Getting around: The easiest way to get around Philadelphia is aboard the Philly Phlash tourist bus. The Center City loop runs every 15 minutes and serves 22 stops, including most of the top attractions. Fare is $2 per ride or just $5 for an all-day pass. Seniors and children 4 and under ride free. Service is daily May to Labor Day and Thanksgiving to December 31, Friday, Saturday and Sunday rest of year except winter. No service January to late March. Alternate service is with SEPTA (Southeast Pennsylvania Tourist Authority) which runs trolleys, buses, trains, and subways. (Check schedules online).
Visitor Center Daily 8:30am-6pm, to 7pm Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Known as America’s most historic square mile, these blocks between 5th and 6th streets from Chestnut to Race street are where the nation was born and are home to more than a dozen important Colonial landmarks. Take a stroll and take in as many sites as your kids (and you) can absorb. The top recommendations, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the Benjamin Franklin Museum, are detailed below. Start at the Visitors Center for tickets to Independence Hall, current hours of other buildings and special events, and two free introductory films. (This is also headquarters for bathroom and water fountain stops.) Among the other sites to consider are Congress Hall, where the first Congress met, Old City Hall, home to the first Supreme Court, the Portrait Gallery in the Second Bank of the United States, and the West Wing of Independence Hall housing original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The site of George Washington’s Philadelphia home is now an outdoor museum with video displays including the story of one of Washington’s slaves who escaped to freedom. The free app, NPS Independence, is an excellent guide and has interactive games for children. Statues of George Washington and other Founding Fathers offer great photo opportunities. Phlash stop #3.
Activities daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Families who plan a Philadelphia visit for summer will gain a big bonus, a host of activities planned by this creative group to enliven the historic district for children. Meet Ben Franklin and other costumed founding mothers and fathers, have a go at Colonial games and crafts, see a puppet show, line up to drill in a military muster, try on kid-size military uniforms or Colonial dress and visit one of 13 storytelling benches to hear tales of old. At 3:45 most days, a reenactor reads the Declaration of Independence as it was done long ago. See a full current calendar of events in the Visitor Center. This group also oversees Franklin Square and the Betsy Ross House detailed below. The Historic Philadelphia Pass is a good buy, including two days of unlimited on-off access to the Philly PHLASH Downtown Loop, and one-time admission to three key historic sites: the National Constitution Center, the Betsy Ross House, and Christ Church Burial Ground. Phlash stop #3.
Daily 10am-5pm; summer months to 9pm weekdays, 10 pm weekends, spring and fall to 7pm.
This handsome square centered with a grand restored 18th century fountain is one of the city’s five original squares transformed as a haven for play amidst all the history. Kids can work off energy climbing and swinging in the playground year round. In warm weather, enjoy a round of miniature golf amidst mini-landmarks like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall or ride a dragon, a zebra or a race horse on a happy carousel. During summer months, costumed Historic Philadelphia “History Makers”, invite visitors to roll hoops and play other Colonial games, watch demonstrations of 18th-century crafts and listen to tales at one of the storytelling benches. Mr. and Mrs. Ben Franklin and George Washington often are found roaming the square and are happy to pose for pictures. Square Burger is a great spot for a family-friendly meal.
Daily 9am-5pm; to 7pm Memorial Day to Labor Day. Admission by timed ticket only March to December; self-guided tours January and February. Free tickets available at the Rangers Deck at Independence Visitor Center from 8:30 a.m. or in advance for a small fee online or by phone at 1-877-444-6777.
