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- 4. Rocky Steps and the Rocky statue
- 5. Show Philly Some Free Love
- 6. Thank You, Firefighters!
- 7. The Science History Institute
- 8. Curtis Institute of Music
- 9. Free at the Kimmel Series
- 10. Check Out the Historic Grand Organ...in Macy's!
- 11. First Sunday at The Barnes
- 12. Mural Arts Philadelphia
- 13. Visit the Home of Edgar Allan Poe
Philadelphia is small. That’s a good thing because a day or weekend is plenty of time to see the best of the City of Brotherly Love. This very walkable city is rich in history and art and it’s a must visit for families. The best part is that many of Philly’s top things to do are FREE! Here are TravelingMom’s recommended free activities and attractions.
Philadelphia is the largest city in Pennsylvania and is 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 and a mandatory pit stop on a northeast road trip. Families who love sports will also love visiting Philly. All of the city’s major professional sports teams (the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and 76ers) have their home arenas and stadiums in one spot. Games, though, will cost you money.
The good news? There are plenty of free things to do in Philadelphia, which help stretch your vacation budget. Read on for our top picks in the City of Brotherly Love.
History for Free in Philly
1. See the Liberty Bell
Possibly one of the top two things to do in Philadelphia with kids is to see the historic Liberty Bell. Head to Independence Mall first thing in the morning and get on line. The doors open at 9 am and close at 5. You can’t get tickets in advance, so you have no choice but to endure the queue, so the earlier you can get there, the better.
The Liberty Bell, is one of the US National Historical Parks in Philadelphia. There’s a ton of educational material for kids on their website. After the bell, head over to Independence Hall.
2. Tour Independence Hall
Take a free guided tour of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence AND US Constitution were signed. It’s one of the many revolutionary sites in Philly and a must-see for the kids. You’ll find it on Independence Mall, next to the cobblestoned streets of the Old City historic district.
Timed entry tickets are required, March – December, and during the winter school holidays. The National Park Service charges a $1.00 handling fee. If you go in January or February (outside of the school breaks), no reservation is needed. You’ll see an original draft of the Constitution and the Assembly Room from the Constitutional Convention.
3. Walk Through History
Wander down Elfreth’s Alley and you’ll feel like you traveled back in time. This narrow, cobblestone street opened as a cart path for the distribution of goods to and from the river back in 1703. Preservation efforts keep the historic homes lining the alley much as they were back in the day. It’s free to walk the street; the museum charges $3 for adults, $2 for children over 7 and the littles are free.
Free Art, Music and Museums in Philadelphia
4. Rocky Steps and the 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.
Want to go inside the museum? It’ll cost you, except…Enjoy Pay What You Wish admission on the first Sunday of the month and every Friday night (5:00–8:45 p.m.). For the win!!
5. 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.
6. Thank You, Firefighters!
Benjamin Franklin was a busy guy. You can learn all about his many pursuits at the Ben Franklin Museum. One of his greatest accomplishments was establishing the first volunteer fire service in 1736. Philadelphia’s Fireman’s Hall Museum is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the brave efforts of the women and men who have served through the centuries. Free admission, but donations are encouraged.
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7. The Science History Institute
Formerly the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the Science History Institute focuses on scientific progress through chemistry. Artifacts include scientific instruments and apparatus, rare books, fine art and the papers of prominent scientists. Open from 10 am – 5 pm, Thursday – Saturday, with free admission for all.
8. 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. You must register in advance. Check out their event calendar for date and performance information.
9. Free at the Kimmel Series
The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts offers free performances year round. When the weather get warm and the city’s famous cherry blossoms bloom, the Kimmel begins a series of outdoor concerts on Commonwealth Plaza. Check out their free event calendar for more information.
10. Check Out the Historic Grand Organ…in Macy’s!
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.
11. First Sunday at The Barnes
The Barnes is a must-visit art museum in Philly. The collection was relocated to a beautiful new building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway next to the Rodin Museum.
The collection was assembled over years by art lover Albert Barnes who arranged the pieces, collage-style, at the Barnes Foundation in Merion. After his death, there was a lengthy estate dispute that ended with the opening of the new museum in downtown in 2012. First Sundays at The Barnes are free and feature family-friendly programming. Its popular and reservations are required.
12. 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.
13. Visit the Home of Edgar Allan Poe
Got kids studying American Lit? Then put the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site on your list of things to do in Philly. Poe lived here for six years and wrote some of his most popular short stories, including “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Still creeps me out. It’s a federally operated site that’s open seasonally. Check operating dates and times before heading out.
