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Philadelphia Phriday – Rittenhouse Square

by Suzanne Fluhr on March 9, 2013 · 80 comments

William Penn's 1683 Map of Philadelphia

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.

The Nanny Goat Statue in Rittenhouse Square is a Popular Hangout for Children

The Nanny Goat Statue in Rittenhouse Square is a Popular Hangout for Children

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.

Street Scene With 19th Century Homes Near Rittenhouse Square

Street Scene With 19th Century Homes Near Rittenhouse Square

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.

    Public Art and Rose Garden, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia

    Public Art and Rose Garden in Rittenhouse Square

  • 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.)

    Pool and Statue, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia

    Hanging Out at the Rittenhouse Square “Pool” On a Warm Summer Day

  • 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.

Gorilla Painting in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia

You Never Know What You Might Find in Rittenhouse Square

  • 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.

    Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, In Winter

    A Winter Day in Rittenhouse Square

  • It’s part of an interesting neighborhood to wander, full of 19th century distinguished homes. (Consider taking a walking tour).
Rittenhouse Square Philadelphia decorated for Christmas

Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square decked out in lights and by Mother Nature for the holidays.

  • 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.

    Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia

    Church of the Holy Trinity on an Early Spring Day, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia

  • 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.

    Spring's Flowering Trees on Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia

    Spring’s Flowering Trees on Rittenhouse Square

  • 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.

    Fall Colors on Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia

    Fall Colors on Rittenhouse Square

  • 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.

Have you had a chance to visit Philadelphia, William Penn’s City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection)? Did you visit Rittenhouse Square? Does Rittenhouse Square remind you of any other urban park you have happened upon in your travels? (Share your comments below with other Boomeresque readers).

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Steven Albelda March 10, 2013 at 3:09 pm

NIce overall description. A good way to start the neighborhood discussion


Billie March 10, 2013 at 4:23 pm

I couldn’t help but notice your references/comparisons to the Big City (i.e. Times Square, Broadway musicals, Julliard). Ironically, when I permanently left Philly to reside in New York, I made the reverse comparison: is there a park or square as charming as Rittenhouse in my new city? Finding Gramercy Park colored my decision to live in the area. For those who don’t know it, it’s a private park surrounded by a locked gate; keys are available to the square’s residents/institutions. The square around it is studded with gorgeous old apartment buildings (2 of which are said to be the oldest in NY), a mansion, a church, a 150 yr. old Quaker Meeting House (now a synagogue) that was a stop on the Underground Railroad, the Players Club and the National Arts Club. It’s smaller than Rittenhouse Square, but full of lush flowering bushes and trees, birdhouses, statues, a sun dial and more. The streets nearby are some of the most charming in NY, and because of the schist underground, are built shorter than many other neighborhoods, adding to the cozy feeling that you might find on quaint cobblestone Philadelphia streets.


Just One Boomer March 10, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Thanks for your very descriptive comment. Gramercy sounds lovely, but to me, part of the appeal of Rittenhouse Square is that it is everybody’s park — yes, even some homeless people — and the occasional gorilla. Having said that, the neighbors realize it’s a treasure and it is largely maintained and preserved largely by private philanthropy. I saw some gated pocket parks in London when we stayed in Kensington.


Roz Warren March 10, 2013 at 10:27 pm

I used to enjoy strolling my little boy around the Square after we’d taken Septa to Center City to visit Tom’s dad at work. Haven’t thought about (or strolled around) the Square in many years. Your post brought back many happy memories.


Suzanne (Just One Boomer) March 11, 2013 at 6:32 pm

You have an open invitation. How does that song go, “Call me, maybe.”? 😉 There are lots of little children playing in the square — and dogs.


Leslie in Portland, Oregon March 10, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I haven’t spent time in Philadelphia since the early 1970’s, and your vivid post about the Rittenhouse Square area makes me want to do so soon. Rittenhouse Square sounds like a wonderful place to live after downsizing from a home in the suburbs. Being on the cusp of downsizing (but not having actually committed to doing it now), I’d like to hear more about your downsizing process. I need some inspiration to get going on it, rather than continuing to roost (and work) in our large, comfortable home and garden with our happy dogs. (Our home is too expensive for us, if we ever want to cut back on work.)


Suzanne (Just One Boomer) March 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Thanks, Leslie. I’m glad this post brought back pleasant memories of Philly.

