Philadelphia for Families

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Philadelphia for Families
With interactive and hands-on exhibits, ample playgrounds and outdoor spaces, family-friendly restaurants, and fun shopping options, Philadelphia is both kid- and parent-friendly.
By Sue Manuel, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of M. Edlow/Visit Philadelphia
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    Kid-Friendly Museums
    Located in West Fairmount Park, the Please Touch Museum is an award-winning facility for kids up to seven years old, offering hands-on play experiences and a restored 1908 carousel in a glass pavilion. The Academy of Natural Sciences features dinosaurs, animal exhibits, and a butterfly garden. Its neighbor on Logan Circle, the Franklin Institute (named after Benjamin Franklin), has fun and interactive exhibits about electricity, sports, machines, motion, and technology.
    Photo courtesy of M. Edlow/Visit Philadelphia
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    Family Fun by the Water
    Parents looking for great family-fun itineraries can begin at Penn's Landing on the Delaware riverfront, at one of the frequent outdoor festivals or concerts, or on the river where swan boats (in the summer) or ice skates (in the winter) provide entertainment. At the Independence Seaport Museum, kids can explore a docked World War II submarine, the USS Becuna, and then head across the river to Camden on the Riverlink Ferry, a short and breezy ride. In Camden, the fun continues at the Adventure Aquarium or with a visit to the retired battleship, USS New Jersey, now a floating museum.
    Photo by Sue Manuel
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    Where History Class Comes to Life
    Everything the kids learned in American history class can come to life with stops at the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Carpenters Hall, Franklin Court, and the Betsy Ross House. Those with more time to explore can take the kids to the Museum of the American Revolution at Third and Chestnut Streets, where George Washington's original tent is on display, along with cool exhibits of Revolutionary-era weapons, manuscripts, and personal items. 

    Photo by Sue Manuel
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    Historical Public Spaces
    Families with younger kids may enjoy Sister Cities Park, adjacent to Logan Square (one of the city’s five original public spaces planned by William Penn) and close to both the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Franklin Institute. The plaza in the park features a fountain, a playground, and a children’s discovery garden. There's a visitor center in the Logan Square Café. Another of the city's original public squares, Franklin Square, offers several family-friendly attractions, including a miniature golf course with kid-sized replicas of iconic Philly landmarks. Centered around a lovely fountain, the park is also the site of a vintage carousel, picnic area, and a restaurant.
    Photo by Sue Manuel
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    Trips to the Dark Side
    Parents with older kids might enjoy a visit to the Eastern State Penitentiary historic site, a former prison in the Fairmount section built in 1829 and used until 1971. Its cells were occupied by the famous and infamous, including gangster Al Capone and even a beagle. The prison offers a self-guided audio tour, hands-on history exhibits, and artist installations. It's not recommended for children under the age of seven. Also not recommended for little ones, but a hit with teens who like their attractions a little goth (and can stomach some disturbing sights): the Mütter Museum. Even teenagers deadset to appear bored on the family vacation will react to animal specimens floating in jars and historic medical tools. Adventurous families can also try after-dark guided ghost tours of old Philadelphia, offered by several local companies.
    Photo by Sue Manuel
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    Travel Back in Time
    Visitors seeking an immersive history experience can get the sensation of traveling back in time to experience the homes, stories, and lives of early Americans, from everyday citizens to the city’s more well-known past inhabitants. Your first stop should be Elfreth’s Alley, the country’s oldest continuously occupied residential street. Most of the houses on the block are private homes, but houses 124 and 126 are open to the public. Guided tours begin in the Museum Shop, at number 124. Another chance to step into the past can be found at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site on North 7th Street. Their tours are free.
    Photo by Sue Manuel
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    Sweet Treats from A to Z
    From artisanal doughnuts to whoopie pies, Philly offers sweet treats for visitors of every age. Families visiting the historic sites in Old City should take the kids to Shane Confectionery, a historic candy shop that makes chocolate and other candies onsite. Visiting the store is worthwhile even if you only view the gorgeous Victorian interior and peek into the vintage display cabinets. Ice cream lovers should visit Franklin Fountain, a charming retro ice cream shop that makes its own premium ice cream and is also located on Market Street, just a few doors away from Shane Confectionery. Though the lines can be long, especially in the summer, the treats are worth the wait. The offbeat and delicious fried charms of Federal Donuts—not just their namesake product but their divine fried chicken, too—have brought the shop national fame. Don't you think you should judge for yourself?
    Photo by Sue Manuel
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    Kid-Friendly, Kid-Tested Restaurants
    For the best grilled cheese in town—and parents will concur—beeline to MeltKraft, a sandwich joint and cheesemonger inside Reading Terminal Market. If there are picky eaters in the family, the sprawling market offers options for everyone. Grab your choice from one of the vendors and convene at a table in the middle, ready to exchange bites. )The market's also a great place to browse local crafts and shop for souvenirs.) Pizza lovers will want to sample the award-winning pies at Pizza Brain. A trip to Philly also affords an opportunity to weigh in on the great cheesesteak debate, Pat's or Geno's, or maybe one of the less-famous local favorites.