Family Fun in Philly

Philadelphia boasts endless options for family visits. Hit the historic sites and the Art Museum (for photos at the Rocky statue and a run up the iconic steps, natch). Then hang out with some dinosaurs and have some doughnuts. Here is our insider’s list of kid-friendly stuff in the City of Brotherly Love.

222 N 20th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA
Philly visitors, don’t miss a stop at Pennsylvania’s most-visited museum, the Franklin Institute. Allow ample time to make your way through its multiple floors, where entertaining and hands-on educational displays await. Crowd-pleasing permanent exhibits include a 350-ton locomotive, a giant walk-through heart, flight simulators, a high-wire bike, and fun interactive areas covering electricity, sports, machines, motion, and technology. The museum also includes an observatory, planetarium, and IMAX theater. The institute frequently hosts after-hours events, most notably star-gazing, and recently opened two escape-room-type attractions.
51 N 12th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA
Visitors to Philadelphia should not miss out on an iconic local treat—the soft pretzel. Sure, you can find them pretty much everywhere in Philly, but the real deal is baked fresh daily. At the Reading Terminal Market, go to the place where they’ll roll and twist the dough right in front of you—Miller’s Twist—where the soft pretzels are fresh, hot, and buttery (and beyond delicious). Locals line up here daily for fresh soft pretzels and pretzel dogs (hot dogs rolled inside a pretzel bun). There are only fresh pretzels here, still warm from the oven, baked to golden perfection, and brushed with melted butter. The aroma is intoxicating. You’ll want more than one! Save room for a milkshake made with fresh local ice cream.
2027 Fairmount Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19130, USA
What do Al Capone and Bruce Willis have in common? They both did time here at Eastern State Penitentiary. (OK, Willis wasn’t an inmate, but he did shoot the film 12 Monkeys here.) The facility’s first inmate was brought through these doors in 1829, and the prison was in use until 1971. After closing, it became a target for vandals and housed a sizable colony of stray cats. Real estate developers proposed repurposing it as condominiums (high-security, of course), but preservationists won out. They raised funds to stabilize the crumbling interior and remove trees that were growing inside some cells. Wander through its stark interior and learn about the fascinating history of this unique site and its previous tenants, including Capone. Don’t miss the special art installations that are on display here all year round.
Penn's Landing, Philadelphia, PA, USA
In warm-weather months, the Penn’s Landing waterfront area along the Delaware River is always busy with activity. On the Great Plaza there are ongoing free festivals, summer concerts, a movie series, and Fourth of July fireworks. Other attractions here include the RiverLink Ferry to New Jersey, the Independence Seaport Museum, and kayaks and swan boats available for rental. In winter, Penn’s Landing is host to one of Philadelphia‘s most spectacular outdoor ice rinks, the Blue Cross RiverRink. Historic ships, including the Moshulu, a beautiful 1904 four-masted steel sailing vessel, are moored at the waterfront. The Moshulu now features a popular restaurant on its deck, and the tall ship is dramatically illuminated at night.

