Philadelphia is a wonderful place to visit whether you’re going with the kids, your besties or someone special. It’s small and walkable and, best of all, there are a ton of free things to do and see including major US historical sites, world-famous museums and gorgeous gardens. Here are all of the best free and fun things to do in Philly including great places to capture Instagrammable moments.
History for Free in Philly
1. See the Liberty Bell
One of the top things to do in Philadelphia with kids is to see the historic Liberty Bell. Head to Independence Mall first thing in the morning to get in line early. The doors open at 9 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. You can’t get tickets in advance, so you have no choice but to endure the queue. The earlier you can get there, the better.
The Liberty Bell is one of the US National Historical Parks in Philadelphia. There’s educational material for kids on their website that you can print out beforehand.
2. Tour Independence Hall
Take a free guided tour of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were signed. It’s one of the many revolutionary sites in Philly and a must-see for the kids. You’ll find it on Independence Mall, next to the cobblestoned streets of the Old City historic district.
Timed entry tickets are required, March – December, and during the winter school holidays. The National Park Service charges a $1.00 handling fee. Reservations are not required if you go in January or February (outside of the school breaks) or after 5 p.m. during the summer. You’ll see an original draft of the Constitution and the Assembly Room from the Constitutional Convention.
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3. Walk Through History
Wander down Elfreth’s Alley and you’ll feel like you traveled back in time. This narrow, cobblestone street opened as a cart path for the distribution of goods to and from the river back in 1703. Preservation efforts keep the historic homes lining the alley much as they were back in the day. It’s free to walk the street; the museum charges $3 for adults, $2 for children ages 7-12 and is free for children under 7.
4. Tour the United States Mint
The mint in Philadelphia was the first in the US, producing our country’s first pocket change in 1792. View the coining operations and seven Tiffany glass mosiacs during daily, free, self-guided tours. And meet Peter the Mint Eagle. He lived in the building and was taxidermied so he could remain in his home and remain a model for eagle designs on US currency.
Free Art, Music and Museums in Philadelphia
5. Rocky Steps and the Rocky statue
Philly is not only a walker’s city but also a runner’s. Run up the steps, which lead to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And make sure to get a photo with the nearby statue of Rocky.
Want to go inside the museum? Tickets are $30 for adults and kids are free but the museum also offers Pay What You Wish admission on the first Sunday of the month and every Friday night from 5:00 through 8:45 p.m.
6. Show Philly Some Free Love
Pay homage to the late Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, in LOVE park. The sculpture, loaned to Philly for the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976, was supposed to be temporary. But it was so popular, that a local businessman bought it and donated it to Philadelphia. The artist’s legacy includes both this statue and the Amor (Latin and Spanish for love) statue nearby.
7. Thank You, Firefighters!
Benjamin Franklin was a busy guy. You can learn all about his many pursuits at the Ben Franklin Museum. One of his greatest accomplishments was establishing the first volunteer fire service in 1736. Philadelphia’s Fireman’s Hall Museum is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the brave efforts of the women and men who have served through the centuries. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.
8. The Science History Institute
Formerly the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the Science History Institute focuses on scientific progress through chemistry. Artifacts include scientific instruments and apparatus, rare books, fine art and the papers of prominent scientists. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with free admission for all.
9. Curtis Institute of Music
The music school has over 100 free performances each year. Student musicians perform solo and chamber works most Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, as part of the free Student Recital Series. You must register in advance. Check out their event calendar for date and performance information.
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10. Free at the Kimmel Series
The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts offers free performances year-round. When the weather gets warm and the city’s famous cherry blossoms bloom, the Kimmel begins a series of outdoor concerts on Commonwealth Plaza. Check out their free event calendar for more information.
11. Check Out the Historic Grand Organ…in Macy’s!
There is more free music at the flagship Macy’s. The historic 28,500-pipe Wanamaker Grand Organ, from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, provides two free 45-minute concerts daily, at noon and 5:30 pm, except on Sundays. The building itself is a National Historic Landmark.
12. First Sunday at The Barnes
The Barnes is a must-visit art museum in Philly. The collection was relocated to a beautiful new building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway next to the Rodin Museum.
The collection was assembled over years by art lover Albert Barnes who arranged the pieces, collage-style, at the Barnes Foundation in Merion. After his death, there was a lengthy estate dispute that ended with the opening of the new museum downtown in 2012. The first Sunday of the month at The Barnes is free and features family-friendly programming. Reservations are required.
