Often referred to as “Philly”, Philadelphia’s reputation may be dwarfed by its metropolitan counterparts such as New York and Washington, but you don’t need to spend much time here to discover its wealth of attractions and fun-packed things to see and do. Whether it’s sampling some of the city’s famous cheesecake, taking in a live sports match, or immersing yourself in the history of what many consider the cradle of the nation, the opportunities for adventure are almost endless.
Among the activities and attractions that can be enjoyed in Philly are several that will appeal to families visiting with children. Classic kid-friendly attractions such as zoos and museums along with tons of outdoor exploration are plentiful, ensuring that little ones of every age and taste are sure to have a memorable time.
Let your imagination run wild at a magic garden
Spanning two indoor galleries and a bi-level outdoor sculpture garden, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is a truly unique space that captivates all who visit. Immersive mixed media art installations, including winding walls filled with kaleidoscopic glass and tiled mosaics, are a huge hit with kids of all ages, who can embark on scavenger hunts, explore interactive zones, and join story-telling sessions, among other things. For adults there are also daily tours where you can learn about the history of the park and the genius of its creator, the brilliant artist Isaiah Zagar.
LOCATION 1020 South Street HOURS Weds 11am-4pm Thurs-Mon 11am-6pm Closed Tues
Join a spine-tingling ghost tour
Perhaps you are interested in the paranormal? If so, the Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour is a chilling and enrapturing ghost tour which takes you deep into the underbelly of Philadelphia’s murky, but always fascinating past. During the Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour, intrepid visitors will traverse the atmospheric, cobblestone streets of the Old City and visit more than 20 infamous sites including historic homes and grave yards which, as legend goes, are haunted. Stop-offs include Old St. Mary’s Church & Cemetery, Old Pine Street Church & Cemetery, Washington Square Park and Independence Hall all of which are said to be occupied by ethereal figures who may or may not make an appearance for you, depending on your luck. Family friendly and not like a haunted house where characters are jumping out at you, but more so spooky ghost stories. Visit www.spiritsof76.com or call 215.525.1776 for tickets & more info.
Get hands-on at a kids’ museum
A popular attraction for rainy days in Philly, Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park’s Memorial Hall never fails to capture the attention of young, inquisitive minds. Spread across two fun-packed exhibit floors, perennial favourites include an indoor hedge maze, a fully restored carousel, and educational zones including one that explores the concept of money. There’s also a tabletop river on which kids can set sail via miniature vessels, along with the chance to launch rockets, stargaze and marvel at exotic creatures of the forest. Apart from all that, it’s all a bit of a yawn.
LOCATION 4231 Avenue of the Republic HOURS Mon-Tues & Thurs-Sat 9am-5pm Weds 10am-5pm Sun 11am-5pm
Immerse yourself in history on a walking tour
If youre keen to immerse your kids with an interest in authentic history while in Philly, then The Constitutional Walking Tour is a fantastic way to start. The outdoor walking journey takes in more than 20 of the citys most significant historic sites and landmarks that are spread across the Independence National Historical Park district. Among the main highlights are the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Franklin Court, Betsy Ross House, and the National Constitution Center. Tours are run by highly knowledgeable guides — who are also the leading host of school field trips — and have plenty of experience in engaging with children of all ages on everything to do with American history. Tours last around 75 minutes. Visit www.theconstitutional.com or call 215.525.1776 for tickets & more info.
Clamber across a giant playhouse & playground
Spread over an impressive 6 1/2 acres, it’s hard to know how parents ever manage to drag their kids away from this veritable temple of kiddie fun and adventure. Said to be one of America’s oldest playgrounds, Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse features a seemingly endless array of equipment, including slides, rope mountains, and plenty more. Perennial favourites include a legendary 19th century wooden slide, measuring 39 feet long by 13 feet wide, that’s not for the faint-hearted (but rest assured is perfectly safe!). Those with an appreciation of vintage kids’ stuff will also appreciate the three-floor 16,000 square foot Playhouse built in 1899.
