Traveling iN Philadelphia
Consistently ranked as one of the best walking cities in the US, Philadelphia follows a grid system (like NYC) which makes it very easy to navigate the streets and get around the city. The north/south streets are numbered and the east/west streets have tree names (e.g., Walnut, Spruce, Pine). In addition, the proximity of Penn’s campus to areas around or within the compact city center make it easy to explore the many shops, museums, green spaces, galleries and restaurants. Curb cut-outs also make the city wheelchair accessible. Walking at a casual pace to Rittenhouse Square from Penn’s Campus takes between 30-40 minutes at most.
Philly is also incredibly biker friendly.
Philly’s bike-share program, Indego, offers monthly memberships. It has bike stalls commonly located across the city, and the closest one is on 36th street and Sansom, right next to the Penn Book’s store.
Do remember to wear a helmet when you are biking.
Campus Transit: Penn Bus/Shuttle
Perhaps one of the most convenient and underused transportation option is the Penn Bus. They run are mostly within campus but some even go into center city. They are free with your University ID, and the detailed maps and schedules can be found on the Penn Transportation and Parking website.
SEPTA is the regional public transportation that operates subways, bus, trolley, and regional rails in Philly. You can purchase tickets or key cards at the fare kiosks located in transit stations and at bus stops. There are multiple stops right on Penn’s campus. You can simply hop on and arrive in center city by subway or bus in 15 minutes.
Ride-sharing vs Taxi
For a short ride, it is quite convenient to use Uber or Lyft in Philly. Taxis are less common and it may take longer time to find a taxi unless you are at the train station or the airpot.
TRAVELING TO OTHER CITIES
One of the most affordable options to travel to other cities on the East Coast is by bus. Here are some frequently used options:
Megabus station: located outside of 30th street station
Bolt: located outside of 30th street station
Greyhound: located in Chinatown in Center City (1001 Filbert Street)
SEPTA Regional Rail is a convenient and affordable option to travel to close by areas such as New Jersey and Delaware.
You can also travel by train. While the tickets are more expensive than those of buses, Amtrak trains adhere to a more reliable timetable. The train station is located at eh 30th Street Station, which is about a half hour walk or 10-minute drive from Penn’s main campus.
Here are some of the airports closest to Penn.
Philadelphia International Airport
Travelling from Penn:
taxi/ride-share: cost $20-30 depending time of the day and traffic
The Undergraduate Assembly and other student groups often have airport pick up or shuttle services at the beginning/end of break.
Travelling from Penn:
Bus to New York City (most often Penn Station) and take the metro or Long Island Regional Rail to Newark Airport
Amtrak from 3oth Street Station to Newark Airport
Traveling from Penn:
Bus to New York City (most often Penn Station) and take the metro or Long Island Regional Rail to JKL Airport
Be aware of weather conditions and plan ahead when flights are delayed or cancelled.
However, not all parts are as accessible as Philadelphia, so you could choose to drive...
Driving in the US
Getting a license
In the U.S. you’d need to get a learner’s permit and then get your license. As international students, it also requires a number of documents. For all the requirements and driver’s license centers in Philly, please refer to Penndot.
Renting a car
In the rare events that you need to drive around Philly, whether for move in/move out, long weekend outings, or other occasions, you could consider renting a car. A convenient way to rent a car in Philly by hour/day is through zipcar. Check out more info here. Or, you can always go to car rental companies such as Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise. However, be sure to check individual company policies, as they often have a age requirement of 20 or 21 years old and have a “young renter” extra fee for anyone under 25.
Q: How long did it for you to find your ways around campus and around Philly?
“Faster than I expected. I didn’t go into Center City that often in my first semester here because I wanted to explore campus more, so perhaps it took a few month at most for me to easily get around Philly. All the streets are named by numbers or names of trees, and the city is planned like a grid, so it is very easy to find your way around. At first I relied on map a lot, but in my second semester, in places I am fairly familiar with, I could just roam around freely. I just finished my sophomore year, and Philly is very much like my home in the US.”
“It took me around 2 weeks to get used to moving around campus - (luckily/unluckily), I had classes all around campus so I just had to learn my way around. Definitely helped that I saved a map of campus on my phone, sometimes there will be a meeting at a building I’ve never been too but it’s never been too difficult to find. In terms of getting used to Philly, after one year here, I’m still getting used to street names but I’m pretty comfortable with the University City side! Slowly trying to spend more time in Center City, but the grid system makes getting around very convenient.”
Q: What are some transportation you use the most when you leave campus?
“Uber and Setpa, but I walk to center city equally often. If I go get brunch or go to Chinatown with friends, it’s pretty cheap to split a uber. If I go to Old City, which is on the east side of Center City and a bit farther from campus, it’s cheaper and faster to directly take the Septa. If the weather is nice and I am not in a rush, I often walk to Center City and Rittenhouse Square to find a coffee shop to study.”
“I definitely used Uber the most over my freshmen year. However, that being said, I would recommend taking the SEPTA for anyone who doesn’t mind walking because it’s so much cheaper and it’s actually a lot faster to get downtown! I also started walking more - there are cafes just past University City that are around a 15 minute walk away from the Quad, and when the weather is nice it’s a pretty relaxing 40 minute(ish) walk to Rittenhouse Square.”
Q: Have you driven in the US and do you have experience with getting a driver’s license in Philly?
“I personally do not have any experience, but I know it is not a difficult process, as a number of my friends have gotten their license.”
“I have not driven in States/tried getting a driver’s license in Philly! (or anywhere actually - lol).”
Q: What advice would you have for any newcomer to Penn and Philly regarding transportation?
“It’s so lucky to go to an university located in a city, so explore! As long as you are aware of your surrounding, it’s safe and easy enough to get around.”
“1. Although it’s expensive, I would recommend getting an Uber account if they don’t already have one. Most of the time, I travel with friends anyways so we always end up splitting and sometimes Uber really is the most convenient way of getting around! (would also recommend getting Venmo to help with splitting costs).
2. SEPTA really is such a great way of getting around - while you can take Ubers alone, I would recommend going with a friend when taking the SEPTA but its very cheap! There’s an entrance right by the Quad so don’t take it for granted! (Also, SEPTA is great to use around rush hour because roads are so jammed and surge prices are insane)
3. Save photos of maps on your phone (campus, SEPTA, UCity) - I always keep them in my favorites folder to make things easier
4. Walking really isn’t that bad, so when the weather is nice I just walk to most places! On the same note, make sure to check how long it takes to walk to places - sometimes in between class, I forget how far away, say, Huntsman is from the Chem buildings and I end up rushing down Locust so just make sure you’re keeping track of time !”