Philadelphia city guide
As far as sports atmospheres go, Philadelphia has one of the most unique among American cities. By “unique,” we mean what you see is what you get with Philadelphia sports fans. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, exposed for all to see, including the warts. This can be quite intimidating to outsiders, and is a large reason why Philadelphia has developed a reputation as having boorish, terrible fans.
We’re on record saying they’re not as bad as that, though, and as long as you don’t plan on parading through Lincoln Financial Field shoving your Giants gear in all the Eagles fans’ faces, you shouldn’t let reputation keep you from enjoying a few days seeing games in the City of Brotherly Love.
We at I-Fan have the added benefit of having lived in the Philadelphia region for several years, and witnessed the transformation from outdated (Veterans Stadium, the Spectrum) to brand-spankin’-new (Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field). The stadiums, as well as the rest of the city, can be a happening place to be if you know where to go.
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Philadelphia has made it easy on its sports fans by placing all of its professional sports venues (with the exception of soccer’s Talen Energy Stadium) in what it calls the Sports Complex in South Philly. And it’s been like this dating back to the 1960s, when the old Veterans Stadium and Spectrum (as well as John F. Kennedy Stadium, a track/football facility) were located across the street from each other at the revered intersection of Broad and Pattison streets. Those stadiums are gone now, their footprints used as parking and entertainment for patrons of the newer buildings as South Philly remains the center for all things sports.
• Citizens Bank Park: Home of the Phillies. Located on the north side of Pattison Street at South 11th Street.
• Lincoln Financial Field: Home of the Eagles. Located on the south side of Pattison Street at South 11th Street.
• Wells Fargo Center: Home of the Flyers and 76ers. Located on the south side of Pattison Street between Broad and 11th streets.
• Talen Energy Stadium: Home of the Union. Located at the intersection of Routes 322 and 291 in the suburb of Chester.
If Philly residents find the fact all their stadiums are in one place mighty convenient, so too should the traveler, because the international airport lies just across the Schuylkill River from the Sports Complex, with two major bridges (including Interstate 95) spanning the two locales. Philadelphia International Airport is an American Airlines hub.
If fares to PHL for your trip are too high for your liking, you can always consider the geography of the Eastern Seaboard — New York is two hours north by car/train, and Baltimore is 90 minutes south. Try flying into one of those cities instead and make it a true sports road trip, since it’s so easy to do.
If you do try this and travel into Philly by train, the city’s 30th Street Station is on the edge of Center City (folks in these parts don’t call it downtown) and serves as a major transit hub — from there most other parts of the city are accessible via SEPTA (stands for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority), including the Sports Complex.
If you’re coming in by car, chances are you’re on I-95, the East Coast’s lifeline. If you see signs for either the Ben Franklin or Walt Whitman bridges, you’re close to both Center City and the Sports Complex, but just take heed that you don’t wind up on either bridge or else you’ll be crossing into New Jersey and will need to pay toll to get back across the Delaware River.
Where to stay
Perhaps surprisingly, there are few hotels within walking distance of the Sports Complex. The one hotel within walking distance, the Holiday Inn just north of Citizens Bank Park, closed in 2019, with a larger hotel/casino complex slated to take its place. If there are no games going on, the area is mostly residential/industrial and pretty quiet, so it’s not really a place where a visitor would want to hang around without a local to guide them around.
Center City, about five miles to the north, is where most of the action in Philly is, and where most tourists stay because of the abundance of hotels. Many of them are located between City Hall (where Broad and Market streets converge to form one giant traffic circle) and the Independence Hall/Liberty Bell area at 6th and Market.
If you have a car and are looking to save on lodging rates, you could do a lot worse than the area around the airport, which boasts the closest bank of brand-name hotels to the Sports Complex.
SEPTA’s Broad Street line travels between Center City and the Sports Complex, its southern terminus being Pattison Street (so when the line ends, you know it’s time to get off). The station is called NRG Station in a nod to corporate sponsorship, but don’t let that confuse you too much. If you’re not staying anywhere near the Broad Street line, know that you have to get to it somehow in order to reach the Sports Complex — no other lines come close. That also means that no matter where you board (outside of the South Philly stops on the line), you will have to go through Center City.
Bus service is also plentiful along Broad Street, one of the city’s major thoroughfares, so it’s possible to reach the Sports Complex by bus (we can’t imagine it’s too efficient on crowded game days, though).
The Sports Complex also sits near the intersection of two main highways, Interstates 95 and 76, and depending on from which direction you’re approaching, Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field can’t be missed (try driving past the Linc on I-95 sometime — it looks like the stadium is practically hanging over the highway).
Talen Energy Stadium is about 5-6 miles south of the Sports Complex on Interstate 95 — follow it south to Route 322 toward the Commodore Barry Bridge. Again, though, exit at Route 291 and don’t get on the bridge lest you find yourself in Jersey.
The Sports Complex might be a bit removed from Center City, but the advantage of that is that there’s a sea of parking surrounding the stadiums. The lots for every venue are typically open for any event, meaning that, for example, you can park in the Wells Fargo Center lot for a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park. Gameday parking rates in any lot, as of 2018, was $40 for Eagles games at Lincoln Financial Field, and $18 for other events.
No trip to Philadelphia is complete without at least a stroll through and around Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center and the Constitution Center, all located on a three-block strip of land in the eastern part of Center City. Then, head to the western side of Center City, where you can find the famous “Love” sculpture (see photo at the top of this post) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, home of those steps some guy ran up in some movie.
Get your grub on
Most first-time visitors to Philadelphia seek out the cheesesteak, and rightfully so — there are many places to sample it, including the stadiums, but the epicenter of cheesesteak culture is the intersection of 9th and Passyunk in South Philly, not far from the Sports Complex. There you’ll find two of the most well-known (and rival) cheesesteak purveyors, Pat’s and Geno’s. Closer to the Sports Complex on Oregon and Front streets is Tony Luke’s, which also operates a stand at Citizens Bank Park.
If the cheesesteak is not your thing, head to Reading Terminal Market in Center City, a conglomeration of fine eating establishments that includes DiNic’s and its famous roast pork sandwich. Or venture into the Italian Market (9th Street north of Washington) for authentic Old World eateries.
South Street is well known as a happening area for Philadelphia nightlife, and is often a good place to spot athletes from the local teams. Rittenhouse Square, closer to City Hall, is also quite popular in the evenings but caters to a more affluent crowd. Manayunk is a little more off the beaten path but boasts its own hot spots for nightlife.
Philadelphia is considered a hub of college basketball thanks to its “Big 5” schools — La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova. Most games involving one of the teams is an event around town, and Penn’s home gym, the Palestra, is a building worth visiting in its own right. Speaking of Penn, the Penn Relays track event takes place every spring. If college football is your thing, Temple plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision and hosts home games at Lincoln Financial Field.
You can find minor-league sports in many of the surrounding cities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. One team, baseball’s Camden Riversharks, plays its home games directly across the Delaware River from central Philadelphia.