Best Things To Do in Philadelphia
History pervades Philadelphia's major attractions: America's Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence here in Independence Hall, and the city's Liberty Bell rang in 1776 to summon citizens for the first reading of the Declaration. Philly is also home to the green Fairmount Park and the bustling Rittenhouse Square. Noteworthy museums include the odd Mutter Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art with its remarkable collection of impressionist art. If you have limited time in the City of Brotherly Love and want to hit all the major attractions, consider signing up for a guided tour.
Updated August 30, 2019
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Opposite Independence Hall, you'll find the Liberty Bell Center in Independence National Historical Park. Now residing in a huge glass gazebo, this 2,080-pound piece of history was once mounted in the belfry of Independence Hall. It was used to mark important historic events, most notably at the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Historians believe the first crack developed in the early 1840s. Metal workers were tasked with repairing the bell in anticipation of George Washington's birthday in 1846. The repair was unsuccessful and the bell ceased to chime ever again.
Despite the long lines, recent visitors called this attraction a must-see for all Americans. They also suggested planning your visit first thing in the morning during the week.
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If you're interested in history, you must visit this red-brick Georgian-style building (located in Independence National Historical Park in the Old City), where the Second Continental Congress met off and on from 1775 to 1783. More importantly, it was here that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated, drafted and signed by our forefathers. While touring Independence Hall, you'll have the chance to see the Assembly Room where George Washington was appointed the commander in chief of the Continental Army. You can also see surviving copies of the declaration, the Constitution and the Articles of Confederation, all displayed in the West Wing's Great Essentials Exhibit.
From March through December, you must obtain a ticket for a tour to visit Independence Hall (tickets are free, but there is a $1.50 ticket-handling fee). Many recent visitors recommend reserving tickets in advance to avoid waiting. They also say the guides, who are national park rangers, are great. You don't need a ticket to visit in January and February, but you must join a guided tour. A limited quantity of free tickets are available every day at the ranger's desk in the Independence Visitor Center at 6th and Market streets. This is the only place to obtain free, timed entry tickets. Several of the city's top walking tours also make a stop here.
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Whether you're actually interested in the exhibits or just looking to re-enact that timeless scene from "Rocky," the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a must-see. Modeled after the ancient Greek temples, this notable attraction is one of the leading museums in the country. After you've made it to the top of the stairs, take a moment to appreciate the Mr. Balboa's statue before diving into the museum's impressive of works by Matisse, Van Gogh, Picasso, Cézanne and many others. You'll also find entire structures from around the world, including a 16th-century Indian temple hall, a 17th-century Chinese Palace hall and a Japanese teahouse. Of note, there are ongoing renovations in the Main Building, resulting in a few galleries being closed until 2019.
The museum also includes the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building (just a short walk from the main building on Pennsylvania Avenue), which houses an impressive collection of photography, costumes and contemporary works.
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For a taste of local Philly produce, baked goods, coffee and more, head to Reading Terminal Market in the Market East District. This market is located beneath the Reading Railroad's 1891 train station (a National Historic Landmark) and harbors more than 80 different vendors. Here, you can sample food from around the world – including Greek, Thai, Mexican and Indian specialties – while perusing homemade crafts and jewelry.
Recent travelers love the variety of foods, saying there is something for everyone. While there is a central dining area, many of the food stalls also have their own seating. Some described the market experience as "overwhelming" because of the volume of vendors and visitors. If you're limited on time, consider reading about the market's various vendors beforehand on the market's website. Past visitors and critics praised the doughnuts at Beiler's Bakery, the apple dumplings at Dutch Eating Place, the roast pork sandwich at DiNic's and the po'boys at Beck’s Cajun Café. Several of the city's top food tours also make stops at the market; if you're looking for a little guidance when navigating the market, consider signing up for a tour.
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While it was once a grazing area for livestock, Rittenhouse Square is now one of the swankiest areas in the city. Named for David Rittenhouse, the first director of the United States Mint, this neighborhood – several blocks southeast of the Mütter Museum – now features plenty of top-notch restaurants, elegant stores and trendy nightlife venues. The park itself is a great place for a picnic or an outdoor stroll.
Recent visitors enjoyed taking a break from the city life and sitting back to relax in the area. Reviewers described it as "charming" and "lovely," though some also warned of panhandlers.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Philadelphia0.2 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND0.2 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Whether you're in search of an Instagram-worthy photo or just want to rest your feet in between sightseeing, John F. Kennedy Plaza can't be missed. Also known as LOVE Park, this plaza, which was designed by city planner Edmond Bacon (father of actor Kevin Bacon), is where you'll find Robert Indiana's world-renowned LOVE statue. What's more, the plaza unveiled new facilities – including a water feature, a welcome center and green space – in May 2018.