Downsizing might be a good idea for a blog post although I think everybody’s experience is probably different. It sounds as though you (and your dogs) enjoy your home and garden. I just felt like we were rattling around in our house and neither of us had any interest in gardening. When I would look around the house, I would see potential repair projects, not comfort. So, for me, the desire to move somewhere that needed less attention was present. For us, it was just a matter of not being consumed by inertia and the dread of de-acquisitioning a 6 bedroom house with an attic and basement. When someone basically called me and said, “I want to buy your house”, that jump-started the process. The decision was immediately reinforced by an 18 inch snow, followed immediately by a 22 inch snow event. We had a driveway and a corner lot — an awful lot to shovel.


Tina Grau March 12, 2013 at 12:08 am

Rittenhouse Square is the subject/setting/title of a 2004 documentary by Robert Downey (not Jr.). I saw it at the Roxy, just off the Square. Although I never lived in the area, for 25 years my job kept me nearby, so I enjoyed many walks and brown-bag lunches in the park.


Just One Boomer March 12, 2013 at 3:21 am

Thanks for your comment, Tina.

I too worked near the Square before our move to Center City, so I knew I wanted to see if we could find an apartment that would accept dogs near the Square. The Square has been really hopping the last few days with the warmer temperatures. Everybody (and their dogs) is out there!


Just One Boomer March 12, 2013 at 3:24 am

P.S.: They closed the Roxy Movie Theater a few months ago 🙁 The one thing we miss living in this area is that there are no very convenient movie theaters, but we walk all the way to 2nd Street (from 19th) to the Ritz and to the Rave Cinema in University City on 40th Street. It’s good exercise.


Kurt March 12, 2013 at 9:56 pm

I remember this stately neighborhood when I visited Philly last time. The park, restaurants and fountain , it is all coming back. The city is just amazing and it’s such a great showcase of what the early colonial America had to offer in terms of govt., education, technology and social progress and regress.

I spent some time in the Port of Philadelphia as well as the Magic Gardens in South Philly , both absolutely amazing.

Even visiting as a child in middle school it was my most memorable of all school trips. I have a thing for the Great American Experiment.


Just One Boomer March 12, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Thanks for your comment. I think your observation about the City displaying social “progress and regress” is spot on. It is still a great place to bring school age children. The “new” National Constitution Center is one of my favorites and, in my opinion, can be enjoyable and educational for children and adults.


Jon Jefferson March 13, 2013 at 12:06 am

Great neighborhood. I have only traveled through Pennsylvania. When time comes that I am able to travel more again, this would be a great place to explore I think.


Just One Boomer March 13, 2013 at 5:52 pm

You can’t go wrong visiting the Birthplace of the United States. Plenty to do and see.


Leora March 13, 2013 at 8:44 am

It looks like a charming place to live or visit. I owe a visit to a friend in Philadelphia – when we finally do make it there, you have given us more to see. The park might be a nice place for lunch. My biggest aim is to make it to the art museum – have not been there in far too long. And my daughter has never been to the art museum.


Just One Boomer March 13, 2013 at 5:38 pm

You can easily spend an entire day at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. They opened an entire new building across the street (the Perelman Building) and the Museum also encompasses the Rodin Museum (also on the Parkway) and two of the Fairmount Park mansions. There’s also no need to walk to Rittenhouse Square for lunch. The museum has a cafeteria type option for lunch and also a sit down restaurant that is good enough for a special occasion destination. They have now also instituted free audio guide pod casts. So, you can spend one day at the museum and another day shopping on Walnut Street, with lunch in (or around) Rittenhouse Square. As one of the City’s marketing slogans says, “Philly’s more fun when you sleep over.”


Pamela Dale March 13, 2013 at 3:47 pm

I have never been to Philly…but this is a great snapshot of such a beautiful city…love the gorilla…one day I will go to Rittenhouse Square.


Michelle (A Very Curious Wedding) March 13, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Being as I live in Yorkshire, England, the only time I have ever encountered Philadelphia is through TV, etc. You really have encapsulated the city in your words and pics (love the gorilla).


Just One Boomer March 14, 2013 at 10:33 am

On TV and in films, you usually see a grittier side of Philadelphia. Somtimes when you see NY City in films, it’s really Philadelphia. I hope you’ll get to visit us in person one day.


Just One Boomer March 13, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Pamela, it is beyond time for you to visit Philadelphia. We’ll leave the light on for you!


Adrienne March 14, 2013 at 3:42 am

My husband and I visited Philly two summers ago and took a tour bus through the city. I feel like we passed through Rittenhouse Square, but now I wish we’d taken an opportunity walk around the area. It’s beautiful!


