A Comprehensive Guide to Greater Philadelphia's Museums & Attractions
Explore some of the can't-miss things to do in Philadelphia and the Countryside...
It’s no secret (or surprise) that Philadelphia offers a wealth of authentic and top-notch experiences.
And with so many museums, attractions, parks, markets and more in this vibrant city and region, it’s challenging to know where to begin.
Do you pick:
- Dinosaurs ( The Academy of Natural Sciences ) or daylilies ( Longwood Gardens )?
- Vincent van Gogh ( Barnes Foundation ) or Count von Count ( Sesame Place )?
- Revolutionary history ( Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell ) or outdoor reveling ( Wissahickon Valley Park and Fairmount Park )?
Below, find a look at the can’t-miss attractions and museums that make Greater Philadelphia an amazing place to explore.
The Liberty Bell was originally cast in Great Britain and recast in 1753 in Philadelphia to adorn the State House (now known as Independence Hall). It was soon adopted by abolitionists, suffragists and other justice-seeking groups as an enduring symbol of freedom. Fun fact: Many historians believe the 44-pound clapper caused the bell to famously crack on its first use. Visitors can tour the Liberty Bell Center for free year-round.
Independence Hall is the centerpiece of the renowned Independence National Historical Park . In 1776, the Founding Fathers came together to sign the Declaration of Independence in this historic building. Eleven years later, representatives from a dozen states met here to lay the framework for the U.S. Constitution. Guided tours are available year-round. Note that visitors must reserve tickets online or by phone in advance for tours of Independence Hall.
Presidents George Washington and John Adams each lived here during their tenures as president. While the original President’s House has since been demolished, the foundation remains and now serves as part of an outdoor museum where looped videos give a special focus to the lives of the nine enslaved men and women who lived and worked here during Washington’s time in office.
Independence National Historical Park , also known as America’s most historic square mile, is a must-see to learn more about America’s origins. Visitors can explore more than two-dozen sites — many of them free — throughout the park, including the Liberty Bell Center, Independence Hall, The President’s House, Carpenters’ Hall and many more. The park is administered by the National Park Service.
Dedicated to the four most powerful pages in America’s history, the National Constitution Center examines “We the People.” Museum-goers can explore exhibits and artifacts, view an original Bill of Rights, walk among 42 life-size bronze statues of the delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and learn more about amendments to the Constitution that ended slavery (13th Amendment) and granted the right to vote to Black men (15th Amendment) and some women (19th Amendment).
Opened in 2017, this compelling museum brings to life the world-changing American Revolution through an unmatched collection of artifacts, including weapons, documents, personal items, works of art and General George Washington’s headquarters tent. With powerful films, digital touchscreens and historical vignettes, the museum recreates the drama and the details of the country’s dramatic birth.
The African American Museum in Philadelphia
Founded in 1976, The African American Museum in Philadelphia is the first institution built by a major U.S. city to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage and culture of African Americans. The museum takes a fresh, bold look at the roles of African Americans in the founding of the nation through the core exhibit Audacious Freedom. Visiting exhibitions and frequent programs reveal the history, stories and cultures of those of African descent throughout the African diaspora.
Take a journey through 360 years of Jewish history in the U.S. at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History, which is filled with more than 1,200 artifacts and documents, 2,500 images, 30 original films and 13 state-of-the-art interactive media displays — and is free to visit (with a suggested donation) beginning in May 2022. The experience delivers a rich tale that traces the path of the nation’s Jewish population from struggling immigrants to integral citizens. While you’re there: Snap a picture of the cheeky OY/YO installation , on display outside of the museum through May 2023.
America’s most famous flag maker greets guests at her 18th-century upholstery shop, part of a tiny dwelling where visitors learn about Ross’ life and legend, and enjoy programs, storytelling and activities.
Enjoy the outdoors at this fun-filled park named in honor of — who else? — Benjamin Franklin. Take a mini-tour of Philadelphia as you putt-putt your way through the city’s iconic sites at Philly Mini Golf, or enjoy a nostalgic ride on the Parx Liberty Carousel, a classic tribute to Philadelphia’s great heritage of carousel-making. There’s also a fountain (renovated in 2019 to now feature seasonal fountain shows and nighttime light shows!), a SquareBurger food stand and lots of open space to lounge or run around.
