Best free things to do in Philadelphia
Inside this 100-year-old building, find a stunning collection of over 240,000 pieces of original art, ranging from sculpture and paintings to collections of historic furniture and armory. There’s lots to do with kids here, too, including the Family Art Cart in the galleries, where kids can sketch from the masterpieces, and Sunday Family Tours. Although the museum does charge admission, you can snag pay-what-you-wish prices on the first Sunday (10am–5pm) of the month and every Wednesday night (5–8pm).
More than 100 vendors in individual stalls offer goods ranging from artisan cheeses to Amish shoo-fly pies in this 200-year-old indoor market housed in the bottom floor of what was once the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company. While you’re there, grab a cone of Bassett’s famous ice cream, the oldest ice cream vendor in the country.
The Barnes Foundation features the immense art collection of Albert C. Barnes, who managed to amass one of the leading collections of works by impressionist and modernist masters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-August Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Henri Rousseau. Founded in 1922, the Barnes Foundation’s mission is to make art more accessible, so they open up the museum free of charge on the first Sunday of each month. Take advantage of the free day to get up close and personal with these masters.
From 5 to 9pm on the first Friday of each month, Philadelphian art lovers take to the streets of Old City to browse over 40 galleries, which all stay open late to debut their latest exhibitions. Cafés and restaurants also get in on the fun, serving up food and drinks, and neighborhood boutiques put on sales for those looking to do some late-night shopping. The streets come alive with the sounds of live music, and local artisans set up makeshift booths to sell wares on the sidewalks. It’s a quintessential Philadelphia experience—and one of the best free things to do in Philadelphia.
There is plenty of history to see free of charge in Philadelphia. To see the Liberty Bell, all you have to do is walk through a security check and then you’re in. Similarly, Independence Hall is open to the public after you procure the required free tickets at Independence Visitors Center. (Pro tip: Go early; tickets are limited.) While the Betsy Ross house does charge a nominal fee to go in, there’s lots to do on the grounds, including visiting her burial site, watching the seasonal outdoor performances, and listening to roving storytellers who wax historic all around Old City at the Once Upon a Nation Storytelling Benches.
The Kimmel Center offers a vast array of free concerts and events throughout the year. Bring the kids to one of their hands-on demonstrations or bring the whole family to any of a number of classes, festivals, and showcases. Click “Free Events” at the Kimmel Center website to see the current offerings.
A small museum with a big resumé on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) has been mounting exhibitions of major contemporary artists since its opening in 1963. Determined to present what was “new and happening,” it brought Andy Warhol to Penn’s campus for his first-ever solo museum show in 1965. Since then, the ICA has presented artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Laurie Anderson, Glenn Ligon, Agnes Martin, Damian Ortega, Pepon Osorio and Lisa Yuskavage. ICA doesn't cost a dime to tour, so stop in and get your gratis culture fix.
One of Philadelphia’s five original squares is Franklin Square, located right in the historic part of the city. This park is fully outfitted with a carousel, fountain, playground and mini-golf course. After you spend the afternoon, walk a couple of blocks to nearby old-fashioned ice cream shop Franklin Fountain to top off the day.
Join the warm-weather party (May through October) at Spruce Street Harbor Park along the Delaware River. Free features and activities include a regular lineup of live musical performances, bocce, ping pong and shuffleboard courts. Or you could just snag one of the highly coveted hammocks and watch the whole scene unfold.
Mural Arts Philadelphia has managed the creation of more than 4,000 gorgeous murals around the city. In 1984, in an effort to clean up Philadelphia and remove unwanted drawings from buildings, artist Jane Golden commissioned local graffiti artists to create public art. Since then, murals have been popping up everywhere, brightening city blocks and bringing more attention to otherwise overlooked neighborhoods. Take one of two self-guided walking tours—Mural Mile North and Mural Mile South—to learn about the history of this groundbreaking project. The former goes north of Market Street, winding through Old City before dipping into Chinatown and finishing at City Hall. The Mural Mile South tour takes guests south of Market Street, concentrating mainly along the recently revitalized 13th Street corridor.
