Also known as the “Keystone State”, Pennsylvania is the country’s fifth-largest state by population (according to the 2020 census). Its many big cities offer tremendous resources and opportunities to tourists and locals.
Pennsylvania is bordered by New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and Ohio, as well as Lake Erie. It’s well-known for its nature, historical sites, food, and outdoor recreation options like camping. It has just over 13 million residents total, as of the 2020 census, as well as many tourists and other visitors ready to discover what’s so special about the state’s unique destinations.
Here are the ten biggest cities in Pennsylvania, in order of the highest to lowest populations:
Pennsylvania’s largest city, Philadelphia, is also, unsurprisingly, one of the state’s top tourist destinations. Commonly referred to as “Philly”, this city had about 1.6 million residents as of the 2020 census, which is over five times as many people as any other city in the state. It’s not PA’s capital city, which belongs to Harrisburg (home to only 50,135 in 2020—so it didn’t make this list).
As the U.S. capital city until 1800, one of Philadelphia’s major highlights is its rich history. It’s packed with historical sites related to the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, and the founding of the U.S. These include Independence National Historical Park, the Betsy Ross House, and the Liberty Bell.
Like any other major city, Philadelphia also has some incredible locations for shopping and dining. Reading Terminal Market offers many types of food, as well as all sorts of other products. East Market Street is another major shopping destination, with numerous department stores, boutiques, and other shops. King of Prussia, about 40 minutes outside of Philadelphia, is the area’s largest shopping center, with over 400 stores and restaurants.
Another draw is its proximity to other major U.S. cities and the coastline, notably New Jersey’s beaches. It is an easy train or bus ride away from Washington, D.C., and New York City. Additionally, its airport has flights to cities all over the world, making it accessible for any traveler who wants to visit.
Pittsburgh is Pennsylvania’s second-largest city, with a population of about 302,971 based on the 2020 census. It’s most famous for its culinary scene, museum offerings, and sports teams, as well as for being a major hub of business and manufacturing.
It offers some of the best of Pennsylvania’s famous foods. From cheesesteaks to pretzels, as well as dishes from countries across the globe, there are countless culinary options available here. Pittsburgh was even named one of BBC’s top ten global destinations for foodies in 2019.
Every January, Pittsburgh Restaurant Week provides special and discounted menus at restaurants across the city. It’s also a top city for craft brewing, with over 50 breweries in the area.
Looking for a good educational outing in Pittsburgh? There are several museums here that are perfect for all interests. These include The Andy Warhol Museum, the Children’s Museum, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Sports are a major part of Pittsburgh’s culture and pride. This city is home to the Steelers football team, named in honor of Pittsburgh’s involvement with the steel industry. It also has the Penguins hockey team, the Pirates baseball team, Pitt’s NCAA basketball team, and several other university sports programs.
The best way to fully see Pittsburgh is by going up the Duquesne Incline. Admire the view of Pittsburgh’s skyline and surrounding rivers from the Observation Deck.
Allentown is located in eastern Pennsylvania on the Lehigh River. Though it’s not necessarily one of the most well-known cities in the state (Billy Joel’s Allentown added to its notoriety), Queen City’s 125,845 residents in 2020 make it Pennsylvania’s third-largest city.
There is plenty to do in Allentown and its neighboring towns in the Lehigh Valley. Admire paintings at the Allentown Art Museum. Take in a performance at the Symphony Orchestra. Cheer on the IronPigs Minor League Baseball team.
One of the most popular local attractions is the Liberty Bell Museum. Though this museum only houses a replica of the Liberty Bell rather than the real thing (located in Philadelphia), it is still a notable historical site because the Bell was hidden in Allentown during the Revolutionary War.
The Old Allentown Historic District is also a highlight of the city. It has some restaurants, shops, and entertainment options, as well as many personal residences. This is paired with lots of impressive architecture that can be described as Victorian, Italianate, and more.
People who live in Allentown enjoy its suburban feel, as well as its many resources and opportunities. Allentown has four large hospitals and two nationally-ranked colleges. Plus, it offers several parks and many different business districts throughout the city.
Reading is located in southern Pennsylvania, in the Americana Region. It has just over 95,000 residents, according to the 2020 census, as well as several attractions that continue to bring tourists and new residents to the area.
