Exploring a city in bad weather is tough. That was the case during our spring break trip to Philadelphia, where windy, 40-degree rain forced us to see some of the city’s beloved tourist sites in fast-forward, and sample our street vendor Philly pretzels under umbrellas. I literally got out of a cab, ran up to the famous Rocky statue, had someone take the requisite arms-up-in-the-air photo, and then ran back to the cab for shelter.
Bad weather doesn’t have to ruin a trip to Philadelphia, though. It’s possible to find family fun in Philadelphia no matter what the forecast. If you’re in the city with the kids and the weather isn’t cooperating, here are some fun things you can do:
Philadelphia is a huge sports town, and it’s fun to experience their mad fandom at a hockey or basketball game at Wells Fargo Center. It’s a convenient, cheap and quick (15 min) subway ride from downtown Philly and it lets you off right in front of the stadium. Way faster, and cheaper, than driving and parking.
We showed up in our Chicago Blackhawks jerseys for the Flyers hockey game, and despite Flyers fans’ reputation (at least in Chicago) for being nasty to their competitors’ fans, we experienced only a few friendly jabs and sneers. Maybe because that’s because the Flyers creamed us that night.
TIP: Get there early and go down by the penalty boxes (for the away team, that’s section 102 or 103). They’ll let you and the kids go down to the glass and watch the players come out and warm up a half hour before the game starts. I’m told the players occasionally hand pucks to kids or sign things, although that didn’t happen the night we visited.
If possible, opt for Club Box tickets. We bought them through a ticket agent, and they cost the same as lower-level tickets. Even though they were several rows higher up, they were so worth it for the private bathrooms, bar and waitress. There was a make-your-own ice cream sundae bar and fresh Philly cheesesteaks right outside our door, and a friendly “guard” at our box entrance.
The challenge here is choosing what to eat. Whatever you decide, it won’t be a bad choice because everything is fresh and local. We saw drool-worthy whoopie pies and glazed donuts being made fresh, tried a “real” Philly cheesesteak (one will feed 2 people), and saw all sorts of other temptations, like the city’s famous soft pretzels and fresh waffles and crepes. Seriously, it all looked awesome.
We thought the pizza slices were “meh,” but ooohed and aaahed over the real Italian hoagie from Carmen’s, made with thinly sliced prosciutto, provolone, oregano, oil and vinegar, tomato and lettuce. And this might be the best place in Philadelphia to sample the city’s famous cheesesteaks (we got ours from Hershel’s East Side Deli, but several places sell excellent varieties). We took home tons more food and desserts to eat later — all delicious.
Seating here can be a challenge, and it can get pretty crowded during peak hours. So I wouldn’t recommend this place if you have little kids or large groups. But for everyone else, definitely. It was one of our favorite stops.
Geared for children ages 8 and under, this children’s museum has all the exhibits you’d expect – a water play area, a cars section, etc. But one of the big draws here is the indoor carousel (an extra $3 per child, free for adults).
I liked the downstairs area of the museum, where they housed a creatively-done Alice in Wonderland exhibit that begins with a trip down the rabbit hole. The museum building itself is a majestic domed building with all sorts of beautiful architectural detail. It’s roughly a $15 cab ride each way from downtown Philly.
TIP FOR PARENTS: Make sure to look in the display cases that subtly line the walls. They’re filled with awesome nostalgia toys, like Spice Girls dolls, and a 1985 Working Barbie (she has a framed picture of Ken on her desk!).
Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell may be the main historic sites in Philadelphia, but I have to confess that the kids and I were kinda bored by them. The tour guide was a great speaker, but there wasn’t much to see. (Plus, we had to wait outside in the cold rain). We all much preferred learning about history at the National Constitution Center. It was filled with interactive exhibits focused on the meaning behind the Constitution and the first three words, We, the People.” (I found it impossible not to sing “Schoolhouse Rock” in there). The kids voted in a voting booth that showed electronic results (JFK was winning), put on robes and sat in Supreme Court chairs, looked up info on their local representatives, and much more.
Known as “the prison that changed the world,” you can walk through the 142-year-old jail’s halls, climb into the cells, and learn about what life was like for prisoners. My kids did a scavenger hunt – sort of an I-Spy tally of places. Since it’s not an enclosed building, heaters were set up in central spots to make the cold weather tolerable.
Be sure to check out Al Capone’s cell, which is nicer than some apartments I’ve lived in, and the Jewish temple that is the nicest room in the joint.
The easy-to-follow audio tour is included in the admission price, and it proved interesting to my 9-year-old as well as my 74-year-old mom (and me, too).
During our trip to Philadelphia, we stayed at the Sonesta Hotel in downtown Philly, a newly renovated hotel with super-friendly staff, reasonable prices, and GREAT concierges who passed along money-saving tips, gave spot-on directions and recommendations. The pool is outdoors, and the neighborhood can be a little dicey at night. But the rooms were clean, the decor was updated, and there was a decent restaurant in the building with grab-and-go offerings.