Most visitors recommend heading to the plaza to see its famous statue, although some caution that there is almost always a line to snap pictures of it. Several travelers also suggest venturing to the adjacent Levy Park to check out the city's Holocaust memorial. And if you love holiday markets, time your visit around Christmas when the park hosts Philly's annual Christmas Village: The space is filled with Christmas-themed decor and vendors who sell European food, ornaments and more.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Philadelphia7.7 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND7.7 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The 1,800-acre Wissahickon Valley Park appeals to outdoorsy types keen on enjoying a breath of fresh air in the city. Located about 5 miles northwest of downtown, the park boasts more than 50 miles of hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails. Plus, visitors can go bird-watching, picnicking or fishing in the Wissahickon Creek.
Past travelers raved about Wissahickon Valley Park's serene setting. Many also appreciated the property's historical architecture, which includes a covered bridge built in 1737, North America's first paper mill and a man-made cave that once housed John Kelpius (a mystic cult leader who brought his followers to the site in 1694 anticipating an apocalypse). For some of the park's best panoramas, visitors suggest strolling along the vehicle-free Forbidden Drive trail.
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The National Museum of American Jewish History aims to connect Jews to their heritage and inspire people of all backgrounds to appreciate the diversity of the Jewish experience. More than 30,000 artifacts illustrate immigration, worship, hard work, community and family life. The first floor features the "Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame," which showcases the accomplishments of 18 well-known Jewish Americans. The other three floors cover Jewish history dating back to 1654.
Recent visitors highly recommend a stop here, and appreciated the fact that the museum focuses on the entire history of Jews, rather than just the Holocaust.
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Home to one of the largest public collections of Rodin's work outside of Paris, the Rodin Museum, which opened in 1929, boasts almost 150 bronzes, marbles and plasters created by Auguste Rodin. The collection represents every phase of the illustrious artist's career. Highlights include The Kiss, Rodin's famous sculpture of two lovers.
The beaux-arts building itself is also a stunner, designed by French architect Paul Cret, while the formal French garden was designed by landscape designer Jacques Gréber. The lovely outdoor space features eight of Rodin's works, including The Thinker and The Gates of Hell. Recent visitors said the museum is beautiful inside and out and call the museum's collection excellent.
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The castle-like Eastern State Penitentiary is one of Philadelphia's most important historic sites. Having opened in 1829, this Quaker-inspired prison sought to reform prisoners using isolation and reflection rather than capital punishment and physical abuse. Although it was shut down in the 1970s, the Eastern State Penitentiary led the way to reform in the judicial system. Today, you are welcome to tour the facility; the highlight for many is Al Capone's cell.
Bear in mind that this attraction may not be appropriate for younger children due to its rather frightening nature. Recent visitors said the site is intriguing, yet disturbing, if not downright creepy. To embrace the terror, visit around Halloween when the prison turns into a haunted house with six different attractions. If you do decide to bring the kids, the Eastern State Penitentiary offers family-friendly tour options with a more PG retelling of the events that took place behind its thick stone walls.
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In addition to visiting Reading Terminal Market and signing up for a Chew Philly Food Tours excursion, foodies will want to save time for shopping and dining at Philadelphia's Italian Market on South Ninth Street. One of the oldest open-air markets in the country, the Italian Market features a multitude of gourmet food vendors selling imported goods, fresh cheeses, homemade chocolates and more. Additionally, visitors have access to stores offering everything from sports gear to books to flowers, as well as bars and restaurants that specialize in Mexican, Italian and Middle Eastern fare, among other cuisines.
Although patrons provide mixed feedback about the market's prices – some say the venue's wares are overpriced, while others note that items sold here are cheaper than comparable goods at Reading Terminal Market – many rave about its old-world ambiance and friendly employees. To make the most of a visit, travelers can book a market tour with a local tour operator like Urban Adventures or Taste 4 Travel. Tours start at $35 per person.
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Many say this children's museum is one of the best in the country, offering dozens of hands-on displays related to everything from gardening to construction zones. You and your kids can travel to Wonderland with the Mad Hatter's tea party, practice your reading skills in Wordsworth's Cottage and learn about the properties of water in the River Adventures exhibit. The museum also hosts weekly events, ranging from story time to science experiments. And when tummies begin to rumble, the Please Touch Museum Café serves plenty of healthy snacks that both you and your little ones will love.
