Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s biggest city is known for its magnificent history, which includes Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed in 1776, together with many other National Historical Landmarks – all 67 of them! The city attracts over 39 million domestic tourists per year (as of 2013), who travel to it in order to enjoy its culture, history, arts and seafaring history. Philadelphia is also the birthplace of the United States Marines. Let’s look through the best things to do in Philadelphia!
1. Independence National Historical Park
A trip to the Independence National Historical Park is a fabulous opportunity for the whole family to learn all about this historical city’s past. Recognized as the birthplace of American democracy, the INHP welcomes over 3.5 million visitors a year, many of whom are keen to view the most famous of its attractions, the Liberty Bell. In 1776 the Founding Fathers came together here to sign the Declaration of Independence. Today, the building is the centerpiece of the park, and includes the buildings Independence Hall, Congress Hall, Franklin Court, the Bishop White House, New Hall Military Museum and aforementioned Liberty Bell, entrance to all of which are free. Guided tours are available all year round.
2. Philadelphia Museum of Art
A visit to this venue is a wonderful opportunity for the whole family to enjoy some of the world’s most impressive and beautiful art work. Third largest in the whole country, the Museum of Art’s extensive assortment is home to paintings by some of the globe’s most important artists including collected works by Renaissance, Impressionist, American and Modern art painters. Don’t forget to visit the museum’s upper level, a mix of distant societies displayed through 80 period rooms showcasing cultures from Indian temples to medieval cloisters.
3. Philly Cheesesteaks
Philadelphia is famous for many things, including the Liberty Bell, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the Philly Cheesesteak; a mouth watering crusty roll filled with delicately sautéed rib eye beef and (usually) Cheez Whiz cheese. And the choice to hold or not hold the onions! Making its official debut in 1930 when hot dog vendor Pat Olivieri decided to experiment with various ingredients, the city takes its iconic edible tradition very seriously and, if any patron should finds their offering not having the right amount of ‘drip’ to it (balance of flavors), the cook soon hears about it! Pick up one of these lip smacking delights at any of the steak shops, food trucks, delis and even some pizzerias situated around the city.
4. The Oval
If you are visiting Philadelphia in the summer months, you and the family could be in for a real treat! The Oval is an eight acre seasonal outdoors venue that transforms itself into a pop up arena devoted to family friendly fun. Have a great time playing giant games of Connect Four, chess, checkers and more, before treating yourselves to some mouth watering refreshments supplied by the surrounding local food trucks. There is even an outdoors beer garden where the adults can enjoy a cold brew. Besides all of this, the Oval has daily community activities and events for both locals and visitors.
5. Franklin Square
Franklin Square boasts a generous blend of family friendly attractions which include an 18-hole miniature golf course decorated with several of Philadelphia’s favorite icons where the family can play a round of putt-putt and learn a little bit of history at the same time, a picnic area, popular burger joint and the Liberty Carousel, which is a tribute to Philadelphia’s wonderful heritage to its carousel making. The kids will love taking a spin on some of the carousel’s hometown racehorse heroes like Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex, winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The square is one of the five originals laid out by William Penn, its centerpiece, the Franklin Square Fountain, built in 1838 and surrounded by magnificent wrought iron fences.
6. Eastern State Penitentiary
The ESP, as it is referred to locally, was at one time home to some of America’s most notorious mobsters, such as bank robber Willie Sutton and infamous gangster Al Capone. The prison was operational from 1829 until 1971 and the forerunner in the system of separate incarceration, the principle of which followed the idea of reform, not punishment. The penitentiary at the time was the largest public building ever to be erected and became a model for over 300 prisons worldwide. Now a U.S. National Historic Landmark, taking a guided tour will give you a very good insight into how prison life was. An interesting trip for all the family, but be aware you will be viewing a fairly harsh scenario so perhaps best to leave the younger kiddies at home.
7. Shane Confectionery
For those family members with a sweet tooth (and I suspect everybody!) treat them to a visit to this delectable candy store. Shane Confectionary is well known and loved in this city, and is actually Philadelphia’s oldest producer of candy. Even the shop staff are dressed in period clothing, a visual reminder that the shop has been trading since 1863. As you enter the store to the aroma of freshly baked chocolate confections and the sight of hand made chocolates and sweets made using some of the original apparatus, you’ll know that you and the family in for a very sweet time indeed.
8. Battleship New Jersey
As a special treat for all the family, a visit to the awesome 45,000 ton Battleship New Jersey is definitely on the cards! A big part of American naval history, the 887 feet armor plated steel wonder dominates the waterfront. Decommissioned for the fourth and final time in 1991, the battleship is now available for tours. As you weave through the narrow companionways it’s easy to get a feel of how life onboard must have been. Travel through the dimly lit Combat Engagement Center displaying sonar tracking and radar stations and even travel back to an earlier time on the 4D flight simulator’s “Seahawk” program as it re-creates a WWII era dogfight over Iwo Jima. Some of the tour guides served active duty on the “Big J” and are more than happy to talk about those days to their spellbound audience.
