William Penn’s 1683 Map of Philadelphia (Red Arrow Points to Southwest Square, Now Rittenhouse Square)
It’s no accident that I picked Rittenhouse Square for my first post about a Philadelphia neighborhood. Since 2010, it has been the focus of our urban lives. When we became empty nesters, I decided to downsize.I sold our “this old house” in a Philadelphia suburb and we moved to a dog friendly, 16 story 1925 apartment building on Rittenhouse Square, one of Center City’s most popular neighborhoods (sometimes referred to as Center City West). My husband, Mr. Excitement was skeptical about the move, but to me it seemed pre-ordained when someone offered to buy our house (which wasn’t for sale), for a fair price, with no mortgage contingency.
Happily, all of us (Mr. Excitement, I and our cockapoo, Dino) made seamless transitions to city living. Dr. Excitement loves being able to walk to work at the University of Pennsylvania; we can walk to restaurants, cafes, concerts and theaters; and I can run a somewhat more European style household, doing food shopping on foot at small stores or at the weekend Rittenhouse Square Farmer’s Market.
During our first year living on Rittenhouse Square, we rented a parking place for our one remaining car. After the year, we realized that we hardly ever used the car, so it now resides in Steve’s free parking lot at the University. If you are reasonably fit, you can walk anywhere in Center City Philadelphia and the area is well served by public transportation.
You’re probably not reading this so you can decide whether you want to live on Rittenhouse Square. You’re reading this to see if there are:
Reasons to Visit Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia
- It’s not like New York City’s Times Square. In fact, it’s more like the antithesis of Times Square. Times Square isn’t even square for goodness sake. Rittenhouse Square doesn’t have a speck of neon. It’s actually a one block square, charming urban park with trees, flowers (during the appropriate seasons), lawns, a pool with a little fountain, and quite a few statues, thanks to Philadelphia’s commitment to public art.
- It’s historic. The Rittenhouse Square Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was included as one of five parks in William Penn’s 1683 plan for the City of Philadelphia and was known as Southwest Square until 1825. (Surviving London’s 1665 bubonic plague outbreak and the Great London Fire of 1666, as did William Penn, can teach one the value of city planning that includes green space.)
- It’s a great place to people and dog watch. There are numerous benches donated by grateful and/or bereaved people. On a nice day you can buy a take out lunch at one of the many local food purveyors, sit on a bench and watch:
*the business people striding purposefully across the Square with their briefcases,
* bike couriers hanging out waiting for their next call,
*all manner of street musicians,
*little children with their nannies, parents or Baby Boomer grandparents, usually playing near the nanny goat statue,
*college age students sunning themselves on the grass (sometimes you might get a whiff of another type of grass),
*old guys playing chess,
*folks exercising in all sorts of ways,
*some unfortunate homeless people who may or may not be conversing with someone only they can see; and,
*if you’re really lucky — a gorilla painting.
- If it’s starting to drizzle, you can stake out a table at one of the three restaurants on the east side of the square with covered outdoor seating.
- It’s part of an interesting neighborhood to wander, full of 19th century distinguished homes. (Consider taking a walking tour).
- It’s actually a good area in which to make your home base during an overnight or multiple day visit to Philadelphia with quite a few hotels, a Bed and Breakfast Inn and many restaurants, a good many of which are B.Y.O.B. (In Pennsylvania, you have to buy most alcoholic beverages at stores run by the State unless a restaurant has a liquor license. There is a “State Store” open long hours seven days a week, a few blocks from the Square on Market Street near 20th Street).
- Rittenhouse Square is very conveniently located for most of the other “must see” places in Philadelphia. It’s a 20-25 minute walk to Independence Hall and colonial Philadelphia. It’s a similar length walk to the Pennsylvania Convention Center. It’s a 20 minute walk to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway where you can find Philadelphia’s major museums such as the new Barnes Foundation Museum, the Franklin Institute Science Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the Rodin Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
- The Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia’s Julliard) borders Rittenhouse Square, as does the historic mid-19th century Church of the Holy Trinity. Both often have free concerts. The Church has brown bag lunch free concerts every Wednesday from 12:30 to 1:30 P.M. and I enjoy listening to its carrilon every evening at 6:00 P.M. The Academy of Music and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts (home of the Philadelphia Orchestra) are also both within easy walking distance as are theaters, featuring everything from Broadway musicals, to avant garde plays to comedy.
- If you walk east from Rittenhouse Square along Walnut Street, you’ll be on Philly’s answer to Rodeo Drive, except that mixed in with the high end shopping emporiums are stores at lower price points.
- Rittenhouse Square often hosts outdoor art shows, concerts, and even, movies.
- They don’t roll up the sidewalks in the Rittenhouse Square District at 6:00 P.M. There are many people out and about at local restaurants and bars well towards midnight. Starting in the early spring and through the fall, many restaurants have outdoor seating which is usually bustling until late.
For general information to help you plan your visit to Philadelphia, use the official website of Philadelphia’s Destination Marketing Organization, Visit Philly and here is a specific link to their webpage about Rittenhouse Square.