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27 fun ways to celebrate Memorial Day weekend in Philadelphia

Josh Middleton
Written by
Josh Middleton

No city does the patriotic holidays quite like Philly, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, sealed and delivered. Accordingly, there’s an abundant list of Memorial Day events in Philadelphia to cipher through. We’ve done the job of narrowing down the essential things to do in Philadelphia over the long weekend—from fireworks shows and Philadelphia concerts to street festivals. If you’re looking for a more laid back way to celebrate our troops and the unofficial start of summer, consider checkout out one of the beer gardens in Philadelphia, or scurry up to one of the city’s rooftop bars to check out those aforementioned fireworks. The Bok Bar opens this weekend, FYI.

Find our full guide to the top Memorial Day weekend events in Philadelphia below.

Friday, May 25

Sail Philadelphia at Penn's Landing; noon; $7–$125
Nine tall ships from along the eastern U.S., Bermuda and Portugal will dock at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia. The four-day festival includes tours of the traveling boats, admission to the Independence Seaport Museum and optional 90-minute or two-hour cruises. Tickets to sail aren’t cheap ($90-$125 for a day pass), but you don’t have to get out on the water to experience the vessels. On Deck ship tours are $10 for adults, or you can admire the beauties from land at the accompanying Sail Philadelphia Waterfront Festival, which costs $7 to enter. —Jared Brey

Photo Pop Philly at the Philadelphia Building; 3pm; $25

Photo Pop Philly

Photograph: Briana Sposato

A towering office building in Center City may not seem like a good place to see local—and extremely Instagrammable—street art. But starting Memorial Day weekend, it will be, thanks to “Photo Pop Philly.” The limited-time pop-up exhibition decorates a five-room retail space inside the historic Philadelphia Building with commissioned works by some of the city’s best-known street artists. The works are centered around a patriotic color theme—red, white and blue—but with an edge only street art can bring.

Opening weekend at Bok Bar; 5pm; pay as you go
South Philly’s favorite rooftop bar returns for the 2018 summer season, offering stunning, panoramic views of Philadelphia—and not to mention alcohol. Drinks here are limited to beer and wine, but the beer options, in particular, are plentiful. Non-drinkers will find a sizable number of non-alcoholic options, such as kombucha. Keep your ears peeled for an event lineup at Bok Bar this summer, which in previous seasons’ has included rooftop yoga, live DJs and more. Looking for more lofty drinking options? Check out our guide to the best rooftop bars in Philadelphia.

Twilight in the Gardens at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens; 7pm; $20
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens hosts this cool after-hours soiree featuring live music, kooky art workshops and mini tours of the wonder-inducing art space after the sun goes down. This time around, hear live music by Avi Wisnia and learn to make found-object wind chimes with Miranda Blas. One of the best things about Twilight in the Gardens is its trademark BYOBBS (Bring Your Own Booze, Blanket, and Snacks) policy. Stop at a state store or bottle shop along the way, gather up some cheese and crackers and have yourself a late-night dinner under the stars.

Suuns at Boot & Saddle; 7:30pm; $14–$16
As popular as Radiohead is, not many bands actually sound like them. Suuns is one, but even then you have to squint your ears a little. Felt, the latest record by these wily indie-rock veterans from Montreal, is full of dissonance and obfuscation, computer-pop manipulations and slyly angsty vocals, but there are also jazzy, jammy bits, and a saxophone when you least expect it. —Patrick Rapa

Khalid at Festival Pier; 8pm; $92–$150
This Georgia phenom excels at writing intimate R&B anthems, but the chance to catch him at a small venue has passed. A handful of Grammy nominations and inescapable earworms like “Location” and “Young, Dumb & Broke” saw to that. —Patrick Rapa

I’m Just Kidneying at Philly Improv Theater; 9pm; $12
NYC Comedian Amanda Nicastro donated a kidney to her little sister and turned the experience into a sketch/storytelling show. There will be funny parts and poignant parts and parts that make you want to share your parts with people who need them.

Saturday, May 26

Devon Horse Show and County Fair in Devon, PA; 8am; $15–$75
In 1896, the Devon Horse Show started as a one-day competition and has since grown into a multi-faceted event that attracts an international crowd. In addition to the equine contest, the Main Line celebration includes a massive country fair, complete with concessions, games, carnival rides, crafts vendors and much more. Plus, attendees can tour the stables and meet the prized horses.

