If you’ve seen Liberty Bell and had a cheesesteak, you’ve likely spent a day in Philadelphia. But beyond the tourist sites and skyscrapers lies a city of neighborhoods undergoing a cultural renaissance. Ditching its nickname as New York’s “sixth borough,” Philly now has a vibrant food and arts scene down south, a converted fisherman’s village up north and a dense commercial center. It’s also a city steeped in history, claiming several firsts for the nation.
“Neighborhoods and the communities they foster are still highly valued, and neighbors look out for each other,” said Philadelphian Kristen Hampton. “Also, this is a city full of history, cultural richness and some of the best food you’ll ever taste.”
For Hampton and others, the melding of old and new, monuments and mom-and-pops, makes the City of Brotherly Love an ideal place to live. Whether you’re a 50-year-old history buff, 20-something bar hopper or a mom of two, here are 10 reasons you should consider moving to Philly.
Affordable urban living
Philadelphia as a whole isn’t recovering as quickly as other real estate markets in the U.S. However, according to Zillow Director of Economic Research Dr. Svenja Gudell, home values in the area remain low, meaning it’s affordable for the average home buyer.
“Philadelphia home values are much lower than many other large metro areas of similar size,” she said. The median home value for the Philadelphia metro is currently $189,600, and home values are only expected to rise 1.1 percent over the next 12 months.
That said, low inventory is creating competition, with multiple offers driving up sale prices in Center City, according to local real estate agent Frank L. DeFazio of the CenterCityTeam. For this reason, he says buyers are looking at Philadelphia homes for sale in the surrounding urban neighborhoods.
“First-time home buyers have flocked to Pennsport, where new-construction homes with nice finishes sell for $350,000 to $450,000,” he said.
South Philly also has had a resurgence over the past seven years with up-and-coming chefs, new restaurants and bars popping up along East Passyunk Avenue, but home values have not skyrocketed as a result. The median South Philadelphia home value is currently $128,900, well below the national median of $162,100 as of August 2013.
For renters, DeFazio says South Philly is also an attractive option with cheaper rents and a 10- to 20-minute commute to Center City. The median rent in South Philly is $1,201, compared with $1,503 for the Philadelphia metro at large.
DeFazio also recommends the Art Museum District for renters. “With the addition of the Granary [Apartments], complete with a restaurant by Marc Vetri across from the Barnes Museum, [this area] is garnering a lot of attention from renters,” he said.
Families embracing the city again
Race riots, crime and bad schools are all part of Philadelphia’s 20th-century history, leading many families to the suburbs. Fortunately, however, Philadelphia isn’t the same city it was 50 years ago.
“Bella Vista has been the hot neighborhood for families for the past two years because you can get large homes with parking and outdoor space in the Meredith School District for a reasonable price,” DeFazio said. “These homes are close to Whole Foods and all the restaurants and bars on South Street.”
Philadelphia mom Beth Allen says the city’s great park systems and museums make it an ideal place for young families. She and her sons regularly visits Franklin Square, one of five original squares designed by William Penn.
You can live in a cool converted warehouse
Northeast of Center City, Fishtown has historically been a blue-collar, Irish Catholic neighborhood centered around shad fishing on the Delaware River. More recently, Fishtown has experienced urban growth with new art studios, restaurants and music venues in the area. Brooklyn is also bleeding into the Fisthtown culture with foodie transplants such as Fette Sau BBQ.
As a result, the neighborhood is no longer just a working town. What were once dead lots or abandoned warehouses have been converted into modern townhomes, as more Philadelphians make Fishtown their primary residence.
You can’t go wrong with a classic cheesesteak
Geno’s or Pat’s? For classic Philly cheesesteak lovers, this is the question. Geno’s Steaks, located at the intersection of Ninth Street and East Passyunk Avenue, was started by Joe Vento in 1966. With $6 in his pocket, Vento set out to sell steaks with simple ingredients: melted cheese, oven-baked bread and grilled onions. Today, several locals including Kelly Ruggeri claim Geno’s is the best place to get a cheesesteak in town.
But Geno’s wasn’t the first Philly cheesesteak sensation. Pat’s King of Steaks on Ninth and Wharton streets has been in business since 1930. The restaurant was a modest hot dog stand until Pat Olivieri decided to chop up some meat, dress it with onions and place it all on an Italian roll. Many natives consider Pat’s the original cheesesteak shop in Philadelphia.
Beyond Geno’s and Pat’s, locals are also flocking to new favorites including Philip’s Steaks on West Passyunk Avenue and Jim’s on South Street.