In the 19th century, people from all over came to Reading to work in its impressive manufacturing industry. The Reading Railroad and Allegheny Aqueduct, as well as the city’s still-diverse, hardworking community members, are all proof of this past.
Reading is home to many museums and other institutions, including the History Center, Goggle Works, the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, and the Genesius Theatre. With an Egyptian mummy and Degas paintings, the Reading Public Museum is one of the city’s most popular attractions.
The city’s most prominent symbol is the Reading Pagoda. It was built in 1908 as a luxury hotel resort, and today this site primarily serves as a viewpoint. It offers a spectacular 30-mile panoramic view of Reading and the surrounding area.
Tourists and locals all enjoy Reading’s parks and other opportunities to explore the outdoors. These include Antietam Lake Park, Nolde Forest Environmental Center, Stonecliff Action Park, and Gring’s Mill Recreation Area. There are several trails perfect for walking, biking, and running, and the Schuylkill River is often used for canoeing and kayaking during the warmer seasons.
With 94,831 residents as of the 2020 census, Erie is the largest city in Northwest Pennsylvania. It’s most commonly visited due to its location on Lake Erie, as it is the state’s primary access point to the Great Lakes.
Presque Isle State Park, one of Pennsylvania’s most popular tourist attractions and the state’s most-visited state park, is also located in Erie. This peninsula curves around Presque Isle Bay, with lots of beaches and trails to keep the whole family entertained.
Being on Lake Erie offers more than just beaches and views, however; it also gives the city a unique history. The fertile land near the lake attracted and became the home of the Eriez tribe of Native Americans, and the land later became a popular port town with the arrival of settlers from France and Britain.
In addition to the lakefront area, Erie has many other attractions. Shops, restaurants, and festivals keep the community busy. Erie is also home to the Erie Art Museum and the Erie Maritime Museum, as well as the Waldameer Park & Water World.
Erie is located in one of the largest grape-growing regions of the country, resulting in many successful vineyards and wineries. For those who prefer beer or spirits, there are also many local microbreweries and distilleries in the area.
Upper Darby, PA
Upper Darby Township is a suburb of Philadelphia, with a population of 85,681 during the 2020 census. As the sixth-largest city in Pennsylvania, its motto, “the world in one place”, dictates much of the city’s experience for residents and visitors.
Nearly a quarter of Upper Darby’s residents were born in other countries. This diversity not only affects the residential experience by providing a wealth of different perspectives and ideas, but it has also resulted in many unique dining, shopping, and artistic offerings.
Upper Darby is located on what was originally Lenape land, and this area was colonized in 1650. It’s home to the historic Tower Theater music venue, as well as other notable historic sites that allow you to truly experience the city’s past.
There are several Underground Railroad sites in the area, and walking tours guide you through many of these landmarks and their stories. Additionally, the Swedish Cabin, one of the last-remaining original log cabins in the country, shares the history of Swedish settlers in Upper Darby.
Upper Darby is very walkable, but those looking for additional ways to get active can easily do so in the city’s many parks. Naylor’s Run, Kent Park, and the Darby Creek trail are some of the most popular options.
While most people know it as the setting of the hit series The Office, Scranton is also a thriving community of 76,328 residents, according to the 2020 census. As Northeast PA’s biggest city, it’s rich in history, as well as recreation, business, and educational opportunities.
The city dates back to 1849 and is today known as “The Electric City”. The Scranton brothers created the Lackawanna, Delaware, and Western Railroads, making this city an important center for train traffic.
Now, the Steamtown National Historic Site remembers this legacy. This heritage railroad and museum is located on over 60 acres of these railroads’ former yards. Take a train ride, check out the repair shop, and go souvenir shopping while learning about Scranton’s automotive history.
Scranton also has an important industrial history. Over the years, it has been a notable center for iron, coal, steel, and textiles. Explore this past firsthand by visiting the Scranton Iron Furnaces, Anthracite Heritage Museums, and Lackawanna Coal Mine.
Residents and visitors can also experience a wealth of entertainment opportunities in Scranton. These include Montage Mountain and Nay Aug Park for outdoors lovers, the Scranton Fringe Festival and First Fridays for those who are more into the arts, and RailRiders baseball games for the sports fans. It’s also located near the ski resorts of the Pocono Mountains for winter and summer thrills.
