The Top 10 Free Attractions in Philadelphia

Marco Rubino /

 Philadelphia is known as the “city of brotherly love” and is the largest city in Pennsylvania with a population of over 1.5 million. It’s best known for being the location where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where the Constitutional Convention was held after the war in 1787. It has more outdoor sculptures and street murals than any other city in America and is home to the largest landscaped urban park in the world. If you are traveling on a budget and looking for things that won’t burn a hole in your pocketbook, there are plenty of opportunities in Philadelphia. Here are a few of the FREE attractions that you really don’t want to miss out on while you are visiting.

10. Mural Mile Tour

If you are looking for something to see and do that is off the beaten path, then take a self-guided or guided tour of the Mural Mile.  You can walk this almost 2.5 mile outdoor gallery and take in all the artistic ambiance around you. It will inspire you to reflect and bask in the artistic mastery you wouldn’t normally expect from graffiti. There are two different routes you can take; one north and one south of Market Street. If you take the guided tour, you will hear about the people, places and themes of the murals and learn about the cultures of the neighborhoods and how the murals enhance their environment. The North tour will take you into Old City through Chinatown and around City Hall whereas the South tour will take you down the 13th Street corridor to Lombard Street. If you prefer a self-guided tour, there is still plenty of beautiful art to appreciate at your own pace on your own time. This is a very original art experience and offers a chance to enjoy a different kind of culture.

Philadelphia street art

9. Sedgley Woods Disc Golf Course

The Philadelphia Frisbee Club consists of members with a love for all Frisbee-related sports including Ultimate and Disc Golf which became a favorite of the members. Wherever they went to play, they would design golf holes and targets using whatever natural or manmade landmark was suitable. The love of the game inspired members to look for a permanent location for more structured play and tournaments and that home was a small corner of Fairmount Park. The park offered perfect terrain consisting of small open areas, dense woods, lightly wooded areas and gentle slopes, making it a great place to set up a challenging course.If you ever enjoyed a round of Frisbee and wanted something a little more challenging but still tons of fun, then Sedgley Woods Disc Golf Course is the place for you. With a little twist on your classic Frisbee sport, this beautifully scenic course provides a precision and accuracy course to tone your Frisbee throwing skills. You will throw your disc at different targets throughout the course and you get to play totally free of charge. All you have to do, is provide your own flying disc or Frisbee.

Disc Golf

8. Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial Sculpture Garden

Located on Kelly Drive, Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial Sculpture Garden consists of three terraces and seventeen sculptures. It was named after Ellen Phillips Samuel who was a member of the Fairmount Park Art Association and a major supporter of cultural activities. When she died in 1913, she left the bulk of her estate to the Art Association specifying the money be used to create a series of monuments “emblematic of the history of America”. In 1929, upon the death of her husband, the funds became available and the Art Association decided that the Memorial should demonstrate spiritual forces and developments in American history.Construction began on the Central Terrace with six monuments expressing America’s westward expansion and the welcoming of immigrants from other lands. Later a seventh was added when it would not fit on the North Terrace. On the South Terrace you will find six sculptures depicting the settlement of the eastern coast and the emerging independence of the United States. The North Terrace houses five sculptures expressing the spiritual, intellectual and physical “inner energies” responsible for shaping the nation. Take a walk through the history of the United States through these wonderful works of art.

Photo by: Association for Public Art
Photo by: Association for Public Art

7. Reading Terminal Market

Public Markets have been deep-rooted in the history of Philadelphia for hundreds of years. The Reading Terminal Market started as a part of the Butchers’ and Farmers’ and Franklin Markets on the 1100 block of Market Street. In 1890 Philadelphia and the Reading Railroad purchased the block for their new terminal and eventually an agreement was reached to build a new market below the train shed and tracks. The Reading Terminal Market opened for business on February 23, 1892 and by 1913, business was booming with 250 food dealers and 100 farmers doing business there. The modern Reading Terminal Market, is one of the nation’s most successful public markets with over 75 independent small businesses. They offer a plethora of food choices, fresh and prepared, several lunch counters and other places to eat and shop. The aromas, colors and mouth-watering food will entice you at every turn. No matter what your taste, you will find something that suits your pallet. The taste of Philadelphia can’t be duplicated anywhere else like this market which in itself is a historical sight and experience.

Photo by: Amy Marietta
Photo by: Amy Marietta

6. Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse

Located in East Fairmount Park, the Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse has been a great family destination for over 100 years. It’s the ideal place to bring children since the park is designed to provide a safe and fun opportunity for them to play in an unstructured environment. The park is over 6 1/2 acres of open fields, wooded terrain, and sloped hills and is the home to the Ann Newman Giant Wooden Slide. The playhouse is 16,000 square feet and was designed specifically for children. Smith’s vision was to contribute to the development of healthy children, strong families and safe communities by providing free admission, partnering with community-based organizations and demonstrating the importance of play. The idea of the playground and playhouse is not only to provide a play area, but also to accommodate social interaction as well as emotional, cognitive and physical development. It provides a wonderful environment for a well-rounded play experience for your children.

