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4 Must-See Parks in Philadelphia

The best green spaces in Philadelphia combine leisure, history and prime people-watching.

U.S. News & World Report

4 Must-See Parks in Philadelphia

Independence National Historical Park

Pull out a blanket and have a picnic at Independence National Historical Park.(Courtesy of C. Smyth for VISIT PHILADELPHIA)

Back when he planned the city of Philadelphia, founder William Penn wanted to preserve some of the greenery in town, so he included five parks in his design that were located throughout the city.

"The original concept of William Penn was a five-square" system, says Frank Marandino, chief concierge at The Rittenhouse Hotel. "You have Rittenhouse [Square], you have Franklin [Square], you have Centre [Square], you have Independence Mall or Washington Square, and you have Logan Square, which is now a circle."

Those spaces – with the exception of Centre Square, which became the site of Philadelphia City Hall – make up a network of incredible parks throughout the city. Here are some of the best, as recommended by local experts.

Fairmount Park

Fairmount Park(Courtesy of J. Smith for VISIT PHILADELPHIA)

Though it's not among the original five parks, Fairmount Park has the most to offer visitors and locals alike, thanks to its sheer size. Situated along both sides of the Schuylkill River (pronounced SKOO-kill), the massive park contains some of the most iconic sights and sounds of Philadelphia.

In West Fairmount Park, which hosted the Centennial Exhibition in 1876, visitors will find the Philadelphia Zoo, the Please Touch Museum and the Underground Railroad Museum At Belmont Mansion. In East Fairmount Park, visitors walking the Schuylkill River trails can stumble upon the Historic Strawberry Mansion, the Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse and picturesque Boathouse Row.

"You can skip right into the art museum, or you can do a full day outdoors in the Fairmount area," says Damien Infantino, event services manager at The Inn at Penn, A Hilton Hotel. Families can stay entertained for hours, "between the Water Works and being able to picnic on a decent day, watching the rowing teams go by," Infantino says.

Washington Square and Independence National Historical Park

Washington Square(Courtesy of M. Kennedy for VISIT PHILADELPHIA)

Located a block southwest of Independence Hall on Walnut Street between Sixth and Seventh streets, Washington Square is named for the first president of the United States. The park, which served as a burial ground in the 18th century, is a popular stop for ghost tours in Philadelphia.

Washington Square is home to a memorial for George Washington, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution. It's part of the larger 54-acre Independence National Historical Park, which encompasses Independence Hall, Liberty Bell Center and Congress Hall. During the summer, families like to picnic in the park's Independence Mall, near the National Constitution Center.

"It's a nice park where people pull out their blankets and just sit," says Roshid Milledge, concierge at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Philadelphia.

Franklin Square

Franklin Square(Courtesy of R. Kennedy for VISIT PHILADELPHIA)

Another of the original squares of Philadelphia, Franklin Square today probably looks nothing like what Penn could've ever imagined more than 300 years ago. Its carnival-like atmosphere makes it one of the liveliest parks in the city.

Located at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, Franklin Square is centered on a large fountain and features the Parx Liberty Carousel, a unique Philadelphia-themed mini golf course and the renowned SquareBurger stand.

The square hosts a number of popular events throughout the year, most notably the Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival.

Rittenhouse Square

Rittenhouse Square(Courtesy of Andre Flewellen)

Situated at the heart of the Philadelphia neighborhood with the same name, Rittenhouse Square is more of a leisurely destination than anything.

"It's the best place to relax, people-watch, take your dog, shop or absolutely do nothing," Milledge says.

The park is lined with high-end restaurants, bars and shopping. During Philadelphia's warmer months, the Rittenhouse Farmers' Market moves into the square each Saturday. Twice a year, you can catch the Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show, which attracts artists from around the country who showcase their wares using the park as their backdrop. The annual Christmas tree lighting event draws crowds in the winter, when thousands of lights illuminate the grounds.

To experience more of what Philadelphia has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

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