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The Best Places to Live in Pennsylvania in 2021

The story of the state (technically Commonwealth) of Pennsylvania has three parts: the eastern metropolis of Philadelphia, the Midwest river city of Pittsburgh and the vast land in-between with a slew of mid-sized historic and revitalized northeastern cities.

But from the Delaware Valley to the Lehigh Valley, the Ohio River Valley to the Wyoming Valley, there are innumerable places to call home, whether in Wawa country or Sheetz land. Here is our list of the 10 best places to live in Pennsylvania.

Allentown, PA.

  • Population: 120,139
  • Average age: 38.36
  • Median household income: $41,167
  • Average commute time: 29.03 minutes
  • Walk score: 59
  • Studio average rent: $1,379
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,395
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,599

The Allentown of today is nowhere near the hulking coal and refinery town Billy Joel sang about. But while the factories did shut down long ago, you still can’t keep a good man down. Allentown is one of only three cities in Pennsylvania with a population of over 100,000. Equidistant from Philadelphia and Scranton, Allentown is a big city with a lot more to offer than many realize.

The westernmost of the Lehigh Valley’s tri-cities, Allentown is a story of reinvention. When manufacturing disappeared, Allentown had to revitalize itself for modern-day living. As a result, the city’s downtown received honors from the Urban Land Institute as a “national success story” for its transformation.

As a rebuilt service economy, many companies call Allentown headquarters, including several in the energy industry. While downtown is rife with office buildings and corporate campuses, retail is more found around Allentown’s several large shopping malls in and near the city.

However, sports, always a big deal in the Lehigh Valley, are drivers in changing that. The areas around its popular minor league venues are becoming shopping, nightlife and dining hubs. Hockey’s Phantoms, top minor league affiliate for the Flyers, play downtown at the seven-year-old PPL Center and baseball’s IronPigs, a Phillies farm club, take the field at Coca-Cola Park across the river on Allentown’s East Side.

Bethlehem, PA, one of the best places to live in pennsylvania

  • Population: 75,236
  • Average age: 42.01
  • Median household income: $55,809
  • Average commute time: 29.29 minutes
  • Walk score: 64
  • Studio average rent: N/A
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,182
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,391

Much as its neighbor to the west had to do, the steel city of Bethlehem also found itself having to reinvent. Now, Bethlehem is the arts and entertainment hub of Lehigh Valley.

A case in point is the iconic Bethlehem Steel. The former world’s largest steel company operated in the city for nearly 150 years, from 1857 to 2003. Today, the site of the former mill is now home to cultural works the size of Disneyland.

The vast SteelStacks district consists of the ArtsQuest performing arts center and three outdoor music venues including Levitt Pavilion, a PBS station and the Wind Creek Bethlehem casino. The massive blast furnace structure still stands serving as a backdrop along the river.

Over the last two decades, Bethlehem’s downtown has started to thrive with restaurants and retail along Main and Broad Streets. And on the south side of town, the region just north of Lehigh University is a vibrant college town district with bars, shops and cafés.

Along the riverfront is a park complex that includes athletic facilities and hiking and biking trails.

While about half the size of Allentown, Bethlehem has a higher median income than its next-door neighbor by about $15,000. However, rents across the board are cheaper in Bethlehem making it a bit better value for renters.

Harrisburg, PA.

  • Population: 49,277
  • Average age: 37.69
  • Median household income: $39,685
  • Average commute time: 25.17 minutes
  • Walk score: 55
  • Studio average rent: $837
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,038
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,272

State capitals often make wonderful places to live and work. The swath of legislators and lobbyists that call them home make sure the economy is sound, infrastructure is top-notch and access to entertainment and culture abound. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital, is no exception. The city of 50,000 is in south-central Pennsylvania about half as close to Philadelphia as it is to Pittsburgh.

The State Capitol complex sits in the center of downtown, along the Susquehanna River. State and federal combined, nearly 40,000 government employees work in Harrisburg. With politicians and their staff coming and going each electoral season, the rental industry is key in Harrisburg. Luckily, it’s the cheapest big city in the Keystone State for studio apartments and one-bedrooms, and among the lowest for two- and three-bedroom units.

A great place to have kids, Forbes named Harrisburg one of the top 10 “Best Places to Raise a Family” in the nation. There is much to do for residents of all ages. Its downtown, once rich in jazz clubs and cocktail bars, is seeing a revitalization from nightclubs to the performing arts.

For a different diversion, the city is also home to the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show, the largest agricultural expo in America.

Harrisburg also benefits from its geography as the center of one of Pennsylvania’s top tourist regions. The Capitol Building is just a half-hour from HersheyPark and Hershey Chocolate World and under an hour to Lancaster and the heart of Amish Country.

