Top 8 family-friendly things to do in Philadelphia
As the sun shone down on Love Park on an unseasonably warm Thursday morning in April, children were squealing as they ran though the water fountain trying to dodge the spray. Meanwhile elsewhere in the park, families were laughing together as they queued to have their photo taken by the famous Love statue.
As I write this and remember our visit, I have to be honest, we nearly didn’t visit Philadelphia. We had planned on visiting the big two cities, Washington and New York and not knowing much about the City of Brotherly Love, we were sorely tempted to skip straight through. However we decided to stay for three nights and I am so so glad we did. Philadelphia turned out to be one of the most amazing US cities we’d ever been to. Compact enough that you can walk everywhere, so much to see and lovely locals proud to tell you all about their hometown.
So what exactly is there for families to do in Philadelphia? Here’s a list of where we visited and would recommend –
1. One Liberty Observation Deck
Many large cities have an observation deck and Philadelphia is no exception. However this observation deck was unlike any I had visited before. One Liberty Observation Deck was quiet and calm and observers are encourage to sit and relax on comfy chairs and take in the breathtaking views. There are even board games dotted around the deck to keep impatient children happy.
My kids loved the six interactive touch screen displays which explained what you could see in the distance. If you’re not English speaking the displays also cover Spanish, French, German and Mandarin languages. We ended up spending a lot longer there than we’d planned. Although there were toilets and vending machines dotted around, I wish there had been a coffee dock to help me get my caffeine fix for the day.
You buy a timed ticket ($42 for a family of four). Our ticket was for 10am which was when the attraction opened. Perhaps this was one of the reasons it was so quiet.
I would allow yourself a good 60-90 minutes to enjoy One Liberty Observation Deck. Allow extra time too at the end of your visit for the fantastic gift shop where a couple of my kids ended up spending significant amounts of their spending money on good quality souvenirs rather than the plastic rubbish they often buy.
The next place to visit on our list was the famous Love Statue in Love Park.
2. Love Statue
The City of Brotherly Love’s best-known landmark is the LOVE statue — the Robert Indiana sculpture in John F. Kennedy Plaza better known as Love Park, northwest of City Hall.
It was a lot smaller in real life than I’d expected.
As it’s in the middle of a park, there is a real life community feel to the whole area. Tourists were queuing to have their picture taken while locals has escaped the offices and were sitting on benches enjoying their lunch in the sunshine.
After taking the obligatory photo(s), we started to get hungry ourselves we headed off for an eight minute walk to Reading Terminal Market.
3. Reading Terminal Market
You can’t visit Philly without popping into Reading Terminal Market for some grub. It was a real eye opener. You can get anything and everything that your palate desires. I can see why Reading Terminal Market is one of America’s largest and oldest public markets.
Open since 1893, this market is open every day from 8am to 6pm.
I found it mad busy so if you have a problem with crowds or have very young children then it might be best to avoid the market during peak times. As we strolled around dodging the crowds, it was so interesting so see the selection of foodie shops, grocers, butchers, fishmongers and delis.
We were determined to try a ‘Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich’ so not knowing anything about it, we got two to share between the five of us for less than $20. In essence, it’s a sandwich made from thinly sliced pieces of beef steak and melted American cheese in a long hoagie roll. We couldn’t finish the two we’d bought, they were too filling for us. We did return to Reading Terminal Market the following day when our appetites had returned and tried plain and cinnamon pretzels which were delicious.
We needed to walk off our heavy lunch we walked twenty minutes from Reading Terminal Market to Philly’s famous science museum, the Franklin Institute on North’s 21st Street.
4. Franklin Institute
We had done some research on this museum before we visited and knew that we needed to allow lots of time to be able to enjoy the Franklin Institute fully. I would say you need at least three hours to get the most out of it. The museum is open everyday from 9am to 5:30pm and is big enough that it never really feels crowded.
Tickets for a family of four cost $112 and include access to the permanent exhibitions, Fels Planetarium and also an IMAX documentary film. When we there there was a Marvel exhibit which will run till September 2019. There was an additional cost to visit this exhibition but it’s a must for any Marvel fans.
In our opinion, the Franklin Institute is perfect for all kids aged older than five (and adults too!) and definitely well worth a visit as they have an amazing selection of educational interactive displays covering everything from ‘Your Brain’ to ‘Electricity’. My three teenagers (aged 13, 13 and 15) loved every minute of it.
Tickets are not timed so can spend as long as you want there, just remember to bring some snacks to keep everyone’s energy levels up.
5. Rocky Statue and Rocky Steps
Fourteen minutes walk from the Franklin is the Rocky statue and steps at the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia. The 72 stone steps were made famous when they were featured in the movie ‘Rocky’. It’s hilarious watching tourists running up the steps and jumping at the top with the famous two-arms-raised salute trying to recreate that movie scene.
After a busy day exploring Philadelphia, we really enjoyed just sitting at the top of the steps and people watching. We didn’t bother queueing to have our photo taken at the Rocky statue as the kids hadn’t seen the movie so weren’t really bothered.