HoagieNation Festival at Festival Pier; 3pm; $40–$295
The headliners of this music fest on the waterfront are Philly/soul/pop royalty Daryl Hall and John Oates, hitmakers of the highest caliber (“Kiss on My List,” “Maneater,” “Method of Modern Love,” “Private Eyes,” etc.). Beyond that you’ve got alt-rockers Train, blues-rock Philly mainstays Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers, indie-soul favorites Fitz and the Tantrums and more. Show up on time for Seattle heartbreakers Down North, who mix soul, funk and rock to great effect. —Patrick Rapa

Independence After Hours at the Museum of the American Revolution; 5:30pm; $85
Historic Philadelphia kicks off its after-hours walking tour of historic Old City attractions over Memorial Day weekend. The tour begins at the Museum of the American Revolution before heading to City Tavern, where you eat a three-course meal served to you by folks dressed in Colonial garb. Then you’re whisked away on the walking tour that comprises eight city blocks within Independence National Historical Park. The apex of the evening is a stop at Independence Hall where you’ll find Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and others in a heated debate about the Declaration of Independence. It’s a surreal step-back-in-time experience that’s uniquely Philly.

Philly POPS Memorial Salute at the Mann Center; 7pm; free

Philly POPS Memorial Day Weekend Salute

Photograph: Courtesy Peter B. Blaikie

The 65-piece Philly POPS orchestra bring back their annual Memorial Day tribute show, held at the open-air Mann Center for the Performing Arts. The 90-minute concert is a heart-swelling patriotic salute to our troops that features vocals by several choirs and special guests Nikki Renée Daniels, of Broadway fame, and Philly-born opera star Justin Hopkins. Bring a little flag to wave as the POPS go through a songbook of patriotic anthems and Great American Songbook classics like “Summertime,” “Old Man River,” “Salute to the Armed Forces” and “My Country Tis of Thee.” The concert is absolutely free, but you have to register here.

Laura Veirs at Boot & Saddle; 7pm; $15
Released in April, The Lookout is the twangy Portland, Oregon singer-songwriter’s first record in five years—the longest hiatus in her long career. Of course, the big asterisk is 2016’s spectacular Case/Lang/Veirs, in which she teamed up with Neko Case and k.d. lang. Hopefully it won the perennially underrated Veirs some new fans. —Patrick Rapa

This is the Kit at Johnny Brenda’s; 8pm; $15
Indie-rock/folk artist Kate Stables has a commanding presence despite only using her indoor voice. Her 2017 record Moonshine Freeze and its new acoustic kid-sister EP, Moonshine First Goes Out, are both musical geodes, simultaneously pretty and strong, built in the natural world but reflecting a sheen of otherworldly energy. The British singer-songwriter likes to aim her lyrics at some unseen “you,” be it somebody done wrong or doing wrong. —Patrick Rapa

Silent Philly Dance Party at the Schmidt’s Commons; 8pm; $10–$15
Get your boogie on in the open-air NoLibs venue to music that only you and your fellow dancers can hear on your glowing headphones. You can flip through three different stations manned by live DJs—Top 40; ’80s ’90s and 2000s; and hip-hop—while you dance and sing along to a variety of beats.

Fireworks on the Delaware River Waterfront; 9pm; free
Sail Philadelphia presents a major light show in the sky over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. The event is totally free, so arrive early to stake out a good spot. Sit back, relax and revel in the fact that you still have a full two days off!

Fireworks & Fountains: Sounds of Summer at Longwood Gardens; 9:15pm; $22–$50

Fireworks & Fountains takes place at Longwood Gardens this summer.

Photograph: Daniel Traub

Longwood Gardens, the horticultural haven, 30 miles west of the city in Kennett Square, kicks off its lavish Fireworks & Fountains spectacular Memorial Day weekend with a show inspired by the feel-good tunes of the Beach Boys, the Go-Go’s and Justin Timberlake. That Trolls song, maybe?

Sunday, May 27

Go Hiking Near Philadelphia; at various locations; pay as you go
Philly is a great walking city on its own, but sometimes you need to stretch your legs a little and check out some nature. Check out our guide to the best places to go hiking near Philadelphia for a little inspiration. We lay out nine great spots—all of which, except for one overnighter, would make for excellent day trips from Philly.

Don’t Dress for Dinner at St. Stephen’s Theater; noon; $15–$45
Lantern Theater Company helms this sexy and very funny theatrical soufflé about the joys and trials of marriage. The cast includes two wonderful Philly actors who always light up the stage: Karen Peakes and William Zielinski. —David Fox

Donnell Rawlings at Helium Comedy Club; 7:30pm; $16–$26
For Chappelle’s Show fans, Donnell Rawlings will always be Ashy Larry—or Beautiful, or any of his other memorable characters from the modern classic sketch show. But the Washington DC comedian has done other things, like acting in Guy Code and The Wire, and building his rep as a standup. That said, when Dave Chappelle hosted SNL last year, Rawlings donned his old Beautiful wig for a cameo. —Patrick Rapa

Last chance: Love Letter Train Tours at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; 1pm; $23–$41
This is your last weekend to grab a seat on this 90-minute guided train tour of West Philadelphia that rolls past the series of 50 rooftop “A Love Letter for You” murals painted by Philly native Steve “ESPO’ Powers. The works spell out adorable sayings like “open your eyes/i see the sunrise” and ”see me like i see you: beautiful.’ This is an especially good year to take a tour, since several of the murals were recently restored and Powers added a few more to ogle.

