The Best Green Spaces in Philadelphia

Philadelphia can be a hectic city, so make time to explore its green spaces
Philadelphia can be a hectic city, so make time to explore its green spaces | © Buddy Mays / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Christy Taylor
10 July 2020

Tired of the hustle and bustle? Philadelphia has a number of parks and green spaces to explore to help you shake off the stresses of city life.

Parks and green spaces are a unique opportunity for visitors of Philadelphia, as it gives them a chance to experience the city alongside the local residents. William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, was so impressed by the forest that he named the colony Sylvania (Latin for forests or woods), and later King Charles II changed it to Pennsylvania in his honor. Penn even named some of the streets with tree names. Today you can find reimagined spaces, such as the Rail Park and Cherry Street Pier, original main squares like Rittenhouse Square, or historical parks, namely Valley Forge Historical Park.

Valley Forge National Historical Park

Park
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Valley Forge was famously the 1777 encampment of the Continental Army under George Washington and is filled with historical structures and objects. Highlights include Washington’s Headquarters and Washington Memorial Chapel. There are 32km (20mi) of trails to traverse for hiking, biking and horseback riding. The Betzwood Picnic Area has grills for barbecuing and the Wayne’s Wood Picnic Area has an impressive backdrop of the US National Memorial Arch. Driving from downtown takes approximately 35 minutes. The visitor center is currently under renovation, the temporary facility is located in the parking lot. Valley Forge is open daily from 9am to 5pm, and until 6pm in summer.

Rittenhouse Square Park

Park
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At the hub of Center City lies Rittenhouse Square, one of the five original squares by city founder, William Penn. Reminiscent of New York’s Bryant Park, locals and visitors come to picnic, sunbathe, relax on benches or stroll among the trees. Scattered throughout the park are a number of bronze statues and the center plaza contains a reflecting pool, within which resides a whimsical bronze statue of a young girl carrying a duck under one arm. Different events occur throughout the year such as craft fairs, fine art shows, festivals and farmers markets. Surrounding the park are many fine-dining establishments, as well as luxury shopping.

Schuylkill Banks

Natural Feature
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On the east bank of the Schuylkill River between Locust Street to South Street, meanders the 610m-long (667yd) Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk. The 5m-wide (5.5yd), over-the-water path offers plenty of room for joggers, dog walkers and strollers. For sitting and appreciating the river view there are widened overlooks with benches. In summer what better way to enjoy the warm evenings than by watching a movie under the stars? Bring your blanket and snacks – movies start at sunset every Thursday at various spots along the Banks. Also available are kayak and riverboat tours.

LOVE Park

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Robert Indiana sculpture "LOVE" in John F. Kennedy Plaza, Philadelphia
Robert Indiana sculpture "LOVE" in John F. Kennedy Plaza, Philadelphia | © Matt Rourke/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The popular reason to stop by John F Kennedy Plaza, nicknamed LOVE Park, is to take a selfie in front of Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture. During the week, savor Lunch in LOVE, a rotating list of food trucks that take up residence in the park. Grab something delicious to munch on and cop a squat to people watch. If you’re lucky enough to be around during the holiday season, the park plays host to Philadelphia’s annual Christmas market, where you’ll find a collection of stalls selling anything from hot chocolate and raclette to Christmas decorations and handmade crafts. The park is found near City Hall at 15th and Arch Street.

The Rail Park

Park
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While still a small park compared to some, there are plans for expansion and the possibilities are endless. This elevated creative space, covered in either gravel or a wooden boardwalk, used to be the former Reading Railroad tracks. The 400m-long (1,312ft) stretch offers plenty of places to admire the views or sit amid the greenery and public art, culminating in giant wooden swings. The park is free and open every day from 7am to 10pm. It runs from 1300 Noble Street to 11th and Callowhill Street.

Cherry Street Pier

Architectural Landmark
Map View

While not a park, Cherry Street Pier is counted as a green space. This indoor-outdoor covered pier does have plenty of plant life, even trees, to make up for the lack of grass. In the garden you will also find food and drink sold out of historic trolley cars. The 100-year-old pier is also a mixed-use space with artists in residence working out of repurposed shipping containers, and on weekends locals sell goods and crafts in the main thoroughfare. Something to remember, while covered overhead, the space is open and does get cold in winter.

These recommendations were updated on July 10, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.