Just One Boomer March 14, 2013 at 4:17 am

I also usually take a bus tour when I first arrive in a new city, preferably one where you can “hop off and hop on” at various sites. There is definitely a stop at Rittenhouse Square — next time 🙂 We hope you return.


Teresa March 16, 2013 at 7:05 am

We lived without a car for three years and LOVED it. Philly is awesome!


SizzleandZoom May 11, 2013 at 2:03 am

I have never been to Philadelphia. I would love to visit and take in this beautiful Square.


Suzanne Fluhr May 11, 2013 at 3:21 am

I hope you will have the chance to visit Philly some day. Having read your blog, I think you would enjoy the historical buildings here.


The Tablescaper May 12, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Such a great location, such a beautiful city.

Happy to have you at “Oh, the PLACES you’ve been!”

– The Tablescaper


Carole Terwilliger Meyers September 4, 2014 at 4:09 pm

What a great place to live! I love Rittenhouse Square, which I did visit once. Robert Downey, Sr. led a few writers on a tour, telling us about a documentary he had just completed on the park. Quite fun and memorable, it was. Have you seen it?


Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer) September 4, 2014 at 11:31 pm

Haven’t seen it nor heard of it. I’ll have to Google it


Donna Janke September 4, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Rittenhouse Square sounds like a great location. I’ve not been to Philadelphia, but will consider staying in this area should I get there.


Shelley September 4, 2014 at 9:52 pm

Rittenhouse Square looks like a great place to live! I love the painting gorilla 🙂 In less than a month we’re moving from the suburbs at the edge of the city to an inner city duplex, and I’m so looking forward to being able to walk instead of having to drive everywhere.


Neva @ Retire for the Fun of it September 5, 2014 at 1:01 am

I love the way you showed the different seasons in your photos. It shows what a wonderful area this is to walk around and enjoy the scenery. I can’t imagine what it would be like to never need a car and walk everywhere. Thanks for letting me tag along on your walk around the square.


Irene S. Levine September 5, 2014 at 10:01 am

Loved reading about your successful urban transition. But you are never home!!:-)


Arnie Jacobsen July 25, 2016 at 2:00 am

It looks like the perfect square to live on to me. I so miss living in the city and being able to walk to everything. Had hoped to visit your fair city as a Bernie delegate, but it was not to be.


Anita Oliver July 25, 2016 at 3:11 am

It sounds like your move from the suburbs to the “heart” of the city was preordained, Suzanne, and a perfect fit for you and Mr. Excitement. We’ll be watching highlights of the Democratic convention this week here in Portugal but one thing I can predict is that we’ll see a lot more “Brotherly Love” from your city than we saw last week from Cleveland.


Suzanne Fluhr July 25, 2016 at 3:21 am

Being able to walk most places is def5 one of the attractions of city living for me. PS: I hope you’re not Bernie or Bust.


Kay Dougherty July 25, 2016 at 8:54 am

I worked in Philadelphia for 3 years (while still living in Boston – long story) and the company’s offices were about 5 blocks from Rittenhouse Square. I always stayed in the area and loved it. I think it’d be a really nice place to live and as someone who used to live a happily carless life I envy that. Thanks for taking me on a walk down memory lane of a city and a park that I really enjoy (even if I will always think the BYOB thing is ridiculous)!


Janice Chung July 25, 2016 at 10:57 am

I wanted to read your post because in this month’s Travel and Leisure magazine, Rittenhouse Hotel was listed as one of America’s best. You picked such a lovely place to live. Love how they’ve retained the old architecture.


Suzanne Stavert July 25, 2016 at 3:29 pm

Beautiful post. I have never been to Philadelphia and I have enjoyed your Instagramming of the area. Your description makes it very appealing to me. I think its funny that you pointed out that Times Square isn’t square at all! Thank you for the virtual tour and all of the seasonal photos!


Anne Woodyard (@MusicandMarkets) July 25, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Such a tempting post – when we spent the weekend in your lovely city last month both my husband and I began talking about living in city center there rather than in the DC suburbs as we have for decades. It was a museum filled weekend (iso of Cezannes – loving and living part time in Aix as we do, he’s a favorite!) but our evenings found us on Rittenhouse Square – how cool to LIVE there!


Irene S. Levine July 27, 2016 at 8:05 am

I’m curious about whether the convention has overwhelmed the city….what is your sense?


Carole Terwilliger Meyers July 27, 2016 at 8:41 pm

Rittenhouse Square is a delight. I visited long ago and still remember it fondly. At that time there was an art exhibit taking place, which only seemed to enhance the loveliness.


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