Old City

Old City

From the Benjamin Franklin Bridge approach down to Chestnut, from the Delaware River west to Sixth Street.

William Penn envisaged a beautiful waterfront for his city — something similar to the embankment in London, but this was not to be. The area early became a scene of great commercial activity, and wharves, warehouses, and taverns sprang up, as they have for centuries, in waterfront cities throughout the world. The district is thus one of the oldest and most historic in the city, for it was from the banks of the Delaware that Philadelphia grew westward toward the Schuylkill River.

There were dwellings here — Elfreth's Alley and Loxley Court attest to that — but they were modest homes in contrast to the larger ones to be seen in Society Hill. Perhaps, this is the reason for the 19th Century attitude toward those who were born or lived "North of Market." They were beyond the pale socially. However less socially acceptable and however less affluent these residents were, they were still craftspeople and artisans, a solid, sturdy lot, the backbone of the young colony and the even younger republic. Eventually the area became populated with industry, supplanting the goods of the craftspeople.

As the city's manufacturing center moved out of Philadelphia, Old City was left abandoned. In the 1960s, as Society Hill started attracting younger, more affluent residents, Old City benefited, too. Cheaper rents now again attracted artisans and craftspeople. The spacious 19th century buildings offered a perfect locale for contemporary art galleries and stores offering the fine crafts of this new population — particularly furniture. Today, Old City is home to more than 30 galleries (many are listed in our Where to Shop page).

  • On the first Friday of each month, from October to June, the galleries stay open late, and the neighborhood throngs with artists, musicians and craftspeople, indoors and out, while art-lovers sip wine and nibble on hors d'oeuvres. First Fridays in old city are a lot of fun.

  • Tourism information: Historic Sites on our Virtual Tour that are in Old City include:


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