According to recent visitors, this museum definitely caters more to the younger set. The exhibits may be most suitable for children ages 5 and younger (the miniature grocery store was a particular favorite for recent visitors). Also, note it costs an extra $3 on top of the admission price to ride the museum's popular historic carousel (or $5 for unlimited rides).
- #13View all Photos#13 in Philadelphia0.1 miles to city centerSightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.1 miles to city centerSightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Constructed in the late 19th century and decorated by artist George Herzog, this sturdy stone temple is one of the largest of its kind and was once the meeting place of one of history's more legendary organizations. Tour the temple's seven meeting rooms, each of them dedicated to ideal forms of architecture: Oriental, Gothic, Egyptian, Renaissance, Ionic, Corinthian and Norman. Or attempt to uncover the mysteries behind the masons (members of which include Ben Franklin and George Washington).
Recent travelers called the attraction a hidden gem and a must-see and rave about the architecture, but recommend timing your visit with the tours in mind because patrons are not allowed to wander around freely. Some said the tour experience can vary depending on the knowledge level of your guide, but most called the tour a "fascinating."
- #14View all Photos#14 in Philadelphia3.3 miles to city centerSportsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND3.3 miles to city centerSportsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Baseball lovers won't want to miss a visit to Citizens Bank Park. Situated in South Philadelphia by the Wells Fargo Center (where the Philadelphia 76ers and the Philadelphia Flyers play) and Lincoln Financial Field (home of the Philadelphia Eagles), Citizens Bank Park is where sports enthusiasts can watch a Philadelphia Phillies game. Property facilities range from food and merchandise concessions to an outdoor beer garden to an interactive kids baseball experience called The Yard.
Travelers highly recommend attending a Phillies game here, saying that there isn't a single bad seat in the venue. What's more, many rave about the ballpark's friendly and intimate atmosphere, as well as its clean grounds, ample parking and superb (albeit pricey) food and beverage vendors. For those who don't want to watch a game, visitors suggest paying for a ballpark tour.
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Having opened way back in 1874, the Philadelphia Zoo is the first and oldest zoo in the country, but this 42-acre facility does a great job hiding its age. With nearly 1,300 animals residing here, there is plenty to keep you and your kids entertained for the entire day. Swing by the PECO Primate Reserve and check out the gorillas and the orangutans or come face to face with lions, tigers and jaguars at the KeyBank Big Cat Falls. Other top sites include the Tortoise Trail, the African Plains and Bear Country. In 2018, the zoo opened two new exhibits, Penguin Point and Water is Life, where you can see otters, red pandas and more. There are plenty of indoor and outdoor concessions, but you're also welcome to bring your own picnic.
While this zoo receives high praise from most travelers (especially those traveling with kids), others feel that there is room for improvement and ticket prices are rather expensive. Reviewers were especially impressed with one of the zoo's newest features, Zoo360. This property-wide network of mesh trails allows the animals to wander around and above the grounds.
- #16View all Photos#16 in Philadelphia0.6 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.6 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Unlike the Please Touch Museum, The Franklin Institute is sure to appeal to kids of all ages, not to mention the young-at-heart. Interactive displays help you and your kids learn about everything from physics to astronomy. While you're here, don't miss the SportsZone, which explains the science behind sports like surfing and rock climbing with the help of simulators. Or explore space without ever leaving earth at the Fels Planetarium. You can also take in a movie at the IMAX theater or test your wits in the museum's escape rooms. If you're interested in history, make sure to save time for the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, which features a 30-ton statue of Franklin as well as a collection of his belongings.
Most visitors agree that spending a day in The Franklin Institute is a great way to kill some time, especially if you have little ones in tow. However, some reviewers were disappointed that certain exhibitions cost extra.
- #17View all Photos#17 in Philadelphia0.8 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.8 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
You may want to think twice about bringing your kids to the small yet fascinating Mütter Museum. Housed within The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Mütter is dedicated to the exposition of medical oddities. While most museums like this fill their halls with old pictures and antique scalpels, this rather cramped 19th-century building overflows with wet specimens (biological samples preserved in fluid), skeletal specimens, anatomical models, instruments and more. Some highlights include items that belonged to Marie Curie, a tumor removed from Glover Cleveland's mouth, an informative display on Siamese twins and the tallest skeleton on display in North America.
While this museum is fascinating, be prepared to feel grossed out. Recent visitors felt that the disturbing exhibits were what made the museum unique, but warned the squeamish to proceed with caution.
