The vibrant city of Philadelphia is a mecca of art, entertainment, gastronomy, business, innovation, and all around historic and modern cultural experience for visitors and locals. Being the sixth-most-populous city in the United States and one of the oldest towns in the country, Philadelphia is bound to have a wave of visitors looking to indulge in the city’s culture, art, entertainment, and gastronomy. However, the “City of Brotherly Love” is also ranked number six amongst the United States´ most expensive cities by the Economic Policy Journal. But don’t fear, you can still visit Philadelphia on a budget and get the most out of its attractions, food scene, culture, and heritage.
When to Visit
Most visitors come to Philadelphia during the months of May through August, when the weather is warmest and most of the city´s events take place. For instance, the Welcome America Festival takes place in June and is a great time without steep expenses. Or, the dance, theater, and music multi-week Fringe Festival in September also offers affordable events. Philadelphia is filled with events throughout the year that vary in cost from big artist´s concerts to events of all kinds that are free or very affordable. Check out an official agenda of the city here, because with so much to see and do Philly is a year-round destination.
Philadelphia is home to literally thousands of places to eat that range from food-trucks and street vendors of local delicacies like the famous Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich, to top-class restaurants that might break your bank account. For those traveling on a budget, Philadelphia offers a food scene that will not only satisfy your appetite, but also make your taste buds dance with joy together with your wallet. There are plenty of burger joints, steakhouses, and food trucks, like the ones in University City, that offer incredible meals for cheap. Spencer ETA Burger, Butcher & Singer Steakhouse and Dalessandro’s Steaks & Hoagies are all solid options. Other local deals can be found in bars and pubs. They are all over the city and most of them will get you a shot and a beer for $7. Or, indulge on oysters for a dollar. Philadelphia is perfect for eating on a budget and satisfying special cravings.
Visiting Philadelphia on a tight budget is no problem at all. The city has so many free and almost-free options that you´ll literally run out of time before you run out of things to do. For starters, make sure to visit Philadelphia’s Old City. Here you’ll run into neverending options to learn about the city, and the country’s, historic events, importance and heritage. The district offers 13 Once Upon A Nation Storytelling Benches featuring free, five-minute tales and secret stories told by costumed professional storytellers. Other options here include participating in crafting, listen to colonial-style music and meet Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Franklin, Deborah Franklin and George Washington. Don´t miss out on the opportunity to raise a flag with Betsy Ross and listen to political debates between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
Another fantastic option is to visit Elfreth’s Alley and Spruce Street Harbor Park. The first is the nation’s oldest continuously inhabited street with 18th-century style architecture. The second is the ultimate hangout spot with hammock lounges, a boardwalk, a beer garden, arcade games, and other fun activities at very affordable prices.
Continuing with the city tour, other free/cheap sites to visit include Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Witness where America was born and the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were signed. Fans of Gothic and American literature can indulge in the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, located where the writer lived and wrote stories such as “The Gold Bug” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”.
The fun never stops with visits to the Mummers Museum and Bartram’s 45-acre Garden. These sites offer a local perspective on traditions such as Philadelphia’s New Year’s tradition (since 1901) of satire and an opportunity to learn about the history of the Mummers. You can also get a thorough look at native plants of the Northeast, and a wide range of exotic plants in the garden.
As is obvious by now, Philadelphia has more than enough to offer for those traveling on a budget to have an amazing time, so plan ahead and include activities such as a Mural Mile Tour to admire some of the city´s 2,800 murals, or the Brewerytown Historic District for free brewery tours that include tastings, or Benjamin Franklin´s grave, the Rocky Statue, or one of the city’s haunted spots.
Transportation and Accommodations
Public transportation in Philadelphia is perfect for visitors looking to make the most out of their visit. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) offers an $8 one-day pass that’s good for eight rides on any bus, trolley or subway train, as well as a one-week TransPass for $24 that allows unlimited travel within a given zone. These are great options that can be complemented by using Cabs/Uber at night. When coming with a group, look into renting a car, or join Philadelphia´s active cycling community by renting a bike.
Hotels in the city center can get a bit expensive, but there are plenty of options for those looking to save some money on their sleeping arrangements. For instance, consider a hostel, an entire apartment, or even just a room to crash at night. With so much to do, you might only need a room.
By Diego Garzon
Diego is a writer by day and a reader by night. He is also the author of the first Screenwriting Manual in Spanish. He has been a creative consultant for television series and films. He lives with “the wife”, ”the dog”, and “the other dog”.