The “City of Brotherly Love,” Philadelphia is a lively place to live. It is indispensable to American history and has experienced a revival in recent years: booming construction, restaurant proliferation, and cultural renaissance. As indelible as its stamp is on history, an exciting future awaits this city. And the northwest residential areas of Germantown, Chestnut Hill, and Manayunk are just three of many suburbs that visitors to Philadelphia should explore.
Germantown was founded in 1683 by settlers from Germany, who initially wanted to farm it. Upon realizing the area was too rocky, they switched to textiles, printing, and milling. Remnants of Germantown’s importance during the 18th century building of a young United States are still on display, as scores of houses and buildings dating back that far still stand.
Chestnut Hill developed, in the 19th century, as a desired summer vacation spot for Philadelphia business owners. Today, it’s mostly a nice residential neighborhood with easy access to downtown Philly via train or car. Chestnut Hill is home to the bar where Philadelphia-area folks swear the most delicious version of the Philly Cheesesteak is still crafted daily. Called the Schmitter, it’s a cheesesteak stuffed on a Kaiser roll, topped with fried onions and fried salami as well as with a special sauce.
Chestnut Hill is also a place for those who like to stroll around neighborhoods and check out people’s homes. From classic 18th and 19th century homes to those reflecting a more funky 1960s style, there’s a home for everyone.
Manayunk is nestled in the steep hills along the Schuykill River. It was once home to mills where Polish and Irish immigrants plied their trade. Today, it’s still predominantly Irish and Polish with restaurants, sports bars, and eclectic boutiques where you can do plenty of window-shopping.
Mountain biking is surprisingly popular here, due to the plethora of bike trails on the steep hills of the Fairmount Park system. Manayunk also hosts a famous professional cycling event where participants must traverse a sadistically steep ascent called “The Wall,” not once, or twice, or even three times. During the course of the race, cyclists must ascend ten times.
As with the rest of Philadelphia, the best times to visit are in spring and fall to escape the stifling heat and humidity of summer and the brutal cold and icy snow in winter. During the summer, under a canopy of leafy green trees, Chestnut Hill is definitely cooler than Philadelphia proper. Weekends are pretty crowded with tourists and city denizens clambering into each of the towns for a quick getaway. In winter, many historical Germantown sites are closed because they lack heaters.
All in all, these three towns in the suburbs northwest of Philadelphia are a welcome change of pace from the city. In order to enjoy yourself, it’s better to make a day available for each of the three. Locals believe Manayunk as having the better night scene, and Chestnut Hill as being the best place to base yourself, should you choose not to do so in the city.