The 15 must-see Philadelphia attractions
There's no shortage of things to do in Philadelphia, whether you're a seasoned local or a fresh-faced tourist. For starters, there are some of the best historical sites in the states, where total buffs can take selfies by the Liberty Bell and even tour Independence Hall (where the founding fathers debated and drafted the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.) Not only that, but shoppers will find plenty to love—and eat—at Philadelphia's best markets. And to be honest, that only scratches the surface. On a tight schedule or just want to know which attractions to begin with? We've done all the legwork so you don't have to - here are the 15 must-see attractions in Philadelphia. RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Philadelphia. This article includes affiliate links. These links have no influence on our editorial content. For more information, click here.
The 21 best Philadelphia museums
No visit to the City of Brotherly Love is complete until you’ve wandered inside at least a few of the best Philadelphia museums. And, given the diversity we’ve got going on in town, you’ll never have to worry about finding one that you like. The Benjamin Franklin Parkway—a work of art in itself—is ground zero when you want to ogle art (and, yes, the Rocky Statue) by the world’s most famous creatives, like Picasso, Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. Looking for history? Find it in spades in Old City, where the revolutionary era comes alive in a handful of high-tech museums that are fun for grownups and kids alike. The campus of the University of Pennsylvania is also home to a diverse group of destinations—including a couple of underrated gems that are absolutely free to enter. Feel up on some cheesesteak at the best restaurants in town and then get ready to peruse the city’s top cultural offerings. RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Philadelphia
The Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is at the top of any cultural itinerary of the City of Brotherly Love—if you’re looking for things to do in Philadelphia, it’s a perfect place to star. Founded after the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, it remains one of the premier art museums in the U.S. with a long list of blockbuster and scholarly significant exhibitions to its credit. Overlooking Center City on the hill at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, it has served as the anchor to Philadelphia’s cultural life for generations. And few out-of-towners can resist its steps for a Rocky-style run up to the top with arms raised triumphantly. Here we look at the best exhibitions to see at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and give you the best bars and restaurants to visit nearby. Where is the Philadelphia Museum of Art? 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia. What are the hours for the Philadelphia Museum of Art? The museum is open Tuesday–Sunday 10am–5pm. On Wednesday and Friday evenings, it’s open until 8:45pm. How do I get tickets for the Philadelphia Museum of Art? Tickets to the Philadelphia Museum of Art are available on the museum’s website and on site. Admission prices: $20, seniors $18, students and youth $14, museum members and children under 12 free. Tickets grant access for two consecutive days to the museum’s main building, Perelman Building, Rodin Museum, and historic houses Mount Pleasant (closed for general maintenance) and Cedar Grove (open April–December). Ticket tips
Major exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2016
The museum’s lineup of 2016 special exhibitions is wonderfully all over the map with the first big show, International Pop, featuring work from the 1960s and ’70s that addressed mass media and society’s consumerism. The summer season showcases Kathy and Keith Sachs’s extraordinary contemporary collection, recently donated to the PMA. Across the street in the museum’s Perelman building will be five summer-long exhibitions focusing on 400 years of African art. The Museum closes out the year with a huge crowd-pleasing fall show, Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910-50. RECOMMENDED: See the full guide for Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Philadelphia Museum of Art permanent collections
You could spend days wandering inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art discovering its sizable, world-renowned collection. There are treasures to be found in each of its 200 galleries. There's no “correct” way to view what's inside and part of the pleasure of a visit to the museum is to wander and go as your eyes and tastes suggest. Find something that stands out to you and take a good long look. Here is a guide to 15 essential works in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s permanent collections to get you started. RECOMMENDED: See the full guide for Philadelphia Museum of Art
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Schuylkill River Trail
Some city dwellers love the challenge of going for a run through the streets and dodging distracted drivers barreling past them in cars. But for the rest of us who just want to go for a blissed-out run or bike ride, head to the Schuylkill River Trail. It is an extraordinary example of communities and local governments working together for the greater good. It’s currently 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.
The Rocky Statue and the Rocky Steps
“Gonna Fly Now.” That’s the song written by Bill Conti that everyone hums as they run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. If you don’t know the Rocky theme, learn it. And maybe get in a few training runs before you sprint up the 72 steps and raise your arms aloft victoriously. Rocky, the movie 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 10-foot statue of Rocky Balboa created for Rocky III. Don’t be a bum. Snap a selfie with the champ—just be prepared to wait in line for it.
Eastern State Penitentiary
This massive Gothic-styled fortress, now mostly in ruins, was built almost 200 years ago in 1829. With encircling walls as high as 30 feet, the pen represents a rejected institutional idea—that through isolation and complete silence criminals would become penitent and feel true regret. Take the self-guided audio tour narrated by actor Steve Buscemi and learn about the prison, once the most famous in the world that housed Al Capone and “Slick Willie” Sutton. Closed in 1971, today it remains only partially renovated with many crumbling cell blocks still on view. If you think you can handle it, check out the venue's annual “Terror Behind the Walls” Halloween haunted-house event each fall.