The past comes alive here, standing just a few strides from the chairs where Benjamin Franklin sat and John Hancock presided over the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Delegates also signed the American Constitution in this room and Abraham Lincoln’s body lay in state here for two days in 1865. Park rangers do a fine job of recreating these dramatic moments and showing the rest of the building, originally constructed in 1732 as the Pennsylvania State House. Tours take in a courtroom; the Long Gallery, a reception area that became a hospital for wounded American prisoners during the British occupation of Philadelphia, and the Governor’s Council Chamber, where fugitive slaves were tried in the 1850s. This is a don’t-miss experience for children old enough to understand its importance, especially those who have studied American history. It is deservedly popular and is worth the small fee to reserve timed tickets in advance. Distribution starts at 8:30 am and tickets for the best time slots are gone within minutes. Allow time for the security check before your visit here and at other historic sites. Phlash stop #3.
Daily 9am-5pm; to 7 pm Memorial Day to Labor Day.
A photo with the bell and its famous fissure is a favorite Philly souvenir, accounting for the lines that form at the glass pavilion housing the bell. The line moves fast, however, and it is worth waiting for the fascinating story told in exhibits and a 10-minute video. Turns out there were two cracks, first the original ordered from England for the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) to celebrate the religious liberty that William Penn allowed in the colony. That bell was melted down to create this one, weighing a hefty 2080 pounds, and inscribed with the biblical verse “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” The bell tolled most memorably on July 8, 1776 for the first reading of the Declaration of Independence. It last sounded for George Washington’s birthday in 1846. The crack developed soon after. But even silent, it has remained a potent symbol. It was dubbed the Liberty Bell by a group working to abolish slavery, and was an inspirational image for women fighting for the right to vote and for the civil rights movement. Be prepared for the security check before entering and have the camera ready for that photo. Phlash stop #3.
Daily 9am-5pm, to 7pm in summer.
Signs featuring Skuggs the Squirrel lead the way through this family-friendly museum dedicated to one of America’s most famous Founding Fathers. Beneath a steel frame where Franklin’s home stood in the 1700s, the recently modernized underground museum shows his many roles as statesman, diplomat, publisher, writer, scientist, and inventor. The tale is told with artifacts, computer animations and many interactive exhibits. Kids can move a quill to see work that Franklin composed under various pen names such as Dr Fat Sides or, Selena Dogood, and try setting type. Everyone will marvel at one of his more curious inventions, the armonica, a musical instrument made of spinning glass. The fun continues at the nearby Franklin Square Print Shop, recreated on its original site. National Park Service rangers in Colonial demonstrate that it was no easy task to print a newspaper in the 18th century, hand-setting type, working the enormous heavy printing press, and hanging each sheet up to dry. You can purchase a hand-printed Declaration of Independence as a historic souvenir. Phlash stop #3.
Street open anytime. Museum open Friday-Sunday 12 noon-5pm.
For a delightful peek into the past, take a stroll down Elfreth’s Alley, known as America’s Oldest Residential Neighborhood. This little cobblestoned block is lined with Georgian and Federal style brick houses built from 1728 to 1836, nicely adorned with flowery window boxes and painted shutters. These were the small homes of workers, not the wealthy. In the 18th century, many artisans worked in their homes and the first floors of these abodes held many types of businesses. The street was named for Jeremiah Elfreth, an 18th century blacksmith and property owner. Other occupants were silver and pewter smiths, shipwrights, shoemakers, and wood workers. Things changed with the industrial revolution and the street later housed many immigrants who came to work in factories. In 1934, the Elfreth’s Alley Association was formed to restore and preserve the historic structures as they were 300 years ago. Most of the homes are still occupied by history-loving residents of today. Two houses, #124 and #126, once home to a pair of dressmakers, have been restored as a museum open weekends for guided museum and alley tours.
Daily 9am-5pm March to November, closed Mondays December to February.
Meet “Betsy” herself, a costumed interpreter, who will tell you all about her life and times. She was a widow supporting seven children as an upholsterer before she became famous for sewing the first American flag. It was a daring task as Betsy was risking death for treason if the Revolution failed. The tiny home she rented after her husband’s death was built around 1740 and has been restored and furnished in that period, offering a chance to see how people lived in Colonial times. Changing exhibits tell more about life in the past. The audio tour is helpful and a tour designed for children ages 4 to 8 makes Betsy’s story livelier by presenting 13 “history mysteries” to be solved while touring the house. Young visitors also can try their hands at colonial cookery and Betsy will show them how to cut a five point star like the ones in that first flag. Betsy Ross is buried beneath the shade trees in the courtyard of her home.
