The first World Heritage City in the U.S., Philadelphia is known as the birthplace of America. Each year, visitors flock to Independence National Historic Park, which includes Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and other sites vital to the creation of the nation. The City of Brotherly Love is also proud to showcase some of the country’s other firsts: the first flag, sewn at the Betsy Ross House, the first zoo, the first mint, and the first firehouse.
When visiting the city, the question isn’t “Is there enough to do?” but instead “How do we choose?” While it may not be possible to see and do everything listed here, this is not an exhaustive list, only some of the highlights; Philadelphia has so much to offer, families come back again and again.
Places to play
Everything at the Please Touch Museum is hands-on. The museum is geared toward younger kids (from toddlers through early elementary age), and imagination and exploration are encouraged. Kids of all ages can also enjoy a ride on the century-old Woodside Park Dentzel Carousel.
For science-minded kids, The Franklin Institute’s permanent exhibits allow visitors to explore scientific principles through hands-on experiments and even walk through a model of the human heart. The planetarium show (included with admission) provides the opportunity to sit and relax while learning about our galaxy. At the Academy of Natural Sciences, your dinosaur-lovers can not only see how they measure up to the T-Rex in the main hall; they can also try their hand at digging up fossils. Upstairs, 37 dioramas provide the opportunity to see many wild animals in a representation of their natural habitat.
Independence Seaport Museum provides a glimpse of life on the waterfront by providing maritime history and information about local aquatic creatures. Visitors learn about boat-building and can climb aboard a National Historic Landmark ship and submarine. While many of the exhibits at the Museum of the American Revolution may involve too much reading for little ones, a replica privateer ship provides a taste of a day at at sea (kids may get to try their hand at running out the cannon) and the recreated historical environments of Revolution Place provide a prime opportunity for kids to experience what life was like in 18th-century America.
Burn off some energy — or sit back and relax
Philadelphia is home to more than 2000 acres of park space, from small center-city squares to the sprawling open areas and wooded hiking trails of Fairmount Park. Public squares are abundant, and over the summer months, you can chat up the historical figures you find there. Along the waterfront, Penn’s Landing offers activities and festivals year-round.
The Delaware River Trail and the Schuylkill River Trail are multi-use trails along the city’s two rivers. Here you can walk or bike along the river, taking in scenery such as parks, gardens, the Fairmount Waterworks and Boathouse Row. Want to kick back and relax while learning about the city? Try a trolley or horse-drawn carriage ride. If you prefer to walk, there are a number of self-guided or specialty tours that focus on everything from ghosts to art, history to food.
Sample different cultures
One of the early ports for immigrants, Philadelphia has retained its melting-pot pride. Let kids learn about culture and cuisine at the Italian Market and Chinatown’s Friendship Gate. Lesser-known destinations include museums dedicated to the early Philly residents of Swedish, Japanese and Polish descent. The Mummers Museum pays tribute to the tradition of Mummery in Philadelphia; in addition to displays, visitors can learn how to “strut.”
Soak up the arts
The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s iconic stairs inspire visitors to sprint up Rocky-style — and inside, young visitors can pick up an activity sheet or borrow a tablet to go on an art-inspired scavenger hunt. If time or interest is lacking, the smaller but equally impressive PAFA is just across the street from the Convention Center. South Street’s Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens enchants visitors with artwork covering multiple surfaces. All also offer workshops where families can try their hand at creating their own art.
The Kimmel Center, home to the Philadelphia Orchestra, offers children’s concerts in a smaller, more intimate venue. Several theaters include children’s shows in their schedule; some also offer classes and workshops for school-age kids.
Where to eat
Check out the Reading Terminal Market for a quick bite and the opportunity to pick up some farm-fresh snacks for later. Newly renovated, The Bourse is adjacent to Independence Park and offers a variety of cuisines from Philly cheesesteaks to Hawaiian poke. (But Philly natives insist that for cheesesteaks, you have to head over to Passyunk Avenue, near the Italian Market, and wait in line at Pat’s or Geno’s; the two have vied for customers for over 50 years.) For a sit-down meal, try City Tavern, where Congress held the first Fourth of July celebration in 1777.
How to get around
While Philadelphia is a very walkable city, the SEPTA public transportation system also easily gets you around the city and its suburbs. The light rail line provides transportation in and out of the city, with three stops convenient to most attractions. Subway and bus lines complete the transportation web and the PHLASH, a seasonal bus loop, helps you get around downtown and to just-out-of-the-way destinations like the zoo and some museums.
Where to stay
There are many hotels that are easily accessible by public transport. The Kimpton Hotel Palomar Philadelphia, near City Hall, offers special $1 or $2 breakfast deals and the Loews Philadelphia, just a short walk from Reading Terminal Market, offers packages that include dining credit. The Logan Hotel, overlooking Logan Square and close to several museums, offers a family fun package that includes free kids meals and an activity pack.