn’t actually go into these, as I’m just not a huge history buff, but I had some friends that said they’re worth the time. And they’re free, but you do need to get tickets as they’re on a timed and limited release system per day.
The Visit Philly Web Site
One thing I did find awesome was the GoPhilly.com visitors website. Seriously a great compendium of articles on the regular on what’s cheap, free, or seasonal in the Philadelphia area. You can spend hours over there getting more details on what I just touched on above.
Go Check Out Philly!
So here’s the takeaway. Philly was pretty rad! Regardless of whether big cities are your thang, you owe it to yourself to check out this old, historic gem in the good old US of A.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Travel Planning Tips
Figure out where you are going & how are you getting there…
I suggest using at least 2 to 3 different travel search sites. Start with Skyscanner or Orbitz or Booking …or whatever aggregator site you prefer. Then when you see what airlines to use, check their respective sites for better deals or rewards flights.
Figure out where you’re going to stay…
If you’re interested in hostels, search Hostelworld or Hostelling International. For longer-term or more private digs, look at Airbnb, VRBO, or you can look for hotel rooms in the links from the search engines listed above.
Get comprehensive travel insurance, or in the least, travel medical insurance if internationally…
Especially with Covid not going anywhere, get covered. Start with an insurance aggregator like Insure My Trip, or with SafetyWing, World Nomads, or another. Then decide what is important to you; trip cancellation, baggage coverage, medical, or all of the above. And get a yearly evacuation plan, since you’ll have to get home after your emergency!
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