Who couldn’t adore the City of Brotherly Love? Philadelphia, PA is beautiful, historically significant and filled with fun spots for families. The nation’s first capital, the city played a pivotal role in the American Revolution. It’s also home to world class museums such as The Franklin Institute, the Rodin Museum and The Philadelphia Art Museum, where Rocky famously boxed his way up the front steps. Also, find a plethora of nice shops and diverse restaurants in this dynamic urban landscape.
To rest or not to rest? That is the question we parents face when approaching spring break with kids. Sure, it’s fun to head to a warm destination and spend the week lounging in the sun. But, I’m a curious sort. I like to learn things on vacation and I love to share rich experiences with my boys, ages 11 and 13. So, this year, we took off in the automobile, bound for a family road trip!
First stop from coastal Connecticut: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ironically, I’d visited this lovely city with my parents when I was my elder son’s age, but I’d not been back. Our visit only lasted three days but we packed a lot in! Prior to the trip, I did some research. Also, I learned a lot as we combed through the city blocks. Here are five spots you and the kiddos don’t want to miss:
1. Find Scientific Fun at the Franklin Institute
Can I just say, “WOW”? We were floored by this incredible museum featuring a planetarium, a robotics wing and an IMAX theater. My younger son, Ben, was particularly intrigued by an area dedicated to the brain and optical illusions. Thirteen year old Sam headed to the sports lab, where his baseball pitch was analyzed by a machine. All three boys (my husband included!) bravely tried-out the SkyBike, an amazing netted attraction that allows the participant to ride a bicycle across a high wire, over the atrium of the museum! Way cool! We spent a few hours at the museum but could have easily stayed the whole day. There’s a lot to see. Leave enough time to enjoy it.
2. Steve’s Prince of Steaks is Decadent and Delicious
After our visit to the museum, we were hungry. With a “when in Rome” attitude, we set out to find the best and biggest Philly cheesesteak!
We found success at Steve’s Prince of Steaks on S. 16th Street. This small chain has several locations in the city. We ordered the classic at a counter, watched the guys prepare our food through a glass window, and then grabbed a table where we consumed the decadent feast. Must say, Steve’s didn’t disappoint. The cheesesteaks were delicious. Quick tip: my younger son and I split the standard size cheesesteak. It was the perfect amount for both of us.
3. The Liberty Bell is a Highlight of a Family Trip to Philadelphia
In early April – when cherry blossoms are out, flowers are blooming and the sun finally feels warm – the city is always filled with tourists. So, on Day 2, we headed to the Liberty Bell first thing in the morning. We arrived at 8:30 a.m., among the first visitors in line, as we waited for the 9:00 a.m. opening. Before long, the line was quite long, filled with tourists from a Disney cruise ship!
When the doors opened, we walked through a beautiful exhibit space to the 2000 pound bell – really incredible to see. Seeing the Liberty Bell doesn’t cost a thing. Most importantly, we felt its meaning and symbolism. In fact, the visit inspired family conversations about slavery, women’s suffrage and the Holocaust.
4. See History and Colonial Architecture at Independence Hall
We headed across the street to Independence Hall to see where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both adopted. Visitors see the hall by tour only. The free tickets are somewhat difficult to obtain. Order online ahead-of-time or head to the Visitors Center first thing in the morning to reserve a half-hour slot. On the day of our visit, available tickets were gone by 11:00 a.m. We were lucky to get them.
My 5th grader is currently learning about this era of America’s history. So, it was really exciting to see his hand shoot up during the tour as he answered the dynamic tour guide’s questions. The building was lovely, filled with original woodwork and Colonial touches.
5. The Philadelphia Zoo: Creative, Clean and Family-Friendly
We celebrated our last morning in the city with a great visit to the Philadelphia Zoo. I was very impressed. This clean destination, dubbed America’s First Zoo, sports creative habitats for the animals. Signage details the zoo’s breeding program, committed to building endangered species, such as the pied tamarin and the giant elephant shrew. Info plaques include braille and sign language.
We saw a polar bear, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, gorillas and all sorts of small animals. My son, Ben, who will someday undoubtedly become a vet or a zookeeper, was simply delighted by the vast array of incredible creatures. Animals literally pass over visitors’ heads on a Treetop Trail. Also, enjoy a hot air balloon ride that allows guests to rise 400 feet above the zoo, dependent on the weather.
When Can We Return?
For eats, we dined at R2L Restaurant on the 37th floor of a high-rise with breathtaking panoramic views of the city. We also enjoyed Morimoto, featuring great sushi and a super cool atmosphere, not far from Independence Hall.
There’s so much to do in Philadelphia – everyone has a different favorite spot. There’s even free horse racing! Regrettably, we didn’t have time to run up the Rocky steps or take the hop-on, hop-off Big Bus sightseeing tour that my friend’s family enjoyed so much. But, that’s why there’s a “next time,” right?