Elfreth’s Alley boasts 300 years of history on its charming cobblestone road lined with quaint row houses. While a modern city has sprung up around it, the alley preserves three centuries of evolution through its old-fashioned flower boxes, shutters, Flemish bond brickwork and other architectural details. Two adjacent houses, built in 1755, are now a museum open to the public.
Delaware River Waterfront
Spruce Street Harbor Park and Blue Cross RiverRink
Spruce Street Harbor Park , the wildly popular spring-to-fall destination on the Delaware River, attracts impressive crowds with bocce and shuffleboard, tree-slung hammocks and colorful lights, floating barges with over-the-water seating, beer and food options, and a variety of events. A five-minute walk along the river takes visitors to Blue Cross RiverRink, where there’s roller skating in the summer and ice skating in the winter .
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Race Street Pier features two levels for recreation, a multi-tiered seating area for watching the tide roll in and — of course — absolutely transcendent views of the Delaware River and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Located just next door, Cherry Street Pier — opened in 2018— is an indoor-outdoor mixed-use public space, home to artist studios, a marketplace, and alfresco food and beverage purveyors.
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Adventure Aquarium — located just across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey — delights visitors with hippos to marvel at; a Shark Bridge to cross; penguins to meet; stingrays to feed; and horseshoe crabs, starfish and sharks to touch. The big wow exhibit: a massive tank of sea turtles, stingrays, schooling fish and sharks, including a great hammerhead.
Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Logan Square & Fairmount
One of the nation’s largest art museums rises majestically at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway . Inside are vast collections, including Renaissance, American and impressionist art, plus big0deal rotating special exhibitions. The one-acre Sculpture Garden extends the museum’s galleries to the outdoors. Just down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the Rodin Museum , housing one of the largest public collections of Auguste Rodin’s works outside of Paris, including bronze casts of The Thinker and The Gates of Hell.
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The Rocky Statue and the Rocky Steps — better known as the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art — are two of the most popular attractions in Philadelphia. Visiting the statue, running up the steps and taking a picture at the top — with that picture-perfect skyline in the background — is pretty much a must on your first visit to Philadelphia.
The Barnes is home to one of the world’s most important collections of impressionist, post-impressionist and early modernist paintings by renowned artists like Renoir, Cézanne, Picasso and Van Gogh. The museum also showcases American paintings and decorative arts, metalwork, African sculpture and Native American textiles, jewelry and ceramics — all presented in Albert C. Barnes’ distinctive arrangements.
Once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, the massive Eastern State Penitentiary operated from 1829 to 1970, introduced Americans to the concept of solitary confinement, and housed criminals like Al Capone and Willie Sutton. Today, the historic site offers self-guided tours that explore the attraction’s history, along with modern social justice issues that surround incarceration.
The Franklin Institute , one of the leading science centers in the country, showcases the science involved in every aspect of life. In addition to hands-on permanent exhibits like the highly interactive Your Brain and the iconic Giant Heart , a rotating roster of special exhibitions adds to the museum’s appeal.
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is America’s oldest natural history museum. Visitors of all ages can wander through a tropical garden filled with live butterflies, meet live animals, see three continents of wildlife in their natural habitats and get face to face with towering dinosaurs.
Center City ’s iconic railway terminal turned epicureanr haven is a one-stop shop for local produce, meats, artisanal cheeses, desserts and more. The public space also provides open seating where customers can enjoy meals from dozens of diverse merchants, including popular Amish vendors. Want to know what to eat? We can help with that .
Philadelphia’s City Hall — the largest municipal building in the country — has been the city’s government headquarters for more than 100 years. Once the tallest building in the U.S., the elaborate 14.5-acre masonry structure remains the country’s largest municipal building, and its exterior features more than 250 sculptures, including the 37-foot-tall, 27-ton bronze statue of William Penn atop the iconic clock tower. And Dilworth Park — City Hall’s popular western-facing front yard — is a modern and welcoming outdoor space tree groves, benches, two cafes and a large programmable fountain that transforms into an ice rink in the winter and a roller rink in the summer.
The Mütter Museum is one of America’s finest museums of medical history. Its “disturbingly informative” displays help the public understand the mysteries of the human body and to appreciate the diagnosis and treatment of disease. One of the most popular displays: slides of Albert Einstein’s brain.