LOCATION 3500 Reservoir Drive HOURS April through September: Tues-Fri 10am-6pm Sat-Sun 10am-7pm Closed Mon
Visit America’s oldest zoo
There are few attractions guaranteed to set a child’s eyes alight than a zoo – and Philadelphia is home to no less than America’s oldest. Nearly 1,300 animals call Philadelphia Zoo home, among which are exotic creatures such as black and white ruffed lemurs and Chinese alligators, along with zoo favourites including jaguars, hippos, bears and rhinos. A dedicated kid’s zone lets children get up close and personal with animals, enjoy interactive exhibits and let off some steam in a climbing area. There’s also the world’s first zoo train system, which traverses the venue’s confines while offering a unique vantage point from which to admire its diverse inhabitants.
LOCATION Zoological Drive HOURS Mon-Sun 9.30am-5pm
Role-play as a fireman at a firefighting museum
Fire engines are another time-honoured favourite among kids and luckily for them Philadelphia is home to its own museum dedicated to the noble profession of firefighting. Housed in a restored firehouse, Fireman’s Hall Museum boasts a vast assortment of exhibits and artefacts, including antique firetrucks, firefighter gear for kids to try on, and an interactive kiosk where they can learn about fire prevention and emergency phone services.
LOCATION 147 North 2nd Street HOURS Tues-Sat 10am-4pm Closed Sun-Mon
Watch a screening in a 360-degree dome theatre
One of the newest additions to Philadelphia’s entertainment landscape has been this imposing dome-shaped theatre. Located within the Comcast Technology Center, the Universal Sphere provides a free, immersive cinematic experience for those who enter its futuristic sliding doors. Once inside the giant orb, visitors are seated on a raised platform that moves as an overhead screen envelops them while projecting a short film called “The Power of I”, which was produced by Steven Spielberg and explores the power of ideas.
LOCATION 1800 Arch Street HOURS Mon-Fri 10am-5pm Closed Sat-Sun
Treat the kids to some classic American fare
Since the first Sabrina’s Café opened its doors back in 2001, the casual eatery rapidly grew to become one of Philly’s most popular foodie hang-outs. A massive hit with kids and adults alike, the café now has five outlets dotted across the city, all offering a large all-day menu of mouth-watering dishes, including American classics such as Chicken & Waffles and – perhaps Sabrina’s signature dish – Stuffed French Toast. The restaurants are all perennial family favourites for breakfast, lunch and dinner thanks to their kid-friendly menus, warm and inviting atmosphere, and friendly staff.
LOCATION Five venues across the city (Italian Market, Art Museum, University City, Wynnewood, Collingswood HOURS Vary
Explore a medley of marine life
Another indoor Philly attraction that’s ideal for whiling away a rainy afternoon, Adventure Aquarium is packed full of impressive marine life, including a 760,000-gallon tank of sea turtles, stingrays, schooling fish and sharks. Situated an easy 15-minute drive from the city centre, the aquarium also offers numerous interactive exhibits that invites little ones to engage both physically and mentally with everything there is to see. Highlights include daily feeding with penguins and hippos, 3D theatre shows, and a not-for-the-faint-hearted Shark Bridge.
LOCATION 1 Riverside Drive, Camden HOURS Mon-Sun 9.30am-5pm
Enjoy panoramic views of Philly
Seeing a vibrant metropolis from up high is an enriching experience, whatever your age. In Philadelphia one of the most popular spots for doing just this is One Liberty Observation Deck. After ascending 57 stories of One Liberty Place via escalator, you’ll reach an enclosed deck where the magic begins. Open throughout the year, morning, noon and night, visitors can pick whether to enjoy sweeping views of the city and wider region under sunlight, starlight, or even snow. There are also interactive touch-screen monitors which invite you to take a closer look at key landmarks in and around Philly.
Relive childhood memories at a Sesame Street theme park
Sesame Street may have fallen down the pecking order in the viewing habits of kids nowadays, but it still retains an indelible mark in the childhood memories of many. Based on the iconic TV programme, Sesame Place is a theme park and water park on the outskirts of Philly, featuring a variety of rides, shows and water attractions. Highlights include Cookie’s Monster Land and its cookie-themed rides, and “Neighborhood Street Party Parades,” which offer the chance to sing and dance alongside real life costumed versions of the show’s memorable cast of characters.
LOCATION 100 Sesame Road, Langhorne HOURS Sun-Mon 10am-8pm
Visit a unique urban oasis
A bucolic haven in heavily urbanised Philly can be found in Sister Cities Park in the shape of a fun-filled Children’s Discovery Garden. Here, young visitors can let their imaginations run wild while navigating the garden’s winding pathways, scalable rocks and meandering stream. There’s a kid-friendly hiking trail, a miniature “mountain” they can summit, and a boating pond where visitors can sail model boats that can be bought on-site.
