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.

Philadelphia free

Franklin Square. Credit: Judy Antell / Vegetarian travelingMom


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 was home to many of the ideas and subsequent actions 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. Many of the sites are free, which helps make Philadelphia an affordable place for a family vacation.

11 Free Things to Do in Philadelphia

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.

Philadelphia free

One of the top Philadelphia free attractions: storytelling benches.. Credit: M. Kennedy, Historic Philadelphia, Inc

1. Storytelling Benches – Once Upon A Nation’s Storytelling Sessions storytelling Benches – available at 13 locations around Historic Philadelphia, including Christ Church, Franklin Square and Signers’ Garden. Children can obtain 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. Valley Forge National Historical Park – A half hour drive from Center City, the wintertime encampment of the Continental Army offers a glimpse into the Revolutionary War with Washington’s headquarters, memorial chapel, log huts, monuments and statues and four Once Upon A Nation storytelling benches. Visitors can explore the park by car, by bike or on foot guided by the park’s free cell phone tours. Admission to the park and to Washington’s Headquarters is free.

3. The Chemical Heritage Foundation – This museum and conference center cost $20 million to build, but its exhibitions are offered free of charge. Located in a former Civil War-era bank building, the approximately 10,000-square-foot, two-story museum houses the permanent exhibition Making Modernity, showcasing hundreds of artifacts from the 18th to the 20th centuries, including scientific objects, artwork, rare books and everyday objects that tell the stories of discoveries that shaped the modern world.,

4. Curtis Institute of Music – Music lovers can see future stars of the music scene at the school. Student musicians perform solo and chamber works most Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings as part of the free Student Recital Series.

Philadelphia free

The lush Scott Arboretum. Credit: The Scott Arboretum

5. Free at the Kimmel Series – Dance, listen and learn during free organ recitals, artist chats and concerts of all genres. Free daily art and architecture tours also give visitors a behind-the-scenes look inside the majestic building.

6. Macy’s in Center City – OK, it’s not free if you shop. But if you can resist the urge to buy, visit the store to hear the sounds of its 28,500-pipe organ. The organ debuted at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and now provides free 45-minute concerts daily.

7. Buckingham Valley Vineyards – Part of the Bucks County Wine Trail, family-owned and folksy. Houses the most sophisticated pressing and bottling equipment and offers self-guided tours and tastings six days a week.

8. Philadelphia Comcast Center – One of the tallest green buildings in the country, the 58-floor tower features The Comcast Experience, depicting nature imagery, urban landscapes and much more on the largest four-millimeter LED screen in the world. The lobby also showcases a dramatic eight-story winter garden, featuring Humanity in Motion sculptures by the world-famous artist Jonathan Borofsky.

9. Mural Arts Program – This community-based arts program started out to combat graffiti, but evolved into a huge outdoor art gallery. The guided tours charge, but you can download a “Mural Mile Map” and walk around the city to see the art on your own.

10. The Museum of Mourning Art – One-of-a-kind exploration of grieving rituals, mourning jewelry, artwork and emblem books throughout the ages. Admission is free, but reservations are required.

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.