The first art museum and school in the nation, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts features elaborate Frank Furness architecture that’s as compelling as the American art on display within. One of Gilbert Stuart’s portraits of George Washington is a highlight, as are other well-known paintings by both classic and contemporary artists such as Winslow Homer, Kehinde Wiley, John Singer Sargent, Jacob Lawrence, Edward Hopper and Cecilia Beaux.
A favorite destination for tourists and locals alike, John F. Kennedy Plaza gets its nickname — LOVE Park — from Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture that sits within the public space. Renovated in 2018, LOVE Park serves as the grand entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway . Just a short walk away from LOVE Park stands the equally grand AMOR sculpture, the Spanish edition of the LOVE sculpture, on display at Sister Cities Park .
The one-square-block park that gives the neighborhood of Rittenhouse Square its name is more popular with sunbathers, readers, families, artists and even dogs than city founder William Penn ever could have imagined. It’s the city’s best-known — and, perhaps, most enjoyed — park.
The Schuylkill River Trail — a 30-mile recreational path running along the Schuylkill River from Center City Philadelphia to Parker Ford in Chester County — is a favorite for bicyclists, families, runners and walkers. The Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk , a 15-foot-wide, 2,000-foot-long, ADA-compliant concrete path that juts out above the Schuylkill River, provides runners, bikers and pedestrians with a trail connection between Locust Street and the South Street Bridge.
Towering and majestic, the Masonic Temple has stood tall near City Hall since 1873, representing a secret fraternity with 14th-century roots and a membership that included Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, whose statues pose outside its entrance. The temple’s Freemasonry artifacts and opulent decor wow visitors.
Italian immigrants established this open-air spot in the late 19th century, which lays claim to being America’s oldest outdoor market. Though it’s still called the Italian Market , the historic strip in South Philadelphia now reflects the neighborhood’s multicultural makeup, offering Mexican, Vietnamese and Korean spots alongside Italian restaurants, bakeries and markets selling cheeses, meats, produce and more.
Eating a cheesesteak is essential when visiting Philly. Pat’s King of Steaks claims that its founder, Pat Olivieri, invented the city’s signature sandwich back in 1930. The popular shop on Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue grills 24 hours a day, as does Geno’s Steaks , the rival across the street that opened in 1966. For more than half a century, Pat’s and Geno’s have waged a (mostly) friendly competition, with visitors often ordering from both shops to see which they deem the winner.
Mosaics bloom at this fantasy-like art showplace on South Street, presenting and preserving the work of artist Isaiah Zagar. Visitors can take a tour and snap a selfie in a wonderland constructed from bicycle spokes, bottles and other knick-knacks.
America’s first zoo and a foremost conservation organization is home to nearly 1,300 animals, many rare and endangered. Zoo360, a first-in-the-world animal travel and exploration train system, enables primates and big cats to move above and across the main visitor pathway. The 42-acre campus is home to a variety of exhibits, including Big Cat Falls and Water Is Life.
This renowned museum — which has undergone a massive renovation to its West Philly home in recent years — is known for its collection of art and artifacts from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Greco-Roman World, Asia, Africa and the Americas (including a Native American exhibit). Artifacts include Sumerian cuneiform clay tablets (some of the world’s oldest writing), 4,500-year-old jewelry of a Mesopotamian queen and the massive, 3,000-year-old Sphinx of Ramses II. Gardens, fountains and a koi pond make the outside quite impressive as well.
Open to the public free of charge, the Institute of Contemporary Art has been instrumental in showcasing the work of emerging and under-recognized artists since 1963. It led the way with the first-ever museum shows of Andy Warhol, Laurie Anderson, Agnes Martin, Robert Indiana and other influential artists.
North America’s oldest botanical garden (1728) belonged to Quaker John Bartram, Sr., self-taught botanist to King George III from 1765-1777, who collected, cultivated and sold plant specimens from North America and England. Prior to Bartram, the land served as seasonal fishing grounds for the Lenape. Today, the site includes the 18th-century Bartram family house and outbuildings, a 17-acre meadow, public access to the Schuylkill River, and an array of naturalistic, woodland and formal gardens. Garden admission is free.
Recognized as one of the nation’s top children’s museums, this major kids’ attraction includes two full floors of interactive exhibit zones, plus a fully restored century-old carousel. Kids can play and pretend amid Alice’s Wonderland, Rocket Room and other hands-on fun, all inside Fairmount Park’s National Historic Landmark Memorial Hall.