Memorial Day, Monday, May 28

Memorial Day at the Museum of the American Revolution; 9:30am; $19

The Museum of the American Revolution is a great place to visit for history buffs.

Photograph: Courtesy Museum of the American Revolution

What better way to honor the price our troops have paid since WAY back than a day at MOAR, where you can absorb everything you ever need to know about the Revolutionary War, including weaponry displays, immersive experiences (stand under Boston’s Liberty Tree or face a British infantry charge at the Battle of Brandywine) and thousands of artifacts, including George Washington’s headquarters tent used from 1778 to 1783. The museum is throwing some special activities over Memorial Day weekend—when veterans and active military get in free—including a special interactive exhibit on Revolutionary sailors and a dress-up corner where kids can try on clothing from the area, design a flag and practice drilling like an old-school soldier. Before you leave, pick up a a free carnation to place on the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier in Washington Square.

Antiques Show at the Brandywine River Museum of Art; 9:30am; $20
More than 25 antiques dealers from all over the mid-Atlantic region and beyond showcase their treasures at this annual exhibition. Fans of interesting relics will have plenty to peruse, as vendors sell a range of items, including 18th-century American furniture, early English pottery and porcelain, oriental rugs, coins, folk art and more. The event raises money for the Brandywine River Museum of Art. —Amy Gordon

Parks on Tap at FDR Park; 4pm; pay as you go
Philly’s traveling beer garden moves to lush FDR Park in South Philly for a special four-day Memorial Day weekend romp. Look out for a food/bar truck cranking out craft brews, wine and cocktails along with a menu of barbecue-inspired grub such as pork sandwiches, grilled veggies and tacos. The setup also comes with a variety of outdoor games, and picnic tables, lawn chairs and hammocks so you can pop a squat, chill and enjoy the bucolic oasis.

Fun ongoing things to do in Philadelphia

Celebration of Black Arts Festival at various locations and times throughout May 31
The city welcomes dozens of nationally acclaimed writers, singers, performance artists and more for a whole month of events spotlighting artistic achievements by African-Americans. Look out for poetry readings, gallery exhibitions, live music and theater. Check out the Art Sanctuary website for the full itinerary of events.

Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival at Franklin Square; through June 10; $18
Swing by to ogle dozens of handcrafted Chinese lanterns, such as cute panda bears riding on silky seesaws and a massive shark that you can actually stroll inside. New features this year include a sparkling fairy tree, a collection of endangered species, a walk-through great white shark tunnel and an elephant-centric exhibit that guests can power themselves by pedaling a bicycle. There’s also an itinerary of complementary events, such as Chinese acrobatic performers and handicraft workshops led by Chinese folk artists. The Dragon Beer Garden gives guests a chance to sip on beer, wine and cocktails and munch on Chinese-inspired nibbles.

Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest at Penn’s Landing; through September 3; pay as you go
In the warmer months, Blue Cross RiverRink transforms this portion of the Delaware River waterfront into a massive state fair of sorts, complete with a 60-foot-tall ferris wheel, carousel, mini-golf, carnival games and, of course, the outdoor roller rink—all with gorgeous views of the Ben Franklin Bridge. Restaurants and bars line the premises serving up beer, cocktails and a variety of summertime grub. Check out Chickie’s and Pete’s Waterfront Crab Shack, for instance, where you can get crab fries and other savory treats. Then head to the Franklin Fountain Clubhouse Cabin, serves up ice cream cones and other frozen goodies.

“Game Masters” at The Franklin Institute; through September 3; $20
This brand new exhibition should appeal to gaming nerds with over 100 playable games from the arcade classics of the ’70s and ’80s to the multiplayer experiences of the present. Rare original concept artwork will be on view as well, showcasing the imagination of designers behind the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog. —Karen Chernick

Spruce Street Harbor Park; through October; pay as you go
The attraction on the Delaware features a Boardwalk promenade buzzing with food stalls manned by local businesses like Franklin Fountain, Village Burger, Chickie’s and Pete’s, Distrito and more selling pizza, tacos, cheesesteaks, fried chicken, funnel cake, doughnuts and ice cream. There’s also a floating beer garden in the harbor where you can score more food and drinks amongst greenery and spectacular views of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and its watery surroundings.

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