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Philadelphia’s skyline has changed dramatically in the past 15 years. The city itself is not big in terms of population when compared to Los Angeles or Houston, but it has a skyline that is much more impressive than those cities. In addition Philadelphia also has a vibrant downtown area (known as Center City) that both Los Angeles and Houston lack. I would rank Philadelphia number third (skyline plus activity) in the United States after New York City and Chicago.
The skyline would have been even more impressive if not for the “gentleman’s agreement” that prevented buildings over 548 feet to be built (height of the Philadelphia City Hall). This agreement fortunately was broken in 1987 with the construction of the One Liberty Place. The newly built Comcast Technology Center is now the tallest building in the United States outside of New York and Chicago.
Most of these high rises are in the Center City neighborhood of Philadelphia (Center City is also referred to as downtown). But this is also changing. FMC Tower, which is the 7th tallest building in the city is in University City (West Philadelphia). The main campuses of University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Penn Medicine and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center are in University City. It is a fast growing neighborhood of Philadelphia that is adjacent to Center City. The Schuylkill River separates Center City and University City.
There are many areas in the city from which you can get a very good view of the Philadelphia skyline. The following are my favorite locations.
South Street Bridge.
- The South Street Bridge is one of the many bridges that connects Center City Philadelphia and University City. You can get to the bridge from the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk. There will be traffic and it can be a little noisy, but you will get a very nice view of Center City and the FMC building.
- This bridge is one of the best places to take photographs during sunset. You can take photos of the City or turn around and take photos of sunset over I-76 and University City.
- From the bridge you walk can take the ramp to the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk. You can walk on the boardwalk and then connect to the Schuylkill River Trail.
- From this bridge, the 30th Street station is only a few blocks away. Bu the views from the station are not that great. You will be directly looking at either Market Street or JFK Boulevard and you will not get a good view of the width of the skyline.
Philadelphia Museum of Art.
- One of the best views of the skyline (probably the most photographed) is from the entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The museum is on a small hill known as Fairmount. You can walk up to the top of the Rocky Steps and enjoy a beautiful Philadelphia sunset.
- Once you are at the top of the Rocky Steps, there are a few more steps that you have to climb to get to the entrance to the museum. This would offer a little bit more elevation when compared to standing on top of the Rocky Steps. I love sitting between giant the classical Greek inspired columns and watching the sunset. There will be less people here compared to the rocky steps. That means more peace and quiet!
- Right behind the museum, there is a spot called “Tree House in the Sky”. From the tree house in the sky, you will get good views of University City and if you walk about 50 steps on the trail near the tree house, you will get very good views of the skyline that is slightly different from what you would see from the front of the museum.
Spring Garden Street Bridge.
- The Spring Garden Street Bridge is adjacent to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But the view of the Center City skyline has a totally different feel because of the winding Schuylkill River.
- Spring Garden is a very busy street. The pedestrian area on top of the bridge is fairly decent but you can feel a little disoriented because of the fast moving traffic.
- The Bridge crosses the Schuylkill River and also the I-76 and the Amtrak tracks. You will be able to take beautiful photos of the traffic on the Interstate and the Amtrak and SEPTA trains with the City of Philadelphia as the background.
Ben Franklin Bridge.
- The view of the Philadelphia Skyline from the top of the Ben Franklin Bridge is one of the best views. I prefer taking photographs from this spot earlier in the day and not during sunsets.
- There are pedestrian walkways on both sides of the bridge. One side is now closed. When you are at the middle of the bridge, you are at the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The bridge connects the City of Philadelphia to New Jersey and it goes over the Delaware River. The Delaware River is very wide compared to the Schuylkill River. Do not do it if you are afraid of heights.
- The entrance to the walkway is behind the National Constitution Center (on Race Street). The bridge opened in 1926 and is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world.
- As you walk towards the center of the bridge, there are small decks where you can stand and take photos without blocking those who might be walking or jogging. From these spots you will be able to see the PATCO subway line that runs on the lower deck. As you walk towards New Jersey, you will also begin to notice the curvature of the bridge. You can take a photo of PATCO train approaching towards you on the lower deck with the massive bridge and the City skyline in the background. This is the money shot!
- Logan Square is a beautiful square that is between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Love Park. The Swan Memorial Fountain that is in the middle of the Logan Circle is my favorite fountain in the City of Philadelphia.
- The view of the skyline is not that spectacular when compared to the other locations that I have mentioned before. But from this area (particularly if you walk over to the front of the Franklin Museum), you will get a very good view of the Comcast Technology Center. This is a billion dollar modern high rise that is difficult to see in its entirety from other locations.
- If you continue walking on 20th Street and come to the corner of Cherry Street and then Arch Street, you will get very good views of the Comcast Technology Center. Sunsets are very nice.
- The Love Park is a few blocks away from Logan Square and it next to the Philadelphia City Hall. The famous Love Sculpture is in Love Park and one of the places you must visit when visiting Philadelphia.
- From the Love Park you will not be able to see the entire skyline, but that is okay. The skyline is not just about the high rises. You will be able to see a lot of the skyline but in addition you will also get to see City Hall up close.
- I like taking photos of the sun setting on the tower of the City Hall from the Love Park. The tower was supposed to be the words tallest building. But before the tower was completed in 1894, it was overtaken by the Washington Memorial and the Eiffel Tower.
Which is your favorite spot for photographing the Philly skyline?