Photo by: Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse
Photo by: Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse

5. Dream Garden

The Dream Garden is a hidden treasure found in the lobby of a dingy office building flanking Washington Square and just across the street from Independence National Historical Park. It is a 15′ x 49′ mosaic of more than 100,000 pieces of Favrile glass. Louis Comfort Tiffany studios brought the visions and painting of Maxfield Parrish to life by combining light and color. It is one of only three such works ever undertaken by Tiffany Studios. The piece consists of 24 panels that took six months to install. It was commissioned by Cyrus Curtis, publisher of The Saturday Evening Post to add elegance to his new headquarters and has been on display in the building’s historically certified lobby since 1916 but is not all that well known. In 1998, the piece was put up for sale but after public outcry the deal was stopped and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts purchased it to make sure it stayed where it is. Those who actually have the opportunity to see it whether intentionally or not, are never disappointed by the exquisite artistry.

Photo by: Jeffrey Totaro @ 2000, Tom Crane Photography, Inc.
Photo by: Jeffrey Totaro @ 2000, Tom Crane Photography, Inc.

4. Institute of Contemporary Art

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) was founded in 1963 by Holmes Perkins, who wanted to expose students to modern art and culture and has developed a wonderful reputation as the perfect venue for contemporary art and culture. The museum is one of the only kunsthalles in America meaning it does not house a permanent exhibit. The ICA has focused on bringing under-appreciated artists to the forefront by displaying their exhibits, all at no cost to the visitors. In 1965, Andy Warhol had his first solo museum exhibit here and was propelled to stardom in the art world. Other artists such as Laurie Anderson, Barry Le Va, Glenn Ligon, Richard Artschwager and Tavares Strachan have been featured there demonstrating the value of artists being able to exhibit their art there. Some of the programs offered include live performances, fine arts lectures, informal coffee and conversation events, film screenings and more.This is a must-see for anyone with an appreciation of modern art and the artists creating them. Since there are no permanent exhibits, there is always something new, amazing and original to absorb. Just think, you could be seeing an up and coming new artist before they become a household name.

Photo by: Institute of Contemporary Art
Photo by: Institute of Contemporary Art

3. Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum

Founded in 1982, the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) is a library, museum and archive located at 315 Chestnut Street in Old City. It is one of the only organizations focusing on the history of chemistry and focuses on art and articles detailing earth science and chemistry and their beginnings. The museum houses a permanent exhibit called Making Modernity which features collections showing how chemistry influenced modern life. The exhibit housed in the museum consists of scientific instruments and apparatus, rare books and papers by very important scientists. There are also several temporary and rotating exhibits featured at the museum, so no two visits will be the same, giving visitors an opportunity to learn and see something new every time. Most exhibits can be viewed at any time during regular museum hours, however, there are special exhibits where the galleries must be visited by appointment only. You may also attend one of the many events held there. More information about these events is available through their website or by calling.

Photo by: Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum
Photo by: Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum

2. The Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell is one of the best-known symbols of American Independence and is located in the Liberty Bell Center in Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. The bell was sent from a London, England firm in 1752 with the inscription “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”. The famous crack happened when the bell was first rung after its arrival in Philadelphia and was recast twice by John Pass and John Stow whose names are engraved on the bell. There is a wide-spread belief that the crack in the bell was created in 1835 while being run after the death of Chief Justice John Marshall. The bell became famous because of a short story written in 1847 about an aged bell ringer who rang it on July 4, 1776 when he heard the Second Continental Congress’ vote for independence. The story was widely accepted as fact, even by historians. The bell was once transported to various locations for viewing but because the cracking worsened and it was being chipped by souvenir hunters, the bell has been permanently housed in Philadelphia since 1915. This iconic symbol, is definitely worth a visit.

Liberty Bell

1. Independence Hall

Independence Hall is located in the center of Independence Historical Park and is best known for being the location where the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitutionwere both debated and adopted. From 1775 to 1783, it was used as the main meeting place of the Second Continental Congress and served as the site of the 1787 Constitutional Convention.The hall is open every day of the year, though the hours vary depending on the time of year. There is free admission to the hall, but tickets are required before entering. Because of the popularity of the attraction, it is recommended that during the busy season, visitors should arrive well before 1:00 p.m. before all of the tickets are given out. If you really want to guarantee getting in, you can purchase tickets in advance for only $1.50 each. There are guided tours led by National Park rangers starting in the courtroom, then on to the assembly room where George Washington’s “Rising Sun” Chair sits, and on to the west wing where the famous signing took place. It’s a beautiful piece of American History and worth checking out if you visit Philly.

Independence Hall

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