9. The Liberty Bell
Moved to its current location next to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell was originally cast in Great Britain, only to be recast in 1753 in Philadelphia in order to embellish the State House. Formerly used to call the Pennsylvania Assembly to meetings, it was further adopted by suffragists, Civil Rights advocates, war protestors, Native Americans, immigrants and others as their symbol. The 44 pound clapper actually caused the 12 ft circumference bell to crack on its first day of use and, though since recast several times, the defect remains to this day! Composed of approximately 70 pc copper, 25 pc tin and traces of gold, silver, lead, zinc and arsenic, weighing 2,080 and inscribed with the Biblical verse of Leviticus: “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof.” this is something the family shouldn’t miss!
10. The Rocky Statue and the Rocky Steps
Who hasn’t heard of the movie(s) Rocky? So much so in fact, that the Rocky Statue and Rocky Steps (better known as the Art Museum Steps) where the movie action happened is now one of Philadelphia’s most famous pieces of public art! The bigger than life sculpture, originally created for Rocky III, became a real life monument to the celluloid hero, with the fictional Rocky Balboa commemorated in bronze in 1980 and donated to the City of Philadelphia by actor Sylvester Stallone himself. Visiting the statue and running up the steps is almost a rite of passage to all visitors. Make sure the family doesn’t miss it.
11. Please Touch Museum
Since 1976 and across its 157,000 sq ft and six interactive exhibit zones, the Please Touch Museum has proven itself to be Philadelphia’s premier Children’s Museum.
The museum’s mission to enhance children’s lives with cultural awareness and hands on learning has become the delight of kiddies of all ages, including the four specifically designed areas for tots of three and under. Each fun filled area is packed with hands on children’s’ delights, from playing croquet with the Queen and sipping tea with the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to enjoying nursery rhymes in “Fairytale Garden” and so much more. A perfect day out for the kids!
12. Adventure Aquarium
Adventure Aquarium in Camden is where the family can discover life underwater! Featuring unusual exhibits including more than 8,500 aquatic species housed within two million gallons of water and home to the biggest collection of sharks on the East Coast, this is a fabulous attraction for all the family. Not only the only aquarium in the world to exhibit hippos Button and Genny both above and below the water as they have fun in their 60,000 gallon pool, you will also come face to face with turtles, stingrays and many more interesting aquatic individuals, including the frolicking 15 African penguins in their residence on Paradise Island. Don’t miss KidZone if you’re visiting with youngsters, a dedicated space encouraging kids under six to connect hands on with nature.
13. National Museum of American Jewish History
This remarkable museum with its collection of more than 20,000 artifacts, some of which dating back more than 300 years, helps bring to life the 360 year history of America’s Jewish people. Through the use of evocative objects, The National Museum of American Jewish History traces the stories of Jewish immigrants and relays pertinent moments, also inviting visitors to share their own stories. Some of the not to be missed exhibits include items such as Irving Berlin’s piano, Einstein’s pipe and 13 state of the art interactive media displays.
14. LOVE Park
LOVE Park is a very popular destination for both locals and tourists alike, and serves as the entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The park’s real name is actually John F. Kennedy Plaza but received its nickname due to its famous LOVE sculpture.
The plaza, originally constructed in 1965 by the actor Kevin Bacon’s city planner father, Edmond Bacon, had included lovely curved granite steps and imposing fountain, but the sculpture itself was purchased in 1965 by the Chairman of the Philadelphia Art Commission, F. Eugene Dixon, Jr. and returned to its permanent home in the park in 1976. Look out for the Fairmount Park Welcome Center and Gift Shop and think about stopping by one of the city’s top food trucks where you and your family can grab a bite to eat.
15. Benjamin Franklin Museum
This wonderful museum is dedicated to the legacy of Philadelphia’s famous founding father and a marvelous opportunity for the family to learn all about his life and times. The museum showcases personal artifacts and interactive displays that explore the celebrated man’s life as a statesman and private citizen, including his work as a scientist, printer, diplomat and civic institutions founder. The exhibits and displays offer visitors of all ages both fun and educational ways to learn all about Benjamin Franklin and life as it was lived during the 18th century.
