Welcome to the City of Brotherly Love! The Birthplace of Liberty, Cheesesteaks, and home to one of the most iconic running spots of all time!
The Rocky Stairs (aka the steps leading to the magnificent Philadelphia Museum of Art) are a must-see spot for any visitor of Philly, runner or not. Don’t be bashful, put on your grey sweats and matching hoodie, bolt up those granite behemoths and at the top throw both fists in the air and soak in the skyline as you celebrate! Guarantee you won’t be the only one. But now that you’ve gone through that runner’s rite of passage, there’s still plenty of Philly to see from a runner’s-eye-view!
So here are 5 fantastic running routes to let you get in some miles and see one of America’s most historic cities:
1. Ben Franklin Bridge
The Ben Franklin Bridge spans the mighty Delaware River and connects Philadelphia, PA, to Kensington, NJ, and is one of the best spots to get in a run and a gorgeous view of the city skyline.
For this run, start at City Hall (you can’t miss it). Right at the heart of downtown Philadelphia, City Hall’s center courtyard is a great place to start any run downtown and is a great spot to do that ‘before run’ selfie.
Head out the East gate of City Hall and down Market St. The sidewalks here are wide enough that you should be able to get around the other tourists and locals bustling about on their way to Reading Terminal Market and the Liberty Bell.
Speaking of the Liberty Bell, one of America’s shining bastions of freedom and relic of the Revolutionary War, about two-thirds of a mile in and it’ll be right there on your left. It is easily viewable from the street as you zoom by, and now you’ll be hooking a left there at Liberty National Historic Park.
Next you’re heading North on 5th St. Just another couple blocks and there on your right will be the Ben Franklin Bridge. Don’t worry you won’t miss it. At over a mile long and over 10 stories high, it’s pretty easy to spot.
Follow the pedestrian trail for the rest of the run and you’ve done it! I recommend taking the right-hand pedestrian path (it’ll be the first side you come to) as that has the best view of the waterfront and the East Side of the city skyline.
Once you get to the end of the bridge, turn back and retrace your steps back to City Hall for an even 5 miles!
2. 30th Street Station & University of Pennsylvania’s Locust Walk
So we saw a little bit of the East end of Philadelphia, why don’t we head out West and see another fantastic architectural work of art and explore the campus of one of the country's finest learning institutions.
We’re starting at City Hall again, but this time head out the West Gate of the City Hall courtyard down Market St.
At just about the 1 mile mark you’ll be crossing the Schuylkill River on the Market St Bridge and approaching 30th St Station. The largest train station in Philadelphia, it is a beautiful granite structure with ornate Greek architecture. It will be standing on your right-hand side, and on the left is the Internal Revenue Service Building which is also a colossal granite behemoth in its own right. Split the uprights and once you come to the light immediately after both of these buildings hook a left.
Follow that street (30th st) until it comes to a dead-end after 2 blocks. Straight ahead will be a pedestrian-only path: Welcome to the University of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1740 by none other than Ben Franklin, the campus has a main vein running right through it called Locust Walk, which is the main thoroughfare for students getting from class to class, but also a great running path as well. Just be prepared to get swarmed if you’re there when class lets out!
Follow the path keeping the tennis courts and Franklin Field stadium on your left and that will link you up with Locust Walk.
40th st marks the end of Locust Walk (about 2.25 miles into the run). Turn right, go half a block and you’ll be at Walnut St. That’s our runway back to Center City.
Turn right on Walnut St and follow that back into the city. You’ll know you’re going the right way if you’re running towards the skyline (the tall buildings) and the street numbers are descending.
Follow Walnut St back across the Schuylkill River and into the city. Here the sidewalks will start to narrow so be ready to hit some pedestrian traffic, but that’s ok, we’re almost at the end.
Once across the river and back into Center City, it’s just a couple more blocks and you’ll end up at Rittenhouse Square Park on 19th Street. That’s your finish line, take a rest and cool down by the fountain and take in one of Philadelphia’s original parks.
3. Independence Hall & South Street
Philadelphia is where national history and modern times exist side by side and coexist in a great mish-mash of reverence and fun. And a reverence to fun. And this run has a little bit of both.
So starting at City Hall again, this time head out the South gate of the Courtyard down Broad St. Just one quick block down and you’ll hit Chestnut St. Turn Left on Chestnut heading West, you’ll know you’re going the right way if the street numbers are descending.
At about .75 miles in you’ll be hitting ‘Old City’. This area of the city is where many of the most historic and oldest buildings in the city still stand. On your left will be the Liberty Bell and on your right will be Independence Hall, the spot where the Declaration of Independence was approved July 4th, 1776. You’re welcome, America!
Keep going a couple more blocks and you’ll hit 3rd Street. Turn right on 3rd and follow it for almost a half a mile. It’s then you’ll be hitting South St.
In stark transition from Old City, South Street is where Philadelphia goes to get down. Here you’ll find a stretch of over a mile of concert venues, dive bars, restaurants, thrift shops, and vinyl stores. If it’s going on in Philly, it’s going on somewhere on South St. Here you’ll find Lorenzo’s Pizza, Jim’s Steaks, Theater of the Living Arts (or the TLA as the locals call it), and folk art masterpiece Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.
Simply follow South St West (you’ll know you’re going the right way because the street numbers now will be increasing, also if you go too much further East you’ll hit the Delaware River and the end of Pennsylvania). Take in the sights and grab a cheesesteak if you feel obliged and just enjoy the eclectic frantic atmosphere that South Street has to offer.
