Dangers & Annoyances
Philadelphia has no more dangers than the average big American city.
- Homelessness is widespread, but people are rarely aggressive.
- Avoid walking alone in poorly-lit areas.
Philadelphia Pass (www.philadelphiapass.com) This pass covers admission to over 30 attractions as well as discounts on other sights, tours, shops and restaurants. To get the most out of it, however, you'll need to be sightseeing at a fairly fast pace. The pass is available for one (adult/child $59/44), two (adult/child $79/59), three (adult/child $89/69) and five ($109/89) consecutive days.
CityPASS (www.citypass.com) A good deal for families, this pass (adult/child $55/35) lasts nine days and covers access to the Franklin Institute, One Liberty Observation Deck and either the zoo or the Adventure Aquarium over in Camden. You can hop between each of the sites and others on Big Bus Company open-top buses, which are also covered by the pass.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Report police, medical and fire emergencies by dialing 911. Hotels frequently require an additional 9 to reach an outside line: dial 9, then wait for the dial tone, then 911.
- Smoking is banned in city-owned parks and in most bars and many restaurants.
- People tend to eat dinner early in Philadelphia.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
Wherever you fall on the gender/sexuality spectrum, Philly will open its arms to you. In 1965, four years before the Stonewall riots, Independence Hall was the site of one of the first gay-rights protests in US history. The area affectionately nicknamed the 'Gayborhood' may have been rebranded Midtown Village, but you'll still see plenty of rainbow flags and LGBT-friendly bars and business here.
A focal point of the Gayborhood is the William Way LGBT Community Center, on the side of which is painted the LGBT history mural Pride and Progress. Art shows, regular meet ups and support groups are held here.
Another place to plug into the local LGBT scene is the second-hand bookstore Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni's Room, which often holds author talks on the weekends.
The Mazzoni Center is a clinic and support center dedicated to meeting the health and wellness needs of Philly's LGBT community. Various events are hosted here through the year including the Transgender Week of Visibility at the end of March and Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference in early August.
Regular LGBT social events are organized by Our Night Out (https://www.facebook.com/OurNightOut), OUT in Fishtown (www.facebook.com/OUTinFishtown), OUT in Point Breeze (www.facebook.com/outpointbreeze) and QOTA (www.facebook.com/epaqota)
Pick up the free weekly publication Philadelphia Gay News (www.epgn.com/) at many venues around town.
- qFLIX This week-long LGBT film festival in March features screenings on a variety of queer themes at cinemas across town.
- Philadelphia Black Pride This April multi-day event aims to transform the lives of LGBT people of color. Join in the block and dance parties as well as other events.
- Philly Dyke March (www.facebook.com/philadelphiadykemarch) This rally and march through the city center is held in early June a day before Pride.
- Philly Pride A three-day festival in June. The big march is on Sunday starting in the Gayborhood at 13th and Locust and proceeding along a 1.5-mile route through Center City and the historic district to finish at the Great Plaza of Penn’s Landing.
- Fringe Festival There's always a queer edge to this week-long mid-September festival of performance art and creative craziness.
It’s expensive to get sick, crash a car or have things stolen from you in the USA. Make sure you have adequate coverage before arriving. To insure yourself for items that may be stolen from your car, consult your homeowner’s (or renter’s) insurance policy or consider investing in travel insurance.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Wi-fi is available nearly everywhere in restaurants, cafes, bookstores and, of course, hotels. If you need a computer, your hotel or hostel will often have one.
Alcohol The drinking age in Pennsylvania is 21 years and is strictly enforced in many bars in the city – expect to be asked for your ID if you look underage, and sometimes even if you don't. If you're an international visitor, this form of ID has to be your passport.
The blood-alcohol limit is 0.08%. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious offense, subject to stiff fines and even imprisonment.
Drugs Possession of illicit drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, heroin and hashish, is a felony potentially punishable by lengthy jail sentences.
In October 2014, Philadelphia decriminalized possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana. Civil fines were set at $25 for possession of up to 30 grams of flowers or 8 grams of hash/concentrate and $100 for smoking in public. For a full rundown of Pennsylvania's laws and penalties on drugs check www.phillynorml.org/resources/laws.
- Newspapers A daily paper of record Philadelphia Inquirer (www.philly.com) has good coverage of local, national and international news. Tabloid Philadelphia Daily News (http://phillydailynews.newspaperdirect.com) has a focus on sports and local news.
- Magazines Philadelphia Weekly (www.philadelphiaweekly.com) covers local news and issues plus listings for the coming week's events and happenings. Monthly lifestyle magazine Philadelphia (www.phillymag.com) has great in-depth features on the city and good listings for restaurants and other events. Published every three months, Time Out Philadelphia (www.timeout.com/philadelphia/news) is both an online resource and a free print magazine.
- TV The main TV channels are Channel 3 (CBS), Channel 6 (ABC), Channel 10 (NBC) and Channel 29 (FOX).
- Radio Tune into National Public Radio (NPR; WHYY 90.9 FM) or WXPN (88.5 FM), a popular local radio station operated out of World Cafe Live.
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are accepted at most hotels, restaurants and shops.
Tipping is not optional. Only withhold tips in cases of outrageously bad service.
- Airport & hotel porters $2 per bag, minimum per cart $5.
- Bartenders 15% to 20% per round; minimum per drink $1 for standard drinks, $2 per specialty cocktail.
- Housekeeping staff $2 to $5 per night.
- Restaurant servers 15% to 20%, unless a gratuity is already charged on the bill.
- Taxi drivers 10% to 15%, rounded up to the next dollar.
- Parking valets $2 to $5 when you’re handed back the keys.