Lancaster, PA, one of the best places to live in pennsylvania

  • Population: 59,168
  • Average age: 38.10
  • Median household income: $45,514
  • Average commute time: 26.23 minutes
  • Walk score: 56
  • Studio average rent: $887
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,097
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,344

While a wonderful lifestyle to visit and experience, Lancaster is more than Amish Country, horse buggies and shoofly pie. An affordable city of 60,000, Lancaster (pronounced “LANK-is-ter”, not “LAN-cast-er”) is an Eastern Pennsylvania healthcare, manufacturing and tourism hub.

Lancaster is a surprisingly diverse city. Sure, there are a ton of residents of German ancestry, home of the Pennsylvania Dutch (as in “Deutsch,” German for “German”). But the city is also nearly 40 percent Latinx and 16 percent Black.

While average incomes hover around $56,000, lease prices are among the lowest in the Commonwealth. In fact, a three-bedroom unit rents for $1,455, the cheapest among Pennsylvania’s largest cities.

Along with Amish tourism, Lancaster is also a mecca for outlet shopping. Combined, the area’s two large outlet centers offer nearly 200 stores.

The historic downtown is awash in quaint boutiques, vintage stores, art galleries (many along Gallery Row), vegan restaurants and German beer bars. In the heart of downtown is legendary music venue the Chameleon Club as well as Lancaster Central Market on Penn Square, one of the nation’s oldest farmers’ markets.

Philadelphia, PA.

  • Population: 1,569,672
  • Average age: 40.63
  • Median household income: $45,927
  • Average commute time: 40.79 minutes
  • Walk score: 84
  • Studio average rent: $1,673
  • One-bedroom average rent: $2,145
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $2,901

There are two Philadelphias. The one most people know is the Birthplace of America, home of the Liberty Bell, the Rocky Steps, cheesesteaks and the Broad Street Bullies. The other is the city that over a million and a half people call home. And real Philadelphians have an appreciation for both.

Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, and each has a personality all its own. When someone reveals they are from Overbrook, Fishtown, Kensington, Society Hill or another of Philly’s nearly 200 neighborhoods, it says a lot about their personality. But together they are all SEPTA riders and hoagie eaters and Birds fans.

Philly residents are a lucky bunch. The cradle of American democracy is at their doorsteps. But it is also an extremely livable city. There are some of the nation’s largest and most enjoyable parks and green spaces, including Fairmount Park and Wissahickon Valley Park. Several shopping hubs dot the city from South Street and Liberty Place to Chestnut Hill and University City.

And commuting is easy with access to I-95, the Schuylkill Expressway and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, three superregional rail stations, 13 regional rails as well as the Broad Street subway and Market-Frankford elevated train. As well, the city offers stellar walk and bike scores, 84 and 76, respectively.

Surprisingly, Philadelphia is affordable. As expected, rents are the highest among Pennsylvania’s big cities. However, Philly’s cost of living is 20 percent-30 percent cheaper than similar cities and its northeast corridor neighbors.

Pittsburgh, PA, one of the best places to live in pennsylvania

  • Population: 305,049
  • Average age: 41.68
  • Median household income: $48,711
  • Average commute time: 28.93 minutes
  • Walk score: 69
  • Studio average rent: $1,255
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,522
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,831

While they share space inside the Keystone State, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are a five-hour drive and a world apart. Pittsburgh is a Midwest city with a bit of East Coast ancestry. It’s the Northeast but also Great Lakes. It’s not your father’s smoggy city of Black and Gold. Today’s Pittsburgh is a modern, livable metropolis that traded in steel mills and coal mines for shiny office towers, a thriving tech industry, vast parks and big-city nightlife.

Sure, downtown Pittsburgh at Golden Triangle is a gleaming, teeming modern smog-free city. But even if you take the steel out of the city, you can’t take the steel out of its citizens. Pittsburgh will always be the city of fries on a sandwich, confluencing rivers and the Steel Curtain.

The people of the City of Three Rivers are as diverse as the neighborhoods in which they reside. Pittsburgh offers a plethora of cultural enclaves, with large populations of those with German, Irish, Polish, Italian, Black, Jewish, Lithuanian and Puerto Rican backgrounds.

And for its size and might, Pittsburgh is quite affordable. Although Pittsburgh technically lies within one of those pricey Northeastern states, rents in the Steel City are assuredly more Midwest. The average income in Pittsburgh is higher than that across the state in Philly. But rents are lower across the board, including a reasonable $1,500 a month for an average one-bedroom.

reading pa

  • Population: 88,302
  • Average age: 36.09
  • Median household income: $32,176
  • Average commute time: 30.78 minutes
  • Walk score: 69
  • Studio average rent: N/A
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,302
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,733

If it’s good enough for Taylor Swift, it’s good enough for you. Yes, that Taylor Swift. The super-slash singer/songwriter is not a native of Tennessee or Texas. She was proudly born and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Maybe it’s the laid-back small city vibe that left an indelible mark on Ms. Swift. Reading is the fifth-largest city in the Commonwealth and sits just 90 minutes from Center City Philadelphia. But Reading feels much smaller, a tight-knit community of 90,000. It offers both urban convenience and Appalachian mountain town charm with a populous nearly 60 percent Hispanic and Latinx and 30 percent under age 18.

