- 14 Fun Activities For A Philadelphia Weekend Visit With Kids
- 1. Rediscover American History
- Discover A Magic Garden
- Museums for every age kid
- Have A South Philly Food Adventure
- Try a Gaming Café
- Browse the U. Penn Bookstore
- Do Something Outside
- The Famous Philadelphia Flower Show
- 4 Philadelphia Hotels For Families
- Pin it for later!
Like most families we have certain places we visit over and over again. One of our favorites is nearby Philadelphia. It’s an easy drive (if we time it right) and a big enough city that there is always something new to see. And of course, our favorite activities have changed as our young Traveler has grown.
We first visited when she was 4YO, again at 7YO and most recently at 14YO. Rich and I also managed a one-night grown-ups visit in between.
Here are our best ideas for exploring the city of brotherly love with kids from preschool to teens.
14 Fun Activities For A Philadelphia Weekend Visit With Kids
1. Rediscover American History
Exploring the Historic District: Federal Hall & the Visitors Center
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 grade and yet again as a teen. Based on this experience I would 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 picked up free, scheduled tickets to tour Independence Hall. And they usuall have other stuff happening there as well.
They show three 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. At age 7 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 jokingly asked if he knew “Hotel California.” He did! And he played it. There are usually also National APrk Rangers on hand to ask questions, and opportunity to virtually signe the Constitution.
• Then we headed over to Federal Hall, a National Historic Site and the main attraction.
I have to say I find it thrilling to stand in the room that yielded both the Declaration of Independence and the Constituion. The National Park rangers who give the tours are fantastic. As always they’re knowledgeable and capture the drama that took place her. But I’ll admit it was incredibly boring for my 7YO. Another year or two would have made a big 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 that more than I would have expected and I think she learned from it.
The Liberty Bell is housed in a glass building. There is always a lie to go inside but even inside you can only get so close. And you can get a good look from the outside so we’ve never gone inside.
Meet Ben Franklin
• On our latest visit we stopped in to the relatively new Ben Franklin Museum, tucked away in a courtyard off of Market Street where his house once stood.
This is a great museum and would be manageable with kids in a wide age range. It focuses on Franklin the man with Colonial history in the background as context for his life. He was famous for being Ben Franklin and was sort of our young nation’s first celebrity. The museum reflects the ways in which he was creative, quirky and engaging.
There are interactive screens and videos, some of them quite amusing, for example, when they portray some of the alternate personas Franklin would take on to get a point across. We could play a few tunes on a mock glass harmonica. Franklin was apparently fond of squirrels (and even sent a few as gifts), so kids too young for other parts of the exhibit can hunt for a well-dressed squirrel named Skuggs throughout the museum.
The only quibble I have is that it almost entirely glosses over Franklin’s many infidelities and any other details that might reflect poorly on him. But I think kids are very much the target audience and the museum is otherwise very well done. So I was willing to overlook that.
You can spend 45 minutes or two hours here, depending on your family’s interest and how thoroughly you want to explore it. Teen Traveler likes lookingat thinngns in detail and we were there for a good 90 minutes. Afterward, head a few blocks toward the river to Shane Candy Company, where you can buy barley sugar squirrels as a souvenir (along with all kinds of chocolate).
Visit Betsy Ross
Preschool-age Tiny Traveler liked Betsy Ross’s house, pretty much the only historic thing we did when we did on that visit.
High points for her included the chamber pots and a clever cat fountain in the yard.The house can be thoroughly explored in under half an hour and admission is pretty cheap, making it ideal to do with little ones. The house is pretty small, so if you come with a stroller plan to leave it outside.
Tip: If your family likes larger, cluttered used book shops take a detour after Betsy’s house to the Book Trader on 7th Street just north of Market. It’s the kind of bookshop where you stumble across all kinds of great finds, often in more than one language.
Checking Out the New History Museum
The Museuem of the American Revolution opened in a Federal style building a few blocks from Independence Hall in 2017. It has some really cool and unique exhibits but the main permanent exhibit is far less interactive than the American Revolution Museum in Yorktown, VA, which finished a major upgrade around the same time this museum opened. I admit I was a little disappointed.
The coolest thing this museum has is is a collection of photos of people who were alive during the revolution and lived long enough for cameras to come along and take pictures of them. The diversity of the photos is stunning: former slaves, soldiers, loyalists, women who supported the army and more.
The seond coolest thing here is George Washington’s tent, which he slept in throughout the war. They show a movie that talks about Washington as a leader and what made him so popular with his contemporaries (sleeping in a tent like the rank and file helped). After the movie the screen lifts, showing the tent behind a glass wall. It’s quite dramatic but they don’t give you any time to walk up to the glass for a closer look, which I would have liked.
If you have elementary or middle-school-aged kids with you plan to spend some time in the Revolution Place rooms. This is where things get interactive. Kids can don costumes, crawl into a typical soldier’s tent or spend time in a period church, tavern or parlor, each important to the war effort in its own way. There are touch screens and digital tables in each space to help kids immerse themselves in the lives of regular people from the time.