16. The Philadelphia Zoo
The zoo, set within 42 acres of lovely Victoria garden, ornate iron cages, animal sculptures and tree lined walks, has many “firsts” in its history. It was the first American zoo to be charted (1859), the first to welcome chimpanzee and orangutan births, exhibit white lions (1957) and, remarkably, the world’s first children’s zoo (1957). Another fascinating first is Zoo360, a new animal exploration trail campus with see-through mesh trails that creates opportunities for animals to roam above and around the zoo grounds. Kids can have additional fun at KidZooU, where they can pet and brush mini horses and sheep, view goats, ducks and chickens, and visit the indoor education center filled with vibrantly colored parakeets, coral reef fish, desert ants and lots more. A variety of children’s climbing ramps and spheres ensure the kids are never bored.
17. Sesame Place
The kids are sure to have a fun filled day when they drop into Sesame Place! This is the nation’s only theme park that is based entirely on the much loved, award winning television show where they can get to meet all of their favorite characters! There is something for all the kids of the family, from a soft toddler play area to Cookie’s Monster Land, which features a three story net climb and five exciting rides. For the kids that like to splash around, choose from fun attractions like Bert & Ernie’s Slip & Slide, Big Bird’s Rambling River, The Count’s Splash Castle, Sesame Streak, Sky Splash and Ernie’s Waterworks to dry fun at Elmo’s World, Vapor Trail, and lots more.
18. The Betsy Ross House
A must see attraction for all the family is the Betsy Ross House, birthplace of the American flag. Take a self guided audio tour (and one especially for kids) to learn all about this celebrated lady’s life as you walk through the tiny rooms and narrow staircases of the home she rented in 1740. You will hear Betsy’s voice talking about life in 18th century Philadelphia, find out why she took on the possibly dangerous task of sewing the flag, explore her upholstery shop and see the basement where she made musket cartridges for the Continental Army. The kids will love Betsy showing them how to cut a five point star with just one cut of the scissors as well as the interactive exhibits letting them try their hands at colonial cooking!
19. The Franklin Institute
As one of the oldest and best loved science museums in the country, a visit to the Franklin Institute is a marvelous day out for all the family. Packed with both interactive and virtual reality technology to illustrate subject such as the physics of sport, the Space Command that simulates earth orbit research station, and the Train Factory’s steam engine that you can climb aboard, there won’t be a dull moment and a trip here is guaranteed to keep the family, especially the kids, intrigued! One popular attraction is the walk through ‘heart like a human’ corpuscle. At 15,000 times life size, this is an attraction the family won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
20. Sister Cities Park
Sister Cities Park is a renovated area that now features a commemorative fountain, brand new café, boat pond and educational garden. For the young members of the family, they can have fun playing in the Wissahickon-inspired Children’s Discovery Garden that features meandering pathways, gently scalable rocks and a winding stream. Wade in the boat pond’s shallow waters and, for extra fun, rent a sailboat! The enclosed Sister Cities Fountain was built as a unique representation of the world, with Philadelphia at its center. Around the fountain there are 10 jets of water, each one representing the city’s ten sister cities.
21. Valley Forge National Historical Park
Today, Valley Forge is a fertile, 3,600-acre expanse of rolling hillsides scattered with flowering dogwood trees, and popular with runners, picnickers and history buffs, but it wasn’t always that way and the monuments and statues throughout the park serve as a reminder to this. This is where over 2,000 soldiers died at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, so a family visit to the rows of cannons in Artillery Park, soldiers’ log huts and earthen fortifications spread around the rim of the park will be an excellent historical learning experience. Drop into the Welcome Center where you will be able to touch muskets and learn all about how life was during the winter encampment in the “Determined to Persevere” exhibit.
22. Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
This amazing museum, founded in 1812, is the oldest operating museum of its kind in the entire Western Hemisphere. It is filled to the brim with fascinating objects, both live and inanimate, having sponsored some of America’s influential wildlife and fossil explorations. In fact, the museum is used for biodiversity studies by researchers’ worldwide, making good use of the museum’s 17 million specimens. In Dinosaur Hall the family will be awe struck at the sight of the fully constructed Tyrannosaurus Rex, and in the Outside-In ‘hands on nature’ center, the kids can crawl through a tree trunk, use a microscope to examine fossils and even touch a cockroach or snake.
23. Independence Seaport Museum
This interactive museum is dedicated to exploring the Delaware River’s maritime history and includes wonderful exhibits about the China trade and local small craft. In 1996 the museum took responsibility for the BECUNA, a classic WWII submachine that fought battles in the South Pacific as well as the OLYMPIA, the country’s oldest (1892) floating steel warship, famed for being Admiral Dewey’s flagship during the Spanish-American war victory in Manila Bay, both now designated National Historic Landmarks. In Workshop on the Water, a working boat shop, the family can watch artisans restoring traditional wooden boats while the kids have fun sliding through the hatches of USS BECUNA to imagine being in command themselves.