13. Mural Arts Philadelphia
This community-based arts program started out to combat graffiti but evolved into a huge outdoor art gallery. You can take a guided tour for a fee or you can download a free “Mural Mile Map.” Walk around the city to see the graffiti art on your own.
14. Visit the Home of Edgar Allan Poe
Do you have kids studying American Lit? Then put the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site on your list of things to do in Philly. Poe lived here for six years and wrote some of his most popular short stories while living here, including “The Tell-Tale Heart.” It’s a federally operated site that’s open seasonally. Check operating dates and times before heading out.
Philadelphia’s Free Parks and Gardens
15. Franklin Square
One of five public squares laid out by William Penn, this park offers a green urban respite. There is a playground and clean public bathrooms. You have to pay for the carousel and mini golf, but you can see the artwork during the Chinese Lantern Festival during the day for free.
16. Scott Arboretum
Located on the grounds of Swarthmore College, this 300-acre arboretum features 4,000 varieties of regional ornamental plants and garden workshops. The arboretum is noted for its rare specimen trees. There are cherry trees, magnolias, tree peonies and conifers. See a range of hydrangeas, rhododendrons and other flowering shrubs too.
17. Check Out Bartram’s Garden
Looking for garden inspo? Visit the 50-acre Bartram’s Garden, the oldest operating botanical garden in the United States. It’s open daily and free to the public with a variety of horticultural displays, including a Medicinal Garden.
Explore the Great Outdoors in Philly for Free
18. Family-Friendly Philly Biking
With over 200 miles of bike trails and lanes, Philadelphia is one of the top cycling cities in the US. Bring your family bikes and explore the City of Brotherly Love on two wheels! The Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia is a great resource for biking info and trail recommendations.
SheBuysTravel contributor Mary Dixon LeBeau recommends the 10-mile Kelly Drive Loop along the Schuylkill River where you can see the charming Boat Row boathouses; The Boxers’ Trail dedicated to prizefighters like Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier who trained in Philly and the Forbidden Drive. This seven-mile, car-free trail is so deep in the woods that you might forget you’re in the middle of one of the biggest US cities. Teens will particularly enjoy one of the trail’s quirky attractions, says Lebeau. “Venture off the trail to see the Cave of Kelpius, the spot where the country’s first doomsday cult hid awaiting the end days.”
19. Visit the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum
First established in 1972, this park is regarded as “America’s First Urban Refuge”. There are more than 10 miles of hiking trails and visitors can also fish, canoe and kayak. Stop by the visitors center to pick up a map before heading in. The center also loans out binoculars and fishing rods, free of charge.
There are hundreds of species that call the refuge home, including fish, turtles and birds. If you’re lucky, you might even see the bald eagles which nest in the refuge.
20. Soak Up Skyline Views
Philly’s skyline is amazing. We already mentioned the great view from the Ben Franklin Bridge. Philly resident and SheBuysTravel contributor Sarah Ricks also recommends the views from the Spring Garden and South Street Bridges.
Visit the Spring Garden Bridge before or after your trip to the Philadelphia Art Museum. You’ll see the Schuylkill River below and West Philly off to the side. There’s a parking lot on Columbus Boulevard at the entrance to the pedestrian walkway on the Spring Garden Bridge. The skyline view from this vantage point reminds Ricks of the Emerald City. You’ll need to check it out to see if you agree.
Another fab, free skyline view can be found in Fairmount Park. Head to the Belmont Plateau, located west of the Schuylkill River.
“From the huge green lawn at Belmont Plateau, the city’s skyline is off in the distance. This is a good spot for a picnic, kites, frisbee or a stop after visiting the children’s Please Touch Museum, or the Belmont Mansion Underground Railroad Museum, or the Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center, all located nearby,” says Ricks. [Note: These are all paid attractions.]
You’ll get views of the Ben Franklin Bridge, the Delaware River and the Camden waterfront at Penn’s Landing. There’s almost always something going on at this entertainment complex. Check for seasonal pop-ups like farmer’s markets in summer and the RiverRink Winterfest when the weather turns brisk.
21. It Ain’t Philly Without a Cheesesteak
You’ll have to pay for your cheesesteak at any of Philly’s legendary outposts including Geno’s Steaks, Pat’s King of Steaks and Jim’s South St.. But you can get all the smells for free by browsing the Reading Terminal Market. One of America’s oldest public markets, the Reading Terminal Market is open every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Besides the delicious scent of sizzling meat, you’ll be tempted by farm fresh produce, unique craft items and the dairy good cheeses from Pennsylvania Dutch country.