To appreciate the grandeur of a city, drink in its skyline. If you are new to a city, taking in the skyline can be a wonderful introduction to the place. Even if you have visited before, or you live nearby the city, seeing the city’s skyline can rekindle your romance. Here are my top 8 places to view the Philadelphia skyline. Bonus: six are free!
Enjoying a city’s skyline can help orient you to a new place or let you get a new perspective on a city you already know well. You’ll find your own favorite view of the Philadelphia skyline, but here are my favorite spots.
View from Bridges
Philadelphia’s Center City is between two rivers, the Schuylkill on the west, and the mighty Delaware River on the east. Viewing the skyline from a bridge helps to appreciate commercial use of the rivers and why the city is located where it is.
South Street Bridge. To me, Philadelphia’s clustered skyline looks like the Emerald City, especially when viewed from the South Street bridge. From that bridge, the cars on the highway to your left and the Schuylkill River itself each put the sweeping view of the skyline into perspective. Gorgeous.
Ben Franklin Bridge lets you see the city from its east, looking over the wide Delaware River. You might see tugboats, pleasure boats, the sun glinting off the water – all backed by the Philly skyline. The better view is from the south pedestrian path of the bridge. From 5th & Race streets, you can walk or bike up to the middle of the bridge on the pedestrian path. It’s not too noisy because you are above the car traffic. The Ben Franklin Bridge is a mile long and can be a steep hike for little legs.
Spring Garden Bridge
Check out the Philadelphia skyline with the Schuylkill River below you and West Philly peeking out on the side (with the Philadelphia Art Museum just on your left), You can easily walk to the middle of the Spring Garden Bridge if you park by the Art Museum and walk over. Or park just over the bridge into West Philadelphia and walk back. This bridge is short and essentially flat, so it is an easy walk even for littler kids. There is traffic so this is not a place to linger. But a fun view – and free.
View from tall buildings
The newest spot to take in a gorgeous view of the Philadelphia downtown is the One Liberty Observation Deck, which opened in November 2015. Located at the top of one of Philly’s tallest buildings, this Observation Deck puts you smack dab in the middle of the skyline, in a big glass enclosed room with a 360 view of the city. This is the “view from the top,” where you can walk the perimeter of the glass room to check out the view to the north, south, west and east. You enter on the street level, take an elevator to the 57th Floor, and buy a $19 ticket for one visit ($14 for kids ages 3 – 11), or $26 for two visits over 48 hours, day or night ($20 for kids 3 – 11). Visiting at sunset would be especially pretty.
City Hall observation deck. City Hall is the ornate white cement building at the center of downtown, on the spot where Broad would meet Market. Until fairly recently, no building in the city was permitted to be higher than the statue of William Penn that tops City Hall.
Only four people are permitted on the elevator to the top of City Hall. So buy tickets early in the day to grab one of the limited chances to visit the top. This is a full 360 degree view of the city. But you’ll have only eight minutes to take it in.
Philadelphia could market this view better. As a transplanted New Yorker, I am charmed by Philadelphia’s failure to exploit commercial opportunities. In New York, a slick operator would sell sufficient tickets to form a line, give a canned spiel, and push souvenir trinkets to the captive audience. While I enjoyed speaking with the friendly volunteer who greeted the 4 of us on the elevator, my financially strapped adopted hometown could make more money from this tourist attraction by selling more tickets.
PSFS Building – 33rd Floor. You’re not exactly welcome to enter the Loew’s Hotel and jump on an elevator to the 33rd floor just to take in the view. But nobody stopped me. As you exit the elevator, turn right, look left, and drink in the view of skyscrapers to the west. You’ll see City Hall topped by the statue of William Penn, once the highest spot in the Philly skyline, now dwarfed by the higher adjacent buildings. Free, and it’s a great preview of what the view could be if you booked a hotel room.
View from a Distance
Belmont Plateau, located west of the Schuylkill Rive, is a section of Philadelphia’s gigantic Fairmount Park. From the huge green lawn at Belmont Plateau, the city’s skyline is off in the distance. This is a good spot for a picnic, kites, frisbee, or a stop after visiting the little kids’ museum (Please Touch Museum), or the Belmont Mansion Underground Railroad Museum, or The Japanese House and Garden, all located nearby. For more on the Japanese House, click here.
Philadelphia Museum of Art. Most people visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art for art, but I’ve sometimes gone for the view. From the top of the front steps of the Museum – the same steps Rocky ran up – you see the fountain on the Art Museum’s plaza and the city’s skyline in the background. And if you’re game, run up the steps – your reward can be the view (and the thrill of victory).
Getting a view of the Philadelphia skyline helps me rekindle my romance with my adopted hometown. Likely you’ll find your own favorite way to view Philly’s skyline.
Other Great Skyline Views
Like urban skylines? Click here for the best place take in the Seattle skyline and here for one way to view the New York City skyline from a boat. For more fun free things to do in Philadelphia, click here.
What is your favorite city skyline? Tell us about it in the comments.