You’ve booked your family vacation and are coming to Philadelphia, or Philly as we locals call it. We’re so excited that you’re coming to visit and know you will have a wonderful time exploring our city. As you will soon see, Philly is brimming with things to see, do, and yes, too many fabulous restaurants to count. Where’s a family to start?
Our family has been exploring the city for years and we have enough suggestions to keep you busy for weeks. But since you may not have weeks to set aside on this visit, we’re going to share some of our favorite things to do in Philly. We’ll give you the highlights of history, art, and science and give you the inside scoop on public parks and favorite restaurants.
If you love history, you are likely to spend most of your time within a few blocks of Independence Mall. Seeing, hearing, and touching history is inescapable when visiting this part of the city. From local history to the history of the United States of America, history comes alive before your very eyes, and in some cases, you will be transported into the middle of another era.
Independence National Historic Park – You want to start your journey into United States history at the Independence Visitor Center. You can buy tickets to other attractions here, but you will especially need to stop here to get tickets for the Independence Hall tour. While tickets are free, they go fast in the summer. If you want to ensure you get in when you want to, reserve tickets ahead of time for $1.50 per ticket. You will need a ticket even for babies. This stop isn’t likely to hold the attention of young children for long and is a guided tour. NOTE: you will need to go through metal detectors to enter the hall. Both this and Liberty Bell are part of the National Parks Junior Rangers program. Cost: FREE or $1.50/ticket
Liberty Bell – Make sure to stop at the Liberty Bell located just across the street from Independence Hall. Over the last few years the site has been updated with The President’s House Archaeological Dig in front of the Liberty Bell so plan a few extra minutes to walk through that before getting in line to see the bell. You will need to go through security screening here also so pack as light as you can to make it quicker and smoother. Cost: Free
Museum of the American Revolution – This museum opened in 2017 and unlike some older history museums is full of interactive displays and small theaters with short videos bringing the viewer into the world of the Revolutionary War. There’s a special gallery for kids to get some hands-on play and craft time. Cost: $19 (Adults), $12 (Children: 6-17), $0 (Children: 0-5).
National Constitution Center – This is the next place we recommend visiting, especially if you have kids in elementary school and up. It’s a fantastic way to have fun AND get a true picture of what kids learn in school about American history. We highly recommend catching a Living News production. Even though it is geared toward middle and high schoolers, even our younger one enjoyed it. Cost: $14.50 (Adults), $11 (Children: 6-18), $0 (Children: 0-5)
More places to check out near Independence Hall: Benjamin Franklin Museum, Elfreth’s Alley, Betsy Ross Museum, and National Liberty Museum.
Travel Tip: If you have memberships to local museums check your membership for reciprocal benefits. You may be able to save money on attractions with your membership!
As famous as Philadelphia is for some of our country’s earliest history, there is so much more to our city than history. If your family loves science, we also have a few places we love to visit. Here are our favorite places to get “hands-on” with science.
Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University – This museum is near and dear to our family’s heart and we visit every chance we get. There is something for all ages and it is currently going through some updates that take it from dusty old displays to fresh and sparkling. From Inside Out (the kids’ room) to live presentations and special exhibits, we know your whole family will enjoy the science museum. There is a café on-site and your family is sure to love the Butterfly Room. Cost: $19.95 (Adults: 13+), $15.95 (Children: 3-12) $0 (Children: 0-3). Save $2 per ticket when ordering online. There is an additional fee for the Butterfly Room and special exhibit.
Franklin Institute – Be prepared to learn the “whys” and “hows” of science. While the Academy of Natural Science is all about the animal kingdom, Franklin Institute is all about how things work – from electricity to the human body, there are interactive displays for all ages to experiment and explore. Cost: $23 (Adults: 12+), $19 (Children: 3-12), $0 (Children: 0-2). There is an additional fee for special exhibits, shows, and events.
Philadelphia Zoo – Look up! One of the cool things about the Philadelphia Zoo is that there is a catwalk that runs above a section of the zoo. If you look up, you just might see the tiger stalking overhead. The zoo is great for all ages and easily accessible with a parking garage on-site and the trolley stop nearby. The zoo is set up in a large loop with a few animal houses in the center, with special rides, a kids’ learning and play center, and petting area breaking up the space. There are also several picnic areas scattered through the zoo so bring a picnic lunch. If you don’t want to bring a lunch, you can grab lunch at concession stands throughout the park. Cost: $24.95 (Adults: 12+), $19.95 (Children: 2-11), $0 (Children: 0-2). There are additional costs for rides.
Please Touch Museum – Geared toward younger kids, this museum celebrates learning through various ways to play – both alone and with others. They also have special story hours and a working carousel. Cost: $19 (All: 1+) Additional cost for Carousel.
Travel Tip: There are several packages and tours you may want to take advantage of when you visit Philly. Check out CityPASS, Philadelphia City Sightseeing Tours, Old City Walking Tour, and Self-guided Scavenger Hunts.
We also love to explore the world of art in Philly. You can check out Mural Arts for a guide to exploring murals in different neighborhoods throughout the city and/or visit these art museums.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) – You can’t miss it! A huge paintbrush sculpture graces the sidewalk in front of the building. Step inside and enter a world of both traditional and modern art exhibits. Make sure you check out their downloadable guide that is full of activities and ideas for exploring the galleries under “visiting as a family” in the community education tab. Also check this tab out for fun classes and experiences. Cost: $15 (Adults), $8 (Children: 13-18), $0 (Children: 0-12)
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens – “One man’s trash is another’s treasure” is aptly displayed at this magical place of mosaic art. Entire families will have fun exploring. Cost: $10 (Adults), $8 (Children: 13-18), $5 (Children: 5-12), $0 (Children: 0-4)
Philadelphia Museum of Art – Be prepared to explore a wide variety of art here. No matter what your taste in art, you are sure to discover something fresh and new that challenges your perspective from traditional to modern; from American Craft to Mexican Modernism. Save time to visit the Sculpture Garden while you’re here. NOTE: There are several buildings of art that are included with the museum. Cost covers 2 consecutive days: $20 (Adults), $14 (Children: 13-18), $0 (Children: 0-12)
Travel Tip: After a museum or two, sometimes the kids just need to burn off their energy in the fresh air. We recommend Penn’s Landing, Smith Memorial Playground (not your average playground!), and Spruce Street Harbor Park. Smith Memorial is our favorite!
There’s no shortage of delicious places to eat throughout the city. These are just a few of our favorites, all of which are appropriate for kids:
Cross Keys Café at the Museum of the American Revolution
FARMiCiA for local, seasonal food in a sophisticated yet casual environment
Franklin Fountain for an old-timey ice cream shop experience
Reading Terminal Market is another fabulous (but busy) place to experience with every food imaginable on-site. If you stop here, hop in line for Beiler’s Donuts. It’s a must. You can also grab fresh produce for snacking at amazing prices.
East Passyunk Avenue is home to many fantastic restaurants. Some of our favorites for a quick casual bite are Fuel and P’unk Burger. The iconic Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks are also here–but make sure to check out the Cheesesteak Guide for tips on all the best steaks in the city.
Transportation tip: Taking public transportation is often the easiest way to travel in the city. You can buy a Family Independence Pass from SEPTA that allows 2 adults (18+) and 3 children to take public transportation for $30 for a day. If you order online you will want to allow 7-10 business days for the pass to arrive via mail. You can also purchase them at select stations. You don’t buy them for a specific date so my recommendation is to buy ahead of time so you have one less thing to deal with while you’re traveling.
No matter which adventures you choose to add to your itinerary we know your family is going to make a lifetime of memories. Don’t forget to pack your camera!