The city of Philadelphia is well known for its contributions to American history, delicious cheesesteaks and rowdy sports fans. It’s one of the country’s great east coast cities that’s packed with things to do, see, tour and eat. While it’s a great destination for all ages, there are so many things to do in Philadelphia for kids that it’s gaining a reputation as a family travel hotspot. To prove that point, here are ten of the best things to do with children in Philadelphia. They’re perfect activities and attractions to add to your family travel itinerary.
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Things to do in Philly with kids
Please Touch Museum
The Please Touch Museum is a children’s museum with interactive exhibits that, as the name suggests, encourages tactile learning. On two floors of the museum kids learn through playing.
Among the most popular permanent exhibits are the Rocket Room, where kids enter mission control and navigate a space exhibit with planets and celestial bodies hanging from the ceiling. In the Dollars and Cents room, kids can explore the money maze and learn about saving and investing through games. It’s a wonderful and engaging place for kids to learn through hands-on activities.
What family doesn’t relish a trip for ice cream while traveling? In Philadelphia, the best place to take your kids for ice cream (or non-dairy ice cream) is The Franklin Fountain. It’s located in Old City, the historic area of Philadelphia. Just steps from the former home of Benjamin Franklin, the ice cream parlor was established in his spirit.
Inside, you’ll find bow-tie clad staff and the trappings of a vintage American ice cream and soda fountain hang out. It’s the perfect place to cap off a day of touring or to grab a cone and walk around the historic neighborhood.
If you pay in cash, walk your loose change four blocks to 4th and Arch Street. There you’ll find Christ Church Burial Grounds, the site of Benjamin Franklin’s final resting place. In Philadelphia, it’s customary to toss a penny on Franklin’s grave marker in tribute to his famous saying “a penny saved is a penny earned”.
This one is a little bit outside of the city limits, but if you’re taking an east coast vacation with young kids, make time to visit Sesame Place your children will love it. Located around 30 minutes north of the city, Sesame Place is one of the best day trips from Philadelphia. The amusement park is loaded with things to do with children including family rides like Oscar’s Wacky Taxi.
Sesame Place also has water rides and shows that feature all of your kids favorite fuzzy friends. You can also book dining experiences like dinner with Elmo. Sesame Place is the world’s first certified Autism Center which makes it an incredibly inclusive and safe amusement park for all children.
Blue Cross Riverrink
Philadelphia is a city between two rivers and the largest and most scenic is the Delaware River to its east. The waterway is the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey and the Penn’s Landing waterfront area is one of the prettiest places in the city.
While your kids will enjoy the views of the river and the Ben Franklin Bridge, the most fun part of the waterfront is the Blue Cross Riverrink. It’s a year round attraction with ice skating in the winter and roller skating in the summer months.
The Olympic-sized skating rink attracts kids of all ages and is surrounded by relaxing cabins, picnic tables and a refreshment area to enjoy in between skating. (It’s one of the best places to go for Christmas in Philadelphia).
Philadelphia is a city of “firsts” and that includes America’s first true zoo. The Philadelphia Zoo is located in the Centennial district and was first commissioned in 1859, but the opening was delayed due to the Civil War. Its doors opened in 1874 and the zoo has been one of the best things to do in Philadelphia with kids ever since.
Philadelphia Zoo features over 1,300 animals across 42 acres of exhibits with a mission of conservation and education. As a tip, parking at the zoo will cost at least $17, but it’s possible to take public transportation or even a ride-share to save money in the process.
While the significance may be missed on younger children, it’s hard not to include one of America’s most important buildings – Independence Hall. It’s the birthplace of the country and the location where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed.
The building is also one of the Philadelphia historical sites that can be toured for free. Arrange a free guided tour at The Independence Visitor’s Center located across the street. Tours are about 40 minutes long, so perfect for short attention spans, and they’re conducted by park rangers of Independence National Historical Park.
Families can also explore the Museum of the American Revolution in the park and learn about the city’s role in this historical event.
Another fun way to explore this area is by a sightseeing bus. Check out the Philadelphia Big Bus route here.
Philadelphia is one of America’s great sports cities, and if you’re lucky enough to visit during baseball season, take the kids to a Phillies game. Citizens Bank Park, the baseball stadium in Philly, is one of the most family-friendly stadiums in the league.
The park opens two hours early, so you can enter before the crowds and watch batting practice. Along the first-base entrance your kids can enjoy the Phanatic Phun Zone, a playground with slides, tunnels and a toddlers-only section. There are special food stands for kids in sections 112 and 318 and all children love the team’s mascot, the Phillie Phanatic. He even performs before the game and after the 5th inning and 7th inning stretch.
One of America’s most iconic symbols is Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell. Like Independence Hall, it doesn’t take long to visit and is free for visitors. The Liberty Bell annex is a narrow building that depicts the history of the important symbol as you make your way towards it.
