Philly and the Great Outdoors!
Visiting a city sometimes means sacrificing your opportunity to experience nature -- luckily that just isn’t true of Philadelphia. When William Penn first began designing the layout of Philadelphia, he set out to make sure Philadelphia was a “green country town” by establishing five public squares: Rittenhouse, Franklin, Dilworth, Washington and Logan (each of these is quite unique and worth a visit if you’re close by).
Now all these years later, we’re not only a “green country town,” but we’re also considered “America’s Garden Capital” due to our high concentration of public gardens and arboreta.
Here are six of our favorite outdoor spots that combine a bit of Philly history with the great outdoors.
The Woodlands is a tranquil spot and National Historic Landmark that most locals don’t even know about. The Woodlands Estate is home to an 18th century “English Pleasure Garden” and mansion, a 19th century cemetery, and a “modern green oasis.”
If you’ve ever read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (or seen the Julia Roberts movie), you may be interested to know that one of her newer novels, The Signature of All Things, was inspired by her many visits to The Woodlands (here’s a blog she wrote about it for The Woodlands’ website).
Located in West Philadelphia, the Woodlands are easily accessible by trolley, and open to the public from dawn to dusk. Local Tip: While you’re in the neighborhood, consider visiting University City for something to eat and the chance to get the local feel.
John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge
The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge is America’s First Urban Refuge and was established in 1972 "for the purpose of preserving, restoring, and developing the natural area known as Tinicum Marsh.” Without a car, the refuge is difficult to get to because it’s located outside the city near the airport, but it’s definitely worth a visit for those who love the outdoors and want to completely get away from the concrete. Within the refuge, you’ll find more than 10 miles of trails to explore, including boardwalks through the marsh and a 4.5 mile segment of tidal marsh open to those with canoes and kayaks. For more information or help with planning your visit, check out their website here.
Franklin Square is one of the five original green spaces set up by William Penn and, by far, the most family friendly. Besides plenty of shady trees, you’ll discover a playground, a Philly themed miniature golf course, a historical fountain (the perfect backdrop for a family photo!), a burger shack with surprisingly well loved burgers, and the Parx Liberty Carousel honoring our city’s role in carousel history.
Local Tip: If burgers aren’t your thing, Chinatown is just a couple blocks away.
Waterworks and Boathouse Row
Just about everyone who comes to Philly knows to go to the Art Museum and “run the Rocky steps,” but most visitors never venture any further than the top of the steps -- don’t make this mistake. Located directly behind the Art Museum are some real treasures: the Art Museum’s Terraced Sculpture Garden (audio tour here), the Azalea Garden, the Treehouse in the Sky pavillion, and finally two of Philly’s iconic landmarks, Fairmount Waterworks and Boathouse Row.
The Waterworks was Philadelphia’s source for water for the most of the 1800s. Today the structure is home to many special events/weddings and an educational center, but it also provides a remarkable view of the Schuylkill River and Boathouse Row. After making your way down to the Waterworks, follow the trail along the right side of the river, and you will come across a dozen beautiful 19th century boat houses known as Boathouse Row. This is the hub of the area’s rowing community. At night, lights outline the homes and reflect upon the water providing one of the most beautiful views in Philly. To capture this view, you can take the trail across to the opposite side of the river or take it all in from the Waterworks balconies.
Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk and Rivertrail
Located along the Schuylkill River between the University of Pennsylvania and the Art Museum, lies the Schuylkill River Trail. Here you’ll find lots of benches and grassy spots perfect for picnicking, reading a book or enjoying the sunset. While the trail is really nice, be sure you don’t miss the boardwalk which jets out over the water and allows for a spectacular view of the Philly skyline. While it’s nice whatever time of day you visit, I personally enjoy strolling along the boardwalk just before sunset.
Local Tip: Keep your eye out for art installations. Two of note (on very opposite sides of the spectrum) are the Phillies history mural and the 9-11 Memorial.
The Waterfront has everything -- nature, history, and tons of entertainment. From spring to summer, you’ll find hammocks, floating beer gardens, paddle boats, row boats, outdoor movies, food trucks, and more at Spruce Street Harbor. At the Blue Cross RiverRink, you’ll find roller skating along with a midway carnival in the summer, and when the weather gets chilly, you’ll find ice skating and fireworks alongside a Winter Wonderland Village. Grassy spots are limited down here, but you’ll still find plenty of trees and many spots to sit and reflect by the river. If you’re into history, stop by Penn’s Landing where William Penn first landed in 1682, and then head over to see some of the historical war ships like the Cruiser OLYMPIA, the oldest steel warship afloat in the world and Submarine BECUNA a National Historical Landmark that served in World War II, the Cold War, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
We hope this helps with planning your Philadelphia trip. If you have any questions, just let us know. We are here to help. If you end up visiting any of these places, we'd love to hear about it! Enjoy your stay!SaveSave