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The 15 best attractions in Philadelphia

From fascinating historic sites to iconic photo moments, these are the very best attractions in Philadelphia

Written by
Sarah Jordan
Contributors
Paula Akpan
&
Camila Karalyte
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Strap yourself in; the City of Brotherly Love is quite the ride. There is no shortage of things to do in Philadelphia, quite the opposite, no matter whether you are a seasoned local or a fresh-faced tourist pounding the streets for the first time. Anyone with a passing interest in American history will find plenty to sink their teeth into, and the theme continues with some of the best food in the country. Much of that delicious food is at the city’s markets, where currency and conversation are king. Philadelphia’s must-see attractions are a love letter to everything that makes Philly special, then, now, and forever. Charge the camera, because you are about to take a lot of photos.

RECOMMENDED: The best restaurants in Philadelphia

Best Philadelphia attractions

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Greater Philadelphia

Don’t be surprised if you spot people dressed in character, from tricorn hats down to square-buckled shoes, in this historic part of the city. After all, Philly is the Cradle of Liberty. Visiting these 55 acres of National Park is a must for anyone coming to Philadelphia. The abundance of landmarks in this park—including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the Ben Franklin Museum—speak to its extraordinary role in the founding of the nation. Pro tip: limited additional 'next day' tickets are available at 5pm for the very popular Independence Hall tours the following day. 

  • Attractions
  • Greater Philadelphia

Established in 1892, the historic Reading Terminal Market is America's oldest continuously operating farmers' market. It is also something of a destination for Fromage fans—think rare Pennsylvania Dutch specialties and incredibly fresh mozzarella made on-site. Over 80 local food merchants are plying their trade here, so the choice is mind-blowing. If you are stopping for lunch, seek out Tommy DiNic’s roast pork sandwich, one of the best sandwiches you’ll find around these parts.

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Slap-bang in the heart of Philadelphia, the Franklin Institute is a must-see when visiting the city. The science museum, named after Benjamin Franklin (yes, one of the Founding Fathers), is one of the leading science centers in the country. There are daily educational programs, shows, and many exhibitions to explore. It's a great day out for the family and, at the very least, somewhere to spend your time if it's raining outside. 

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Elfreth's Alley

This funky and historic section of town close to the Delaware River is a blend of cafés, boutiques, restaurants, art galleries, and fascinating historical gems. We all learned about Betsy Ross making the country’s flag back in grade school, so visit her house to see the birthplace of the flag and the stories behind its making. Want to see the oldest—and cutest—residential street in America? Check out Elfreth’s Alley, dating back to 1702, and stop in the Elfeth’s Alley Museum to learn more about this National Historic Landmark. Walk a few minutes to the historic Christ Church, founded in 1695 and active today. Revolutionary-era attendees of the Episcopal house of worship included Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Rush, and Sally Franklin Bache.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Rittenhouse

Love people-watching? Rittenhouse Square is endlessly fascinating. This elegant space has a rich history and is one of the five open-space parks throughout the city originally planned by William Penn and built in 1683. Bag yourself a sandwich from any nearby café, secure your wooden bench and watch the show go by—from chic mommies and daddies playing with their kids to tattooed bike messengers hanging out on the 18th Street corner. Besides the daily parade of Philadelphians, there are often also summer concerts, holiday celebrations, art fairs, and farmers’ markets in and around the square.

Love. Isn't it the most wonderful thing? If you are feeling particularly loved-up, take a trip down to Love Park, a public park in Center City. Also (officially) known as John F. Kennedy Plaza, Love Park has held its nickname since the 1970s, when Robert Indiana’s LOVE statue took residence in the area. A very Instagrammable spot, it is well worth a visit for a quick snap, but the surrounding area also deserves attention. 