Monday to Saturday, 9:30am to 5pm, Sunday noon to 5pm.
This is the only center devoted to the American Constitution and it demonstrates how that document has remained alive after 200 years in an interactive way designed to engage teens (and their parents). Freedom Rising, a multi-media presentation with a live narrator introduces the story of the changing role of the document from the 1700s to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The main exhibit, The Story of We the People, traces that history with exhibits like touch screens that introduce people who have influenced how the Constitution is interpreted; a changing Living News performance, featuring current news and encouraging reactions from the audience; a chance to see yourself on screen reciting the Presidential Oath of Office; a giant board game where players get to the finish line by answering questions about American history; and a trivia competition testing knowledge about our presidents. Signers Hall invites photos with 42 life-size bronze statues of the Founding Fathers. Changing exhibits add to the learning. Phlash stop #3.
10. Philadelphia Zoo
Daily 9am-5pm March to October, to 4pm rest of year.
America’s first zoo, opened in 1874, is still innovating with a first-in-the-world display, Zoo360. This exciting network of see-through aerial mesh trails through the zoo’s 42 acres lets visitors watch lions and tigers, gorillas and great apes roaming overhead. KidZooU, the indoor-outdoor Children’s Zoo, won a 2014 award for exhibit design. The outdoor area features a duck pond and barnyard and a mini-tower where goats climb while children scale a parallel climbing area. Indoor exhibits include a Butterfly Habitat, Amazing Insects, a Wildlife Workshop and displays on conservation. The rest of the zoo is home to some 1300 animals, aardvarks to zebras, cheetahs to crocodiles. There’s plenty to see but the size is not overwhelming for kids. Special keeper presentations and animal feedings (lions, penguins, goats) are scheduled throughout the day. Get the full schedule on the zoo’s website, where you can also plan your day in advance with an interactive map. Strollers can be rented on site and several areas are provided if you want to bring a picnic. Phlash stop #14 (transfer to park loop bus at Museum of Art stop 11).
Monday to Saturday 9am -5pm, Sunday 11am-5pm.
The stately 1876 façade of Memorial Hall gives no clue to the happy world awaiting inside for younger children. Designed for age 7 and under, the museum combines play and learning with a host of exhibits where kids can become pretend architects, city planners, train engineers, shop keepers, doctor and nurses, rocketeers, or bus drivers. Travel down a “rabbit hole” to Wonderland, a mini-maze, doors, and mirrors await, along with a Fairytale Garden with rhymes and stories for little ones. Youngest visitors also have their own Toddler Zone. Riding the vintage 1908 carousel is a treat and temporary exhibits, performances, sing-a-longs and storytelling help make time fly. The museum has a collection of some 25,000 toys and boasts a replica of the Statue of Liberty’s arm and torch made of toys. Phlash stop #13 (transfer to park loop bus at Museum of Art stop).
Walk through a model of a giant heart and climb through a two-story neural network made of mesh. Test your balance on a surfboard and have a foot race with a virtual rival. See a computer analysis of your baseball pitch, a silhouette of your nervous system and an MRI of a brain. There’s an endless array of scientific fun at this pioneer institution founded in 1824 and still a leader in hands-on learning. Three floors of exhibits are divided by a dozen themes like Space Command, Flight, Changing Earth, The Brain, and Sports Zone. Electricity focuses on namesake Benjamin Franklin’s experiments and the many uses of electricity today. The building also includes a gallery that is the nation’s official Benjamin Franklin memorial. Live science demonstrations, an observatory with monthly star gazing, shows at the Fels Planetarium and an IMAX theater are also possibilities. It’s a lot to handle in one visit. A good plan is to visit the web site in advance for a list of the activities for families and decide which are the musts. This is a highly recommended visit for school age children. Phlash stop #16.
