Things to do in Philadelphia with kids
Kids will love the adventure of the Magic Gardens, a non-profit Isaiah Zagar museum and gallery on South Street. With bits of colored glass and shards of broken pottery embedded into the walls and plenty of nooks for kids to climb into and out of, it’s easy to get lost safely inside. Ask for the scavenger hunt sheet when you arrive and send the little ones off searching for specific images and representations on the walls and floors.
Set in East Fairmount Park, Smith Playground has been a wonderland for kids since the late 1800s. The playhouse, which is open year-round, is a 16,000-square foot, three story structure full of building toys, imaginary play areas and various craft projects designed for children five and under. The playground, which features a large Tot Lot for the younger set, is open from April 1st through December 30th. The real star of the show is the Ann Newman Giant Wooden Slide, which is polished to a slippery sheen every other week in-season. Grab a burlap sack off the pile and slide down the 39-foot long and 13-foot wide slope. Kids and adults alike will giggle in delight.
Sprawled out inside a Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park, which was the original art exhibition hall for the 1876 Centennial Celebration, the PTM is a Philly favorite. Children of all ages can find something to love, whether it’s the life-size Septa bus they can “drive” or the multi-level water play area complete with rubber ducks, boats and even a raincloud that pours showers down every several seconds. The lower level boasts a kid-sized grocery store, play kitchen and a children’s hospital, complete with an x-ray machine, kid-sized MRI and lots of baby doll “patients.” The museum’s youngest guests enjoy several soft, safe crawling and climbing spots for kids under three while older ones ride the full-sized indoor carousel.
The oldest zoo in the country has recently undergone some wonderful renovations and now boasts a beautiful new Children’s Zoo, complete with an indoor, air conditioned exhibit and the fully enclosed, elevated “Big Cat Crossing.” When the weather’s cooperative, take a ride on the ZooBalloon, a full-size hot air balloon that is tethered to the ground and rises up 400 feet for a beautiful view of the surrounding Fairmount Park. If staying on the ground is more your speed, stroll through the exhibits housing over 1,300 animals, including giant gorillas, black bears and hundreds of others. If you’re lucky, you might spy one of the free-roaming peacocks on your walk!
The Franklin Institute gives kids and adults alike the opportunity to delve into some of the coolest science exhibits around. Visit the huge walk-through model of the human heart and hear what it sounds like inside your arteries as blood rushes through. Then hit up the SportsZone to learn about the science of sports. With 11 permanent exhibits and several visiting exhibitions, there’s something for everyone. Be sure to check the website to see what special traveling exhibit is currently in session.
The Museum of Art houses a stunning collection of over 240,000 pieces of original art, ranging from sculpture to furniture collections from historic Philadelphians’ homes. Kids will love the family art cart in the galleries, where they can sketch from the masterpieces as well as Sunday family tours, specifically geared toward the younger set. Guides center the tour on a specific theme (colors, shapes, etc.) and then lead children through the museum in search of examples in the collection.
This one’s great for older kids! Actor Steve Buscemi narrates a self-guided tour that highlights the history, but also points out interesting tidbits about the prison culture of the time that kids will find fascinating. Complete a scavenger hunt as you walk through and take your completed sheet to the gift shop to receive a special prize at the end of your visit.
This self-described “museum of medical oddities” is run by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and is stocked with things like drawers full of items patients have swallowed (think: safety pins, buttons, etc.) and a cast of the torsos of Chang and Eng (the first conjoined twins). Don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the “Soap Lady” and figure out why she’s called that!
Part of the Jewish Learning Venture, this program seeks to connect kids and families within the vibrant community of Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs and offers different activities throughout the year to that end. Check out the calendar for an ever-changing selection of events and celebrations, including craft days, baking events and afternoon park playdates.
If you’ve got a kid who loves firetrucks, this is a great way to spend an afternoon. Just outside of Old City, this restored firehouse offers close-up looks at antique firetrucks as well as artifacts rescued from some well-known fire-related events. Upstairs, kids can try on firefighter gear, sit and read books, and make 9-1-1 calls on a pretend phone. The tiny gift counter offers fun take-home items such as stickers, patches and a model firetrucks.
Once the tallest habitable building in the world, City Hall sits right in the middle of Broad Street and until 1987 was the highest structure in the city. Kids will love the winding walk through the building and the thrill of standing right at the feet of the giant statue of William Penn is unmatched. Call ahead to get tickets for the elevator ride up as only four people are allowed on it at once.
Just across the bridge from Philadelphia proper in West Berlin, New Jersey, you’ll find an amusement park populated with authentic digging machines. Kids can drive tractors across wide swaths of dirt and climb up into the cab of an excavator and maneuver the gears to dig a deep hole. Smaller kids can ride on parents’ laps or choose the smaller machines to try out. Hard hats not required!
Several times throughout the year, the Philadelphia Orchestra offers concerts geared toward children and families. Whether it’s the music from Harry Potter or a celebration of various soundtracks from Pixar films, this series is an excellent introduction to classical music for children. A “pre-concert adventure,” which introduces kids to the instruments and the program, is included in the ticket price.
About 40 minutes south of the city, this family-owned agritainment center offers everything from pick-your-own fruit (strawberries, peaches, blueberries and apples—depending on the season) sessions to hayrides, a playground, animal-feeding and even swimming at two swim clubs nestled into the bucolic surroundings. Don’t forget to save time for Farm Market, which sells homemade pies, local produce, farm-themed toys and games and more.
There are lots of history-related things to do in Philly, but the Betsy Ross House is one of the ones that really makes an impression. Kids can tour through the house, looking at all the rooms, and chat with “Betsy” as she explains her role as a flag seamstress. Be sure to stop and take a peek at her final resting place, which is right on the property.
What kid doesn’t like an ice cream cone? Franklin Fountain serves these in abundance in Old City. Adults will love the authentic “old soda fountain” vibe and kids will delight in flavors like Franklin Mint Chip and Cotton Candy. Come prepared to stand in line, especially during spring and summer weekends (trust us, it’s worth it).
Take a quick drive over the bridge to the Camden Waterfront for a day at the area’s largest aquarium. Kids can run their hands along the slick backs of stingrays or spend time staring at the underwater hippo exhibit. For a special treat, splurge on an “Encounter” where you can become pals with a penguin or help care for a sea turtle.
Philadelphia’s Mint does not print paper money, but it does stamp coins by the tens of millions per day. This self-guided tour explains what the process entails from start to finish and explores the history of making money. Along the way, kids will get to design their own virtual coins, try to lift a sack of nickels and see what happens to all the money that falls off the conveyor belts.
Take your kids down to South Philly to take a cheesesteak challenge and pick which one of the two offerings should be considered the best cheesesteak in town. Pack a notebook and pencil and have the children jot down the key characteristics of each sandwich before making a decision. Whichever they end up choosing, make sure they know the lingo before they hop on line: Wiz wit or witout?
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Lucas Richarz
This museum along the Delaware River gives a comprehensive maritime history of the Delaware Valley. Kids can spend time learning about the Delaware River and some of the catastrophes that have happened over the years through an interactive exhibit or take a peek at tattoo artwork that has been a staple among sailors and pirates. Be sure to check out the boat workshop, where kids can watch actual boats being built from scratch.
Site-seeing on a budget?
Follow our list of the top free things to do in Philadelphia to experience the best aspects of the city on the cheap