Tourist Traveling in Philadelphia!
Alex and I love to travel and we like to take 1 big trip a year. This year, my friend Rachel convinced us to visit her in Philly where she recently moved back too. She was born and raised about 2 hours outside of the city and has finally moved back to be closer to family. I am a huge history buff and really enjoy dragging Alex around Since we weren't right in the middle of the city, getting to and from the city center, as well as around downtown, was a going to be interesting, Rachel offered to give us her car, but after a little research, we discovered we didn't need to! Which is great because downtown Philly has very little in the way of parking.
Southeastern Pensilvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) is the way to go! It has Trains (above ground), Subways (below ground) and Buses. This is what Alex and I used to get around most days when Rachel had to work and we were exploring on our own. Plus since she was't familiar with the system either, we got to make all the mistakes for her so she didn't have too! So here is the deal...
If you want to take the train, you need to find a station that has a ticket kiosk or buy your pass on the train from the conductors. There are single use passes, weekly and monthly passes. Alex and I used a weekly pass the first week, so easy! You just hold it up to show the conductor when they pass through the train to collect fares. It's that easy! For daily passes, they look like carnival tickets and you just hand those to the conductor as well.
If you buy tickets on the train, you need CASH ONLY, you don't need exact change though. So I highly suggest getting a weekly pass if you will be around for a while or a 10 pack of tickets if you will only be using them for a few days. You will need a new ticket each time you get on. For example, one to get you into the city and one to get you home.
For the subway and bus, you need tokens, like at Chuck e Cheese's, or a weekly/monthly pass. You can get tokens for the subway at any stop, using one of the terminals. Once you have a token, just drop it in the turnstile and go on through! No need to show anyone once you get on as it is a closed system. If you did get a pass, it works on the subways and busses too! Just swipe it at the turnstile and you're on your way. Because you can use the monthly and weekly passes on all types of SEPTA, that is what makes them such a great deal!
The maps are pretty easy to read, even for people like Alex and myself who have very little experience with trains and subways. We both used them while abroad (he in Denmark/Europe and me in Australia) but Seattle does not have any. When in doubt, ask your local ticket office personal. We've found them to be super nice and amazingly accommodating with all our seemingly dumb questions. If you have a smart phone, there is a SEPTA app! There isn't very many reviews, but I used it for the schedules. You just select the station you are at and the station to are going too and it gives you all the next times a train is coming AND how long the trip will take you, and when you will show up at the destination station. Its pretty cool and very handy when planning out your timeline for the day.
We have yet to take the buses yet, but I'm sure they are along the same lines as the trains and subways in their ease of transfers and the ability to get you to where you need to go. Plus...Uber is in Philly! So if you really can't figure out SEPTA you can load up the uber app on your phone. Uber of course will be a little more pricey, but for convenience, it can be worth it.
If you don't want to rent a car, but have a long way to walk to get to everything you want to see in Philadelphia, I highly recommend looking into SEPTA and using it!