From high atop City Hall, the statue of William Penn gazes northeast across the city he founded. Until the construction of the One Liberty Place skyscraper in 1987, old Billy Penn’s hat was the highest point of the city since its installation just over a century before. Many tourists still begin and end their quest for the best views of the city tucked under the statue itself, where an elevator in City Hall takes you to an observation deck underneath Billy Penn’s toes. But Philadelphia’s building boom continues, and the city’s skyline is in a seemingly-constant state of flux. New sky-scraping residences and office buildings stretch high above Billy Penn now in every direction, etching a new silhouette into the sky with each passing year. To get the most stunning views of the city, put down the guidebook and let a local guide you to some of the best.
The 33rd Floor of the Loews Hotel
One of the best-kept secrets in Philadelphia is the jaw-dropping view from the top of this Center City hotel. Head into the hotel from the Market Street entrance, walk past the check-in desk, and pop into an elevator that goes to the top floor. Take a left when you exit the doors, and find yourself almost face to face with Billy Penn himself. You may find a private event or two taking place on the 33rd floor during your visit, but the best view is from the public corridor as you exit the elevator. Pro tip: head up just before sunset for the most magical of magic hours. #nofilterneeded
The Belmont Plateau
This stretch of verdant lawn in Fairmount Park was made famous by The Fresh Prince’s Summertime jam. The Plateau is a popular spot for picnics, barbecues, frisbee tournaments, and good old-fashioned make-out sessions; the Philly skyline peeking out from the tree line at the bottom of the hill. It’s a good four miles from Center City, but well worth the trip. It’s a particularly popular spot on evenings when there’s a fireworks display —you can usually catch quite a few shows from this elevated perch.
The Schuylkill River Banks Boardwalk
One of the Schuylkill River’s newest attractions, this walkway is actually suspended six to twelve feet over the water, running along the east bank of the river from Locust to South Street. By far the most Instagrammed view along the 2,000 foot-long walkway is from where it connects to the South Street Bridge. The elevation gives you a straight shot over to Center City’s high rises, with the river running along the left side of the frame. A little saturation boost and watch those Instagram ‘likes’ pile up.
The New Cira Green Rooftop Park
This new and insanely popular University City hangout sits atop Cira Centre South, the new darling of this side of the Schuylkill River. The 1.25 acre elevated park is accessible via the elevator at Cira Centre’s 30th and Chestnut entrance. Take it to the 11th floor —to the top —and step out onto the green roof that gazes east toward Center City. It’s open from 6am to 10pm during summer hours. There are ample places to lounge, but expect a crowd after the closing whistle blows each weekday afternoon.
The Ben Franklin Bridge
If you grew up in Philadelphia, chances are a walking tour across this 8,000 foot-long bridge was an annual ritual. But if you’re new to the city, you simply must take the pedestrian walkway from 5th and Race Street at least halfway across the Delaware River towards neighboring New Jersey. The views south from the bridge across the city towards the airport are absolutely stunning, as are the shots of the bridge itself from Race Street Pier. Pro tip: there’s often a thick fog that rolls in during the early morning hours and envelops the pier in a white haze. Crank down the contrast a tad, slide the exposure down a notch or two, and you’ve got yourself quite the moody scene. Instagram gold.
Note: Visit @Igers_Philly, Philadelphia’s official Instagram community, to snag the freshest intel on Philly’s most beautiful streets, favorite haunts, and best views in any season. The group’s regular InstaMeets are also a great way to meet new friends while you’re in town.