Philadelphia is more of a collection of neighborhoods than a unified metropolis. Here are short descriptions of those that you're likely to find yourself in.
Bella Vista -- This is a vibrant section of South Philadelphia from South Street to Washington Avenue, 6th to 11th Street. The neighborhood includes the now-international Italian Market, many coffee shops, trattorias, and bakeries.
Center City -- In other places, this busiest section of town would be called "downtown." Borders on the east and west are Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, to the south and north, South Street and Vine Street. Neighborhoods within the general area of Center City: Old City, Society Hill, Rittenhouse Square, and Washington West.
Chestnut Hill -- This enclave of genteel city living centered on cobblestone upper Germantown Avenue is the highest point within city limits and is the place where the term "WASP" (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) was invented. It's filled with art and antiques galleries, shops, tearooms, and farmer's markets. Visit it at www.chestnuthillpa.com.
Chinatown -- Nowadays it's largely commercial rather than residential. Most visitors come for its dozens of good restaurants, a growing number of hotels, and cheap parking only 5 minutes from the convention center. Chinatown seems to stay awake all night.
Fairmount -- Also known as the art museum area, this neighborhood stretches north from Benjamin Franklin Parkway to Girard Avenue. Although it's largely residential, Fairmount also includes the Free Library, the Rodin Museum, Eastern State Penitentiary, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Germantown -- One of Philadelphia's oldest settlements, Germantown is northwest of Center City. This area was founded by German émigrés, attracted by Penn's religious tolerance. Outside of its wonderful historic mansions, however, it is not especially tourist-friendly now.
Manayunk -- This neighborhood, four miles up the Schuylkill River from Center City, has been gentrified over the last 20 years. Now boutiques, furniture and art galleries, and cafe/restaurants line Main Street, overlooking a 19th-century canal adjoining the river. It's a picturesque place for an afternoon stroll and an alfresco snack. Visit it virtually at www.manayunk.com.
Mount Airy -- Between Chestnut Hill and Germantown, this community is known for its pioneering diversity, beautifully mismatched houses, tree-lined streets, and independent shopping, dining, and entertainment. A great place for a Sunday drive.
Northern Liberties -- North of Old City, between the Delaware River and 6th Street, this developing area is home to both low-income housing and brand-new million-dollar lofts, and the artist-owned brownstones in between. Go here to see how hip bars and simple bistros are fueling the city's revival. For more information visit www.northernliberties.org.
Old City -- In the shadow of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge just north of Independence National Historical Park, this eclectic enclave blends 18th-century row houses, 19th-century warehouses, and 20th-century rehabs. Shopping and dining star here, and the first Friday of every month is a pleasantly packed neighborhood-wide party, with galleries and stores open late. Visit www.oldcitydistrict.org.
Queen Village -- Between Society Hill and South Philly, this leafy neighborhood of old houses (once known as Wiccaco, then Pennsport) is bounded by South Street to the north, Washington Avenue to the south, the Delaware to the east, and 6th Street to the west. There are lots of small, reasonably priced cafes and bistros here, as well as Fabric Row, South 4th Street between Bainbridge and Catharine streets, where you'll find old-time fabric and notions shops along with newer galleries, salons, and boutiques. For more information go to www.qvna.org.
Rittenhouse Square -- This beautifully landscaped park ringed by elegant condominiums built in the 1930s and historic mansions illustrates the elegance, wealth, and culture of Philadelphia. Now, sleek outdoor cafes and a luxury hotel line the park. From the Rittenhouse Hotel on a sunny day, walk through the square to Walnut Street, where the shopping rivals that of Boston and San Francisco for charm and sophistication. For more information go to www.rittenhouserow.org.
Society Hill -- This heart of reclaimed 18th-century Philadelphia is loosely defined by Walnut and Lombard streets and Front and 7th streets. Today, it's a fashionable section of the old city, just south of Independence National Historical Park, where you can stroll among restored Federal, Colonial, and Georgian homes -- even the contemporary, architecturally modern is interesting and immaculately maintained.
South Philadelphia -- It's Rocky Balboa meets artist lofts and authentic tacquerias. Three hundred years of immigration have made South Philadelphia the city's most colorful and ethnically diverse neighborhood, although the overwhelming feel is distinctly Italian (think 1910s Calabria). Stroll the gritty, redolent Italian Market at 9th and Christian, heading south, snacking on cheeses, cured meats, pastries, and tamales, on your way to the famously flashy cheesesteak stands at Passyunk and 9th streets.
South Street -- The street that divides Society Hill and Queen Village was the city limit in William Penn's day. The 1960s saw bohemian artists reclaiming this street in the name of peace and love; an eclectic teen scene has replaced the previous hippies. Quiet by day and cruised by night, it's a colorful spot for casual dining, drinking, shopping, gallery hopping, and getting pierced (or tattooed). The neighborhood's website is www.southstreet.com.
University City -- West Philadelphia was farmland until the University of Pennsylvania moved here from 9th and Chestnut streets in the 1870s. Wander through Penn's campus for Ivy League architecture that includes an 1895 college green modeled on Oxford and Cambridge, but with Dutch gables. Also nearby are the bustling campuses of Drexel University, University of the Sciences, Lincoln University Urban Center, and the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College.
Washington Square West -- "Wash West" extends from Washington Square Park at 6th and Walnut streets south to Lombard and west to Juniper Street. Still catching up to Rittenhouse or Society Hill, this quiet stretch includes Antique Row (Pine St.), the "Gayborhood," and a retail "Midtown Village" corridor along 13th Street.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.