Getting Around Philadelphia – Of the Many Ways, Which Is the Best For You?

getting around Philadelphia

Market-Frankford Line / Blue Line / "the el" - 11th Street Station, from which you can walk underground to the Market East Regional Rail Station, also located at 11th and Market Streets

Added, Thursday, July 29, 2010...

There are many ways of getting around Philadelphia. And since you have a finite amount of time, which are the best ways, in order for you to see the most attractions and places to visit in Philadelphia? On this page, we’ll describe them for you, and provide you with a guide.

SEPTA, The Phlash, cabs, cars, and foot are all good ways of getting around Philadelphia, whether you are a local or a traveler to the city. But which method(s) are best, can be difficult to determine.

While this page is still very much under construction, here are some preliminary tips for making the best choices - and therefore, making the most of your visit to Philadelphia.

SEPTA is covered under its own page(s).

The Phlash

More to come on this page, so please check back...

Getting Around Philadelphia Via the Purple Phlash Trolley

The purple Phlash Trolley is awesome. Even if you're from Philadelphia, we'd recommend it for seeing the attractions. And if you're not from Philadelphia, our recommendation of the purple bus is even higher. The Phlash is easier to use, safer, less expensive and cumbersome, runs more frequently, and more easily serves virtually all of the major Philadelphia attractions than SEPTA. You can click on our dedicated Phlash page link at the top of the paragraph, to learn more.

That having been said - there are two major flaws to the Phlash. One is that it only runs from May 1 through Halloween; the other is that it doesn't run at night- it generally ceases operation, between 5:30 and 6 PM, depending on the stop. So if you are here during the other six months, and/or at night, you won't have access to it.

Also - although this is not a flaw, as it's designed as a bus for visitors - but it doesn't go everywhere in the city, only Center City and parts of Fairmount Park - and it doesn't even go everywhere in the tourist areas, either. So, you have to rely on SEPTA for those Philadelphia attractions.

Accordingly, let's turn to SEPTA.

Getting Around Philadelphia Via SEPTA

SEPTA offers a wide range of options, for traveling through the city and region.

Among other things, SEPTA has over 100 bus routes that will take you pretty much anywhere you'd like to go in the city, and some parts of the suburbs. However, SEPTA buses are slow and lumbering, especially in Center City, due to traffic, so especially if you're from out of town, you're - generally speaking - better off with its other, high-speed options.

The SEPTA Blue Line / Market-Frankford Line / "the el"

The SEPTA Blue Line / Market-Frankford Line / "the el" - which are all different names for the same SEPTA high-speed line - runs eastbound from 69th Street Terminal in West Philadelphia, to Frankford Terminal in Northeast Philadelphia.

However, for visitors to Philadelphia, you're likely only going to be interested in the middle stops (all but one are underground, where the Blue Line acts as a subway) from 34th Street (the University of Pennsylvania) through Spring Garden (the only above-ground one of interest to a visitor).

Those stops, in order, are 34th Street, 30th Street, 15th Street, 13th Street, 11th Street, 8th Street, 5th Street, and 2nd Street - all of which leave you at the intersection of a numbered street with Market Street, the major east-west thoroughfare. The Spring Garden stop, above ground, is located near Delaware Avenue and Spring Garden street, just above downtown.

The SEPTA Broad Street Subway / Orange Line

This line - the Broad Street Subway / Orange Line - runs like a spine, north/south, up and down Broad Street, ranging from Fern Rock at the top and Pattison Avenue at the bottom. For visitors, you'll only be interested in stops starting from Spring Garden in the north, and finishing with Pattison at the south (due to its proximity to the sporting venues in the Sports Complex in South Philadelphia.)

Getting Around Philadelphia Via SEPTA Regional Rail

Although SEPTA operates everything other than the Phlash, the SEPTA Regional Rail system has several key distinctions from all of the other SEPTA Lines.

Run by the SEPTA Regional Rail Division, it is slightly more expensive than the ordinary City Transit buses and lines - and it's totally worth it.

It's safer, especially at night (you almost never need to be concerned about safety on a Regional Rail train, regardless of the hour). It's more convenient, it keeps to its schedule more regularly, and perhaps most importantly - its employees are far more courteous (for the most part), to occasional riders and riders from out-of-town. They'll answer questions for you about where you need to go or whether you're on the right train.

If you are traveling into Philadelphia from one of the outlying city neighborhoods, or from the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Delaware suburbs, SEPTA Regional Rail is likely your best choice.

The three main Regional Rail stations are-

Market East Station - located at 11th and Market Streets, the closest one to the historic Philadelphia attractions.

Suburban Station - located at 16th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, the closest one to the many Benjamin Franklin Parkway attractions.

30th Street Station - which also serves as the primary Amtrak station in the region.

Getting Around Philadelphia By Car

If you are visiting from out of town, and are staying in Center City, odds are that your car will be more of a hassle than it's worth. Philadelphia's downtown is very compact - two square miles - and it's set up on an easy-to-navigate grid patterns, with numbered streets going north/south and tree/named streets going east/west.

However, if you want to venture out to many of the outlying neighborhoods, or to the many attractions in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs, a car is necessary.

The three main interstate highways that run through Philadelphia are Interstate 95 (I-95), Interstate-76 (I-76 - the Schuylkill Expressway), and Interstate-676 (I-676 - the Vine Street Expressway).

In the suburbs, there are also I-276 (the Pennsylvania Turnpike) and I-476 - which is universally, although unofficially, referred to as the "Blue Route". It isn't blue. The reason was that it was long planned, but never opened, and in the interim, it was represented by a blue line on the planning map - hence "Blue Route".

Getting Around Philadelphia by Taxicab

If you are traveling around Philadelphia's compact downtown, a cab will do nicely, as they won't be very expensive. In bad weather, or if it's late, and/or the Phlash and SEPTA have stopped running, they are particularly welcome.

However, if you want to venture out to Chestnut Hill or Manayunk from downtown, let's say - don't get a cab. Take SEPTA if you can, or perhaps only take the cab on your way back.

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