The Best Urban Parks & Green Spaces in Philadelphia
Plan some time out during your Philly trip to check out all the city’s wonderful green spaces and urban parks. William Penn designed 5 public squares including Washington Square which is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Because there are so many parks within the city boundaries, it’s super easy to escape to one whenever you need a break. From tranquil waterfront scenery, to ice rinks, to bike paths, to hiking, to gardens, and of course historical attractions, there’s a bit of something for everyone.
Below are a few great parks all located within the city limits. Most of these parks are easily accessible whether you will be exploring the foodie scene in Center City or the historical sights of Old City. Also, do not forget about the great hiking trails which lie in the massive parks located just minutes from downtown.
Although quite small, Rittenhouse Square is a beautiful place to take some time out. Whether your visit falls during the warm green spring and summer season, the brisk colorful autumn months, or the barren cold winter months, it’s always a scenic place to take a stroll. Picturesque views of the cityscape give the park a nice urban appeal. People watch, read a book, or simply enjoy the greenery, fountains, and art sculptures.
The Rittenhouse Square neighborhood is loaded with unique cafes, coffeeshops, and restaurants. Grab a cup of coffee and fresh homemade pastry from Bakeshop on 20th (their pop tarts are amazing!), conveniently located just a few blocks away. In terms of sit down dining, Parc offers delicious brunch fare in a beautiful dining room overlooking the park.
Race Street Pier
If you find yourself needing a little from break from the museums of Old City, head over to Race Street Pier located along the scenic Delaware River waterfront. There is a nice path here which is perfect for walking or jogging. Enjoy great views of the Benjamin Franklin bridge and city. During the summer months, the area is bustling with food vendors and always alive with events. Free Yoga on the Pier is a popular event which starts in April each year and continues on through November.
Delaware River trail at Penn Landing
While the Delaware Riverfront path is still being completed, sections of it are now open. The most scenic section travels about a half mile from Penn’s Landing to the Spirit of Philadelphia. Lots of unique birds call the waterfront home. Soak in a little sunshine and vitamin D and enjoy the fantastic views of the Benjamin Franklin bridge. During the winter season, be sure to check out the wonderful Riverrink at Penn’s Landing event featuring a gorgeous ice rink, cozy cabins, firepits with S’mores, and local hot cocoa.
Washington Square is one of the 5 public squares planned by William Penn. This Center City park is most famous for being home to the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier. Asides from the historical significance, it’s a lovely place to take a short break. Lots of greenery, fountains, and benches to enjoy the mild weather make this a popular summer destination. As it is located just minutes from Independence Hall, it works well as a nice break in between exploring museums.
Schuylkill River Trail
Philly’s most popular bike path was rated the best urban bike path by readers of USA Today. This multi use path is shared by cyclists, walkers, and runners alike and is one of the city’s most popular recreation destinations. The course currently runs 18 miles with plans to eventually extend the route to include 120 miles.
One of the most scenic sections of the trail conveniently begins near the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the Fairmount Park neighborhood. The 9 mile long Kelly Loop drive features tranquil views of the river, plus fabulous skyline views. Bonus – if you visit during the early springs months, you will get to enjoy views of colorful cherry blossom trees. It’s usually pretty crowded, so get out here early to ensure parking.
As one of the country’s most massive urban parks, there will never be a shortage of interesting things to do at Fairmount Park. Besides being home to many attractions including the oldest zoo in the country and the gorgeous Shofuso Japanese Garden, the park offers plenty of green space for hiking, biking, photography, and picnicking. Public art sculptures, gardens, historic mansions, disc golf courses, museums, and a wide range of annual events will give you plenty to look forward to.
Sometimes the best thing to do is simply to enjoy the natural surroundings. There are plenty of quiet trails to enjoy here. The Boxers Trail in East Fairmount Park is a tranquil woodsy trail named after the boxers who once trained here including Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Also check out the loop trail which starts near the Please Touch Museum in West Fairmount Park. This area is especially gorgeous in spring with all the cherry blossoms.
Wissahickon Valley Park
One of the best places to hike within the Philly limits is Wissahickon Valley Park, home to 50 miles of diverse trails. Featuring views of the Wissahickon Creek, this is one of the more motivating place to get in a workout. It’s easy to get in a few miles when surrounded by such natural beauty. Forbidden Drive is a popular 5 mile trail within the park which is popular with hikers and bikers. The trail is extremely scenic with plenty of greenery lining the entirety of the trek.
This park is so heavily treed and alive with the sights and sounds of nature, making it the perfect natural escape from the city. In fact, once you start hiking, you forget you are anywhere near a big city. Keep in mind that because this path is so popular with bikers it’s best to plan your visit on a quieter weekday.
From winter ice skating and holiday light shows, to summertime movies and fitness classes, Dilworth Park is a treat anytime of year. In the warmer months, you can take a seat at the outdoor cafe, enjoying the lovely green surroundings and fountain, all while enjoying local fare. Winter is the premier time to visit. Holiday light shows projected onto city hall, plus a real ice rink and a cozy cabin serving toasty drinks make this the most memorable time to plan your visit.
John F. Kennedy plaza is a small park in Center City home to the famous LOVE sculpture. Artist Robert Indiana was a well known figure in the pop art movement. This is one of the city’s most popular photo opps, next to the famous Rocky Statue at the Museum of Art. The city views are great from this little park. Additionally, numerous events are held here throughout the seasons, most notably Christmas Village, a German inspired holiday market.
John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge
One of Philly’s favorite birdwatching destinations is John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, located just 20 min north of Center City. This park features Tinicum marsh, the largest remaining freshwater tidal wetland in the state. A 3 mile loop trail will take you around a variety of gorgeous natural habitats. You will see a lot of birds, get in a healthy workout, and take in some fresh air and vitamin D – what better temporary escape from the busy city?