We have yet to visit the interactive National Constitution Center; THe hours didn’t work on our last visit. But it’s high on my list for next time.
Look for Colonial Ghosts
Our teen has really enjoyed ghost tours in other cities we’ve visited so we decided to try one here. I chose the Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour because they limit the group size to 12 and make more stops than other tours. We saw a few groups of 20 to 30 people on our rounds and it confirmed we chose well. In a group of ten you can always hear the guide and ask more questions, and easily get from one place to the next. So you get to see and hear more.
There are a good number of houses, churches, cemeteries and other buildings in the Old City that aren’t museums but have long histories. The ghost tours are a good way to learn more about them. We heard about 18th century city leaders, doctors and society women. And plenty of ghost tales. Someof the stories were a little too far-fetched for evenm y suspension of disbelief. But they were still fun for all of us.
I recommend this tour. The same group does a daytime Constitutional Walking Tour. Our guide on the nighttime tour was so good we will probably try this one the next time around.
Discover A Magic Garden
On one of our visits the Philadelphia CVB suggested the Magic Garden on South Street as an activity that would please both parents and kids, and they were so right! Teens will appreciated it on a different levelthansmallchildren, but everyone will get something out of it.
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!
Tiny Traveler got a scavenger hunt that sent her searching high and low for animals, birds and mermaids. At 7 she mostly did it by herself; younger kids could do it with some help.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. We used ot visit book, magic and vintage stories when it was seedy in a colorful way. They’ve all closed and part of it is still seedy without being colorful.
Part of it has gentrified with 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, by any means.
Museums for every age kid
Take Little Kids To Please Touch
Please Touch is an amazing children’s museum; the kind you don’t mind visiting as an adult. At 4YO it enthralled and exhausted Tiny Traveler. It’s so big you won’t do everything in one visit because one part or other will draw your child in for ages.
The World of Alice in Wonderland was Tiny Traveler’s her favorite area and where we spent the most time. I’ts ideal for any kid who has an active imagination. You can play the queen’s croquet, try different size houses, have tea with the mad hatter and more.
Next to Wonderland is a smallplay area themed for easily recongizable ursery rhymes and she liked that quite a bit, too.
She loved the large indoor carousel and the craft room, which always has something going on for kids of many ages. She also had fun building maneuvering a bulldozer to lift plastic balls from a pit. The building, water and science areas are similar to what you’ll see in other children’s museums but kids always like them.
We revisited Please Touch when she was 7YO and while we spent about two hours there it didn’t engage her teh way it had previously. It’s definitely for the preschool and kindergarten set.
The Best 11 Kids Museums in the U.S.
Take School-age Kids To The Franklin Institute
As she reluctantly outgrew the childrens museum she she ethusiastically grew into 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 6- 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. Keep your eye out for live demonstrations under Ben’s statue. They happe throughout the day and we all enjoyed those.
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 fair amount we didn’t get to. Ages 7 to 12 are the prime audience here.
Tip: Our AAA membership gave us a discount at the Franklin.
Appreciate Art After Dark
The Philadelphia Art Museum stays open until 8:30 on Friday nights for its Friday Lounge. It has live music, light food and drinks, and the opportunity to explore the galleries when they are less crowded.
The night we went there was a great jazz band but the sound was amplified a bit too much for our 7YO. We spent most our time exploring but we did see other families dancing and eating in the main hall,
This is definitely a family friendly evening. 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.
There’s so much to do in Philadelphia on a weeked visit that we honestly would not have made it to this stellar museum without these evening hours. I’d like to try it again on our next visit as I’m sure it’s a very different (and easier) evening with a teen.
Tip: If you miss Friday Lounge, try the museum on a Sunday, when it offers its family programs.
How to Take Kids To An Art Museum
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 always smell the amazing cheese shop before we see it. Its well-curated selection included rich Italian styles you don’t see everywhere.
On one visit discovered a butcher that specializes in game and picked up some boar to make Ragu with. His house-made sausages looked good, too. Afterward we visited a pasta shop where we watched them crank out fresh fettuccine for us. And we bought a huge bag of very good tomatoes for $2 from one of the curbside produce.
One more than one visit we’ve picked up cannoli and mascarpone-filled éclairs at Isgro’s Bakery for the car ride home.
Try a Gaming Café
Our ghost tour guide recommended Queen & Rook Game Café on Second Street just off of South Street. The next afternoon turned colld anddrizzly so we decided to check it out and spent a great couple of hours playing games and snacking.
The wide drinks menu includes coffees, soft drinks and microbrews. It also has themed cocktails and mocktails like the Queen’s Gambit and the Phoenix Feather. I had a Dragon’s Eye, a spicy-sweet mix of hot peppers, dragon fruit and gin.
Teen Traveler had a warm butterbeer, which tasted like apple cider with a hint of butterscotch. It was less cloying than other iterations we’ve had. Adults can add a shot of something to it and on a winter’s day warm butterbeer with a shot of bourbo or apple whiskey would make a fine hot toddy.
We also snacked on Korean-style fried cauliflower and crispy Brussels sprouts, which were both great, and soft pretzel nuggets which are less interesting but always a safe bet.