Monday to Friday, 10am-4:30 pm, to 5pm weekends and holidays.
For kids who dig dinosaurs or beautiful butterflies, this top natural science museum should be high on the list. Visitors to Dinosaur Hall are greeted by a gigantic Tyrannosaurus rex. There are 30 species on display, many of them full size skeletons, plus exhibits like dinosaur eggs and footprints. On the mezzanine young paleontologists can uncover their own dinosaur bones and skulls at The Big Dig. The butterfly exhibit is a lush enclosed tropical garden filled with dozens of brilliantly hued butterflies from Asia, Africa and South America. The museum is also known for its dioramas, some 37 scenes with life-like animals in realistic native settings from North America, Asia and Africa; a special exhibit shows how the scenes are created. At the Fossil Prep Lab, youngsters can watch how scientists prepare fossils for study. ”Outside In” on the top floor is designed for children ages 3 to 8, and includes the chance to safely touch live animals. Live animal presentations take place at 11am and 11:45am on weekdays and naturalists give demonstrations and talks weekdays at 2:30pm and weekends at 11am and 2:30pm. The academy, which is under the auspices of Drexel University, has a family-friendly café menu including their “famous” mac and cheese. Phlash stop #17.
Daily 10am-5pm; historic ships open to 8 pm early May to Labor Day. Boat rentals weekends early May to Labor Day.
Boarding historic ships like the World War II submarine Becuna or the 1892 cruiser Olympia is the highlight, but this river-front museum dedicated to the sea has fascinating exhibits indoors too. A full scale replica of the 102-foot masted vessel Diligence of 1797, is part of the permanent exhibit, Patriots and Pirates. It tels the surprising story of America’s one-time conflict with pirates and Philadelphia’s connection to the founding of the United States Navy. The Diligence replica, which is also available for boarding and exploring, was created by the onsite Independence Workshop on the Water, where artisans can be seen at work on projects using the traditional skills of wooden boat building. If it all makes you want to go to sea then kayaks, rowboats, and swan boats can be rented at the dock on summer weekends for a short cruise around the adjacent basin. Six is the minimum age for passengers. Phlash stop #1.
Tuesday to Sunday: 10am–5pm. Wednesday and Friday to 8:45pm.
Even if the kids don’t know who Rocky is, they will love running up the steep museum steps his movie made famous, a lively introduction to America’s third largest museum. Many art treasures await inside, especially the European masters in the Annenberg Galleries including Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne and Van Gogh. Children usually enjoy the hall of armor and the Asian galleries with life size exhibits such as a Japanese tea house, Chinese palace hall and an Indian Buddhist temple. Be sure to ask for the excellent printed family guides, one for ages 4 and up, another for older children. They are filled with quizzes to make viewing more fun as well as spaces for children to make their own art inspired by what they see. Sunday is special for families with weekly participatory tours and activities geared to young visitors starting at 11am. A family festival is scheduled the first Sunday of each month. There’s no admission charge for children 12 and under. Phlash stop #11.
16. Fairmount Park
Park open daily sunrise to sunset. Japanese House and Garden, April to October: Wednesday to Friday, 10am-4pm; Saturday, Sunday 11am-5pm. Smith Playground: April to September, Tuesday to Friday, 10:00am-6:00pm, to 7pm Saturday, Sunday. October to December 31, Friday to Sunday, 10am-4pm. Check for varying hours of historic houses. Phlash stops #12 to #14; transfer to park loop bus.
