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It’s easy to find the respite of nature in Philadelphia.
The city’s rich green backdrop of incredible parks and open spaces began with its founding 300 years ago. William Penn was so inspired by the eastern hardwood forest that greeted him in the New World that he named his colony Penn’s Woods, or Pennsylvania. Another Penn gem, Philadelphia’s five main squares date back to the original city — all part of the founder’s plan for a “greene countrie town.”
Today, the city blooms with lively urban parks and re-imagined recreational landscapes giving it a city-in-a-park feel. Residents and visitors enjoy relaxing, picnicking and playing in these public spaces that honor Penn’s vision, including the massive trail systems of Fairmount Park and Wissahickon Valley Park as well as the delightful riverside enclaves of Race Street Pier and the seasonal Spruce Street Harbor Park.
For even more parks, playgrounds and public spaces, check out the guides from the City of Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation and the Fairmount Park Conservancy.
Read on for our picks for the best parks and open spaces in Philadelphia.
Redesigned in 2014, City Hall’s popular western-facing front yard is a modern and welcoming outdoor space, reestablishing William Penn’s original Center Square as a gathering place for all Philadelphians. The multi-use space has tree groves, benches, two cafes and a large programmable fountain that transforms into an ice rink in the winter and a roller rink in the summer.
Where: Dilworth Park, 1 S. 15th Street
Since 2006, the former North East Publick Square has been a family haven, with acres of green space, a carousel, playgrounds, a food stand and a Philly-themed mini-golf course. Another major plus for the square: a seasonal daytime and nighttime water and light show starring one of the country’s oldest public fountains.
Where: Franklin Square, 200 N. 6th Street
This original public square is now four parks in one, centered around Swann Memorial Fountain in what’s now called Logan Circle. The centerpiece fountain, designed by Philadelphia-born sculptor Alexander Calder, represents the region’s major waterways: the Delaware, Schuylkill and Wissahickon. Beyond the circle, three parks encompass the larger square. The kid-friendly Sister Cities Park includes a Children’s Discovery Garden, boat pond, cafe and another fountain; Shakespeare Park across from the Free Library of Philadelphia is home to the Shakespeare Memorial (another Calder creation); and Aviator Park along 20th Street is home to two pieces of public art: the Aero Memorial World War I and All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers statues.
Where: Logan Square, 18th Street & Benjamin Franklin Parkway
William Penn and his wife Hannah Callowhill Penn likely never imagined how popular this green space — with its walkways, sculptures, fountains and reflecting pool — would become among strollers, readers, children, artists, picnickers and dogs. Craft fairs, farmers markets and other events shine a spotlight on the picturesque location all year.
Where: Rittenhouse Square, 210 W. Rittenhouse Square
Named Southeast Square in 1682, Washington Square was a grazing pasture and a burial ground for African Americans, Revolutionary War soldiers and victims of the 1793 yellow fever epidemic. It was also a gathering spot for colonial-era African Americans, who dubbed the park “Congo Square.” Today, modern residences surround the park, now home to the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier.
Where: Washington Square, 210 W. Washington Square
Fairmount Park offers more than 2,000 acres of space, which includes miles of designated trails, dozens of sculptures, two performing arts centers, the Philadelphia Zoo, Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center, historic mansions, the Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse, and renowned museums. Tip: Head to Belmont Plateau for awesome skyline views.
Where: Various locations, including Belmont Plateau, 1800 Belmont Mansion Drive
FDR Park’s fields, trails, lagoon, creek and lakes are nestled among the industry and neighborhoods of South Philly. The area is a bird-watcher’s paradise and boasts spaces for tennis, rugby and baseball. The park’s gazebo is a great place to set up a picnic lunch. Of special note is the FDR Skate Park, a public spot designed and built by local volunteer skateboarding enthusiasts; and “the meadow” or “South Philly Woodlands,” an open-exploration area on the site of a former golf course.
