Can’t-Miss Philadelphia Attractions for Families
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Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, is a living classroom where children — and parents — can have barrels of fun while learning about history, art, science, sports and more. We’ll share our time-tested itinerary for family fun and will also throw in some of TPG’s favorite restaurants and places to stay in Center City. Because there’s so much to do and see at these places, allow plenty of time and don’t overschedule to avoid cranky kids.
Start With the Seat of America’s History
Seeing the Liberty Bell is essential, so start at the country’s most historic square mile with Independence National Historical Park for an interactive historical experience. (Many of the sites in the park are free.) Start your visit at the Independence Visitor Center (6th & Market streets), and check into the Junior Ranger program. Visit the bell, Independence Hall (free timed tickets, March through December), Congress Hall, the Benjamin Franklin Museum ($5 for adults, $2 for children ages 4 through 16, free for children under age 4) and the Bishop White House. Park rangers lead walking tours from Memorial Day through Labor Day on such topics as Dr. Franklin’s Philadelphia, History Beneath Our Feet and the Underground Railroad. Download the free mobile app, NPS Independence, to map out your trip.
Once you’ve been to the historic sites in the city, take some time to visit Franklin Square (6th and Race streets). Besides the Parx Liberty Carousel (always a family favorite, $3 per person, free for those 2 and under), playground, a new fountain that operates seasonally (with lights, music and dancing water as of summer 2019) and Living Flame Memorial, there’s also a Philadelphia-themed mini-golf course (the only miniature golf course in the Center City) where you’ll spy a mini Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, Love statute, Philadelphia Museum of Art (aka the “Rocky” Steps), Ben Franklin Bridge and Chinese Friendship Gate ($10 per adult, $8 for kids 3–12 and free for those 2 and under). Take a picture of the children or the whole family by each of these places and then match them up with pictures you took of the real place. (See Philadelphia’s most Instagrammable places.)
Visit Betsy Ross and the birthplace of the American flag at the Betsy Ross House, an interactive 18th-century upholstery shop ($5 for adults and $4 for kids and seniors). You can learn about her life, work and legend from the upholsterer herself (well, a costumed actor). A special audio tour is geared toward 4- to 8-year-olds, with lessons in colonial life. It also has some historical mysteries to solve. The second floor is not accessible for strollers, wheelchairs, walkers or motorized scooters. However, the first floor is somewhat accessible (some walking and two steps). Ask for the free audio guide (239 Arch Street).
Check Out Some Interactive Museums
Little ones love the Please Touch Museum, where they’re encouraged to, yes, touch everything. The mini grocery store is always a big hit among the hands-on interactive exhibits in the two-story Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park. There’s also a fully restored century-old carousel. Other favorites are Alice’s Wonderland, river adventures, creative arts studio, roadside attractions and more, all geared toward letting your youngsters explore their curiosity. Check the calendar to see when Squiggles, the museum’s new blue and purple mascot will be available to cuddle. On first Wednesdays, the museum charges just $2 admission from 4 to 7pm Otherwise, you’ll pay $19 per person. Kids 1 and under are free (4231 Avenue of the Republic).
For little ones, tweens, teens and much taller ones who like to remember when they were little (e.g., you and me), check out the Franklin Institute Science Museum ($23 per adult and $19 for kids 3–11). A full city block of things to explore, the biggest attraction is the walk-through heart (ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump) that’s the appropriate size for a person 220 feet tall. There are dinosaur bones, dioramas, a live butterfly exhibit, an IMAX theater ($7–$10) and much more. Another fascinating exhibit is the Foucault’s Pendulum, which proves the rotation of the Earth. Look for the seven secret spots for great Instagram shots (222 N. 20th St. at Benjamin Franklin Parkway).
View Some Art
While the art world knows Philadelphia Museum of Art as one of the largest art museums in the country, there’s a part of the population that knows the entrance as the “Rocky steps” from the original “Rocky” movie. So, run up the 72 steps and then take a photo of the victorious you. Once that’s done, head inside (Adults pay $20, kids 13–18 are $14 and admission is always free for children 12 and under). Sunday is a fun day for children when tours, drawing and crafts are geared to their generation. It’s pay-what-you-wish on the first Sunday of the month and every Wednesday after 5pm. Look for the Art Splash programs during the summer (2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway).
