Cool Places to Go in Philly

Playing a round of Philly-themed mini golf in Franklin Square.

Playing a round of Philly-themed mini golf in Franklin Square.

Philadelphia is a great town. I know it is a city, but it has so much more of an accessible town feel to me than New York. I grew up in the Philly suburbs. Though Philly was just a trolley or train ride (my town had both) away, we rarely went in. When relatives visited from England, we'd take our mandatory pilgrimage there, go through Independence Hall, see the Liberty Bell, eat a cheesesteak (I am not getting into the "best cheesesteak debate" here), and return home. Our school trips often took us to these same places, the Art Museum, or the Franklin Institute. This was plenty for me. I was definitely not pining away for more city time. It just wasn't my thing. 

Since adulthood, I've rediscovered Philadelphia. After living in NYC for two years, I'm more comfortable with cityscapes and hailing cabs. I know how to weave my way from Point A to Point B several blocks away by crossing whichever street direction has the cross signal. I'm still working on figuring out the Philly street order (Is it Arch-Market-Chestnut-Walnut-Locust, or is it Arch-Market-Walnut-Chestnut-Locust? It was very nice of William Penn to lay the city out in a grid and name many of the streets after trees (instead of the NYC confusion of 3rd Street or 3rd Ave), but really, William, couldn't you have put the trees in alphabetical order or something???

Anyway, since the kids were born, we've enjoyed exploring the city with them and finding new (to me) places. I'll quickly give you a list of some of the obvious stops that you are sure to hit anyway, then I'll highlight a few lesser-known spots:

Obvious places

Independence National Park
Independence National Park Visitor Center
Independence Hall
Liberty Bell  

Stop off at the Visitor Center first. There you can get some maps and buy timed tickets for Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. If you have kids, also get the Junior Ranger packet. These packets are at almost every national park. Kids fill in a select number of pages (depending on their age) while they visit the sites, then return it to the ranger once competed to earn a Junior Ranger badge. It keeps the kids focused as they go through the sites. 

You can wander in and out of tons of historic government buildings and churches throughout Independence Park. Also, as you visit each site, ask the guides about the historic baseball-style cards. Each guide/ranger has a few different cards to hand out to kids, featuring historic men and women. We have a nice little collection now. My daughter's favorite is her Alexander Hamilton card. If the guide has time, ask them to tell you interesting facts about the person. They are so knowledgeable! My husband's cousin is a docent at the park. The kids love hearing all the tidbits of information she knows! 

One time, we all piled into a horse-drawn carriage for a tour around Old City. You can pick one up at the northwest corner of 6th & Market, by the Liberty Bell. Though we'd been to Philly many times, the tour guide was able to point out so many features of buildings we'd never noticed as the horse clip-clopped along the back streets.

Franklin Institute
Please Touch Museum
Academy of Natural Sciences

Three very cool museums. We've been to all three several times. No time for details here, as I want to focus on the Other Cool Places.  

Other Cool Places

Betsy Ross House

Slightly out of the National Historic Park main section (just a few minute walk), so don't miss it. My daughter did a school research project on Betsy Ross, so she especially loved talking with the actress who portrayed Betsy. Be sure to ask her to show you how to cut a 5-point star. 

Eldreth's Alley

The oldest residential street in the country is just to the east of Betsy Ross House. It is neat to think about how many people have walked along these cobblestone streets.

Benjamin Franklin Museum

This relatively new museum has great interactive exhibits on Franklin's life--personal, civic, and scientific. 

US Mint

Just north of Independence Park is the US Mint, which has free self-guided tours. We enjoyed walking along the hall, looking down on the coin-making machines below, trying to estimate how much money is being made right then. 

Franklin Square

Just to the north-west of Independence Park is Franklin Square, which has a carousel, and, our favorite, mini golf with scaled down versions of Philadelphia landmarks.



Just south west of Franklin Square is Chinatown. We had a fun time walking through the streets, visiting stores with Chinese and Japanese trinkets, and walking through the Chinese Friendship Gate arch. 

Reading Terminal Market

This bustling market is a great place to get food (though you may want to avoid the lunch rush!). Our favorite stalls are the beef jerky stall and the Mennonite brisket. Yum!

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

Though this place isn't in the Independence Park area, it is definitely worth the trip, especially if you like art! It is one man's amazing mosaic house, where every wall, inside and out, is filled with bits of tile, glass, doll parts, toy pieces, bicycles, etc. It is quite a site to see!