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For some of the best views of downtown Philadelphia, venture to the top of One Liberty Place. At the building's One Liberty Observation Deck on the 57th floor, you'll be treated to 360-degree panoramas of skyscrapers and local landmarks, such as the Ben Franklin Bridge. Plus, the indoor deck's ground floor is home to #TheRealPhilly exhibit, which features a large blue sculpture of Benjamin Franklin. The penalty box used by the Broad Street Bullies (the aggressive Philadelphia Flyers professional hockey team from the 1970s) is also on display and visitors can learn about local music, sports and pop culture in the space's audio zones.
Although a few reviewers caution that entry fees are a little steep, many say the attraction's fantastic vistas justify the cost. Visitors also rave about the friendly and knowledgeable tour guides. Hourlong tours, which all tickets cover, are available on the hour between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. From late September to late October, tours also take place at 5 and 6 p.m.
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Art aficionados who gravitate toward French impressionist, post-impressionist and early modernist works will likely love checking out the Barnes Foundation. Located on 4 ½ acres, this art museum boasts 181 Renoir and 69 Cézanne paintings. The property's permanent collection also features paintings by Picasso, Matisse and Van Gogh, plus an impressive mix of African art, wrought-iron metalwork, Native American pottery and more.
According to recent travelers, the Barnes Foundation is a world-class museum, despite its smaller size. In fact, many said the attraction's collection is so amazing that it's easy to feel overwhelmed during visits. For an experience that's comprehensive without feeling rushed, consider avoiding holidays and the first Sunday of every month (when admission is waived) and allotting at least two hours for exploring.
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If you want to learn more about the people who have fought for liberty throughout the years, visit downtown Philadelphia's National Liberty Museum. Situated a few blocks east of the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall, this museum is home to an education center, a memorial for Sept. 11 victims and various exhibits and galleries. Standout features include the Flame Gallery's 21-foot Flame of Liberty glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, a life-size replica of the Liberty Bell and the Live Like a Hero gallery's Jellybean Children sculpture inspired by America's diversity.
Although a couple of past museumgoers said the property's exhibits are skippable if you have limited time, others appreciated the thought-provoking displays about religious freedom and civil liberty. Many were especially impressed with the museum's Chihuly pieces.
- #21View all Photos#21 in Philadelphia5.9 miles to city centerSightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND5.9 miles to city centerSightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
No visit to Philly would be complete without trying some of the city's iconic dishes. To taste a bit of everything, sign up for a foodie outing with Chew Philly Food Tours. Each 2 ½-hour walking tour includes at least six samples.
On the company's standard Authentic Philly Food Tour – which is based in northwestern Philadelphia's Manayunk neighborhood – travelers will sample bites of classic Philly items like tomato pie and cheesesteaks, while the Chestnut Hill Food Tour offers a more refined experience that may include tastes of local cheeses, gourmet chocolates, award-winning olive oils and more. Those with an interest in the paranormal should opt for the Haunted Food Tour, an October-only tour that features fall-themed tastings (think: apple cider and maple pecan macarons) and commentary about local (reportedly haunted) attractions.
- #22View all Photos#22 in Philadelphia0.8 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND0.8 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Travelers who enjoy quirky attractions should visit Philadelphia's Magic Gardens. Open to the public since 2008 (though work on the space began in the late 1960s), this mixed media art museum features two indoor galleries and a two-story outdoor sculpture garden. Each of the handmade tiles, bicycle wheels, mirrors, bottles and folk art pieces incorporated into the space represents an aspect of creator Isaiah Zagar's life. Through the creation of this facility, Zagar has helped beautify Philly's South Street neighborhood.
Visitors praise Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, saying it's an intriguing, beautiful and riveting museum. In fact, one reviewer goes so far as to describe the property as a "sprawling masterpiece" created by an "eclectic genius." Due to the attraction's small size, museumgoers suggest allotting no more than an hour to walking around.
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Two blocks north of the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center is a nonprofit devoted to educating visitors about the U.S. Constitution. Welcoming patrons since 2003, the facility houses exhibits about the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. Noteworthy artifacts include a judicial robe worn by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Sept. 11 wreckage from the World Trade Center and one of 24 surviving copies of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln.
Despite some complaints about lackluster exhibits and pricey entrance fees, previous visitors said they enjoyed their time at the museum overall. Several said checking out the Signers' Hall (where the 42 Founding Fathers are immortalized in bronze, life-size statues) is a must, while others appreciated the abundance of interactive activities for kids. To save some coin on several of the city's top attractions – including the National Constitution Center – a few past travelers suggested purchasing The Philadelphia Pass. If you're hoping to combine a visit to the center with some of Philly's other historical attractions, consider tagging along on a guided walking tour.
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