LOCATION 210 North 18th Street HOURS 6am-1pm
Tuck into an iconic Philly cheesesteak
Philadelphia is home to one of the world’s most iconic – and wonderfully simple – culinary dishes, the Philly cheesesteak, a sandwich made from thinly sliced pieces of beefsteak and melted cheese in a long hoagie roll. One of the city’s eateries where you’re guaranteed to get a top notch, traditional cheeseteak is Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop. Both of its venues in Fishtown and Torresdal serve the classic version, along with different variations if you fancy going off-piste. If you’ve got fussy eaters in tow, there are plenty of other time-honoured favourites on the menu, including hotdogs, chicken tenders, sundaes and milkshakes.
LOCATION 6030 Torresdale Avenue & 1 West Girard Avenue
Spend the day at a science emporium
With their mix of entertainment and education, a science museum is a classic family attraction for good reason, and happily for visitors to Philly the city is home to one of the best in the region. At the Franklin Institute there’s a whole host of fun and interactive exhibitions, such as a walk-through Giant Heart, a SportsZone, and a Train Factory. The museum also boasts its own Escape Room, as well as an IMAX cinema which shows a diverse programme of child-friendly movies.
LOCATION 222 North 20th Street HOURS Mon-Sun 9.30am-5pm
Hang out at one of America’s best urban beaches
Beach lovers will inevitably find the lack of a natural sandy shore in Philly a touch disappointing, but the city does compensate to a large extent with one of the best urban beaches anywhere in the US. Nestled on the Delaware River waterfront, Spruce Street Harbor Park is a veritable outdoor oasis, with tree-slung hammocks, cargo container arcades, misting palm trees and planted barges (with bars for grown-ups), ensuring something to keep everyone happy.
LOCATION 301 South Christopher Columbus Boulevard HOURS Sun-Thurs 11am-11pm Fri-Sat 11am-1am
Test your metal at a treetop adventure park
Perfect for letting the kids shed any excess holiday energy, TreeTop Quest is home to some 20 zip line obstacles, as well as a variety of swings, jumps, and tightropes, all suitable for kids aged 4 and over. Since opening in the summer of last year, the attraction has been a rip-roaring success, with young visitors descending here in their droves to test their physical skills on the self-guided, two-and-a-half-hour course.
LOCATION 51 Chamounix Drive Boulevard HOURS Mon-Fri 9am-2pm Sat-Sun 10am-5pm
Delve into a horticultural landmark
Another of Philly’s exceptional horticultural venues is Longwood Gardens, which is a delight for adults to explore but is also dotted with fun activities and attractions for kids. The main highlight is the Indoor Children’s Garden in the Conservatory, which features hands-on water features, handcrafted sculptures and secret stairways, while outside a Children’s Corner has a Flower Fountain that’s ideal for splashing around in on hot summer days.
LOCATION 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square HOURS Mon-Weds 9am-6pm Thurs-Sat 9am-10pm
Get busy with bricks
Located about a 30-minute drive outside of central Philly, inside a shopping mall, LEGOLAND Discovery Center transports kids and adults alike into the magical world interlocking plastic bricks. There are several distinct zones to explore including Pirate Adventure Island, Ninjago Training Camp, and Earthquake Tables, as well as interactive activities such as creative workshops and a Build Challenge Area. There’s also a 4D Cinema screening LEGO-themed films and an Imagination Express ride that takes you through the venue aboard a small motorised car.
LOCATION 500 West Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting HOURS Mon-Thurs 10am-7pm Fri-Sat 10am-7.30pm Sun 10am-6pm
Let story-tellers regale you with tales of yore
Scattered throughout Philly’s Historic District are 13 benches where visitors can hear short stories of the city’s long and fascinating history, all told by professional storytellers. Called Once Upon A Nation Storytelling Benches, the tales are kid-friendly and children are encouraged to seek out the benches by picking up a star from each location which can then be redeemed against a free carousel ride at Franklin Square. Discover the back-story to America’s first flag, learn about the mastodon skeleton that once lived in Independence Hall, and be captivated by other intriguing yarns along the way.