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Philadelphia may be a small city by some standards, but it is rich in history and art and has a growing foodie culture. For a family, the walkable city is the perfect size and Philadelphia free attractions abound.
What is free in Pennsylvania? Head to the biggest city, Philadelphia
Philadelphia is the largest city in Pennsylvania and was a centerpiece of early American history. The social and geographical center of America’s original 13 colonies, Philadelphia gave birth to many of the ideas that led to the American Revolution. Philadelphia was also home to several American firsts, including the nation’s first bank, hospital, and zoo.
It’s a great choice for educational family travel focused on American history. There also are plenty of free things to do in Philadelphia, which helps make Philadelphia an affordable place for a family vacation.
You can walking the cobblestone streets and see many of the historic sites (including the Liberty Bell) from the outside, but entrance fees are charged. However, there is plenty to see without opening up your wallet.
History for Free in Philly
1. Storytelling Benches
Once Upon A Nation’s Storytelling Benches are at 13 locations around Historic Philadelphia. These include Christ Church, Franklin Square and Signers’ Garden. Children get a Story Flag at any bench, collect a star from each storyteller and exchange the flag complete with 13 stars for a certificate and coupon book at the Independence Living History Center or the Franklin Square Shop. Benches are open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
2. Independence Hall
Take a free guided tour, led by a National Park ranger. Go early spring through fall. You need a timed ticket for a tour, and a tour is the only way you can see this UNESCO World Heritage Site. I[f you reserve in advance, you have to pay a $1.50 reservation fee.] See an original draft of the Constitution and the Assembly Room from the Constitutional Convention.
3. The Science History Institute
Formerly the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the museum focuses on scientific progress through chemistry. Artifacts include scientific instruments and apparatus, rare books, fine art and the papers of prominent scientists. Take a free tour, 2pm on the last Saturday of the month.
4. Curtis Institute of Music
The music school has over 100 free performances each year. Student musicians perform solo and chamber works most Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, part of the free Student Recital Series.
5. Free at the Kimmel Series
The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts offers free performances year round. Free events include the kid-focused “Grow Up Great” events and music and dance performances.
6. Macy’s in Center City
There is more free music at the flagship Macy’s. The historic 28,500-pipe Wanamaker Grand Organ, from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, provides two free 45-minute concerts daily except Sundays. The building itself is a National Historic Landmark.
Arts and Parks for Free
7. Rocky steps and Rocky statue
Philly is not only a walker’s city but also a runner’s. Run up the steps, which lead to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And create your own art, a photo with the nearby statue of Rocky.
8. Franklin Square
One of five public squares laid out by William Penn, this park offers a green urban respite. There is a playground, and clean public bathrooms. You have to pay for the carousel and mini golf, but you can see the artwork during the Chinese Lantern Festival during the day for free.
9. Mural Arts Philadelphia
This community-based arts program started out to combat graffiti, but evolved into a huge outdoor art gallery. The guided tours command a fee, but you can download a free “Mural Mile Map.” Walk around the city to see the graffiti art on your own.
10. Show Philly some free love
Pay homage to the late Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, in LOVE park. The sculpture, loaned to Philly for U.S. Bicentennial in 1976, was supposed to be temporary. But it was so popular, a local businessman bought it and donated it to Philadelphia. The artist’s legacy includes both this statue, and the Amor (Latin and Spanish for love) statue nearby.
11. Scott Arboretum
Located on the grounds of Swarthmore College, this 300-acre arboretum features 4,000 varieties of regional ornamental plants and garden workshops. The arboretum is noted for its rare specimen trees. There are cherry trees, magnolias, tree peonies and conifers. But it’s not all trees. See a range of hydrangeas, rhododendron and other flowering shrubs too.