They have some 1,200 games to choose from and a game concierge who can find something new for you based onthe kind of games you like. We found a few we’d never played before, including one where people try to come up with the best captions for New Yorker cartoons. We paid $7/person to game for three hours plus the snacks and drinks. Not the cheapest afternoo but we very much got our money’s worth of fun out of it.
Browse the U. Penn Bookstore
We decided to take an unofficial look at the University of Pennsylvania on our latest visit to town. The campus is lovely and lively on the weekend and strolling through it was enjoyable.
It has some good dining and shopping around it on Walnut & Sansom streets. The Penn Bookstore is absolutely worth a visit. It spans three floors with a café and a vast array of University apparel and other items. Bookwise, it has a great selection of cooking, math and science books, and a huge fiction department. It was hard to get my family to leave.
If you can swing it, spend some time in impressive Penn Museum. It’s archeology and anthtropolgy exhibits include the oldest known recipe for making beer (it’s in Sumerian).
Do Something Outside
For run-around time head to gigantic Fairmount Park.
Built to protect the city’s water supply Fairmont Park sprawls for miles on either side of the schuylkill River. You’ll find trails, meadows, colonial houses, a Japanese garden, colorful boat houses, picturesque industrial ruins and so much more tucked among its hills and bluffs.
We tried one afternoon to drive in to the park just to explore a bit. And it didn’t work very well. It’s so big you really need a plan.
If you have kids up ot age 12 head to the large Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse. It’s a busy playground with lots of cool climbing things. But the best part is long wood side inside what looks like a barn. You ride down on burlap sacks and it’s fun, even when you’re technically too old for it.
With older kids you can park by any of several hiking trails. But next time I would try to park in the lot off of Jelly Drive near the rock garden (under the Girard Bridge). Then you can ramble or ride bikes along the river past the lighthouse and the boathouse all the way to the Water Works, which were built in the day when public works were designed on a grand scale. In other words, they’re pretty.
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, there’s a small farmers’ market on weekends and cafés where you can sit outside with a coffee or a beer until while your youngster sleeps.
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 a lot of Lemurs. It’s out in the direction of Please Touch.
The Famous Philadelphia Flower Show
Philadelphia’s springtime flower show is the oldest in the U.S. and attracts big crowds. It used to be indoors around Easter but because of Covid they moved it outside to FDR park, adjacent to the sports stadiums. For the moment they seem to be continuing that.
The show wasn’t quite what I expected. I thought I would see a series of large and colorful flower displays, and there was a little of that but I could have used more. There was large-scale floral art, some funny and imaginative creatures made from flowers and leaves and models of small city patios and gardens.
There were a lot of vendors selling gardening related wares from hats and gloves to flowery jewelry. Sometimes it felt like I had to find the flowers among the vendors but I’m sure the gardening enthusiasts enjoyed talking to these folks.
There were a lot of dining options including a beer garden that looked enticing, but we ran out of time before we could try them.
Being outdoors allows the show to be bigger. It can also be hot and very sunny in June. Wear sunscreen and a hat and bring water. Give yourself a minimum of two hours, more if you are a gardener or you want to stay for lunch.
4 Philadelphia Hotels For Families
1. If you’ll be exploring different parts of the city, the Doubletree Philadelphia City Center is a good bet. It has an indoor pool, is next to a public garage with in-and-out privileges and the front desk is generous with Doubletree’s signature cookies. We had nice city views from our upper-floor room.
It’s as centrally located as you can get: Right in the middle of the arts district, a few blocks from both Rittenhouse Square and Reading Terminal market and midway between the Logan Square and the Historic District.
2. If you want want stay closer to the museums then the historic center, we liked Hilton’s Curio Collection hotel on Logan Square. It had a nice pool, a locavore restaurant with a popular brunch and an outdoor terrace facing a garden. Our room was a decent size with a nice view of enormous Logan Square (top photo).
The Academy of Natural Sciences, the Franklin Institute and the Sister Cities Park—three very kid-friendly attractions— are also on the square. At its center there’s a large fountain that kids were playing in on the hot June weekend we visited. There are restaurants nearby and it’s a short walk down 18th Street to Rittenhouse Square, which is the best neighborhood for good, casual restaurants.
We often stay in the Historic District and I liked staying away from it this time. We walked more and got to see parts of the city we would not have explored otherwise.
3. In the Historic District, 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 to be sleek and welcoming. The first-floor lounge has an inviting fireplace. When we stayed the hote had a helpful staff and a friendly, relaxed attitude toward kids. Hopefully it’s kept that up.
4. We also stayed in a Sheraton that is now the Marriott Old City, which is steps away from several great Philadelphia restaurants. Marriott has given the hotel a total makeover with smarter rooms, welcoming lounges and a restaurant. But it also converted the pool to a fitness center, an indication it might not be as good a pick with younger as it was when we stayed. but if you won’t miss the pool you can’t beat the location.
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All photos by FamiliesGo!© except the Art Museum (PMA), South Philly (stock) and Curio Collection (Hilton).