8 Unique Philly Tours You’ll Actually Want to Take
From badass women to ghost signs, these tours offer eight very different ways to see (really see!) Philly.
Look, everybody loves a double-decker bus tour, and why not? It’s the greatest-hits album of the city: easy, breezy, covering all the biggies. But as any true fan can tell you, the lasting love comes from a deeper cut. For that, you’ve got a ton of choices.
PAGP’s Neighborhood Walking Tours
Take the neighborhood walking tours by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philly. Tour manager Vinni Cheng calls them “pocket tours” — detailed two-hour jaunts through some small, specific swath of Philly like, say, Queen Village, where you visit the state’s oldest church (Old Swedes’, circa 1698) and learn the vaguely violent way Carpenter Street’s Sparks Shot Tower got its name. Chinatown, Society Hill, the Frank Furness buildings … PAGP covers massive territory, pocket by pocket. Check their site for scheduling.
Hidden City Philadelphia Tours
Hidden City offers similarly niche tours, but with an emphasis on “changing the way local folks look at familiar places.” Maybe that means you explore the secrets of the subway, or Philly’s lost Jewish Quarter … or maybe you make the annual bike ride from Independence Hall to the Wissahickon for the “Hidden Geology” tour, which looks at the way 500-million-year-old rocks shaped the Philly we know today.
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Badass Women of Philly Tour
Speaking of hidden: In a city where founding fathers cast a long shadow, the Badass Women of Philly walking tour, offered by Beyond the Bell Tours, finally spotlights some fresh (female!) characters. From forgotten founding mother Hannah Callowhill Penn to Pride pioneer Barbara Gittings, these are stories you haven’t heard a million times — or ever.
Green Book Walking Tour
The same could be said of historic preservationist Faye Anderson’s Green Book walking tour, generally offered in the spring and fall. (Check Anderson’s site to stay in the loop.) Everyone associates the Green Book with the Jim Crow South, she says, but Philly was segregated, too. And Anderson, a walking treasure trove of stories, will lead you through a series of landmarks — the luxury hotels that did (and didn’t) allow Black guests, for instance, and the clubs where Philly-born Billie Holiday and Lee Morgan performed — while telling the tales that contextualize this sliver of Philly history.
Mural Arts Philadelphia Tours
Slightly better known are the Mural Arts tours, which are popular for a reason: The art scattered about our streetscapes hits different when you’re up close, on foot, hearing the stories behind the murals and the communities they represent and decorate. MA is always coming up with new tours, too, like the recently added Germantown route.
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Ghost Tour of Philadelphia
Another crowd-pleaser is the Ghost Tour of Philadelphia. Yup, seriously: Get over the spectacle of a cloaked guide leading by lantern light and you’ll enjoy a fascinating, sometimes grisly history lesson. (So many bad marriages in the 1700s!)
City Running Tours
If the walking part of all these walking tours feels too, er, pedestrian, try the guided City Running Tours, and jog your way along one of their intriguing routes. (South Philly landmarks! A craft beer trail! A circuit of Philly’s old, faded ghost signs!) They take all levels of runners.
Cara Schneider Bongiorno’s Philly Stories
But if you prefer to avoid physical exertion altogether, call Cara Schneider Bongiorno. The 22-year Visit Philly vet has a new gig telling stories of important but little-known Philly moments (ever heard about the Mischianza of 1778?) at public meetups and private events. Shoot her a note via LinkedIn for info on her next event or to bring this fascinating “tour” to you.
This guide contains additional reporting by Hannah Albertine and Laura Swartz.
Published as “150 Ways to Do Philly Like a Tourist: A Tour for Every Philadelphian” in the July 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.