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  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Center City

Wander through the halls of this stunning Beaux Arts-style building, and you'll be rewarded with incredible 360-degree views from the observation deck. (Oh, and before you go inside, be sure to look up – the top of the building is home to a massive bronze statue of William Penn). If you'd like to learn more about the city's history, then no worries—tours and always running. Or, make a beeline for the renovated Dilworth Park, where you'll be able to ice skate in the winter or enjoy live music, barbecue, beer, and outdoor movie screenings in the summer.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Greater Philadelphia

At more than twice the size of Central Park, sprawling Fairmount Park offers activities both outdoorsy and cultural. Not only is it home to several historic mansions and the intriguing Shofuso Japanese House and Garden (transplanted from a mid-century MoMA exhibition), but also America’s oldest zoo. After a day of exploring, stick around for an alfresco concert at the Mann Center. The outdoor performing arts center also hosts the Philadelphia Orchestra’s summer series each year.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Greater Philadelphia

For a blissed-out walk, run, or bike ride, head to the Schuylkill River Trail, a 26.5-mile protected trail that begins in Center City, winds its way through Valley Forge National Historical Park and ends up in Chester County’s Phoenixville. The approximately 10-mile section through Philadelphia runs along the Schuylkill River Banks and—in addition to being a place for walking, running, and cycling—offers plenty of room for activities, like yoga, boarding in a skate park, moonlight kayaking tours, and summer outdoor movie screenings.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Olde City

This square, one of William Penn’s original five open-space parks, underwent a radical transformation in 2006 when Historic Philadelphia Inc. transformed the spot into a child’s heaven. Head here, and you'll find a beautiful fountain at the center (wow your fellow visitors with the fact that it is the oldest refurbished functioning water fountain in the U.S.), the carousel of your dreams that spins and projects jubilant music, and even a Philly-landmark-themed miniature golf course, modern playground and gourmet burger vendor. 

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  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Fairmount District

Once the world’s most expensive prison, today it houses intriguing history and information about criminal life. Both eerie and fascinating, it is probably not the best destination for those looking to revel in a peacefully zen afternoon stroll. A visit is completely unmissable—in part thanks to the engaging audio tour voiced by modern marvel and character actor Steve Buscemi. As you explore the facility, you'll be guided through over 150 years of prison life, learn about inmates (Al Capone is amongst some of the more famous criminals), and recount some notorious prison events (Slick Willie Sutton famously tunneled out in 1945). If that isn't enough, you can enjoy “hands-on” experiences, including how to unlock an escape-proof cell door (well, you never know when you might need the skill).

  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Belmont

Whatever your views are on animals in captivity, the Philadelphia Zoo’s Zoo360 project is giving its inhabitants more room to roam and a choice of locations to observe visitors. Pay attention; there might be a Sumatran orangutan checking you out from overhead. Though it’s the oldest zoo in the nation—opened in 1874—it is a leader in this innovative system to get those animals up high. Established in 2011, the zoo-wide project of animal exploration is built on a series of mesh wire trails about 20 feet above the ground. These trails have expanded to include paths and mazes, including the Big Cat Crossing, the Treetop Trail for monkeys and lemurs, Great Ape Trail for the largest primates, Meerkat Maze, and the Gorilla Treeway running 300 feet.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Bainbridge St Booksellers Row
  • price 2 of 4

You’ll know you’re approaching the entrance to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (a non-profit art museum and gallery on South Street) when you start to notice bits of colored glass and shards of broken pottery embedded into the facades of the buildings surrounding you. Once you arrive, there’s no mistaking that you’re in the midst of something cooler than you’d ever expected. Artist Isaiah Zagar has been creating art on South Street since the 1960s, and this half-block collection is an immersive experience you won’t want to miss. A beautiful place to be that will have you staring in awe. 

  • Attractions
  • Monuments and memorials
  • Ben Franklin Parkway - Kelly Drive

Everyone has hummed Bill Conti's “Gonna Fly Now”, whether or not they've run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is the Rocky theme, after all. If you've been living comfortably under a rock for the past half-century, you might want to brush up on movie history before sprinting up the 72 steps and raising your arms victoriously. Rocky, the film starring Sylvester Stallone, is still as inspiring as it was when it won the 1977 Academy Award for best picture. At the foot of the steps, off to the north side, is a ten-foot statue of Rocky Balboa created for Rocky III. Snap a selfie with the champ—but be prepared to wait in line for it.

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  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • Bella Vista

Philadelphians take great pride in telling you where to eat—and where not to. A common refrain you’ll hear when the topic of the cheesesteak arises is that you should avoid Pat’s and Geno’s, the two most prominent griddlers in the game, due to their much-hyped status. Yes, the South Philly intersection of Ninth and Passyunk is touristy, but the neon-covered area known as “Cheesesteak Vegas” is also a cultural crossroads that boasts a delightfully immersive quality for out-of-towners. You don’t go there just to eat; you go for the experience.

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