Where: FDR Park, 1500 Pattison Avenue
Before and during colonial times, city and kitchen gardens were planted alongside homes, while full-fledged farms thrived on the outskirts of the original city. Today, Philadelphia’s Historic District has pocket and large parks, including the green expanse that is Independence Mall. Independence National Historical Park invites visitors to its five gardens, each landscaped in the style of the day. Don’t miss these green spaces:
Where: Independence Mall, Chestnut Street & South Independence Mall East
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18th-Century Garden, 339 Walnut Street
Rose Garden, 422 Walnut Street
The Magnolia Garden, Locust Street between 4th Street and 5th Street
Rush Garden, 3rd & Walnut streets
Franklin Court, 322 Market Street
With nearly 1,000 acres and many species of native wildlife and plants, the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum protects the largest freshwater tidal marsh in Pennsylvania. The marsh, a key stop in the Atlantic flyway, is well-known among birdwatchers — 80-plus species nest here and 300 have been recorded. As for recreation, the network of low-lying trails (10 miles in all) attracts joggers as well as walkers, and there’s a boat ramp for canoe and kayak access.
Where: John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, 8601 Lindbergh Boulevard
Featuring 20 acres of parks, The Navy Yard complex is both visually stunning and fun to explore. The Central Green is an oasis for recreation, featuring a social track, fitness station and sun lawn, while Crescent Park is designed for quiet strolls and picnics. And don’t miss the Riverfront Greenway, a mile-long path along Admiral Peary Way with great views of the Delaware River.
Where: The Navy Yard, 4747 S. Broad Street
Named after the Lenni Lenape Indian word for slow-moving water, Pennypack Park follows Pennypack Creek southeast as it runs from Montgomery County to the Delaware River in Philadelphia. The landscape of this rambling city park — clocking in at a massive 1,600 acres — covers rolling hills, open meadows, and many miles of paved and unpaved trails that are great for hiking, biking, running and horseback riding. Visitors also find numerous historic buildings, including Pennypack Bridge, one of the nation’s oldest stone bridges.
Where: Pennypack Park, Rhawn Street & Holmehurst Avenue
With more than 50 miles of rugged trails, Wissahickon Valley Park’s thousands of acres are great for hiking, cycling and exploring. Wissahickon schist bedrock, sliced through centuries ago, has created steep hills punctuated by a creek, with paths for both climbers and horseback riders. Also on site: Philadelphia’s last covered bridge. Especially accessible is Forbidden Drive, a five-mile packed gravel trail with stunning views.
Where: Wissahickon Valley Park, Valley Green Road
Open summer and winter
In warm and cool weather, this seasonal space at the foot of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge draws crowds for outdoor roller-skating (summer) or ice-skating (winter), games (including an arcade), a lodge for lounging, and local eats and drinks galore. In winter, there are fire pits and cabins to rent. In summer, there’s a midway-inspired carnival featuring boardwalk games, a carousel and a Ferris wheel.
Where: Blue Cross RiverRink, 101 S. Columbus Boulevard
In the shadow of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the two-level Race Street Pier has multi-tiered seating and waterfront views for miles. Just next door, Cherry Street Pier is a 100-year-old indoor-outdoor space home to artist and maker spaces made out of shipping containers, community programming, a food truck or two, and plenty of plant life.
Where: Race Street Pier, Race Street & North Columbus Boulevard
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Cherry Street Pier, 121 N. Christopher Columbus Boulevard
According to legend, Pennsylvania founder William Penn signed his peace treaty with the local Lenape tribe under an elm tree just off the Delaware River in 1683. Though the tree fell in a storm in 1810, the city officially opened Penn Treaty Park on the surrounding land in 1894. Today, a statue of William Penn greets local picnickers and dog walkers, and throughout the year, people from all over the city come for special events and festivals.