From 3rd and South it’s about a mile to Broad St. Once you hit Broad St look right and there you’ll see City Hall sitting right in the middle like a lighthouse on a stormy night off the coast of Maine beckoning you in. Follow Broad St North back to Center City and you’ve seen some history, some nightlife, and did just over 3 miles!
4. Edgar Allan Poe House & Eastern State Penitentiary
This run will explore a bit of a spookier side of the city’s history, and is a great run if you’re visiting around Halloween time.
Starting again at City Hall this time take the North Gate heading up Broad St. After 2 blocks you’ll hit Race Street. Turn right on Race Street and run for about a half a mile (with the street numbers descending) and make a left on 7th St. On your right will be Franklin Square, a beautiful park sitting just at the mouth of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Keeping the Ben Franklin Bridge to your back heading North up 7th St after about a half-mile you’ll see the Edgar Allan Poe House on your left.
Edgar Allan Poe lived in Philadelphia for several years in the 1830s and at the time wrote some of his most well known short stories, including ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’.
Keep going another couple blocks and you’ll hit Fairmount Ave. Turn left on Fairmount and follow it for about a mile (street numbers increasing). Once you’re approaching the 2.75-mile mark you’ll see an imposing dark grey medieval-looking structure on your right. It takes up the entire block.
That is Eastern State Penitentiary. Opened in 1824 and running over 100 years until 1971, it housed Philly’s worst of the worst, most notably Al Capone before he would make his way to Chicago and become the legendary bootlegger and mob boss.
Just past Eastern State Pen is 22nd street. Take a left and head down South (Eastern State Pen will be in your back and you will see the skyline in front of you and slightly left).
After six blocks you’ll hit Benjamin Franklin Parkway. A fantastic stretch of museums, parks, and fountains. On your immediate right will be the Rodin Museum, and sitting outside will be one of his most iconic works ‘The Thinker’.
After taking in the sights for a moment, turn left and head up Ben Franklin Pkwy, which is lined by every flag of all the independent nations in the world. As you go along you’ll see City Hall up ahead, but before you get there you’ll pass two of the most identifiable Philly landmarks: Logan Square whose fountain is a respite for many during the humid summer months, and Love Park which is a hot spot for tourists due to its fountain and ‘LOVE’ sculpture.
And then you’re back at City Hall and did just over 4 miles!
5. Schuylkill River Trail Loop (Fairmount Park)
Ok, you’ve seen some sights, you’ve taken in some history, but now you want to get in some distance and get away from the concrete and granite. I get ya, so here we go.
This final run is super simple and it is where everyone who lives in Philly goes to get in some miles and get away from the hustle and bustle without having to actually leave the city.
No City Hall this time, let’s start this one at Rittenhouse Square (where we finished our 30th St Station and U Penn Run).
Leaving the North West exit of the square on Walnut Street head West (street numbers increasing) for six blocks and just before the Walnut St Bridge over the Schuylkill River, you’ll see a stairway on your right leading down to the path along the river.
Take the stairs down and now you’re in Fairmount Park. Head North (with Walnut St Bridge in your back) and enjoy the longest stretch of uninterrupted pedestrian-only area in the city!
The Schuylkill (pronounced skool-kull) River will be on your left the whole time, and for the first half, you’ll have a winding road called Kelly Drive to your right. Keep following the macadam path and get into Zen mode because this path is what you’re on for the next 5 miles. Enjoy!
Sights you’ll see along the way are plenty of sculptures, the weeping willows, Boathouse Row, and multiple bridge underpasses.
As you approach the 5-mile mark you’ll be getting close to your next turn. At about 5.25 miles you’ll hit East Falls Bridge (it’s nearly impossible to miss as it is the only bridge during the run that pedestrians can cross). Cross the bridge and now keeping the river still to your left, you’re now heading south, back towards center city. Keep East Falls bridge to your back, enjoy the shade from the trees in this area of the park, and follow the path all the way back. Another 4.5 miles.
It’s as simple as that, just one giant loop along the Schuylkill River.
So once you hit 9 miles you’ll be almost back home. The Fairmount Dam will be on your left offering a really cool man-made waterfall with Boat House Row and the back of the Art Museum as a backdrop (another great selfie opportunity).
Keep pushing, you’re almost there. Cross over the Martin Luther King Drive Bridge, and you’ll be back on the east side of the Schuylkill River, getting you back into the city.
Keep following the path along MLK Drive and you’ll hit a light at Spring Garden St that is specifically for pedestrian crossing. The skate park will be a bit aways on your right.
Wait for traffic to stop and cross Spring Garden and follow along under the small overpass and you’re just about to the finish line.
Go about another 100 more yards and you’ll see a giant statue of George Washington on a horse and keep going just a bit more and you’ll see the finish line.
Turn left and you are at THE ROCKY STEPS!!!
How else did you think this run would end? At this point, you should be at 10 miles almost exactly. But you know what you have to do.
Run up those stairs, put your fists in the air in celebration and take in that awesome skyline!
Author: Matthew Macknis
Eastern PA born and bred. Spending his youth in his hometown of Allentown PA (of Billy Joel fame) and spending the last 10 years in the City of Brotherly Love and Rocky. Matthew loves Running, Hard Rock Music, Dinosaurs, Poker, History, and all the Travel one can get!
Never a stranger to a great new adventure in unfamiliar territory, or a quiet night with old friends and new comrades. Track him down to trade some stories or travels abroad or nights at the local dive.