Updated June 2020
I like revisiting certain places periodically as Tiny Traveler grows. Seeing the evolution in her interests makes these trips more memorable. Nearby Philadelphia is one of these places.
Over spring break we decided to see how her experience in the city at age 7 compared with her spring break visit when at age 4.
Here are our best ideas for exploring the city of brotherly love with a preschool and school-age kid.
7 Fun Activities For A Philadelphia Family Getaway
Take Younger Kids To Please Touch
This is an amazing children’s museum. the kind you don’t mind visiting as an adult. But It was clear (and a little sad) that she’s getting too mature this giant children’s museum that enthralled her three years earlie.
The World of Alice in Wonderland was still her favorite area and it’s where we spent the most time on both visits.
She rode the carousel. And she had fun building with big blue foam blocks, maneuvering a bulldozer to lift plastic balls from a pit, and shooting rockets in the room that’s all about motion.
The craft room always has something going on for kids of many ages.
Still, even the exhibits she liked didn’t hold her interest as much as they once did. Two hours here was plenty.
The Best 11 Kids Museums in the U.S.
Take Older Kids To The Franklin Institute
On the other hand, She’s hit the perfect age for the Franklin Institute, probably the best science museum we’ve been to.
She liked the KidScience room, which explores air, water, wind and light and is just for 5- to 8-year-olds.
She had a great time pretending she was on a Magic School Bus trip as she climbed inside a human heart and crawled all over brain neurons.
We made a human circuit in the Electricity room and she recorded her own weather forecast as we passed through the Changing Earth.
The Amazing Machine looks a little dull at first, but she could have spent hours here transforming gears into machines and making devices move in different ways.
Even with the museum staying open late for spring break there was a lot we missed.
Tip: Our AAA membership gave us a discount at the Franklin.
Make A Magical Discovery
An artist took a retail space and backyard and spent about a decade covering every available inch with mosaics of tiles and mirrors, ziggurats of glass bottles, Peruvian statues, bicycle wheels and any other odd bits that struck his fancy.
It’s part genius and part crazy and makes you say, wow!
The ticker seller gave Tiny Traveler a scavenger hunt that sent her searching high and low for animals, birds and mermaids. On our way out we exchanged her pencil for a temporary tattoo designed by the artist.
South Street is a famous Philly strip but I’ve always been underwhelmed by it. The book, magic and vintage stories we used to visit when it was kind of seedy (in a colorful way) have closed.
Part of it has gentrified and there’s a Whole Foods and some hip restaurants, which are probably fine with kids during the day. But aside from the Magic Garden it’s not an area you must see with kids, by any means.
Do Something Outside
For run-around time, try Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse in gigantic, if somewhat inconvenient Fairmount Park.
For something more central, Franklin Square offers a carousel, playground and mini-golf in the warm weather.
When Tiny Traveler was younger she spent nearly an hour running around on Independence Mall. On a warm winter afternoon she had plenty of company.
If you need to perambulate with a stroller and sleeping baby, try the Rittenhouse Square area. It’s picturesque and there’s a small farmers’ market on weekends.
I’ve never been to the Philadelphia Zoo, but I know it’s a good size city zoo with several two types of rhino, which you don’t often see, hippos and several types of Lemurs. It’s out in the direction of Please Touch.
Explore American History
American History is the prime reason to visit Philadelphia. There are a lot of historic buildings and sites if you want to do a deep dive. But you can hit all the high points in a day or two without wearing the kids out.
I tried the Historic District When Tiny Traveler was in preschool and again when she was in third grad. I have to say the historic stuff is probably best for kids in fourth grade and up, about the age they start learning Colonial history in school.
We started at the Independence Visitors Center across from the Liberty Bell, which I recommend. We also picked up free, scheduled tickets to tour Independence Hall. And they have other stuff happening there as well.
They show wwo free movies that are each about 25 minutes long. The one we saw focused on the lives of real young people on both sides of the revolution. Tiny Traveler was curious but didn’t entirely understand it.
We also watched a guy give a demonstration on a hammered dulcimer. He asked for requests, so I joking asked if he knew “Hotel California.” He did!
I find it thrilling to stand in the room that yielded both the Declaration of Independence and the Constituion, but I’ll admit it was incredibly boring for her. Another year or two would have made a difference
While waiting for our tour, we ventured into a small side exhibit that explored the interest and influence the founding fathers had on science and nature, especially Franklin and Jefferson. Tiny Traveler enjoyed it more than I would have expected and I think she learned from it.
Preschool-age Tiny Traveler like Betsy Ross’s house, pretty much the only historic thing we did on that trip.
But I have to admit the high points included the chamber pots and a clever cat fountain in the yard. The plus is that it can be thoroughly explored in under half an hour and admission is pretty cheap.
Appreciate Art After Dark
The Philadelphia Art Museum stays open until 8:30 on Friday nights and offers live jazz and light food. The jazz was great but way too loud for our child. While we did see other families dancing and eating, we didn’t linger in the main hall.
The fellow who sold us our tickets recommend the impressionists collection, the Brancusi statues and the Asian galleries for kids and he was mostly right.
We spent a lot of time talking about light in the impressionist paintings, guessing what time of day and what season they showed. And we moved closer to them and further back to see how they changed.
Brancusi intrigued her. And she found a small wing of eclectic American art imaginative and amusing.
Tip: If your kids aren’t jazz fans either, try the museum on a Sunday, when it offers its family programs.
How to Enjoy A Museum With Kids
Have A South Philly Food Adventure
We never visit the city without stopping to shop and eat in the Italian and Mexican markets in South Philadelphia. Share a roast pork sandwich from George’s but leave room for tacos from any of several purveyors, and cannoli filled to order, of course.
We bought a huge bag of surprisingly good tomatoes for $2 from one of the produce guys on the street.
We smelled the amazing cheese shop before we saw its well-curated selection, including rich Italian styles you don’t see everywhere.
We discovered a butcher that specializes in game and picked up some boar to make Ragu with. His house-made sausages looked good, too (next time).
Our last stop was a pasta shop where we watched them crank out fresh fettuccine for us.
We picked up cannoli and mascarpone-filled éclairs at Isgro’s Bakery for the car ride.
We drove home looking forward to cooking and eating our South Philly feast
Philadelphia Hotels For Families
The Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown has an indoor pool and a great location. It has an elegant classic facade but inside the rooms have been modernized are both sleeker and warmer. The first-floor lounge has an inviting fireplace.
When we stayed in this hotel last it was an Omni with a helpful staff and a friendly, relaxed attitude toward kids. Hopefully Marriott Bonvoy has kept that up.
The Marriott Old City is convenient to a lot of good dining as well as the historical attractions. When Marriott converted it from a Sheraton it gave it a total makeover with smarter rooms, welcoming lounges and a restaurant.
But it converted the pool to a fitness center, an indication it might not be as family friendly as it was when we stayed.
The Hilton at Penn’s Landing on the river has a good size pool. It’s near everything but not right next to anything.
If you prefer the Rittenhouse Square area, the Doubletree Philadelphia City Center has free breakfast, an indoor pool and a variety of standard rooms and suites. It also has some nice city views from the upper floors.