So, you’ve decided to move to Philadelphia? Good choice.
Philadelphia is a fresh, cosmopolitan city with nearly anything you could imagine to do, eat, visit, see and cheer for. It’s home to the most historic square mile in America, the most passionate sports fans in the nation, the top music scene on the East Coast and all the soft pretzels and hoagies you can eat. But it’s also a wonderful place to live, find your true career passion, discover the creative arts, be a carefree single or raise a family.
Philly really has something for everyone, from one of the most robust museum districts in the world (as the nation’s first UNESCO World Heritage City) to the largest urban park in the country to the best restaurant in America. It’s full of world-class universities, massive skyscrapers, bucolic trails, cozy bookstores, historic music clubs and brewpubs, pastoral dog parks, a diverse, friendly population and an “addi-tude” that rewards effort and hard work over celebrity, glitz and fame.
Now that you’re moving to Philadelphia, what is there to know to fit right into your adopted city like a real Philadelphian? Here’s everything you need to know to get started falling in love with Philly, besides where to find your favorite cheesesteak.
Philadelphia is the sixth-biggest city in the U.S. by population, and the center of the Delaware Valley, the eighth-largest metro area. It’s one of the oldest cities on the continent and played a major role in the Revolutionary War and is the spot where our nation was founded. It’s not just the Birthplace of America, it’s a city rich in arts, culture, cuisine, music, nightlife, outdoor life, sports, education and, of course, tourism.
It’s home to the nation’s first library, hospital, zoo, theater, university, art museum, bank, department store and taxi service. It was the first U.S. capital and is the originator of Mother’s Day, Girl Scout cookies, Black Friday, American Bandstand, Thanksgiving parades and the cheesesteak. It’s the city of William Penn and Princess Grace Kelly, Kevin Hart and Bradley Cooper, Hall & Oates and Will Smith, Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant.
The city was one of the nation’s three biggest cities as late as the mid-1950s, when the population began to shrink for the suburbs. But the city has seen a recent surge in population growth, and with it economic, financial, employment, housing, income and retail growth. Here are a few statistics for an overview of Philadelphia by the numbers.
- Population: 1,584,064
- Population density: 11,380 persons/square mile
- Median income: $46,116
- Average studio rent: $1,599
- Average one-bedroom rent: $2,146
- Average two-bedroom rent: $2,935
- Cost of living index: 110.4
Popular neighborhoods in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, more than 150 of them in fact. Most were formerly their own cities and boroughs before the 1854 Act of Consolidation. Because of this, every neighborhood has its own distinct feel, culture and style. Here are some of the most popular:
- Center City: As its name implies, this neighborhood is the heart of the city geographically, economically and culturally. It’s the area that runs from the Delaware to the Schuylkill Rivers and encompasses areas like Rittenhouse Square, Old City, Market East, the Museum District and Penn’s Landing. Most of what you think of when you think of Philadelphia — the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, the Rocky Steps, City Hall, the LOVE statue and William Penn’s five public squares — are found right here.
- Chestnut Hill: A pre-Revolutionary War getaway spot for Center City elites, Chestnut Hill in northwest Philly, is generally considered to be one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. Adjacent to the expansive Wissahickon Valley Park, charming Chestnut Hill is a bucolic residential-and-main-street hub for art galleries, boutique shopping, friendly pubs and quaint cafes along historic cobblestone avenues.
- University City: Named for the universities that grace the neighborhood — Penn, Drexel University and the University of the Sciences — University City sits just across the Schuylkill River from Center City Philadelphia. The area is home to a slew of trendy restaurants, green spaces, music venues, museums and the historic 30th Street Station transit hub. It’s also rising as Philly’s second downtown with several new skyscrapers and the massive new Schuylkill Yards and 30th Street Plaza master-planned development projects.
- Fishtown: Named for the fishermen who resided in its borders two hundred years ago, this quirky neighborhood is Philly’s center for hipsters and young professionals, artists, gig economists, tech start-up entrepreneurs and fashionable restauranteurs. Just off the Delaware River in North Philadelphia, Fishtown is a stylish neighborhood filled with art galleries and lofts, brewpubs, trendy eateries, co-working spaces, some of the city’s best music clubs and Pizzeria Beddia, named “Best Pizza in America.”
- Roxborough: Alongside Manayunk and East Falls, Roxborough is one of Northwest Philadelphia’s urban suburbs, an oasis from the city center with its own unique identity and charming main street. Easily accessible from Center City, Roxborough is a riverside exurb filled with parkland and bike paths, white-collar condos and apartments and its Ridge Avenue backbone, a corridor filled with trendy restaurants, boutique retail shops, coffee shops and taprooms.
Pros of moving to Philadelphia
Philadelphia wears a chip on its collective shoulder as a forgotten cousin to famous New York and successful Washington, and its reputation as blue-collar cheesesteak-eaters who like to boo at Eagles games. But the truth is Philly has so much to offer, from the East Coast’s best live music scene and award-winning restaurants and breweries to a plethora of trendy retail corridors and, yes, a passion for pro and college sports unlike any other city.
A list of the best things about the City of Brotherly love would stretch as long as Broad Street, but here are just three reasons why Philly will capture your heart.
It’s a city of museums
While Philadelphia may be best known for its role as the Birthplace of America, there’s much more to do and see in Philly than just the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross’ house and landmarks from 1776. There are incredible museums all over the city dedicated to art, science, culture and education.