Where: Penn Treaty Park, 1301 N. Beach Street
Riverside trails, a playground and a boat launch keep this 35-acre area of Philadelphia’s northern Delaware River bustling, while an expansive lawn on the waterfront makes a serene picnic spot. But the must-see part of Pleasant Hill Park is the Fish Hatchery, a 20th-century water feature where local fish species were once cultivated. The hatchery’s two ponds now serve as a space where young visitors can learn to fish.
Where: Pleasant Hill Park, Linden Avenue and Delaware Avenue
Open spring, summer and fall
This spring-into-fall destination attracts crowds with bocce and lawn games; tree-slung hammocks and colorful lights; floating barges with over-the-water seating; a boardwalk with a variety of food options; and a beer garden serving craft beers, draft cocktails and frozen beverages.
Where: Spruce Street Harbor Park, 301 S. Columbus Boulevard
Located on 50 acres along the Schuylkill River in Southwest Philadelphia, Bartram’s Garden is a free public park and National Historic Landmark. Named for Quaker farmer and botanist John Bartram (1699–1777), Bartram’s features a botanic garden and 18th-century estate, along with a reclaimed meadow, riverfront recreation trail, urban farm, natural tidal wetlands, a public dock for fishing and boating, and significant historic trees, including the oldest ginkgo tree in North America.
Where: Bartram's Garden, 5400 Lindbergh Boulevard
A 24-acre urban recreational area on the banks of the Schuylkill River, Penn Park includes bike trails, walkways, places for formal and informal athletics, and plenty of green space.
Where: Penn Park, 3000 Walnut Street
Spanning eight miles of riverfront winding through the heart of Philadelphia, Schuylkill Banks is open year-round for walking, jogging, cycling, picnics and dog-walking. Part of the Schuylkill River Trail, the park stretches along the Schuylkill River and links the western edge of Center City to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Fairmount Park and Kelly Drive. Schuylkill Banks offers outdoor movie screenings in the summer, while scenic cruises and kayak tours on the river take in various historic sites. Also available: fishing, kayaking and boating.
Where: Schuylkill Banks, 2501 Walnut Street
This elevated park, which debuted in 2015, sits 95 feet above the street and wows guests with skyline views and cool breezes. Cira Green is open year-round and hosts seasonal events. Visitors can grab burgers, fries, desserts and more from onsite restaurant Sunset Social (open seasonally), and elevators across from the entrance to the AKA University City hotel make the park easily accessible.
Where: Cira Green, 80 S. 30th Street
Established in 1895, this nine-acre West Philly park has an active natural amphitheater and a Saturday farmers’ market. Also on site: tall trees, playgrounds, a basketball court, and a center circle for games of chess and bocce.
Where: Clark Park, 4300-4398 Baltimore Avenue
Re-opened in May 2018 after a two-year, $26 million renovation, JFK Plaza — better known as LOVE Park — now features an updated fountain, benches and new greenery in the popular space. And the spiffed-up LOVE sculpture is once again the perfect backdrop for hundreds of photos each day.
Where: LOVE Park, 15th & Arch streets
A quarter-mile stretch of elevated tracks of the former Reading Railroad features plantings, artwork, seating areas and giant wooden swings. The Rail Park is the first phase of a plan to transform a three-mile section of abandoned elevated and below-street-level rail lines into green space where people can walk, bike, sit and admire the urban views. It’s part of an international movement to transform unused infrastructure into functional, beautiful, and accessible public space.
Where: The Rail Park, Broad and Noble streets to 11th and Callowhill streets
Book the Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package for a rewarding getaway in one of 2021’s top destinations, per Condé Nast Traveler, Fodor’s, Frommer’s, Esquire and more.
The exclusive deal — booked more than 175,000 times since 2001 — includes buy-one-get-one-free attraction tickets purchased at the Independence Visitor Center to 33 of Philly’s iconic museums and attractions and free hotel parking (worth up to $100 in Center City Philadelphia).
Where to hike, bike, ride a horse and head into the water...