Areas and suburbs in Philadelphia
The suburban nature of much of Philly makes it seem smaller than it is. Very much a city of neighbourhoods, the variety of options available in Philadelphia can seem overwhelming at first.
However, finding a good home in Philadelphia is far from impossible and after a bit of getting used to the city is easily navigable.
Center City, situated to the south of the city, is the heart of Philadelphia and still follows the grid plan laid out by William Penn, the city’s founder. This is where Penn’s statue stands atop City Hall and where the Liberty Bell is housed. Most of the region’s tourism is focused in Center City and it is where some of the city’s more expensive urban real estate is located. Luxury apartments, trendy lofts and, in certain neighbourhoods, row houses suitable for single professionals and families who prefer urban living are found here.
Most people who are family-focused and can afford it, choose to live in the affluent suburbs of North West Philadelphia which is informally called the Main Line. It is a historic, leafy and often luxurious region with a selection of houses, apartments and mansions suitable for family-oriented expats who want to escape the urban bustle.
Philadelphia offers much more than just this and there are many areas to choose from which serve a wide variety of needs. Below are just some of the most popular neighbourhoods in Philadelphia.
Suburban living in Philadelphia
Situated on the Main Line, Chestnut Hill used to be a popular summer getaway for Philadelphia’s upper classes and is still associated with affluence. While it is an official historic site, Chestnut Hill is deceptively modern. Public transport is easily accessed, infrastructure is good and shopping in Chestnut Hill is an experience not to be missed. If it can be afforded, Chestnut Hill is an ideal location for expats looking to move with their families, offering accommodation from modest row houses to expansive mansions. For its great schools, historic architecture, its small-town yet vibrant atmosphere and its proximity to the city, it is a fantastic area to put down roots.
Less than a 30-minute drive or a short trolley and El (Blue Line) ride away from Center City, the leafy suburb of Drexel Hill is known for being family friendly and offers housing from modest twin-homes to federal style housing. The neighbourhood prides itself on being the kind of community where everyone celebrates the Fourth of July together. With relatively low property prices as well as high-quality public and private schooling available, Drexel Hill offers great value for money to family-oriented expats.
People started moving in at the end of the 17th century and they continue to do so today. Only a 45-minute rush-hour drive north of Center City, or a half-hour train ride, Abington has all the perks of a Main Line suburb without being as expensive. Its schools have a reputation for excellence and it has been recognised as one of the best places to live in the USA. The Abington Memorial Hospital offers a high standard of care and is the area’s major employer. Abington contains a wide range of housing, from garden-style apartments to colonial-style family homes. In brief, it is the perfect area for expats who want somewhere to raise their families, with a bit more character than modern housing.
Situated 12 miles (19km) to the southwest of Center City, Swarthmore offers a peaceful, college town atmosphere that prides itself on diversity and tolerance. Anchored by Swarthmore College, it boasts the Crum Woods, a 300-acre arboretum, a downtown area with unique and independent shops and the community-owned Co-Op, which sells organic, locally grown food. Swarthmore’s old but well-maintained houses are characterised by their restrained but beautiful Arts and Crafts architecture and its public and private schools come highly recommended, with the local elementary school receiving an award from the US Department of Education for its standard of education. The only downside is the area’s steep property tax. If this can be managed though, staying in Swarthmore is worth it.
Urban living in Philadelphia
Extremely popular with young professionals and singles, Graduate Hospital has been gaining a reputation as an artistic community since the early 2000s and is home to trendy restaurants and some of the best bars in Philadelphia. Prices are moderately high, although it is worth it for Graduate Hospital’s proximity to the city’s attractions, its mix of old and new single-family homes, tree-lined streets and brownstone row houses. While crime is still a concern in this largely gentrified neighbourhood, it is generally much safer than other Philly neighbourhoods.
Fishtown is a burst of colour in the middle of an industrial landscape, offering the famous Philly row houses along narrow streets which surge with creative energy. Popular with young hipsters, new families, up-and-coming professionals and older residents who want a more authentic city experience, it makes up for its lack of retail and the occasional car break-in with a bustling cultural scene. Expats looking to move in with their families should, however, be advised that the local schooling is not of a high standard.
Sharing a blurry border with Fishtown but with clearly higher prices, Northern Liberties has traditionally been popular with arty types but, increasingly, more business professionals in Philadelphia are investing in the area's apartment complexes. Even with prices increasing due to demand, residents love the neighbourly atmosphere which, in the heart of the city, feels as if it belongs in a different time. It should be noted, however, that parking is a problem and expats considering moving to Northern Liberties with children are advised to search for schooling outside of the area.
Leafy, spacious and close to cultural landmarks such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Fairmount is popular with first-time buyers and offers a variety of options from classic Philadelphia townhouses to older, single-family homes. Expats who need to be close to the city but want what's best for their families would do well to consider Fairmount, as there are several good schools in the area and St Joseph’s Hospital is close by. Although its prices are fairly high, expats nonetheless pay for a piece of suburbia with the community spirit to match, a mere 10 minutes away from Center City.