It’s fair to say that alongside Washington DC, Philadelphia tends to have a broader appeal to domestic American visitors than it might do for the international tourist. Whether you are here to see the Liberty Bell, the “Rocky Steps”, or anything else within the downtown area, it’s fairly obvious to point out that a rental car is certainly not needed.
It’s also worth mentioning that public transit in Philadelphia is amongst the best in the USA. The local South East Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) providing a range of light rail, metro and commuter rail services. This includes a direct connection to Philadelphia International Airport, although with stops at each of the 5 concourses, this does get a bit tedious if you are joining or leaving the system at the end of the line!
Philadelphia also has a small selection of riverfront hiking and biking trails. Being the main rail gateway to Atlantic City, it’s also easy enough to escape to the New Jersey coast from here.
Another popular cultural point of interest is to visit some of the Amish settlements in Lancaster County. This is the sort of excursion where a hire car is really neither necessary nor particularly appropriate. The film “Witness” includes a scene in the city’s main 30th Street station. This building is a 1930s classic, which you will inevitably pass through if you aren’t picking up a rental car at the airport.
Philadelphia is also a natural base from which to explore the wider north-east seaboard. For visitors arriving from Europe, sometimes flights here can be exceptionally good value when compared to flying into more congested airports in New York or in the Washington area. From Philadelphia, you can easily jump on the train up to New York or down to Baltimore and then on to Washington DC. Although we would tend to suggest that there are quite a few places around Washington itself where a hire car might well be useful, if you’re travelling up and down the north-east seaboard, most of these places are better to visit in a rental car out of Washington DC, or possibly out of Baltimore, rather than Philadelphia.
Do you need to rent a car in Philadelphia? On balance, a rental car in Philadelphia isn’t really particularly useful. The public transit is good enough that there is little need for one. Depending on where else you want to visit, it might be worth looking at Philadelphia car hire deals based on a one or two-day rental, rather than getting a hire car for the whole period of your stay.