One of America’s largest city parks offer a relaxing change of pace, with over 9200 tranquil acres for strolling, picnicking, frisbee tossing, river and city views, and a host of sights. In the western section of the park, the Shofuso Japanese House and garden is a lovely life-size replica of a typical Japanese home with a lavish traditional garden. In spring, the area is a-glow with cherry blossoms. The eastern park section is home to The Dell Center offering summer outdoor concerts, and the Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse, a find for families with younger children. This 6 1/2 acre playland offers a giant Wooden Slide and all manner of play equipment geared to ages 10 and under. The 16,000 square foot Playhouse, designed for age 5 and younger, offers make believe fun like driving a train and cooking. (Without a car, reach the playground via SEPTA bus #32 to 33rd and Oxford; walk 1/3 mile into Fairmount Park). Besides the Philadelphia Zoo and the Please Touch Museums, described above, the park is home to a number of historic homes that can be toured on foot or viewed on a trolley tour
17. Mutter Museum
Definitely creepy but definitely interesting, the Mutter is the unique museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia tracing the development of medicine. Oddities like the 7’6” skeleton of the American Giant; casts of the bodies of the conjoined twins, Chang and Eng; pieces of Einstein’s brain; and the mummy-like body of the Soapy Lady are guaranteed to fascinate. Old instruments from a tiny needle to an iron lung, a display of Civil War medicine and an exhibit on the development of spinal treatment foster an appreciation of today’s technology. SEPTA green trolley line to Market and 22nd St., one half-block north of the Museum.
18. Mummers Museum
Wednesday to Sunday, 9:30am-4pm. Free.
Videos, oral histories, and unbelievably elaborate costumes tell the story of Philadelphia’s Mummers, whose strutting fancy brigades and banjo bands put on one of America’s most festive parades each New Year’s Day. Members of clubs with names like Merry Makers and Shootings Stars spend a full year creating new costumes for each parade, vying for the most eye-popping creations. Some with elaborate headpieces and back pieces worn on harnesses weigh as much as 125 pounds. A frame costume carried on wheels with a man inside can weigh as much as 300 pounds and measure 13 or 14 feet high. Outfitting a string band in such finery can cost as much as $150,000. Often a volunteer is on hand to tell you all about the groups and point out clips of the parades. There’s even an exhibit to teach you how to strut. Septa bus 57 headed south on 4th Street or north on 3rd Street
Monday to-Friday, 11am-5pm; Saturday, Sunday, 10am-5pm.
Take a light-hearted loop around the city by land and sea aboard a “Duck,” a replica of the amphibious vehicles that transported troops in World War II. The colorful narration on the 80-minute jaunts will fill you in on the attractions passed by, spiced with tales of city lore and a host of jokes. Be forewarned: kids are going to love their Wacky Quackers, a whistle-like device that sounds like a duck. Tours begin in the Old City, taking in landmarks in the Historic District, then roll along past Chinatown to the Museum District. Then comes an exciting smooth descent into the Delaware River for a 20-minute cruise admiring the city skyline and the historic ships at Penns Landing. Ride the Ducks tours leave from 6th Street at the corner of Chestnut Street, right across from the Liberty Bell. Phlash stop #3.
Trolley Tours, April to November, Saturday, 10:30am, Sunday, 1pm; also Friday at 1pm, mid-June to late August. Walking tours, April to November, Saturday, Sunday 11am and 3pm, also Wednesdays: 11am. and 4 pm June to August. Train tours: January to May, September to December, Saturday 10:30am, Sunday, 1p.m. No summer train tours. Segway tour information: (215) 280-3746.
With over 3500 big, colorful murals on walls throughout the city, Philadelphia can rightly boast that it has the world’s largest outdoor art gallery. The Mural Arts program began more than 20 years ago to fight graffiti by getting young artists involved in a different art. The art education program teaches skills to some 1000 young people and an equal number of vulnerable adults. It works with teens, the prison system, and the disabled to produce 50 to 100 new projects every year. The subject matter ranges from sports to the arts, florals to family, neighborhood life to the fight for equality. Murals brighten the city center and have helped to improve many struggling areas. Neighborhoods choose their own subjects. Tours are offered by trolley, train, Segway (age 14 and over) or on foot and are an educational and interesting outing for older children. If a tour seems too much, print the Mural Mile walking tour maps from the web site and take in a sampling of the work. Even the stroller set may appreciate this color-splashed street art. Tour tickets available online or by phoning (215) 925-3633.
