From the moment William Penn, founder of the Colony of Pennsylvania, set aside Philadelphia’s Five Great Public Squares as part of his “Greene Countrie Towne” city plan, Philadelphia has been recognized for its amazing public green spaces and parks, large and small, urban and woodsy. Nearly every neighborhood contains an inviting, safe, inspiring public space. But what are some of the best?
Every discussion of Philadelphia parks must start with Fairmount Park, the largest space within the world’s largest urban park system.
Stretching from the Strawberry Mansion to the Spring Garden neighborhoods, the East Park half of Fairmount Park lies on the Schuylkill River’s east bank. This side features scenic running and biking trails that wind past historic sites such as The Philadelphia Museum of Art and Boathouse Row, with its famous light display, large plateaus near Brewerytown, which include the Sedgley Woods Disc Golf Course and Strawberry Green Driving Range and the vast Fairmount Park Athletic Field, where you can hop into a pickup hoops game or join an organized sports league. For a quieter outing, the recently renovated East Park Reservoir is one of the best bird-watching enclaves in the city.
Across the river, though still in Fairmount Park, the West Park runs from the Wynnefield neighborhood down to Mantua. Here you can take the kids to the first-in-the-nation Philadelphia Zoo, the Please Touch Museum or the John B. Kelly Pool right next door.
For a more adult excursion, take in a concert and an amazing view at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts or fling a Frisbee at the Edgely Ultimate Fields. In the winter, Philadelphians of all ages take to Belmont Plateau for the city’s best sledding hills.
For everything Fairmount Park has to offer, other city parks boast their own perks. The expansive Wissahickon Valley Park extends from Chestnut Hill through East Falls in North Philly. There you’ll find people on mountain bikes and on foot traveling the winding gravel paths of forested Forbidden Drive, youngsters learning while having fun at the Wissahickon Environmental Center Tree House and anglers casting into the trout-stocked Wissahickon Creek.
Running from Bustleton to the Delaware River in Northeast Philly’s Holmesburg section, Pennypack Park is a 1,300-acre wooded creekside hiking and biking oasis that provides nature programs at Pennypack Environmental Center, a full working farmstead with cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens at Friends of Fox Chase Farm, and King’s Highway Bridge, the oldest in-use stone bridge in America.
In extreme South Philly, you’ll find Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park, adjacent to the professional sports complex, which contains a full 18-hole golf course, a nationally-celebrated skateboard park and the Meadow Lake Gazebo, long a popular spot for wedding photos.
The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, a little farther south in Eastwick next to the Philadelphia International Airport, is a top hiking, canoeing and fishing spot within a stunning environmentally-protected tidal marsh.
Photo courtesy of Anastasia Navickas
If you prefer parks that feel part of the city rather than those that feel like you left the city, Philadelphia won’t disappoint.
Atop the Circa Centre South Garage in University City is Cira Green, a new rooftop greenspace boasting seasonal coffee carts, summer movies and some of the best views of downtown.
Named by Jetsetter Magazine as one of the “World’s Best Urban Beaches,” Spruce Street Harbor Park at Penn’s Landing is an eclectic recreational sanctuary along the Delaware River with seasonal food and beer trucks, a riverside boardwalk and a cluster of more than 50 cozy hammocks, which hang under spectacular LED lights strung amongst the trees.
From biking to basketball to bird-watching, Philadelphia’s city parks and green spaces offer unlimited means of escape from the bustle of urban life.