Things to Do Along the Delaware River Waterfront
Your guide to the piers, trails, parks, and more along the water.
The city’s waterfront along the Delaware River is pretty happening these days, but it was a long time coming. Residents of a certain vintage have been on an emotional roller coaster, enduring dozens of announcements and architectural renderings of a future that either never came or came up short. (Remember the Skylink Aerial Tram that was supposed to connect Philly to Camden via cable cars 160 feet in the air? Was it all a dream?)
Now we’ve got a bunch gorgeously rehabbed piers, a couple decent festival spaces and some nice recreation trails. And the waterfront isn’t done, of course. There’s a $225-million plan in the works to finally plant a park over I-95 near Penn’s Landing and replace the Great Plaza with something less…brutalist. Will it definitely happen? We’ll see. The renderings are nice. The renderings are always nice.
So how can we take advantage of all the new additions that have become a reality (and will soon)? Here’s a guide to the attractions to help you get started.
Cherry Street Pier
121 N. Christopher Columbus Blvd., 215-923-0818
Once a rotting husk of bygone dreams, the handsome Cherry Street Pier has been turned into a year-round hive of activity hosting everything from farmers markets music performances to book readings. And then there’s the permanent beer garden, food vendors and artist studios.
Race Street Pier
Race Street & North Columbus Blvd., 215-922-2386
This lovely little tree-lined pier-park offers pleasant views of the river, the Ben Franklin Bridge, and Camden’s always transforming waterfront. Plus, you can find free outdoor yoga there nearly every day of the summer.
Washington Avenue Green
Washington Avenue and S. Christopher Columbus Blvd.
Accessible only by the South Trail recreation path, Washington Avenue Green may been the prettiest and most secluded of Philly’s pier-parks (for the time being, anyway). Enjoy a railing-free view of the river or climb to the two-story spiral staircase to nowhere for some perspective.
Pier 70 Blvd.
This under-sung little pier-park — situated at the far end of a South Philly parking lot between the Walmart and the Old Navy — offers a blissful respite from the trash-strewn, industrial greyscapes that surround it.
Graffiti Pier (coming 2024)
Pier 18 in Port Richmond
Trains once used this multi-tiered Port Richmond pier to dump Pennsylvania coal into cargo ships, but in more recent year it became a sublimely untamed art installation crawling with street artists, gawkers, Instagrammers, mosquitoes, and the occasional wastrel and ne’er-do-well. Graffiti Pier was glorious but more than a little dangerous, and the city could only turn a blind eye for so long. Now it’s fenced off and awaiting a (hopefully gentle) rehabilitation to reopen as a cleaner but still tag-worthy park.
Spruce Street Harbor Park
301 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd., 215-922-2386
Decked out with pretty lights and lots of hammocks, chairs and green spaces to lounge on, Spruce Street Harbor Park is a fine place to hang out with friends, do a little people watching and hear live music. Sip a beer, grab an impossible burger or some Crab Fries and chill with your fellow Philadelphians.
Summerfest / Winterfest
101 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd., 215-925-7465
The Riverrink is Spruce Street Harbor Park’s hyperactive cousin, but you don’t need to roller skate (in summer) or ice skate (in winter) to have a good time. It’s merely the center of a larger waterfront installation featuring a Ferris wheel, a beer garden, food, games and a busy schedule of special activities.
1 Riverside Dr., Camden, NJ, 888-967-7661
There’s probably a couple thousand wet critters to look at in this very kid-friendly aquarium in Camden — penguins, lobsters, jellyfish, turtles, pet-able sharks and sting rays, etc. — but my little nephew goes crazy for the hippos. Their names are Button and Genny and somehow they are much better than the hippos at the zoo. Plus, there’s beer.
1001 N. Delaware Ave., 877-477-3715
There aren’t as many late-night options in Philly as there used to be, but at least we still have Sugar House. We will always have Sugar House. The gleaming white compound on the No Libs waterfront offers, fancy and non-fancy food, plus drinks, slots, table games, poker tournaments, smoking and other things that are best enjoyed in moderation. There’s also a music venue on the premises, hosting shows by Alan Parsons, The Hooters, Sly & the Family Stone, etc.
Penn Treaty Park
1301 N Beach Street
Seven acres of greenery, located right on the waterfront in Fishtown. In addition to lots of (rare) wide-open space where you and your child (or dog) can roam, there are also picnic tables and playground equipment.
Delaware River Trail
Along the Delaware from Spring Garden Street to Ellen Street
Part of the ambitious East Coast Greenway project, the DRT keeps the pedestrians and pedalers separate for a safe, move-at-your-own-speed outdoor experience. One day all the recreation trails in America will be connected like some foot-powered neural network of people strolling, running, biking, walking their dogs, taking their pulse, taking pictures of squirrels, and so on.
The Music & Festival Venues
Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing
101 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd., 215-629-3200
The Great Plaza’s days are numbered, but for now the concrete gathering space is the only music and festival venue along the Pennsylvania side of the river. (R.I.P. Festival Pier.) Occasionally the Great Plaza hosts ticketed shows and events, but mostly it’s a gathering place for free jazz concerts, movie screenings and cultural festivals all summer long. On New Year’s Eve it’s a sweet spot to watch the fireworks.
1 Harbour Blvd., Camden, NJ, 856-365-1300
The occasionally re-branded open-air amphitheater just across the river in Camden is the biggest outdoor venue in the area, offer seats and lawn views of most of the major warm-weather tours and festivals. In addition to the usual rock, pop and hip-hop, the BB&T has become the go-to destination for big country music acts in the summer, include the Zac Brown Band, Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts and the Outlaw Music Festival. (Get there quickly and cheaply via the Riverlink Ferry.)