Exploring a new place with your kids can be a lot cheaper if you take advantage of free things to do and see. Philadelphia has lots of free places to enjoy with your family. A free firefighter’s museum, free walking and bike trails, fountains for little kids to splash in, Benjamin Franklin’s church, a free skateboard park, and a colonial street are just a handful of the free things to explore in Philadelphia.
Fun & Free Things to Do in Philadelphia
1. Free parks in Philadelphia with fountains kids can play in
At Dilworth Park, little kids can splash in the spray of a fountain that dances in time to music or play on the lawn with oversized blocks. The whole family can catch a free movie or performance, scheduled during warmer months. In winter, the fountain is converted into an ice skating rink. Bring your own food to picnic or buy food at the on-site café or gelato stand. Dilworth Park is located at the base of the iconic City Hall building (Broad & Market Streets).
Toddlers and little kids will enjoy the splash fountain and inches-deep wading pool at Sister Cities Park, at 18th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Bring your own toy boat to float in the “creek” that flows into the wading pond. This small park has a café and Visitor Center with information about Philadelphia sites. Legs tired from a visit to the Natural History Museum or Franklin Institute, both located close by, might appreciate a short rest at Sister Cities Park. Bonus: free picture books to borrow and read at the park!
2. Free skateboard park
Kids of all ages can enjoy watching the daring feats of the skateboarders who practice their tricks in Paine’s Park, a park adjacent to the Philadelphia Museum of Art that was built to welcome skateboarders (and keep them out of parks used mostly by pedestrians). Sit and enjoy watching – or let your tween or teen try their own tricks.
3. Free walking and biking trails
The Schuylkill Banks Trail is a paved ribbon park that runs alongside the Schuylkill River in Center City Philadelphia. The riverbank trail is popular with runners, walkers, bikers, picnickers, and strollers who want to take in the view, so people watching is fun. In the summer, you might even catch a free movie or concert along the riverbank. Schuylkill Banks Trail extends from South Street Bridge to Fairmount Water Works (a gorgeous building located in the park behind the Philadelphia Art Museum).
The Schuylkill River Trail continues for many miles past the Fairmount Water Works, as a paved bike and walking path that hugs the riverbank (but has a heavily trafficked street on the other side). Shade trees, lawn, benches, and sculptures offer stopping points along the way. The trees are especially pretty when flowering in spring.
If your family likes to hike in the woods, try Forbidden Drive, the dirt road that hugs the twisting Wissahickon Creek. Inside Philadelphia’s sprawling Fairmount Park, Forbidden Drive is reserved for walkers, bikers, and horseback riders. Its name drives home the point that cars are forbidden. Access points to the hiking trail are in several Philadelphia neighborhoods, including Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill.
4. Free park in Philadelphia with great river view
Race Street Pier is a riverfront pier converted into a tiny urban park that juts into the Delaware River at the foot of Ben Franklin Bridge. The breathtaking view instantly cheers cranky travellers: the Bridge, the river, boats, the New Jersey waterfront and, off in the distance, Philadelphia’s skyline. Plus people watching. People come here to run, walk, read, eat lunch, and enjoy the view. Bonus: free yoga every day; bring your own mat.
If you walk up Race Street to 2d Street, turn left to find several blocks with an eclectic mix of boutiques, art galleries, and – oddly – wholesale restaurant supply stores. Any of these can be fun stops for kids and – if you don’t plunk down bucks for objects d’arte – they’re all free.
5. Free Philadelphia firefighter museum
A draw for younger kids, Fireman’s Hall Museum has real, old-fashioned fire trucks, and packs lots of information about firefighting into its small space. Donation suggested (on Second Street in Old City).
6. Visit a street of houses from Philadelphia’s Colonial Era – for free
On Second between Race and Arch Streets is Elfreth’s Alley, a narrow block of Colonial-era houses that date to the 1700’s, the oldest continuously lived-in residential street in the country. Walking this narrow street makes it easy to imagine what much of Philadelphia looked like in the 18th and 19th centuries.
7. Free animal shelter that looks like a retail shop
If your kids enjoy snuggling cats and dogs, you might stop by PAWS, the animal shelter on Second & Arch that looks like a boutique retail store. You can enter the small rooms to play with the animals. Donation suggested.
8. Philadelphia Church Ben Franklin Attended
Built in the 1700’s, the majestic Christ Church is where Ben Franklin worshipped, along with George Washington, Betsy Ross, and many of our nation’s Founding Fathers (on Second Street between Filbert and Market). For decades, this was the tallest building in the American colonies. The spare white interior is elegant in its simplicity and worth visiting for its beauty. The surrounding burial grounds and garden are a welcome green respite. Benches let you rest, snack, people watch, or all three. Donation suggested. Tours are available, for a fee.
Want more free fun in Philadelphia?
Check out free places for a great view of the Philadelphia skyline and 11 Free Things to do in Philadelphia. For more ideas for teens in Philadelphia, check out 10 Activities for Tweens and Teens in Historic Philadelphia.