Bethlehem is an Eastern Pennsylvania city located in Northampton and Lehigh Counties. During the 2020 census, it had just over 75,000 residents, making it the state’s eighth-largest city.
Bethlehem is perhaps best known for its industrial and colonial history. It was founded in 1741 by members of the Moravian Church and is now home to six National Register Historic Districts and two National Historic Landmarks. These landmarks are the Waterworks, the country’s first pumped municipal water system (1762), and the Gemeinhaus, the country’s largest 18th-century log building in continuous use (1741).
This city has a thriving cultural scene, which is best shown by its many festivals that celebrate art, music, food, and culture. The most notable local festival is Musikfest, an annual, 10-day music festival in August that attracts nearly a million attendees. Other major events here include Bethlehem Bach Festival and Bethlehem VegFest.
Additional things to do in Bethlehem include the Wind Creek Bethlehem casino, SteelStacks performance space, and the historic downtown shopping area.
The best time of year to see Bethlehem is during the winter months when “Christmas City USA'” comes alive with holiday magic. The Christkindlmarkt is one of the country’s top-rated Christmas markets, and traditions such as the Live Advent Calendar and horse-drawn carriage rides allow you to embrace the Christmas spirit here.
Lower Merion Township, PA
Similar to Upper Darby, Lower Merion is a popular Philadelphia suburb, with easy train access to PA’s biggest city. It was home to 63,633 residents as of the 2020 census and showcases its individual history, culture, and institutions well.
Lower Merion dates back to 1682 when Welsh Quaker settlers arrived after purchasing the land from William Penn. Many of them had come from Merioneth, so they named this settlement “Merion” for short. In the following years, many English, Irish, Italian, and German people settled in the Lower Merion area as well, all making their mark on the community. Lower Merion became an independent township in 1713.
The most prominent historical site in Lower Merion is Harriton House. This home was built in 1704 and is most famous for housing Charles Thomas, the first and only Secretary to the Continental Congresses. Visitors can experience Harriton House through daily visits and tours, as well as various classes and events.
Lower Merion’s park system offers residents and visitors numerous opportunities to discover the outdoors. Go hiking at Rolling Hill Park, play a variety of sports at Bala Cynwyd Park, or take advantage of the boating facilities at Flat Rock Park. Alternatively, the Arboretum at the Barnes Foundation has 12 acres of land and over 2,500 different types of plants just begging to be explored.
Bensalem Township, PA
Bensalem Township is another suburb of Philadelphia, with a population of 62,707 during the 2020 census. It’s best known for its outdoor recreation options and popular attractions and is Pennsylvania’s tenth-largest city.
Bensalem Township was founded in 1692, and it was settled by the Dutch, Swedish, and English people over the years. It has grown into a thriving suburban area, with close access to major cities in addition to its own attractions.
The city’s historical society provides events and programming to preserve this history, such as Bensalem Pride Day and Civil War reenactments. Other popular annual community events include the Fall Festival, Community Camp Out, and Tree Lighting.
Bensalem Township is surrounded by water sources, the Neshaminy Creek, the Delaware River, and the Poquessing Creek, on three of its sides. This makes it a great location for boating, fishing, and more. For those looking for trails, playgrounds, and sports fields, Bensalem Central Park and Bensalem Community Parks are two of the best options in the area.
The many outdoor recreation opportunities are not the only major attraction that brings people to Bensalem Township. Parx Casino is Pennsylvania’s largest and highest-rated casino complex, and Parx Racing is a popular horse racing venue. Additionally, the million-square-foot Neshaminy Mall has many restaurants, shops, cafes, and even a movie theater to keep visitors entertained.
The ten largest cities in Pennsylvania represent only a fraction of the state’s culture, history, and opportunities for both leisure and business. Pennsylvania’s state capital, Harrisburg, is not even on this list, proving that plenty is going on in the state aside from these biggest cities as well.
Visit any one of these destinations for a fun time; they all provide local residents and visitors with countless opportunities. Be sure to check out a variety of locations during your next trip to the Keystone State!