While you’re not permitted to touch the Liberty Bell, you can take some time to pose for a photo in front of it and ensure that your children have the keepsake photo to remember your trip.
While it’s technically located across the river in Camden, New Jersey, a visit to Adventure Aquarium is perfect for kids. You can also add to the fun of the excursion by taking the hourly RiverLink Ferry across the Delaware River.
Once in Camden it’s a short walk to Adventure Aquarium, featuring over 15,000 aquatic animals. Inside, children love the chance to pet a stingray at Stingray Beach Club or gaze at the hippos in Hippo Haven. Adventure Aquarium is also home to the largest collection of sharks in the northeast.
The legacy of Benjamin Franklin lives on through the incredible Franklin Institute. It’s an interactive science museum that cleverly teaches visitors through relatable exhibits like Sports Zone, an exhibit that uncovers the science of sports.
Other favorites include the Giant Heart and the Electricity, one that would have no doubt been a favorite of the museum’s namesake. The Franklin Institute also includes an exciting planetarium and IMAX theatre with informative presentations and movies. It’s one of the best places to visit in Philadelphia with kids because they will have so much fun they won’t even realize they’re learning.
Another fun museum to visit with kids is the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It has plenty of interactive exhibits that the whole family is sure to love.
More things to do in Philadelphia PA with kids
These additional suggestions were given to us by Sarah Ricks of Traveling Mom.
Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse
If you’re visiting Philadelphia with little kids, take a tip from a local. Only Philly insiders know about Smith Playground. Imagine a 3-storey mansion, with each floor a giant open space where little kids can ride tricycles, climb into play trains, and put on puppet shows. This mansion is surrounded by a huge outdoor playground. Imagine the playground includes a giant slide 13 feet wide, made of polished wood like a bowling alley, where 4, 5, or even 6 kids across can slide down at once, like bowling balls. Kids – and adults – love it.
That’s Smith Playground in Philadelphia. The house was never meant to be lived in, but was designed as a playhouse for kids. It has been open as a playhouse since 1899. This is a great spot for kids about 9 and under. And it’s free!
Reading Terminal Market
Do your kids like trying new foods? You can get just about anything to eat at Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market (12th and Arch), where farmers, bakers, butchers, and restaurants have been selling great food since 1892. No national chains here. Instead, you’ll find Pennsylvania Dutch farmers, Italian and Amish bakeries, food stands selling everything from Mexican tamales to Middleastern tabouli to Southern ribs to Thai food – and more. It’s fun to watch the bakers squirting cream inside the donuts, or watch the pretzel makers stretching the dough. Come hungry. And you might even get to hear free music.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
Once upon a time, an eccentric artist transformed a building and adjacent lot by covering its walls and floors with a brightly colored mosaic of broken tiles and mirrors. He used bicycle wheels, bottles, teacups, and other objects to build tunnels and sculptures in the space. The mosaic grew and grew until it covered half a block. In 2008, the artist invited the public to visit the magically transformed space. This unique inspired zaniness is called Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (near 10th and South Street), a beautiful urban dreamscape. The artist, Isaiah Zagar, still sometimes teaches at the space.
Center City Philadelphia Parks
Philadelphia’s Center City has wonderful small parks where kids can play. In warm weather, kids can splash in the fountain jets at Dilworth Park, located at the foot of City Hall. Kids under 5 will enjoy the sprinkler and wading pool at tiny Sister Cities Park (18th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway). Franklin Square, one of the squares originally laid out by William Penn when he planned the city, has a pretty fountain, a playground, mini golf featuring iconic Philly buildings, and a carousel (between 6th and 7th on Race). The park is free; food, mini-golf, and the carousel charge.
My favorite is Spruce Street Harbor Park, a quirky Philly space on a converted dock on the Delaware River (Columbus Blvd and Spruce) that pops up only from spring to September. Last year, 750,000 people visited to enjoy its floating garden, net seating extending over the water, urban beach, colorful hammocks and lights dripping from trees, along with the river view. This park feels like an outdoor party for people of all ages (well, until night falls). The park is free; arcade games, food, and drinks are not.
The city of Philadelphia is nothing short of amazing. It’s one of America’s best cities for foodies, history lovers and sports fans of all ages. There’s truly something for everyone and it’s a fantastic family destination because of the affordable accommodation in the city’s safe downtown area. Use this list of activities as a basis for your trip planning, and find out even more reasons why Philadelphia is the best American city to visit with your kids.
Author Bio: Derek Hartman and Mike Walsh are Pennsylvania natives who now live abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. They’re the creators behind the website and YouTube channel Robe Trotting and Everything Copenhagen where they share content on Copenhagen, traveling the world and living abroad.