6. Eastern State Penitentiary
A short fifteen minute walk from our accommodation was the incredible Eastern State Penitentiary. Located on 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, this historic location was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but unfortunately today stands a ruin. Some of America’s most notorious villains were imprisoned there, including “Slick Willie” Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone.
When purchasing online, admission is slightly cheaper $14 for adults and $10 for children ages 7-12. The ticket price includes a fascinating commentary by the unmistakable actor Steve Buscemi. I really love his voice and could’ve listened to him all day.
Allow at least two hours for this tour, as you can go as quick or as slow as you would like.
Open seven days a week, this ‘attraction’ is not recommended for children under the age of seven as the building isn’t in the best condition and may pose safety risks to any unattended children and also some of the audio tour stops contain some adult content. Don’t worry, where this is the case, it’s clearly marked for parents.
Even though it was a very warm day when we were there, it was quite chilly inside the building so make sure that you bring a jumper into the prison with you.
Eastern State Penitentiary offers night time tours which I think would be a bit scary for tweens but would be great fun if you have teens with you.
7. Liberty Bell
You can’t come to Philadelphia and not pay a visit to the famous Liberty Bell.
It’s free to get in but expect there to be queues as you need to pass through security. The bell was considerably smaller than I imagined it to be but it was fascinating to see the message “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof” and also learn about that iconic crack and the stories behind how it happened.
I’ll be honest, there was lot of information on display which my three teenagers weren’t really that interested in. They understood that the bell is an iconic symbol of American independence and appreciated the fact but if you’ve young children, I would expect that after fifteen minutes or so, they’ll be looking to leave the centre. Also, it’s worth noting that there are no public toilets here.
8. Spruce Street Harbour Park
The Spruce Street Harbour Park is an urban beach located in Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia. It’s free and runs along the long boardwalk which hugs the Delaware River. With its colourful hammocks, floating gardens, beautiful lights and food, it was named as one of the best places to visit in Philadelphia by national press.
It opens at the end of May and runs till late September. As we were there in April, we just missed out unfortunately but if you’re visiting Philly during the summer, it sounds like it’s well worth a visit. We weren’t too disappointed as we enjoyed a lovely walk along the boardwalk.
Best Ice-Cream in Philadelphia
After our visit to the air-conditioned One Liberty Observation Deck, we were reminded how warm it can get in Philly. We headed straight for ‘Gran Caffe L’Aquila’ which was recommended to us for the best gelato and coffee in the city. It was only a few minutes walk away (this isn’t the last time you’ll hear me say this!). They also did food but it was too early for lunch so we promised we would try and get back the next day.
Let me tell you that the ice-cream was expensive but so worth it. There are no cones only cups available here and the Pistachio gelato was the best we’d ever tasted outside of Italy. The coffee (no cream or milk) was a more reasonable price of $2.50.
Where we stayed in Philadelphia
We love self-catering apartments so when I found that the Sonder Apartments had just opened a few months earlier, I booked one of their loft style apartments straight away.
Location wise, our Sonder apartment was perfect. It was on Callowhill Street which was a short walk (less than ten minutes) away from Love Park. There are a number of apartments available to rent in the block and you feel safe and secure there as there is strict security on the front door.
Our apartment (number 302) was very modern and had everything you could need from kitchen roll to coffee. There was a huge widescreen television in the living room and a large fridge freezer in the state of the art kitchen. The washing machine and tumble dryer meant that we could do a quick clothes wash before we headed on with our US road trip.
The apartment, which cost us €600 for three nights, could comfortably sleep 6 adults.
The apartment itself does not come with parking but there is a large public multi-story car park across the road which cost us about €24 for twenty four hours. There is a gym that is available to residents and an open floor terrace on the seventh floor where you can host parties. My kids loved the table football up there and playing the board games.
- Bring comfy shoes when you visit Philadelphia. Even though the city is compact, you’ll be surprised how many miles you’ll clock up.
- Head to one of the WholeFoods supermarkets dotted around the city and stock up on snacks and lunch to save money. We made a packed lunch and sat on the benches in front of her Swann Memorial Fountain in Logan Square alongside other families who were relaxing in the sunshine.
- If you’re staying in self-catering accommodation and don’t fancy cooking, order some food using the Grubhub app and have it delivered straight to the reception of your accommodation.
Our final thoughts on Philadelphia
Overall we loved our three night visit to Philadelphia and having just visited Washington, we found Philly to be more relaxed than DC. It was so compact and I loved that we didn’t need to use public transport at any time. I would highly recommend Philadelphia as as family-friendly US destination.If you would like to find out more about Philly, head to Discover Philadelphia to plan your own Philly family adventure. Remember you can save money on attractions by booking a Philadelphia Citypass.
We were guests of Discover Philadelphia who collaborated with us on this visit by arranging Philadelphia CityPASSes for us. We did however pay for our accommodation and other expenses.
All images and thoughts are 100% honest and our own.