21. Major League Sports
Baseball • Football • Hockey • Basketball
Sports fans have the opportunity to see big time action in Philadelphia, whatever the season. When baseball is the game, join the Philly Phanatac (their funny mascot) and the rest of the rabid Phillies fans cheering their team at Citizens Bank Park. The Liberty Bell replica at the park lights up whenever the home team hits a home run! As autumn approaches, the Eagles will be hosting the best of the National Football League at Lincoln Financial Field. And indoors at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers are on the ice during hockey season and the 76ers are at home on the basketball court. Check schedules and order ahead to be sure of tickets.
22. Penns Landing
Check web site for current schedules.
Penns Landing hums with waterfront fun all summer and ice skating in the winter months. Brazilian salsa to Irish step dancers to African reggae are just a few of the performances on stage at the Grand Plaza. The PECO Multicultural Series stages free outdoor festivals on weekends June to September, celebrating the music and dance, food and crafts of nations around the globe. In summer, the Festival Pier has rock concerts, there’s a new boardwalk, and beach in the city. Outdoor movies are shown on a big riverfront screen on Thursday nights in July and August. Spruce Street Harbor Park may appeal to teens with its lively cafes. Winter ice skating and summer roller skating are a great family change of pace at the Blue Cross River Rink and New Year’s Eve fireworks are a tradition on the waterfront. Events can get crowded so may not be ideal for the stroller crowd. Phlash stop #1.
Daily, 9am-5pm. Waterlink ferries operate on the hour Memorial Day to Labor Day, Monday to Friday, 9:30am 6:00pm, Saturday & Sunday to 7pm, weekends only May to September.
Shark Realm is the big attraction, a giant exhibit with a floor to ceiling viewing window plus a 40-foot suspended tunnel to bring you eye to eye with over nearly two dozen fast-moving sharks and a host of other sea creatures. Ocean Realm boasts an even larger tank with some fascinating swimmers like giant turtles, stingrays, needlefish and even more sharks. More visitor favorites include Hippo Haven, Penguin Island, and the touch tank opportunities to pet a shark, a sting ray, or a giant starfish. Little ones love Sand Castle Island, a play area with a moat and drawbridge, a working waterfall and a touch pool with smaller sea friends. In season, the day begins with the 30-minute Waterlink ferry ride across the Delaware River to the aquarium location in Camden, New Jersey. Off season, the aquarium can only be reached by car. Check the Internet for discount offerings and see the Aquarium web site for admission-ferry packages. Buying tickets online will save standing in line on busy weekends.
24. Sesame Place
Daily Memorial Day to Labor Day, weekends rest of year except first two weeks of November. Open at 10am, closing time varies with the day and season, as late as 9pm in summer, as early as 6pm off season. Check online for the dates you are visiting.
Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover, Rosita, Bert, Ernie, Oscar, Abby and of course, Big Bird are on hand to greet delighted visitors at this theme park created especially for young children. Along with the chance to interact with their TV favorites, a host of gentle rides, climbing nets, a cooling water park in summer, a daily character parade and musical shows with lots of audience participation are reasons why Sesame Street fans are delighted with the park. Like all theme parks, this one is expensive, but it is unique fun for an age group often overlooked. If you plan to do the water park in summer, be aware that swimsuits are required as well as proper footwear and swim diapers for the very young. Wristbands to write children’s names and parent’s phone numbers on, are available at The Welcome Center. Sesame Place is 30 miles north of Philadelphia. Admission includes a free second day and several nearby lodgings offer stay and play packages.