Downtown Philadelphia Survival Guide

Living in the downtown area of Philadelphia, or Center City, can be convenient but expensive. Rethink your transportation options to avoid the hassle of having to park and find ways to have fun without pulling out your wallet.

With its collection of diverse neighborhoods, from historic Old City to the up-and-coming Graduate Hospital area, downtown Philadelphia has a lot to offer. Pretty much everything you need — from supermarkets to coffee shops, dry cleaners to fancy restaurants — is within walking distance when you live downtown. While you’re enjoying the excitement of Center City, here are a few tips to adjust to downtown living.

Think Beyond a Car

Owning a car when you live in downtown Philadelphia is a hassle. While some places include a parking space in the rent or condo fee, others don’t. You can apply for a permit from the Philadelphia Parking Authority to park on the street in some neighborhoods, or rent a spot at a nearby parking garage.

A better option might be to ditch the car altogether and rely on your own two feet, mass-transit through SEPTA, and the occasional rental when you need to get out of town. SEPTA, or the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, offers two subway lines in the downtown area. Along with the subways, you can also hop on a bus or take a trolley out to West Philadelphia. For those times when you do need a car, an annual membership with rental providers like Zipcar or Enterprise CarShare allows you to rent a vehicle by the hour or the day. Car-sharing rentals include everything in the hourly rate, such as necessities like gas and insurance.

Have Fun on a Dime

Life in Center City can get pricey, but there are plenty of things you can do for free or nearly free. On the first Friday of each month, many art galleries open their doors from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., for example. On the first Sunday of each month and every Wednesday after 5 p.m., the Philadelphia Museum of Art offers pay-what-you-can admission. Museums operated by Independence National Historical Park also tend to offer free or low-price admission.

Downtown also has library branches from the tenth-largest library system in the United States — the Free Library of Philadelphia — which gives you access to a huge network of books, e-books, movies, and music, as well as community events.

Stay Safe

A lot of people unused to urban life might have worries about their safety. Much of downtown Philadelphia is quite safe, and crime is down in the city in 2013 compared to previous years. In fact, the FBI notes that crime in historical urban cores has been on the decline for years.

Still, as with any urban area, you should take a few basic precautions. Follow a few simple rules: Stick to well-lit areas with plenty of pedestrian traffic, don’t leave valuables in plain sight in your car, and don’t call attention to any fancy gadgets you have by waving them around when you’re out and about.

Beat the Heat in the Summer

Although the summer of 2013 was a relatively cool one for the city, with just 19 days of 90-degree or hotter weather (compared to the usual 24), Philadelphia is a heat island. When temperatures climb, your best option is to find a place that offers air conditioning, so you can avoid running up your own electric bill. Head to the library, the movie theater, or a shopping center such as the Shops at Liberty Place, to stay cool. The trees and shade at Rittenhouse Square can also provide some relief when it gets hot in the summer.

Downtown Philadelphia is a great place to call home. So stay cool, stay safe, and start enjoying all the city has to offer.

Image Source: Flickr

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