And Readingers have plenty of diversions. The wooded area surrounding Mount Penn includes many recreational activities and hiking trails. It is also the site of Reading’s most famous landmarks, William Penn Fire Tower, Peace Rock and the Pagoda, a century-old Japanese-style building that contains a café, gift shop and observation room overlooking the city.

Sports also loom large in Reading. The city has been home to the Phillies’ Double-A affiliate for over 50 years and Team Penske’s open-wheel race car operations for nearly as long.

scranton pa, one of the best places to live in pennsylvania

  • Population: 76,624
  • Average age: 42.35
  • Median household income: $40,608
  • Average commute time: 23.68 minutes
  • Walk score: 58
  • Studio average rent: $1,100
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,226
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,469

Alfredo’s Pizza Café. Froggy 101. Steamtown Mall. Anthracite Heritage Museum. Yes, all those references in The Office are actual, real-world places in Scranton. Dig deep enough and any Scrantonian will sheepishly admit that the depiction of the hard-scrabble former coal city in the show is pretty accurate.

The Electric City is the state’s seventh-largest, a working-class town just about two hours from both Philadelphia and New York. Like many Pennsylvania cities, Scranton leaned into revitalization as coal mines and steel plants closed.

Today, Scranton is booming in healthcare, technology, social services, finance and particularly tourism, leaning into both its unique railroad history and its proximity to top northeastern ski resorts.

Scranton’s revival helped its downtown boom. The pedestrian-friendly district has seen a bevy of new cafés, restaurants, shops and bars surrounded by loft apartments. Many of these are in restored, architecturally significant buildings that recently sat empty.

While many new residents are coming for the first time, the city has seen a large number of Scranton natives moving back from big cities. Cost of living is a big factor, but so is security. Among Pennsylvania’s largest cities, Scranton is the safest.

West Chester, PA.

  • Population: 19,698
  • Average age: 34.74
  • Median household income: $61,837
  • Average commute time: 27.91 minutes
  • Walk score: 54
  • Studio average rent: $1,350
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,598
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,995

Just 25 miles from Center City Philadelphia, the Philly suburb of West Chester is the smallest city on our list. It is also the wealthiest, with an average income of over $80,000. Fortunately, that high wage level hasn’t completely translated into high rent prices.

An average studio apartment leases for just $1,350, while one and two-bedroom units are $1,598 and $1,995, respectively.

West Chester, not far from Philly’s ritzy Main Line, offers a high quality of living. West Chester schools rank highest on our list while the average age, at just under 35, is the youngest. Though a suburb, the borough’s downtown offers much for its young and affluent residents.

In addition to several upscale and trendy bars, restaurants and retail, many businesses have set up shop in this vibrant hamlet. But West Chester’s most notable business? On the edge of town is the world headquarters and studios of the QVC shopping network. And on the south end of town is West Chester University, ranked a “Top 10 Public Regional Universities in the North” by U.S. News.

What else does West Chester offer these up-and-coming leaders of tomorrow? The borough has also been rated one of the “10 Most Exciting Places In Pennsylvania” and a top three “Great American Main Streets.”

York, PA, one of the best places to live in pennsylvania

  • Population: 44,055
  • Average age: 36.62
  • Median household income: $33,906
  • Average commute time: 27.97 minutes
  • Walk score: 53
  • Studio average rent: N/A
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,160
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,256

Most cities in Pennsylvania orient themselves with their proximity to Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. However, York residents find themselves just 15 miles from the Maryland border and 45 minutes from Baltimore.

The 16th largest city in the Commonwealth, York is best known as the first National Capital, in 1777. But iron-benders know it as headquarters of York Barbell and the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame, and chopper heads know it well for Harley-Davidson’s largest manufacturing plant.

Hungry for a snack? Stauffer’s animal crackers — made here for over 150 years — call York home. Also, it is the site of one of the four Starbucks roasting facilities in the whole world.

With deep roots in American Revolutionary history, tourism is important to the York economy.

For York residents, day trips abound. Lancaster and Amish Country are just a half-hour to the east. HersheyPark is only 45 minutes north. And the Gettysburg Battlefield is under an hour west. Working at the State Capitol? Harrisburg is only 30 minutes away.

Looking for something a little more pastoral in Central Pennsylvania? The historic York State Fair is the nation’s oldest, dating back to 1765.

Find your own best place to live in Pennsylvania

The best places to live in Pennsylvania are also some of its most renowned cities. No matter your tastes, you can set up shop somewhere great from the corner metropolises to the coal towns to the suburbs. And you can find your next great Keystone State city right here on rent.com, whether you enjoy your Primanti’s covered in fries or your Jim’s bathed in whiz wit.

Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments in March 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
Other demographic data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.

Source: rent.com