Art lovers can gaze at works from every genre at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum or the Barnes Foundation. Science geeks can nerd out at the Franklin Institute and the Academy of Natural Sciences. History buffs can scope out archaeology and anthropology at the Penn Museum, nautical history at the Independence Seaport Museum or Fort Mifflin, America’s oldest active military base.
But there’s plenty of fun to be had, as well, at spots like Magic Gardens, Eastern State Penitentiary, the Mütter Museum’s medical oddities collection or even the Museum of Pizza Culture.
There are a ton of stunning parks
From the moment founder William Penn created his Five Great Public Squares as part of his “Greene Countrie Towne” city plan, Philadelphia has been a haven for lovers of parks, trails and green spaces. In fact, Philadelphia is home to the world’s largest urban park system.
Center to it all is the massive Fairmount Park, the largest park space in the city. Split by the Schuylkill River, Fairmount’s East Park offers miles of running and biking trails, a disc golf course and athletic fields along famed Boathouse Row, and the West Park features the Philadelphia Zoo, the Mann Center music amphitheater, pools and even winter sledding hills.
Not to be outdone, expansive Wissahickon Valley Park is a hub for mountain bikers, urban climbers, bird watchers and anglers, Pennypack Park has a full working farm and FDR Park contains a full 18-hole golf course and a world-famous skateboard park.
It’s surprisingly affordable
Philly is a big city and will always cost what it costs to live in a big city. But compared to similar cities and its northeast corridor neighbors, it’s downright cheap. Philly’s cost of living is nearly 20 percent cheaper than counterparts Boston and Washington and 30 percent less than New York. And among the top 75 cities, it ranks a reasonable 21st, cheaper than places like Denver, Austin and Miami. Even expenses like utilities and food are right around the national average.
Those inexpensive numbers are reflected in housing, as well. Philadelphia comes in just 13 percent above the national index for housing prices, better than places like Phoenix, Portland or Dallas. And for apartment renters, Philly — the sixth-largest city — overachieves as just the 17th most-pricey rental city in America, more affordable than spots like Seattle, Sacramento and Oakland.
Cons of moving to Philadelphia
Philadelphia is just about perfect. Well, maybe not. But the positives certainly outweigh the negatives. But to be sure, there are negatives — and we’re not just talking about the latest Flyers collapse.
The weather can be brutal at times, both during the summer and winter. Concert tours sometimes skip Philly in favor of New York. Trash pickup can be inconsistent. School quality varies wildly by neighborhood. The economy is too wrapped up in “meds and eds.” And the unofficial city flower is the orange traffic cone.
Sure, every big city has its good and its bad, but here are a few that you should know about.
If you want to commute by car, expect frustration
SEPTA, Philly’s transit authority, runs a broad and extensive network of elevated trains, subways, buses, light rail lines and trollies that reach most parts of the city. But if you require a car, things get a little bumpier. During rush hours, the main arteries into and around the city — Interstate 95 and the Schuylkill, Vine and Roosevelt Expressways — can be nightmares. The average commute time is a balmy 51 minutes per trip, and Philadelphians spend 62 hours a year just sitting in non-moving traffic.
And even once you get to your destination, finding parking can add significant time and expense to your commute. Parking in Philly can be confusing (get to know South Philly middle-of-street parking). There are nearly 3 million parking spaces in the city, but finding a spot can sometimes feel impossible. And to make matters worse, garage and lot prices are the third-worst in the world.
The taxes are high
It’s a sad truth in Philadelphia that people here pay more taxes than most Americans in big cities. In fact, it’s the fifth-worst city in the U.S. for local taxes, partly due to Philly’s city/county coterminous government, meaning Philly is collecting both the taxes of a city and a county.
Much of the tax strain comes from the city’s local wage tax which is, at nearly 4 percent, by far the highest in the nation and accounts for nearly half the city’s revenue. Property taxes are relatively low, but expectations are that they will rise due to poor municipal oversight.
And most controversially, the city’s first-in-the-nation sweetened beverage tax — a 1.5¢ per ounce tax on soda, ice tea, sports drinks, juice drinks and flavored water (to fund early education programs) — has driven up prices of sugary drinks while soda sales have fallen by 55 percent.
Philadelphia can be dangerous
Even for a big city, Philadelphia’s crime rate is troubling. The rates are up in many crimes in both the property and violent categories including retail theft, robbery and aggravated assault. Along with it, Philadelphia has seen an increase in firearms-related crime, such as theft involving a gun and homicide, much attributed to drug-related incidents and the opioid epidemic.
For better or worse, most violent crime has been concentrated in certain neighborhoods, including North Philly, Fairhill, Kensington and Southwest Philadelphia. But the city’s reputation for safety remains steady and better than places like Chicago, L.A. Miami and D.C. While still disconcerting, the city has seen a decrease in crime over the last decade and the trend is expected to continue with reforms under new District Attorney Larry Krasner, such as the elimination of cash bail.
How to get started on your move to Philadelphia
Are you ready to be one of the thousands that move to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection each year? When you do, you’ll be welcomed with open arms in whichever neighborhood you choose.
Whether you’re making the big move from the ‘burbs to the city, coming from elsewhere along the northeastern corridor for its charm and affordability, or traveling from across the country to experience art, culture, cheesesteaks and the Eagles, you’ll learn pretty quickly why Philly is the city that loves you back.
To help in moving to Philadelphia as you prep to head on out and start packing up your place, check out the Moving Center to get free quotes and more information about planning out your move to your new Philly home.
Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments. Data was pulled in September 2020 and goes back for one year. We use a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
Population and income numbers are from the U.S. Census Bureau. Cost of living data comes from the Council for Community and Economic Research.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.