Located at the midpoint of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and in front of the stunning Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, this relatively new park celebrates Philadelphia’s 10 “sister cities” across the world. Let the kids run wild in the Children’s Discovery Garden, which mimics elements of nearby Wissahickon Park with a trickling stream and scalable rocks. They can also splash around in the Sister Cities fountain or sail miniature sailboats on the nearby boat pond. Art lovers will notice Robert Indiana’s AMOR sculpture, which was presented to the city to commemorate Pope Francis’s historic visit here in 2015. To round out the day, grab a bite to eat at Logan Square Café, which serves soups, sandwiches, pizza and more from 8am to 5pm every day.
America’s oldest living botanical garden is a 45-acre landmark that offers visitors the opportunity to browse a selection of native plants, pore through the archives in the library, or take a luxurious walk through the eight-acre garden. While there is an opportunity to purchase guided tour tickets, admission to the grounds is always free of charge.
Yards Brewing Company, affectionately known as “Philly’s Hometown Brewery” has offered year-round small-batch brews since 1994. Any guest 21 years or older is welcome to take a free tour of the brewery any Saturday or Sunday between noon and 4pm. Check the website before you go to see what’s on tap.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings from October to May, the Curtis Institute of Music holds free concerts in its 250-seat Field Hall. The Performance Series—which amounts to around 200 performances each year—not only offer its students ample opportunity to perform for the public as part of their education, but also offer the public an opportunity to listen to a vast array of talented, up-and-coming musicians without having to buy expensive concert tickets. Choose from a selection of family shows, opera, orchestra and more.
If museums aren’t your style—or if it’s too gorgeous of a day to be inside—consider taking a self-guided tour of Philadelphia public art. Start at the iconic LOVE statue, then head across the street to stand at the foot of Claes Oldenburg’s 45-foot steel Clothespin in Centre Square. At the Muncipal Services Building across from City Hall, you can relive your childhood among sculptures of giant game pieces such as checkers, Bingo tiles and mammoth dice. For a full list of where to find more public art in Philadelphia, consult the Association for Public Art's website here.
This nonprofit Isaiah Zagar museum and gallery on South Street showcases bits of colored glass and shards of broken pottery embedded into the walls and nooks of the building. There is a nominal fee to go inside the museum, but much of it can be viewed from the street free of charge. There’s also plenty to see on the rest of the block, as many of the buildings surrounding the Gardens also boast facades of Zagar’s work.
The artwork isn’t the only thing worth seeing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The bronze statue of the iconic Rocky Balboa was originally cast in 1980 for use in Rocky III and was donated to the city of Philadelphia by Sylvester Stallone once the movie wrapped. Grab a selfie with the statue and then re-enact one of America’s favorite movie scenes by running up the museum steps and raising your fists in triumph.
It’s gorgeous any time of day, but to get the full effect, visit this charming row of 19th-century boathouses along the Schuylkill River once the sun has set. Located just west of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, this group of boathouses are meticulously lined with tiny, perfect glittering lights which reflect off the water at night. Bring your camera to capture this iconic Philly view.
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 events. Upstairs, look through old ship registers and get up close with some of the many antique fire extinguishers on display. This is a free self-guided tour not to miss—especially if you have little ones in tow.
Philadelphia’s mint does not print paper money, but it does stamp coins by the tens of millions per day. The free self-guided tour explains what the process entails from start to finish as well as how the process of making money has changed from the very early days of the nation. 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.
If you want to go all the way into the cemetery where this historical Philadelphian is buried, you will need to pay admission ($2). However, it’s free to stop and pay your respects from just outside. The corner location of Benjamin Franklin’s grave—located near 5th and Arch streets—makes it easy to see through the wrought iron gate as you’re passing by.
Have the little ones in tow?
Our guide to the best things to do in Philadelphia with kids includes visits to museums, zoos and tons of outdoor fun