If step climbing isn’t your thing but you want some exercise, stop by the Blue Cross RiverRink. It’s an outdoor space with games, activities and food. There’s ice skating in the winter (hot drinks, fire pits, etc.) and roller-skating in the summer (complete with a beach atmosphere, air conditioning, rocking chairs, carnival rides and more). There’s no fee for general admission to the area; it costs $3–4 per person to skate for 90 minutes and skate rentals are $10. Members of Independence Blue Cross, first responders and military personnel get free skating admission (121 N. Columbus Blvd).
Head to the Zoo
The 42-acre Philadelphia Zoo ($24 for adults, $19 for kids ages 2–11) is America’s first zoo and now home to nearly 1,300 animals, many of them rare and endangered. Exhibits include Big Cat Falls, the McNeil Avian Center, the PECO Primate Reserve and KidZooU (an interactive wildlife academy of dynamic displays, rare breeds and indoor-outdoor learning). Check out the five trails of the Zoo360 program — gorilla treeway, treetop trail, great ape trail, big cat crossing, meerkat maze and water is life — that let the animals travel safety around you.
For a special treat (and extra fee), you can book a private 20-minute behind-the-scenes tour with a giant tortoise, giant otter, reticulated giraffe, hippopotamus, white rhinoceros or Humboldt penguin. Even more special are the for-fee Night at the Zoo overnight experiences that include an animal keeper meet-and-greet, late-night hike, crafts and activities; the event is recommended for children ages 6–13. An adult must accompany younger guests (3400 W. Girard Avenue).
Where to Eat
This much sightseeing will make your entire family hungry. Here are our favorite places to grab a bite:
Reading Terminal Market, a 125-year-old (since 1893) farmers market with more than 50 booths with prepared food — from cheesesteaks and Bassetts Ice Cream to regional fare. Make sure to stop by the Philbert the pig statute. The market is open daily from 8am, but some shops open later (51 N. 12th St.).
Honey Sit ’N Eat is a diner-style restaurant offering great breakfasts and comfort food with a Center City location. Vegetarian options and cash-only. Open 7am daily (2101 South St.).
McGillin’s Olde Ale House, Philly’s oldest bar, is, believe it or not, very family friendly with comfort food that kids love plus prices that parents love, including free soup with every lunch. Check for daily specials. After 9pm it’s 21+ only (1310 Drury St.).
Where to Stay in Center City
Philadelphia is filled with plenty of options for point redemption hotels. Staying in Center City means less time commuting or the chance to eliminate the need for a car entirely by taking the Philadelphia Phlash, a bus service that runs every 15 minutes with stops at or near most of the popular tourist destinations. It’s $2 per person per ride, $5 for an all-day off-on pass or $8 for a two-day pass (purchase online only). Children 4 and under and seniors are free. It’s a seasonal service that runs Friday to Sunday in April, September, October and most weekends in November; daily from May 1 to Sept. 2; and daily again November 29 through the end of December.
Among the Marriott options where your family can spread out are the Fairfield Inn & Suites Philadelphia Downtown/Center City and the Residence Inn Philadelphia Center City. Both are Category 4 properties from 25,000 points per night. Have a up to 35k Marriott night certificate (or 35k points per night)? If so, use them at the Courtyard Philadelphia Downtown, Four Points by Sheraton Philadelphia City Center, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, The Westin Philadelphia or the Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown. Or, go all-out and stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia (Category 6, 50k points per night).
Within the Center City, there are six Hilton properties, including the Home2 Suites by Hilton (35k–40k points per night), DoubleTree by Hilton (27k–50k), Hampton Inn (31k–45k), Hilton Garden Inn (33k–50k), Embassy Suites (40k–50k) and Logan Philadelphia (Curio Collection by Hilton for 46k–60k points). Another eight Hiltons are located by the airport, University City (the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) and Penn’s Landing. (Here are ways to rack up Hilton Honors points.)
The Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District is 30,000 Wyndham points per night and has a roof-top pool (open seasonally), fitness center and reserved self-parking for a fee.
Those with Hyatt points should check out the Bellevue Hotel, built in 1904, and featuring distinctive architecture and spacious hotel rooms. Accommodations with two queen beds start at 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night. As a Category 4 hotel, that means you can use an annual award night from the World of Hyatt Credit Card.
Philadelphia packs a punch, whether your family visits for a long weekend or an entire week. There is plenty to see and do and your kids will learn a lot — including some about the early years of America — through its wide variety of attractions and tours.
Featured image Garen Meguerian / Getty Images
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