Ambitious chefs & exotic flavors
To limit the food scene to cheesesteaks, hoagies or pretzels, however, misses the city’s recent culinary growth. Food & Wine magazine said Passyunk Square “has fantastic restaurants like the elegant Fond, a terrific vintage store and the place to go for delicious limoncello.” What used to be a primarily Italian and Irish-American community has evolved into a true melting pot with Mexican and Vietnamese influences adding exotic flavors to local menus.
Beyond South Philly, the city has played host to several big names in the food industry including Italian-cooking master Marc Vetri, who owns Vetri, one of the most revered local restaurants. One of Vetri’s top chefs, Mike Solomonov, was named the Best Chef Mid-Atlantic by the James Beard Foundation in 2011. Solomonov is known for bringing Middle Eastern flavors to Philly with Zahav and for opening a Pennsport favorite, Federal Donuts.
And, you can’t visit Philadelphia without hearing about the award-winning Stephen Starr, who launched his career with a cabaret featuring the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, U2 and Bruce Springsteen. He now owns several restaurants in Philly and beyond.
“Top Chef” fan? Starr was a guest judge on the Restaurant Wars episode in Season 5. In Old City, you can also try “The Next Iron Chef” Season 2 champion Jose Garces’ signature Spanish tapas at Amada.
You really don’t need a car
What was once viewed as a problem is now a city’s asset: A lack of parking has made Philadelphia the fifth most walkable large city in the nation. It’s also transit friendly with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) providing buses, subways, rail lines and electric trolleys.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s University City, home to the University of Pennsylvania, is considered “biker’s paradise” with a Bike Score of 98/100. Rivaling cyclist-central Portland, OR, the city will have its own bike share program in 2014 providing access to bicycles for short-distance rides. Mayor Michael Nutter has reportedly committed $3 million of the city’s capital budget to the program.
Everyone likes to be first
If you live in Philly, you’re entitled to a few bragging rights. Not only was Philadelphia the birthplace of the nation, it’s also home to the country’s first botanical garden and where the U.S. Constitution was signed. The University of Pennsylvania was also the first American university to offer both undergraduate and graduate programs.
Open in 1874, the Philadelphia Zoo was the country’s first zoo. At that time, it cost only 25 cents to see 1,000 animals. Today, 42 acres house more than 1,300 animals, several of which are endangered species.
And for a non-textbook answer, Philadelphia resident Stephanie Doyle says the Wanamaker Organ is the city’s best kept historical secret. After being rejected from Civil War duty, John Wanamaker opened the nation’s first department store and pioneered the retail return policy. The building, now home to Macy’s, still stands, and its original pipe organ is used for a holiday light show every December.
Saving a buck is in
If being frugal is your thing, then Philly may be the place for you. Philadelphians are all about finding a good deal. Here are a few you won’t want to miss:
- Art. The Philadelphia Museum of Art offers “pay what you wish” admission on the first Sunday of the month and every Wednesday after 5 p.m.
- Drinks. Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB) restaurants are on the rise, allowing diners to save money on drinks. Local restaurant Will BYOB recommends buying your wine and spirits at 1237 S 11th St and your beer at The Bottle Shop at 1837 E Passyunk Ave before heading to the restaurant.
- Bowling. “3 for Tuesday” at South Philly’s PEP Bowl offers a $3 game special and $3 shoe rental from 5 p.m. to close. (You can also feel good knowing the money is going toward PEP’s mission of providing employment and services to people with developmental disabilities in the Philadelphia area.) If you live on the north end of town, you can try North Bowl’s happy hour offering games for $4.95 from 5-7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
- Theater. It costs only $3 to get into the Trocadero on Monday nights and you can put the money towards a drink. Landmark Theaters offers $7 tickets all day every Wednesday at its three Philadelphia locations: Ritz East, Ritz V and Ritz at the Bourse.
One of the world’s largest urban parks
Philadelphia has a municipal park system with 63 parks spanning 9,200 acres. The system is named after its first park, Fairmount Park, which is one of the largest landscaped urban parks with more than 4,100 acres of bike trails, waterfront and woodlands.
In 1876, the Centennial Exhibition — the first official World’s Fair — brought more than 10 million people to Fairmount Park.
You can channel your inner boxer
It’s hard to think about Philly without picturing Sylvester Stallone in the ring. The actor hit the big screen in 1975 as small-time boxer Rocky Balboa, who’s asked to fight heavyweight world champion Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers).
The iconic film series about an underdog rising to fame ended in 2006, however Rocky’s fictional apartment from “Rocky II” remains in Philadelphia’s Richmond neighborhood. The interior of the 3-bedroom, 1-bath row house was never shown on screen, but you may remember Mickey Goldmill, Rocky’s trainer, paying a visit for late-night training sessions. The home hit the market in March for $139,000.
Andrew Erace, Zillow senior manager of national accounts, contributed to research for this story.