Opening hours can vary throughout the year, sometimes widely, with most museums and many restaurants having longer hours in the summer (late May through early September) or on weekends.
Businesses 9am to 5pm; occasionally closed or have limited hours on Sundays.
Cafes Typically open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch.
Restaurants Hours vary; often fine-dining spots are open for dinner service only, from about 5pm to 10pm. Many close on Sundays and Mondays.
The US Postal Service (www.usps.com) is reliable and inexpensive. The postal rates for 1st-class mail within the USA are 50¢ for letters up to 1oz (21¢ for each additional ounce) and 35¢ for standard-size postcards.
International airmail rates are $1.15 for a 1oz letter or postcard.
B Free Franklin Post Office The working USPS office here honors Benjamin Franklin as the inventor of the postal system by stamping letters with Franklin's unique signature.
Banks, schools, offices and most shops close on the following holidays:
New Year’s Day January 1
Martin Luther King Jr Day Third Monday in January
Presidents’ Day Third Monday in February
Emancipation Day April 16
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
Independence Day July 4
Labor Day First Monday in September
Columbus Day Second Monday in October
Veterans Day November 11
Thanksgiving Day Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
Philadelphia is mostly, but not entirely, smoke-free in restaurants, bars and workplaces.
Taxes & Refunds
There's a 14% hotel tax (6% to the state, 8% to the city). There's an 8% general sales tax which also applies to restaurant and cafe bills. But there is no tax on groceries or on clothing – making Philly a good spot for fashion shopping.
Phone numbers within the US consist of a three-digit area code followed by a seven-digit local number. In Philadelphia, you will always dial 10 numbers: 1 + the three-digit area code + the seven-digit number.
International travelers can use local SIM cards in a smartphone provided it is unlocked. Alternatively, you can buy a cheap US phone and load it up with prepaid minutes.
Philadelphia is in the Eastern Standard Time (EST) zone – five hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (London) and three hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time (Los Angeles). The city also observes daylight-saving time: clocks go forward one hour from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November, when the clocks are turned back one hour.
Before setting out to explore the Independence National Historical Park note that most of the historic buildings do not have toilets; use the facilities at the Independence Visitor Center.
Travel with Children
Whatever age your kids are, Philadelphia is a very child-friendly city with tons of things to see and do as a family. A great resource is Mommy Poppins (https://mommypoppins.com)
- Franklin Institute
The reigning champion of interactive displays. Walk through a giant heart, ride a steam train, watch an IMAX movie.
- Independence National Historical Park
The National Park Service has a series of collector cards that children can earn by listing presidents or reciting what they've learned at each museum. Energetic learners can finish a day at the NPS historic sites with as many as 20 cards.
- Please Touch Museum
Giant toys allow kids to learn through play.
- Academy of Natural Sciences
Brave the dinosaurs, a roomful of live butterflies and dig for a fossil.
- Independence Seaport Museum
Everything you'd care to learn about the marine environment and boats, plus a historic US battleship and sub to explore.
Playgrounds & Animal Encounters
- Smith Memorial Playground
Historic playground and playhouse freely open to kids aged 10 or younger.
Home to nearly 1300 animals, including tigers and polar bears, housed in naturalistic habitats.
- Adventure Aquarium
One of the largest aquariums in the US is across the Delaware in Camden.
- Franklin Square
Part of William Penn's town plan, this square includes a carousel and a mini-golf course.
- Schuylkill Banks
The Markward Playground, which includes a seasonal outdoor pool, adjoins this riverside park.
- Eastern State Penitentiary
The audio tour around this crumbling and spooky old jail is packed with fascinating tales.
- Mütter Museum
Older kids will love the collection of 139 human skulls and the saponified body of the 'Soap Lady'.
- Paine's Park
Bring a skateboard and practice some tricks at this dedicated skatepark beside the Schuylkill River.
- Bartram's Garden
Have fun in kayaks and boats on the weekend.
- Battleship New Jersey
Crawl into a 16-inch gun turret on this mammoth Navy vessel on the Delaware.
- Simeone Automotive Foundation Museum
Best visited when they take some of their 65 historic racing sports cars out for a spin on their back lot.
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
There are always family-orientated tours and activities around the gallery.
- Barnes Foundation
Free entry for families on the first Sunday of the month.
- Expressive Hand
Paint on ready fired ceramic pieces or make your own mini mosaic.
- Philadelphia's Magic Gardens
Hands-on activities include making mosaic medallions and tile fridge magnets.
- Arden Theatre Co
Kids acting classes and theater productions for children and teens.
Travellers with Disabilities
Travelers with disabilities will find that Philadelphia offers standard United States access and accommodations in restaurants and hotels. Newer museums have been designed with accessibility in mind; however, some historic sites may have limited access due to the need for historic preservation.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
There are plenty of programs around the city looking for volunteers. Commitments can be as short as one day.
Serve Philadelphia (www.serve.phila.gov) A central hub featuring hundreds of volunteer opportunities throughout the Philadelphia region. Opportunities include education, literacy, housing and food-scarcity programs, as well as assisting immigrants and refugees.
The Food Trust (http://thefoodtrust.org) Help out a Night Market, volunteer weekly at a farmers market or spend time in their office supporting a program.
Philabundance (www.philabundance.org) Distributing more than 24 million pounds of food a year to those in need.
Treephilly (http://treephilly.org) Spend a day giving out free trees at the spring and fall events for this city-wide greening project.
Volunteering Untapped (https://vu-phl.org) On the second Saturday of every month from 10am to 1pm you can volunteer your time at a different program. It's always followed by social drinks at a nearby bar or cafe.