We recently spent some time explore Philadelphia and found it be a very family friendly city. Philadelphia is rich with opportunities to learn about America history, art, and science in dozens of museums, centers, and organizations. If you would like to read my full list of suggestions and tips, check out my city guide here. And before you hit the road, check out VisitPhilly.com- the site has tons of information, itineraries, maps, routes, and calendars. While many museums and centers charge an admission fee, there are also plenty of places which are free to explore.
10 FREE Things to Do with Kids in Philadelphia:
1. Watch one million coins being produced in just 30 minutes at the US Mint, the largest coin factory in the world. Free, self guided tours are offered during the week and take visitors through the seven step process of coin production. There are also displays of collectable coins and special medals. Traveling with Kids: Restrooms and a gift shop are located on the main lobby floor. Grab a handbook for the self guided tour. Photos are not allowed inside the building (hence my lack of photographs). Plan to spend 60-90 minutes for the self guided tour.
2. Identify counterfeit bills at the Federal Reserve Bank’s Money in Motion exhibit. Self guided tours offer opportunities to learn about paper money production and the Federal Reserve’s history. Don’t miss the 25 foot tower of shredded money, totaling $100 million dollar, and the display of $5 bills, totaling $1.3 million dollars. Traveling with Kids: The Fed is open weekdays, with very limited hours during the winter. The exhibit is handicap accessible. Plan to spend one hour exploring the exhibit. Note: the interior photo is courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank.
3. Learn how an 18th century printing press works at the Printing Office at Franklin Court. Demonstrations are offered every 10-15 minutes. Part of Independence National Historical Park, the complex is overseen by the National Park Service, so be sure to collect all four passport stamps in the gift shop. Leave a few minutes to check out the two steel frames that ghost the outline of Ben Franklin’s original home and peek down into the original foundation through viewing screens. Franklin Court also includes the Ben Franklin Museum (which charges a small admission fee- totally worth it!) an archeology exhibit, and the still operational B. Free Franklin Post Office. Traveling with Kids: Open daily. Restrooms are located on the museum level and a gift shop is located on the main level. Plan to spend 30 minutes in the print shop and outdoor courtyard.
4. Pretend to drive a Concord stagecoach inside the Wells Fargo Bank Museum. Housed inside a 1928 Beaux-Arts bank building, the museum (one of 11 in America) has a collection of authentic banking machines and historical timelines, plenty of photo opts (and visitors can print photos on site to take home!) and half a dozen life size cuddly stuffed ponies to snuggle. Traveling with Kids: The museum is open during bank hours (weekdays only). The museum is handicap accessible and is small enough that you won’t need the stroller. There are no public restrooms. Plan to spend 45-60 minutes exploring the museum.
5. Write poetry inside the home of Edgar Allen Poe. Operated by the National Park Service, The Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site, is one of five homes that Poe and his wife lived in during their time in Philadelphia. Make sure children complete a Junior Ranger booklet to earn a badge and check out the six rooms and basement open to the public. There is no furniture in the home but artist’s renderings help visitors imagine what the home would have looked like when Poe lived there. Traveling with Kids: The site is only open Friday- Sunday. There is no handicap accessibility in the home and stairs are very steep. There is a restroom on the lower level. Plan to spend 30-45 minutes exploring the site. Make sure to get your National Parks passport stamps.
6. Imagine commandeering one of six authentic fire vehicles on display at the Fireman’s Hall Museum, located in a 1902 restored firehouse. In addition to the vehicles, there is a collection of custom model fire trucks and unit patches, and a chance to pretend to steer “The Independence”, one of two Philadelphian marine fireboats. Traveling with Kids: The museum is open Tuesday- Sunday. The exhibits cover two floors and there is an elevator. No need for a stroller. There is a restroom on the main level. Plan to spend 30-45 minutes to explore the museum.
7. View the world’s most famous bell, the Liberty Bell. First hung in the State House in 1753, it’s now on display in an enclosed building, part of the Independence National Historical Park. Lines form quickly during peak season and winter weekends, so go early in the morning. Spend time in the Visitor Center across the street to learn more about the history of the bell. Grab a Junior Ranger booklet to complete. Traveling with Kids: There is an underground parking garage below the Visitor Center and restrooms are located in the Visitor Center. There is plenty of green space for picnicking and letting kids burn off energy.
8. Reenact the inaugurations of George Washington and John Adams at Congress Hall, home of the United States Capitol 1800), located inside Independence Square and part of Independence National Historical Park. Congress Hall is impressive to see; the House of Representatives Chamber is located on the first floor and the Senate Chambers and Senate meeting rooms are located on the second floor. Ranger led tours are offered every 20 minutes from March- December, and the Hall is self guided in winter months. From March- Decembers visitors must pick up a timed ticket pass from the Visitor Center in order to take a ranger guided tour of Independence Hall, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. All visitors must go through security and metal detectors to enter Independence Square. Traveling with Kids: Congress Hall is not handicap accessible and the stairs are old and steep. Restrooms are located back in the Visitor Center, a short walk.
9. Listen to the personal stories of world renowned Jewish Americans in the interactive exhibit Only in America Gallery and Hall of Fame at the National Museum of American Jewish History. Profiles include well known figure such as Steven Spielberg, Albert Einstein, Barbra Streisand, Leonard Bernstein and Estee Lauder. The ground level exhibit is open to the public without needing admission to the museum. The museum does participates in Bank of America’s Museums on Us program, which allows card holders free full museum admission on the first full weekend of every month. The museum also offers other opportunities for free admission- check here. Traveling with Kids: The museum is closed most Mondays. Restrooms and a gift shop are located inside the lobby.
10. Get some fresh air at the Penn’s Landing section of Philadelphia. The Independence Seaport Museum is located in between Penn’s Landing and the Spruce Street Harbor Park and is definitely worth a visit (there is an admission fee). Penn’s Landing, named after William Penn’s 1682 landing in Philadelphia, hosts several outdoor festivals throughout the year on the Great Plaza. There are walkways along the waterfront and areas to sit and picnic. Check out the Irish Memorial honoring Irish citizens who fled the Great Famine and emigrated to America. Open during warmer weather months, Spruce Street Harbor Park includes hammocks, food carts with a variety of options, concerts, and space for games such as bocce, ping pong, corn hole, shuffleboard and life size chess and Connect 4. Check out the ever growing screens of locks (similar to the love locks display in Paris). Traveling with Kids: Wear sturdy sneakers and bring the stroller in case little feet get tired. Both areas are handicap and stroller accessible with ramps. Restrooms are located in Operations Building close to the Olympia and Becuna ships, part of the Independence Seaport Museum.