Tea Time in Philly

Three weeks into the semester and perhaps you are already thinking of escape. Thankfully, Swarthmore is half an hour away from Philadelphia, one of the biggest cities in the northeast. From parks to restaurants, Philly has plenty of spaces for college students to take a break from campus life. 

I present to you, my fellow desperate Swatties, some things to do in Philly that are not limited to pointing out the crack in the Liberty Bell or squinting at the William Penn statue on City Hall. 

This list is non-exhaustive and I have only included places that are easily accessible by public transport from Swarthmore. Many great neighborhoods in Philly, such as Manayunk and Germantown, are not as convenient to visit, but they may be worth a shot if you can drive or hitch a ride. 

The Four Squares 

There are four squares in Center City. If you imagine Center City as a rectangle, the four squares lie on its corners with City Hall sitting in the middle. The squares — Logan, Franklin, Rittenhouse, and Washington — are small picturesque parks with fountains, trees, flowers, and plenty of benches. They offer the perfect refuge for reading, picnicking, people-watching, and pigeon-chasing. If you’re adventurous, you can visit all four squares in the same day as they are all within walking distance of their immediate neighbor. 

River Waterfronts 

Two rivers, the Schuylkill and Delaware, run through Philly. Along the Schuylkill River is a grass-lined waterfront park where young people are often spotted lying in hammocks or on picnic blankets. 30th Street Station is located right next to the Schuylkill, making the Schuylkill waterfront an ideal location for watching the sunset before heading back to Swat on the Regional Rail. 

Going north on the Schuylkill River trail will take you to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the lovely sculpture and azalea gardens beyond. You may be interested in the Fairmount Water Works and its equally scenic neighbor, Boathouse Row. Taking a picture with these historical buildings can probably convince some of your non-Philly friends that you studied abroad in Europe. 

If you venture to the other side of Center City, the Delaware River awaits. While the weather is still warm, head to Spruce Street Harbor Park along the Delaware, where food trucks, bars, hanging lights, and outdoor performances are stationed throughout the summer until September 29. Colorful hammocks under the shade of trees are prime spots for napping, but be sure to snag them early in the day to beat the crowd. As night falls, look across the river and watch the lights of New Jersey gently reflecting off the water’s surface. 

Second-hand Stores 

What do you do once you have exhausted the Goodwill near campus? Fear not, because Philly has plenty of decent thrift stores. Philly Aids Thrift is a hip non-profit two-storied shop in the bustling South Street area. It is a collector’s heaven full of clothing, accessories, books, DVDs, furniture, and antique oddities. Proceeds are donated to local organizations fighting HIV/AIDS, a fact that conscious shoppers might appreciate. 

Two blocks from Philly Aids Thrift is Retrospect, a beloved vintage shop with a wide selection of clothing, accessories, and furniture. If nothing caught your eye at Philly Aids Thrift, you can probably find something else at Retrospect, making it really convenient to search for that elusive pair of mom jeans that accentuates your bubble butt. 

There are also consignment stores, such as Buffalo Exchange and Greene Street, that allow you to sell your used clothing if it is in good condition. These stores are worth a visit if you are hoping to revamp your wardrobe and make a little bit of cash. 


Swatties love their iced coffees, chai lattes, and when push comes to shove, scalding-hot espresso shots. When you can, treat yourself to something other than what they have at Kohlberg or Sci Coffee Bar. Some decent coffee chains in Philly are Good Karma Cafe, Sabrina’s, Green Eggs Cafe, Ultimo Coffee, and, of course, our favorite, Saxby’s. With the hype around La Colombe coffee at Sci, pop over to one of the three brick-and-mortar La Colombe cafes in Center City and take a nice big swig of their freshly made draft lattes. 


Philly has so much food that you will be spoilt for choice. From hole-in-the-wall stands and fast-casual spots to massive food markets and high-end restaurants, there is way too much to write about in a short article. 

South Street,  Reading Terminal Market, Chinatown, and University City are the go-to places for a satisfying meal. South Street and Reading Terminal Market both have Philly cheese steaks so you need not wait in line outside Pat’s or Geno’s. Chinatown, located around Jefferson station, is especially popular among Swatties eager for pho, ramen, dim sum, bubble tea, and other delicious treats. University City is home to UPenn and Drexel, which means there are plenty of cheap fast-casual chains catering to college students’ voracious appetites. 

If you fancy cooking at home, check out the Italian Market in South Philly for fresh fruit, produce, condiments, and all kinds of meat, ham, and cheese. After your Italian Market shopping trip, visit the nearby South Philly Barbacoa or Taqueria La Veracruzana for some cheap and tantalizing tacos. 

Getting to Philly

The SEPTA Regional Rail will take you directly to Center City through three main stations — 30th Street, Suburban, and Jefferson. 

You can buy Regional Rail tickets from the office at Swarthmore train station, open at odd hours from 5:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Monday through Friday. One-way tickets to Center City cost between $5 to $7, depending on when you are traveling. While it is cheaper to buy tickets from the ticket office, you can also buy them from the train conductors on board with cash. 

Within Philly, the subway runs along Market and Broad Streets, while trolleys and buses go to other places in the city. You can buy a SEPTA key card at any subway or Regional Rail station and use it to pay for public transport or purchase travel passes. 

If you are spending a good part of your day in Philly, consider buying an Independence Pass for $14 from the ticket office, which allows for unlimited public transport rides within the day. 

Moral of the story?

Exploring Philly is a wonderful way of getting out of the Swat bubble. Maybe you would like to take a walk through the charming neighborhoods of Society Hill and Queen Village on a chilly afternoon. Maybe you want to grab a few friends and enjoy a nice dinner after a hectic week of classes. Maybe you even want to hang out with cool alumni, such as Dakota Gibbs ’19. Whatever your intentions, hop on the SEPTA sometime and go to Philly.

Lijia Liu

Lijia '20 is a semi-cultured heathen who believes sour cream is a kind of yogurt. She would rather spend hours making the computer do her math problems than 30 minutes doing the same things by hand.

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