Whatever your views are on animals in captivity, the Philadelphia Zoo’s Zoo360 project is giving its inhabitants more room to roam and choice locations to observe visitors. Pay attention, there may 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. Begun in 2011, the zoo-wide project of animal exploration is built on a series of mesh wire trails about 20 feet above ground. These trails have expanded to include special paths and mazes including the Big Cat Crossing, the Treetop Trail for monkeys and lemurs, Great Ape Trail for bigger primates, Meerkat Maze, and the Gorilla Treeway running 300 feet. If you want to get high, too, take the 10-minute ZooBalloon ride over the Schuylkill River. The hot air balloon goes up 400 feet and offers stunning views of surrounding Fairmount Park.
Independence National Historical Park
Don’t be surprised if you spot people dressed in character from tricorn-hat down to square-buckled shoe 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, Congress Hall, and the Ben Franklin Museum—speak to its extraordinary role in the founding of the nation. (Pro tip: Go early to procure the required free tickets at Independence Visitors Center for the popular Independence Hall tour.) There are plenty of beautiful green spaces to wander through and wonder about the courage it took Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the other freedom fighters to declare independence from England.
Historic Old City
This funky and historic section of town near the Delaware River is a blend of cafés, boutiques, restaurants, art galleries and some amazing historic gems. We all learned about Betsy Ross making the country’s flag back in grade school. Visit her house to see the birthplace of the stars and stripes 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.
For those who love people-watching, Rittenhouse Square is endlessly fascinating. This elegant square with a rich history is one of the five open-space parks throughout the city originally planned by William Penn and built in 1683. Grab a sandwich from any of the nearby cafés, park yourself on a wooden bench in the beautifully maintained square and watch the show go by—from chic mommies and daddies playing with kids by the goat statue and busy professionals striding along to their offices to tattooed bike messengers hanging out on the 18th Street corner and crunchy hipsters playing hackey sack on the green. Besides the daily parade of Philadelphians going about their business, there’s also evening summer concerts, holiday celebrations, art fairs and farmers’ markets in and around the square. After you’ve relaxed, head east along Walnut Street and shop the thoroughfare’s high-end boutiques. When you hit Broad Street, you’ve reached the end of the loosely used term, “Rittenhouse Row.”
The African American Museum in Philadelphia
Founded in 1976, this modest museum has told the story of African Americans for decades. The draw here is the traveling exhibits including recent shows celebrating Ntozake Shange’s play, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, photography by Shawn Theodore, Dawoud Bey and Gerard Gaskins, and a multimedia exhibition on racial bias in our judicial system.
Museum of the American Revolution
This new museum—a $150 million project opened in April 2017—is a fun, high-tech addition to the city’s Revolutionary War coverage. Located in Historic Old City, it has 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 curators have taken pains to present the war from a diversity of viewpoints, including women, slaves, Native Americans, loyalists, Southern colonists, etc.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
You’ll know you’ve found the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) on Broad Street when you spot a 51-foot-high inverted paintbrush and a crashed fighter jet stuck in the pavement. These works, respectively by Claes Oldenburg and PAFA alumnus Jordan Griska (he scored the decommissioned Navy aircraft on eBay!), are dramatically installed on the plaza outside the elegant Victorian-era museum and art school that opened in 1805. The museum—a gem designed by Philadelphia’s Frank Furness and George Hewitt in 1876—takes the viewer on a chronologically arranged tour of American art from the 1760s to today, with work by notable art all-stars including Benjamin West, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, Alice Neel, Jennifer Bartlett, Alex Katz and Frank Stella. That's in addition to an itinerary of rotating special exhibitions throughout the year.
National Museum of American Jewish History
This museum examines all facets of what it means to be American and Jewish—from 1654 to the present. It tells stories of leadership, resilience and assimilation as it spotlights Jews fighting in America’s wars, as pioneers out West, as gangsters, athletes, entertainers, scientists, civil rights activists and more. The museum engages visitors with a variety of creative, interactive exhibits, documentaries on antisemitism, recording booths to tell your own stories and artifacts including one of Barbra Streisand’s costumes from Yentl, Irving Berlin’s piano and even Albert Einstein’s pipe. Though the original museum opened in 1976 at nearby Congregation Mikveh Israel, its impressive, $150 million sleek new home—right on Independence Mall—opened in 2010.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
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 do 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.
New Barnes show pairs the works of Rodin with those of contemporary German artist Anselm Kiefer
In art, as in love, sometimes the unlikeliest people make for the best matches. “Kiefer Rodin,” the latest special exhibit at the Barnes Foundation, pairs the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, known for sculptural masterpieces like The Thinker and The Kiss, with contemporary German artist Anselm Kiefer, who’s made a name for himself with unflinching critiques of Germany’s dark role in history. “At first, people are surprised at the pairing, but that’s a good thing,” says Cindy Kang, associate curator at the Barnes. “To see what resonates between the two artists and the themes they’re both working on makes a lot of sense.” This exhibition began after the Rodin Museum in Paris thought to republish the sculptor’s 1914 book, Cathedrals of France, which served as a loving tribute to the French architecture that was bombed and obliterated during World War I. For the revamp, organizers of the project were looking for a contemporary artist to contribute to the new edition. Enter Kiefer, who had been spending time in the storerooms of the Paris museum studying Rodin’s plaster casts for his own work. It was the natural choice. Kiefer, born in southwest Germany in 1945, has built a body of work that reflects his fascination with the themes of memory, destruction, architecture and history. His interest in exploring the past gels with Rodin’s appetite for nostalgia and his drive to keep history alive. “Kiefer Rodin,” which opens on the 100th anniversary of Rodin’s death, shows the motivation