A neighbourhood guide to the Northern Liberties of Philadelphia

By: Lauren Hill

January 7, 2016

Once a district predominantly known for its textile mills, breweries and leather tanneries, Northern Liberties – dubbed NoLibs by those who know it best – is now one of Philadelphia‘s most exciting neighbourhoods, with an abundance of unique bars, an international dining scene and an exceptional offering of independent boutiques. And having long drawn in the city’s creative set, the neighbourhood has a flourishing arts and music scene, too.

Due to its 1985 revival as a historic district, the neighbourhood has a fusion of well-preserved Italianate, Greek Revival and Federate architecture, including the former home of celebrated American writer Edgar Allan Poe. This historic architecture now acts as a façade for the district’s vibrant coffee shops, art galleries – Bluestone Fine Art Gallery is among the most popular, showcasing a diverse range of artworks – and rocking music venues, all of which give the hip neighbourhood its distinct character.

The area draws in many of Philly’s denizens for its top-rate coffee scene; One Shot Coffee and Café has proven to be unanimously popular, with a loyal following who rave about its Hairbender espresso and Stumptown Coffee (they proudly use locally roasted beans by small-batch producers). The café’s décor is well suited to the Victorian building it’s housed in and acoustic performances are held in the second-floor library. Brunch plates and fresh pastries all feature on the menu.

Northern Liberties of Philadelphia
A view over Philadelphia as the sun is going down © iStock / Mihai Andritoiu

The café Higher Grounds also hosts live music, as well as displaying local artists’ works. Settle into the warm, brick-walled space to choose from their notable range of coffees and teas. Café La Maude has a more European feel, and places a greater focus on its food offering, serving up French and Lebanese cuisine, as well as brunch classics.


In addition to its outstanding coffee and brunch spots, Northern Liberties is highly regarded for its eclectic international dining scene. Bar Ferdinand brings a taste of Spain to the neighbourhood with a menu of tapas plates, like house-made chorizo with brandy and house-cured beef carpaccio, and a selection of wine. Meanwhile, the bistro Jerry’s Bar serves up refined comfort food, from brunch and lunch to evening meals when wine and cocktails are also on the cards. In the sleek brick-walled and dark-wood filled space, a jazz quartet performs each Sunday for the brunch crowd.

Northern Liberties of Philadelphia
The district was once known for its textile mills, breweries and leather tanneries © Flickr / lactulli

Alongside its gastronomic offering, Northern Liberties has made waves with its craft beer and cocktail scene. To get the neighbourhood’s craft brews at their very source, sign up for a tour (free at the weekend) at Yards Brewing Company, before settling into the Tasting Room to try the brewery’s signature ales and picking up a bite to eat from one of the food trucks that’s being hosted that day.


For whiskey, step inside Bourbon & Branch, which specialises in cocktails and infusions that utilise this liquor, as well as straight American bourbon, Scotch, and Irish and Canadian Whiskey. Classic comfort dishes pair well with the fiery drinks, and live bands round the experience off nicely.

Northern Liberties of Philadelphia | Yards Brewing Company
Yards Brewing Company hosts free tours at weekends © Yards Brewing Company

More entertainment can be found at North Bowl, a retro bowling alley with specialty cocktails and comfort food like their signature tater tots, and The Fire music venue, where live bands regularly perform.


With such a broad range of venues, Northern Liberties is one neighbourhood that can take you from morning until late at night. Plus, Philly Tours hosts a Northern Liberties food tour, which encapsulates the area’s best food finds in a whirlwind two and a half hours.


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Have you explored the Northern Liberties? Which are your favourite neighbourhood haunts? Let us know in the comments section below.


By Lauren Hill


Lauren Hill

Between living in Japan, Singapore and London, Lauren has spent the past few years working as an editor, sub-editor and travel and lifestyle writer, with a focus on luxury and adventure travel. She is currently based in London, exploring the city’s eating and drinking scene and seeking out its outdoor green spaces.

Categories: Our Places