As the fifth most walkable city in the U.S., there’s perhaps no better way to explore Philadelphia than by foot. But Philly is a big place with a lot to see, so if you really want to cover some ground (without getting stuck on the Schuylkill in a car), your best bet is to see the city by bus, trolley, or subway.
The hard part is deciding which route among SEPTA’s hundreds to take. Even SEPTA’s general manager Jeffrey D. Knueppel couldn’t pinpoint just one. When Curbed Philly asked him to choose, he responded diplomatically, “I have no favorite mode, I love traveling on all of them.”
But other SEPTA employees did weigh in, and we’ve compiled some of their top picks mixed in with other notable rides here that really get to know Philly. From the Market-Frankford Line to the only trolley ride in a historic street car, these routes offer history, views, and art all along the way.
Broad Street Line to AT&T Station (preferably to a game)
Let’s start with one of the easiest rides that exists: The 10-mile-long Broad Street Line. It runs from Fern Rock Transportation Center on North Broad down 22 stops to AT&T Station in South Philly. It’s SEPTA’s second busiest traveled route, after the Market-Frankford Line.
Yes, tailgating is half the fun of going to a game, but the second half is the ride home after with a whole bunch of other Flyers/Sixers/Eagles fans. “Win or lose, I always enjoy the camaraderie on the train with the other fans,” says Geoffrey Phillips, a business data analyst at SEPTA.
Philly has one of the oldest trolley systems in the country, but route 15 is the only one that still uses historic street cars. These heritage trolley cars are Presidents’ Conference Committee street cars that date back to the 1930s. SEPTA brought them back into service along Route 15 in 2005.
The vintage trolley cars shuffle along Girard Avenue between Girard and 63rd in West Philly all the way up to Richmond and Westmoreland in Port Richmond, so it’s a great way to explore dozens of Philly neighborhoods from the window of a piece of history, no less.
Any bus route to and from the 33rd and Dauphin Bus Loop
Bus routes 7, 39, and 54 each offer something a little different, but they all travel to and from the 33rd and Dauphin Bus Loop in Strawberry Mansion—that’s one of main reasons why you should take this route, says Becky Collins, corporate initiatives manager in SEPTA’s Office of Innovation.
“The 33rd and Dauphin Bus Loop is one of my favorite stops in Philadelphia because the loop has significant historic value to the community,” Collins says. With a lot of input from the neighborhood, the stop underwent a major redesign in 2013 that restored one of the city’s last-remaining trolley barns. There’s also a striking brick art installation here that features a quote from John Coltrane, who used to live in the neighborhood.
Chestnut Hill West/East line on SEPTA Regional
The SEPTA Regional Rail lines are dotted with historic train stations, some of which double as architectural gems. You’ll find a lot of them along the Chestnut Hill east and west lines, which you can hop onto from Jefferson Street Station, Suburban Station, 30th Street Station, Temple, or North Philadelphia.
The charming Chestnut Hill is very much located within city limits, but either of these rides will reveal why it’s often referred to as a suburb within Philadelphia.
Market-Frankford Line, West Philly elevated portion
If you haven’t taken the Market-Frankford Line (also called the El) already, then what’re you waiting for? The 13-mile stretch is the most frequently traveled SEPTA route and runs from 69th Street Station in Upper Darby, through Center City, up to Frankford Transportation Center.
But if you only ride one portion of the line, make it the elevated stretch in West Philly between 46th Street Station and 69th Street Station. Get a window seat so you can check out the iconic Love Letter murals painted onto West Philly rooftops and walls. The 50 colorful murals are love messages to anyone and everyone and are best viewed from this route.
Bus routes 23 and 45
We saved the best (and longest) for last. Most of Philly knows the 23 as the city’s busiest surface route and third busiest SEPTA route in general. For many years, it ran 13.8 miles between Chestnut Hill and South Philly.
It was such an iconic and telling ride of Philly’s urban fabric and history that students at Temple often had to ride the full length for a class assignment. But in 2015, SEPTA decide to separate the route into two: Now, 23 runs from Chestnut Hill to 12th and Walnut, while the 45 picks up at 12th and Noble to Broad and Oregon.
Despite the break in the route, we’d argue that it’s still worth making the trip to really get a lay of the land in Philly. If it helps, the transfer fee to jump between the 23 and 45 buses is free.
Have another favorite route that you think is worth the ride? Please share in the comments!