North and Northwest Philadelphia
A quarter-mile section of Callowhill ’s The Rail Park — the city’s expansive planned overhead greenway — boasts a simple, meandering pathway, rustic plantings, and plenty of places to relax and take in the views. The design of the park maintains an industrial feel with steel platforms, benches and guardrails.
Note: As of March 20, 2023, Boathouse Row’s iconic lights are undergoing maintenance, and will remain dark through the end of 2023. Read more here .
Boathouse Row , a National Historic Landmark, consists of 10 charming boathouses on the banks of the Schuylkill River. At night, the glittering lights that frame the buildings make for idyllic scenery as they reflect off of the river’s surface. Boathouse Row sits on scenic Kelly Drive, a prime spot for outdoor recreation that runs along the east side of the Schuylkill River from the Philadelphia Museum of Art to Lincoln Drive.
Endless trails, historic houses, the Philadelphia Zoo, Shofuso Japanese House and Gardens and Treetop Quest Philly are among the pleasant surprises that await explorers of one of the nation’s largest urban parks , stretching from Boathouse Row to West Philadelphia, Strawberry Mansion, Chestnut Hill and Northeast Philadelphia. Tip: Head to Belmont Plateau (above) for unreal skyline views.
With more than 50 miles of rugged trails, Wissahickon Valley Park ’s thousands of acres are great for hiking, cycling and exploring. Wissahickon schist bedrock, sliced through centuries ago, has created steep hills punctuated by a creek, with paths for both climbers and horseback riders. Also on site: Philadelphia’s last covered bridge. Especially accessible is Forbidden Drive, a five-mile packed gravel trail with stunning views.
This Chester County botanical garden attracts visitors from around the globe to its 1,000-plus acres filled with outdoor and indoor gardens, 9,000 different species of plants, spectacular fountains, and picturesque meadows and woodlands. The horticultural haven also hosts many events each year, including flower shows, gardening demonstrations, educational programs, children’s activities and concerts.
The grounds are as breathtaking as the art at the bucolic Brandywine River Museum of Art , housed in a renovated 1864 gristmill and surrounded by wildflower gardens and the meandering Brandywine River. Inside, works by Andrew Wyeth sit beside other beautifully detailed illustrations, paintings and installations, as well as special exhibitions that have showcased more works from the talented Wyeth family, photographs from the civil rights movement and works by Winslow Homer.
No battles were fought in Valley Forge, but the time the Continental Army spent here went down as one of its most trying periods. Today, a national park on this site honors those who helped secure freedom for the United States. Replicated huts and the original headquarters tell the story of the pivotal winter that George Washington and his troops endured, and a visitor center — renovated in 2021 and 2022 — includes artifacts and a lifesize statue of Washington. The 3,500-acre park also includes recreational trails and picnic areas.
With festivals for every season, stores (more than 60!) for every type of shopper and the just-for-kids Giggleberry Fair, Peddler’s Village packs a surprising number of activities in its countryside landscape. The Golden Plough Inn invites people to keep the fun going for multiple days.
This 33,000-square-foot plastic-brick heaven features a LEGO-themed ride, 4D cinema and 10 play areas, including a DUPLO Park for the toddler set. An onsite cafe and store ensure everybody walks away satisfied.
Winding stairways, turrets and balconies give a 13th-century feel to the eclectic Fonthill Castle , which boasts 200 windows of different shapes and sizes, as well as exquisite handmade tiles and mosaics from the adjacent Moravian Pottery and Tile Works .
The towering castle that houses the Mercer Museum is full of themed rooms dedicated to the tools and crafts of American life before mechanization, like a whaling boat and a Conestoga wagon. Nearby, Pennsylvania impressionist paintings take center stage at the Michener Art Museum , named for Pulitzer Prize-winning writer James A. Michener. The galleries also host photography, sleek woodwork from nearby furniture maker George Nakashima Woodworkers, and other historical and contemporary works.
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With more than 450 stores, the King of Prussia Mall is the premier shopping destination on the East Coast. Find a nice mix of luxury, budget-friendly, national and international brands, as well as stores that cannot be found elsewhere in the region — all located just a 20-minute drive from Philadelphia.