1400 John F Kennedy Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA
Philadelphia’s City Hall is the largest and tallest city hall in the US, and for locals, the midpoint for all things Center City. Designed by architect John McArthur, Jr., it was completed in 1901 and originally designed to be the world’s tallest building, an honor that it held only briefly. There are over 250 ornamental marble statues decorating the exterior of the building, and it is topped off by a bronze statue of the city’s founder, William Penn, created by sculptor Alexander Milne Calder. (Trivia: The statue is 37 feet tall and weighs 53,348 pounds, and once wore a super-sized Phillies baseball cap; then some years later was dressed in a giant Flyers jersey.) Underneath the William Penn statue is a tower with an observation deck that offers incredible 360 degree views of the city (and the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, and New Jersey, and beyond!). This view, toward the southeast, captures the iconic PNB Building. Visitors can purchase timed tickets for the observation deck from the City Hall Visitor Center, Room 121 (east of the central courtyard).
51 N 12th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA
Never has a yummy treat been mired in such controversy as the Whoopie Pie. First, how did this burger-shaped cake with the sugary cream filling get its name? Does the name come from the exclamation that schoolchildren shouted upon opening their lunch bags to discover these delights? Or does it come from the Amish farmers, who were rewarded with these portable “pies” in their lunch boxes? My vote (and Pennsylvania Dutch lore) favors the school kids. But wait—there’s more controversy! While I am one hundred percent certain that these little cakes called pies originated in my lovely state of Pennsylvania, it seems that the state of Maine has also laid claim to their origin, even going so far as to name the Whoopie Pie as its “official state treat.” Other research points to somewhere in New York state as their birthplace. We may never know… There was a time not long ago when Whoopie Pies felt much like a prized local secret because no one outside of Pennsylvania had ever heard of them (excepting, I guess, some of those Mainers). These days, though, you can even find Whoopie Pies in the bakery sections at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. But the most authentic and delicious version can only be found at the Amish bakery Beiler’s in the Reading Terminal Market. My personal favorite is the pumpkin flavor, but the chocolate is also delicious. Or maybe try the oatmeal, or the red velvet. Better yet, try one of each—they’re portable!
3400 W Girard Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
Like many other Philly institutions, the Philadelphia Zoo is America’s first. It opened in 1874 and encompasses over 40 acres of gardens and exhibits, featuring more than 1,300 animals, including many rare and endangered species. Visitors may need a full day to explore the many exhibits and attractions, and should consider reserving a guided tour to get the most out of their visit. One of the most popular and unique activities is the Zoo Balloon, a tethered hot air balloon that soars 400 feet over the zoo grounds, with spectacular views of the nearby Schuylkill River, Fairmount Park and the Philly skyline. The balloon flies from May through October, weather permitting; check the home page of the zoo’s website on the morning of your visit to see the balloon’s status. The kids can get up close and personal with a variety of creatures at KidZooU, the new children’s zoo and wildlife education center which offers both indoor and outdoor learning experiences. American history and architecture buffs should look for the Frank Furness designed Victorian gates and gatehouses, as well as a very historic home located on the zoo grounds, known as The Solitude. Built in 1784 by John Penn, grandson of William Penn, the Solitude house is a lovely neoclassical manor house and is the only original Penn home remaining in the US. The zoo is open daily from 9:30 to 4.
301 S Christopher Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
Easily one of the most popular outdoor attractions in Philly, Spruce Street Harbor Park was originally created as a pop-up park and quickly became a blockbuster hit with locals and visitors alike. Situated along the Delaware River waterfront just steps from Penns Landing, the park offers activities for all ages and is a fabulous place to relax (hammocks included!). In no particular order, visitors can enjoy the beer garden, food truck outposts of the renowned Franklin Fountain ice cream parlor, Federal Donuts and Garces restaurants, a bocce court, shuffle ball, kayaks, paddleboats, an arcade, and an urban beach. With so many fun activities, the park is truly fun for all, and is prettiest at night when the multi-colored lights illuminate the park and reflect on the water. Spruce Street Harbor Park is a seasonal attraction, open summer through fall (May through September, exact dates vary).
4231 Avenue of the Republic, Philadelphia, PA 19131, USA
Located in historic Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park, the Please Touch Museum has long been a favored attraction for families with kids ages 7 and under. (Parents—who are so often tired of saying no and holding kids in check in public places—are among the museum’s biggest fans.) Not only does the museum’s collection include over 25,000 toys, it houses a working carousel from 1908, and some of its permanent exhibits include a kid-size city, an interactive garden, and a space station. Special changing displays are also part of the fun. Current program updates and discount offers to followers are posted on their Facebook page.
51 N 12th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA
There is no better place for visitors interested in one-stop souvenir shopping than the Pennsylvania General Store, located inside the Reading Terminal Market. You’ll find everything from Amish quilts to just-made fudge, as well as food items unique to the region, including locally treasured Asher’s chocolate-covered pretzels. Also recommended are decadent, fresh-baked Hope’s Cookies, and tins of Rosie’s butterkins (butter cookies). If you’re not hungry, maybe you need a soft pretzel T-shirt, City of Brotherly Love shot glasses, or a bawdy coffee mug touting the town of Intercourse, Pennsylvania? Former Philadelphians who miss their regional treats can order care packages online from the General Store’s website.
1020 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA
No photograph can capture this extraordinary art space created by mural artist Isaiah Zagar down at the quiet end of South Street in Philadelphia’s Center City—you have to see it to believe it. It’s also not easy to describe: an alternate universe? A magical mosaic environment? A creative outsider’s brilliant vision? A terrarium of otherworldly folk-art delights? Decide for yourself when you take a self-guided tour of this one-of-a-kind, ever-expanding project. The site includes an immersive outdoor-art installation crafted from found objects and handpainted tiles, as well as indoor galleries. The opening hours vary due to occasional public and private events; make sure to check the online calendar.

200 N 6th St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
Located near the National Constitution Center and Philadelphia’s historic district, Franklin Square is an urban oasis that offers fun family activities. One of the city’s five original town squares, it has evolved into a fairground with both daytime and evening attractions. Highlights include the nostalgic Liberty Carousel, a playground, fountain, and a charming Philly-themed miniature-golf course. Visitors can refuel at the popular SquareBurger restaurant. Special events include a winter holiday festival in December, when more than 50,000 lights illuminate the area. During the festival you can also do some holiday shopping, or kick back with a local brew (there’s also a hot-beverage menu just for kids). The park is open from March through December.
1219 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19121, USA
Federal Donuts, which sells wacky-flavored handmade doughnuts, coffee, and Korean-style twice-fried chicken, is just one example of how chefs in the City of Brotherly Love are pursuing their culinary obsessions. The original Center City shop has been joined by branches around town (including one at the baseball stadium) as well as a satellite shop in Miami: The owners’ whimsical impulse to pick up a doughnut machine on Craigslist in 2011 now seems less crazy and more like the first steps of delicious empire-building.
2313 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125, USA
Pizza Brain, located on Frankford Avenue in Fishtown, bills itself as the world’s first pizza museum and restaurant. With pizza-related toys, artwork, and memorabilia on display around the eatery, fine dining becomes fun dining. An added bonus? An outpost of Little Baby’s Ice Cream—revered around Philly for its handcrafted batches of exotic ice cream flavors—is right next door, making this the perfect address for kids and foodies of all ages. The geniuses behind Pizza Brain have now opened a second restaurant, Pizza Dads, in Brewerytown. Both locations are BYOB.
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