The Ultimate Guide To 30th Street Station

The Ultimate Guide To 30th Street Station

30th Street Station in Philadelphia: The ultimate guide

Where to eat, where to wait, and secrets about the historic train station

From Curbed Philly by By Melissa Romero and Anna Merriman

Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

Philly is home to one of the last remaining grand train stations in America, the monumental 30th Street Station. Each year, more than 4 million passengers travel to and from the train station, making it Amtrak’s third busiest hub in the nation. 

Chances are you are one of those million-plus passengers who has passed through here, whether it was on your way to New York’s Penn Station or to hop onto the SEPTA Regional Rail. Either way, happening upon the station’s grand concourse, with its five-story-high windows and Art Deco chandeliers, is a no doubt a highlight of many travelers’ experience.

It’s a big place, though, and navigating it can be a bit tricky once you’re able to look past the building’s grandeur. Amtrak is on a multi-billion-dollar mission to make the station more pedestrian-friendly and ease traffic congestion around it.

So as you begin to navigate Fourth of July travel this week, here’s a guide to help you get the most out of the iconic station.

30th Street Station: The Basics

  • Three train services operate out of 30th Street Station: Amtrak, SEPTA (local and regional rail), and NJ Transit

  • The station is located at 2955 Market Street, bound by Market to the South, Arch to the North, and N. 30th Street to the west.

  • There are a number of entrances to the station, including: The south entrance off Market Street; the west entrance off N. 30th Street; and the east entrance off Schuylkill Avenue.

  • 30th Street Station is open 24 hours, seven days a week.

30th Street Station secrets!

  • During the 1970s, the north-end terminal of 30th Street Station used to be home to a bowling alley, of all things. But it’s been closed since it was damaged by a fire in the 1980s.

  • On the second floor of the train station there is a chapel that was frequently used by passengers when the station first opened. In later years, it became a temporary morgue for the remains of soldiers coming home from World War II. Today, it’s used as a conference room for Amtrak employees.

  • The train station’s roof is reinforced with concrete, an original feature that the architects incorporated to allow for a landing space for small aircrafts.

How to get there

You could hail a cab or ride-sharing service, or park in a nearby lot, but you may have to add a few more minutes to your travel time given the traffic that tends to surround the train station. Assuming best case scenario, get dropped off a block away and walk the rest of the way, or just take the subway, trolley, or bus.  In Philly already? 30th Street Station is serviced by the Market El-Frankford Line and five trolley lines: Routes 10, 34, 13, 11, and 36. Note that there is no direct connection from the SEPTA station to 30th Street Station; you have to go above ground and cross 30th Street—this is something that should be remedied with the 30th Street Station District Plan (more on that later).

You can also take bus route 21: Coming from west of 30th Street Station, it runs along Chestnut Street; coming from east of the station it runs along Walnut.

If you’re coming from the airport or from the ‘burbs, the station is also served by more than a dozen SEPTA regional rail lines, all listed here.

Where to stay

For a long time, 30th Street Station was surrounded by a whole lot of nothing, save for the Schuylkill and a large rail yard. Today, it’s in the heart of University City’s development boom, which has brought some much-needed hotels to the neighborhood. Here are some of the best options within walking distance to the station.

AKA University City

This stay aka location opened two years ago in the new 47-story FMC Tower at 2929 Walnut Street. The swanky suites take up the top floors of the mixed-use tower, so expect some impressive views of Center City. There’s also access to Level 28, a private lifestyle club with a gym, indoor pool, movie theater, and more. Rooms start at $220/night.

The Study

This 212-room hotel is officially open at 20 S. 33rd Street and delights with its bright and contemporary interiors. Given its location between Drexel and Penn, the Study tends to cater towards professors, families of students, and other visitors to the neighborhood. It features a mix of overnight and extended-stay rooms with study areas and suites. Rooms start at $189/night.

Where to eat

30th Street Station doesn’t exactly rank as a foodie destination, but there are some options whether you have time to kill or just need a quick grab-and-go option. Here are your best picks, from our friends at Eater Philly:

30th Street Station houses the standard food court fare, with chains like Au Bon Pain and Dunkin’ Donuts offering grab-and-go coffee and carbs that will tide you over until you can get something better. But if you’re looking for more flavor, head to the Beck’s Cajun Caféstand. Philly chef Bill Beck has a thing for New Orleans, showcased in his mufaletta sandwich, gumbos, and po’boys made with fried seafood, blackened chicken, short ribs, or alligator sausage. There’s also a veggie po’boy available, but hungry meat-eaters will want to go with the Trainwreck: chopped steak, salami, andouille sausage, and cheese on a baguette.

If it’s too early for jambalaya, head outside the train station to seasonal pop-up The Porch. Set on the southern side of the station’s property, The Porch has outdoor seating and food trucks from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the week, plus 7 to 9:30 a.m. on Thursdays. On Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m., The Pub at The Porch is open with beer, wine, and bar bites.

Once you’re outside, you might as well keep going to Walnut Street Café, two blocks south of 30th Street Station at 2929 Walnut Street. Inside the restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, there’s an airy café with savory and sweet pastries from star pastry chef Melissa Weller.

The backstory

The 30th Street Station we know today is considered one of the last-remaining grand train stations in the U.S. Built between 1929 and 1933, it was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White with a neoclassical exterior and Art Deco details within. The main concourse’s 95-foot tall ceilings and incredible ornamentation are no doubt the most striking features of the train station. The main concourse (aka the waiting room) stretches the length of two football fields.

The train station, commissioned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, was built to replace Frank Furness’s aging, but still grand, Broad Street Station in Center City. 30th Street Station’s design was considered groundbreaking at the time by accounting for efficiency without sacrificing the building’s monumentality. It’s no wonder that this was the late architect Louis Kahn’s preferred way of coming back home after his many travels, according to Wendy Lesser, author of You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn. (Kahn was waiting for his train to Philly when he died in a bathroom in New York’s Penn Station.)

30th Street Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

One major recent change that longtime commuters are likely to notice is the absence of the iconic flipboard, which was taken down last year; Amtrak officials said it didn’t meet ADA guidelines. Oat Foundry has been working on a new sign that they say retains the same character as the original, though.

Survival tips

  • Need to charge your phone? There are some wall outlets around. Out of luck? There’s a MobileQubes cell charging kiosk that lets you rent ($4.99/24 hours) or buy ($44.99) the charging device.

  • If you want to store your bags at 30th Street Station, it’ll cost you; Amtrak offers lockersfor $10/bag for 24 hours.

  • Yes, there is free WiFi, although it can be finicky.

  • Gotta go? The bathrooms at 30th Street are hit or miss (and hard to find—there are some near the food court, and another set of restrooms across the concourse near the North Waiting Room). While one Yelp reviewer claimed they were in worse shape than those at New York’s Penn Station (yikes), others have commented on their surprising cleanliness.

  • There’s an exclusive section of 30th Street Station above the grand concourse, but you can only get in if you shell out for a ticket on one of Amtrak’s Acela trains. You can hang out here on the lounge’s leather sofas while munching on free soda and snacks.

Liz Clark Headshot
Phone: 484-713-8386
Dated: July 2nd 2019
Views: 1,075
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