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Secrets of the City: Philly

Revealing all the untold stories of Philly. From all the best local spots to our love for a good parade, check out the stories that make the City of Brotherly Love unique!

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America’s Oldest, Largest (and Best) Public Market

You may have heard of the Pike Place Market in Seattle or the Chicago French Market, but did you know that America’s oldest and largest (and best) public market can be found in Philly? That’s right, Philly’s Reading Terminal Market was voted the Best Public Market in USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards—for two years running!

At Reading Terminal Market, more than 80 vendors offer just about everything under the sun: groceries, linens, flowers, spices, kitchen wares, handbags, jewelry, and more. You can also get any kind of treat that your belly is craving, including sandwiches, soups, salads, seafood, snacks, and sweets. There are cheese mongers, butchers, bakeries, and produce vendors. Getting hungry? You might want to try Philly’s famous roast pork sandwich. Or maybe an empanada, some pierogi, a gyro, sushi, shawarma, chicken and waffles, snapper soup, Peking duck, soft pretzels, chocolate-covered pretzels, crepes, cannoli, apple dumplings, or scrapple. If you’re the type who likes to snack all day, you are in luck.

But before you decide what you want to eat, you need to decide what kind of food you’d like: Cajun, Caribbean, Guatemalan, Middle Eastern, Greek, Thai, Filipino, Polish, Indian, Italian-American, Vegan, French, Pennsylvania Dutch, Georgian (the country, not the state!) … the list goes on and on. Yes, we’re serious.

a store sign hanging off the side of a building

To complement your meal, coffee and tea are available. Or maybe you prefer some birch beer, a freshly made smoothie, a ginger shot, or some chai? And yes, you can absolutely get an adult libation at the market if you wish. The Reading Terminal Market has a full-service bar complete with local drafts, as well as a market stall dedicated to Pennsylvania-crafted beer, mead, cider, and spirits. Cheers!

Located in Center City next to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Reading Terminal Market occupies the city block between Filbert, Arch, 11th and 12th Streets. When you visit, be sure to be hungry and ready to explore!

The Reading Terminal Market is open Monday through Sunday from 8 am to 6 pm. The market is closed on New Year’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

We have perfected our market skills, because public market history runs deep in Philly (for a brief history on that, see below). The Reading Terminal Market opened for business on February 22, 1893. That’s right, Philly’s public market is over 130 years old!

Fun Fact: Basset’s Ice Cream was established in 1861 and opened a retail location at the RTM. It is the only store in the Market to exist since the opening. Also, it is delicious!

Pro Tip: For “a sweet deal” on baked goods, visit Pennsylvania Dutch-run Beiler’s Bakery on Saturdays before closing. As the Amish and Mennonite vendors do not open their stalls for business on Sundays, the Beiler family offers their fresh-baked goodies at a deep discount before closing for the weekend. Stop by late on Saturday to receive up to 50% off!

Philly Public Market History, Anyone?

In 1745, Philadelphia’s original public market overlooked the banks of the Delaware River where High Street, now Market Street, intersected with Front Street. The first outdoor market stalls were built straight down the middle of 2nd and High Streets, where Philly Crawling’s Liberty Pub Crawl begins! By 1809, the city-owned market stalls, known as “shambles,” lined High Street extending west to 6th Street.

By 1854 outdoor markets had fallen out of favor and the city had plans to tear down the market shambles. Constructed in 1859, new shopping arenas for the Butchers’ Market, the Farmers’ Market and the Franklin Markets were situated in grand new buildings on the 1100 block of High Street, which was now officially renamed, “Market Street”.

So how did Reading Terminal Market get its name? Back in 1833, the Philadelphia and Reading Rail Road Company was chartered to build a train line between the cities of Philadelphia and Reading (pronounced “RED-ing”) in Pennsylvania. By 1881, the railroad company had plans to construct a new terminal station for folks arriving in Philadelphia. The company lobbied city officials to claim the market buildings via eminent domain.

After much ado, in 1890 the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company purchased this block to begin construction for its new terminal. But because the merchants refused to relocate for the new railroad terminal, a deal was struck – a brand new combined market would be incorporated and tucked beneath the train shed and tracks at the terminus of the Reading to Philadelphia line.

The railway has long since shut down, but the convention center moved in. Between out-of-towners looking for a souvenir and a snack and Philly regulars having lunch or doing their food shopping, there is almost always a steady flow of customers at the market. The Reading Terminal Market has certainly had its ups and downs over the years, but today it is thriving. Take our advice, add the Reading Terminal Market to your do-not-miss destination list on your next trip to Philly. You can thank us later!

Written by Jenna, a local expert guide for Philly Crawling. A recent escapee from the corporate world, she enjoys volunteering and spending time with family. She’s a pet lover, self-proclaimed beer geek, travel enthusiast, and aspiring foodie. Join Jenna for history and beer on Philly Crawling’s Liberty Pub Crawl.

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