Philadelphia’s Free Parks and Gardens
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. Check Out Bartram’s Garden
Looking for garden inspo? The 50-acre Bartram’s Garden, the oldest operating botanical garden in the United States. It’s open daily and free to the public with a variety of horticultural displays, including a Medicinal Garden.
Explore the Great Outdoors in Philly for Free
17. Biking in Philadelphia
With over 200 miles of bike trails and lanes, Philadelphia is one of the top cycling cities in the US. Bring your family bikes and explore the City of Brotherly Love on two wheels! The Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia is a great resource for biking info and trail recommendations.
Family-Friendly Philly Bike Trails
- Kelly Drive Loop – 10 mile loop along the Schuylkill River where you can see the charming Boat Row boathouses, pretty pink cherry blossoms in spring and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Contributing TravelingMom writer Mary Dixon LeBeau suggests “For a more challenging ride, forgo the turnoff at Falls Bridge and keep going straight to cover the full Schuylkill River Trail (26.5 miles). The mostly flat route ends at the Valley Forge National Historical Park (where, hopefully, someone is waiting for pick up!).
- The Ben Franklin Bridge – The city skyline views, particularly nearing sunset, make this three-mile roundtrip a popular bicycling trail in Philadelphia. LeBeau recommends onboarding on the Philly side rather than in Jersey, since that access point involves steps.
- The Boxers’ Trail – Rocky Balboa might be the most famous fictional boxer to train in Philly, but the Boxers’ Trail is dedicated to the real boxers who called the city home during their careers, including Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier. Here are the details of the trail, according to LeBeau: “It starts by the Sedgely Woods Disc Golf Course and leads you through East Fairmount Park. You ride by the historic mansions of the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood and past the Smith Memorial Playground. If you’re up for a longer challenge, you can connect to the Kelly Drive Loop to add a couple of miles to your trek.”
- Forbidden Drive – This seven-mile, car-free trail is so deep in the woods that you might forget you’re in the middle of one of the biggest US cities. Teens will particularly enjoy one of the trail’s quirky attractions, says Lebeau. “Venture off the trail to see the Cave of Kelpius, the spot where the country’s first doomsday cult hid awaiting the end days.”
18. Soak Up Skyline Views
Philly’s skyline is awesome. We already mentioned the great view from the Ben Franklin Bridge. Philly resident and TravelingMom contributor Sarah Ricks also recommends the views from the Spring Garden and South Street Bridges.
Visit the Spring Garden Bridge before or after your trip to the Philadelphia Art Museum. You’ll see the Schuylkill River below and West Philly off to the side. There’s a parking lot on Columbus Boulevard at the entrance to the pedestrian walkway on the Spring Garden Bridge. The skyline view from this vantage point reminds Ricks of the Emerald City. You’ll need to check it out to see if you agree.
Another fab, free skyline view can be found in Fairmount Park. Head to the Belmont Plateau, located west of the Schuylkill River. “From the huge green lawn at Belmont Plateau, the city’s skyline is off in the distance. This is a good spot for a picnic, kites, frisbee or a stop after visiting the children’s Please Touch Museum, or the Belmont Mansion Underground Railroad Museum, or the Japanese House and Garden, all located nearby,” says Ricks.
You’ll get views of the Ben Franklin Bridge, the Delaware River AND the Camden waterfront at Penn’s Landing. There’s always something going on at this entertainment complex. Check for seasonal pop ups like farmer’s markets in summer and the RiverRink Winterfest when the weather turns brisk.
19. Free Outdoor Movies
Philly is a movie town. It’s starred as a location in classic films like “Rocky”, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “National Treasure”. It’s no surprise that, during the summer months, you’ll find lots of places with free outdoor movie screenings.
The best place to check for 2022 film events is the Visit Philadelphia site. Popular locations in the past include Movie Nights on the Schuylkill Banks and Dilworth Park, right in front of City Hall.
And, we can’t close a Philadelphia article without mentioning the city’s most famous food.
20. It Ain’t Philly Without a Cheesesteak
You’ll have to pay for your cheesesteak at any of Philly’s legendary outposts including Geno’s Steaks, Pat’s King of Steaks and Jim’s South St.. But you can get all the smells for free by browsing the Reading Terminal Market. One of America’s oldest public markets, the Reading Terminal Market is open every day from 8 am to 6 pm. Besides the delicious scent of sizzling meat, you’ll be tempted by farm fresh produce, unique craft items and the dairy good cheeses from Pennsylvania Dutch country.