Philadelphia: Places to Explore

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Queen Village and South Philadelphia

Two of the city's most interesting neighborhoods lie south of South Street—Queen Village (also known as Southwark) and South Philadelphia. Queen Village, stretching from Front to 6th Street and from South Street to Washington Avenue, was the center of the commercial and shipbuilding activity that made Philadelphia the biggest port in the colonies and in the young United States. One of the oldest sections of the city, Queen Village was already settled by the Swedes when the English arrived; the Swedish influence shows in street names such as Swanson, Christian, and Queen.

Directly south of Society Hill, Queen Village is neither as glamorous nor as historically renowned as its neighbor. Chiseled in stone on one facade are these words: "on this site in 1879, nothing happened!" But like Society Hill, Southwark's Queen Village and South Philadelphia's Bella Vista neighborhoods have been gentrified by young professionals; the restoration attracted chic, hip bars, restaurants, and interesting shops.

Through the years South Philadelphia has absorbed boatloads of immigrants—European Jews, Italians, and most recently, Asians and Mexicans. The city's Little Italy is a huge area of identical row houses, many with gleaming white-marble steps, stretching south and west of Queen Village. At the heart of the neighborhood's Bella Vista section, along 9th Street, is the outdoor Italian Market, packed with vendors hawking crabs and octopus, eggplants, and tomatoes. From butcher-shop windows hang skinned animals; cheese shops are crammed with barrels of olives. Sylvester Stallone walked along 9th Street in Rocky and Rocky II, and almost every campaigning president has visited the market on his swing through Philadelphia. It's a great photo op for them—and for you.

Although there are chic eateries in South Philadelphia, the majority of the neighborhood's Italian restaurants are not fancy (red-check vinyl tablecloths and plastic grapes hanging from plastic vines are common sights), but the food can be terrific and—more important—authentic. This is the neighborhood that gave the world Mario Lanza, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, and Fabian, and some area restaurants proudly display gold records earned by these neighborhood celebrities. Plenty of locals and visitors alike head for South Philly's competing culinary shrines, Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's, both at the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue. One of their cheesesteaks makes a perfect prelude to an evening at the city's sports complexes, at the southern end of South Philadelphia.

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