Places To Go & Things To Do For Families On A Budget

I grew up in South Jersey and visited Philadelphia often since my Dad grew up there and my Grandmother and Sunt still lived there.  Now living in West Virginia, I realized how lucky I was to grow up 45 minutes away from American History.  There are so many historical places to visit like Independence Hall, Ben Franklin’s house and museum, Betsy Ross’s house.  I love that I have been able to share these places with my husband’s family.  I never thought that they had never been there like I was during school for field trips, they took field trips to Washington D.C.  I also love sharing this history now with my daughter.  Visiting the Please Touch Museum, The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia Phillies games.   The list goes on and on.    

When it comes to visiting Philadelphia, some of the best things to see and do are free—or close to it. For families and budget-conscious travelers eager to explore the region, that’s great news. Check out the city’s many low-cost or no-cost attractions, including historic Independence Hall,Curtis Institute of Music and the high-tech production line of Herr’s Potato Chip Factory.  I remember many field trips at the Herr’s Potato Chip Factory!   Below is a list of free or almost free activities your family can do this year in Philadelphia.  I know I plan on doing a few with my family over Spring Break and this summer.

Room Independence Hall - Family Fun in Philadelphia For Free

The Declaration of Independence was signed here in this room

Historical Sites:

  • On 5th Street, snuggled behind the east wing of Independence Hall, is Philosophical Hall. Erected in the late 1780s for the American Philosophical Society, it functioned as the nation’s first museum, national library and academy of science. Today, the site houses the American Philosophical Society Museum, where changing exhibitions highlight the intersections of history, art and science. $2 donation requested. 104 S. 5th Street, (215) 440-3440, apsmuseum.org
  • After a two-year revitalization, the Benjamin Franklin Museum reopened in 2013. Dedicated to celebrating the legacy of one of America’s most storied forefathers, the museum features artifacts, computer animations and interactive displays that explore Franklin’s life and character. Day-of tickets are available at the door and cost $5 for adults and $2 for children ages 4 to 16. Admission is free for children three and under. 317 Chestnut Street, (215) 965-2305, nps.gov/inde
  • The Betsy Ross House was the pint-sized Colonial home of Betsy Ross, who is credited with sewing the first American flag at the request of General George Washington. Visitors meet Betsy herself as she works in her upholstery shop. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for children, plus $2 for the optional audio tour. 239 Arch Street, (215) 629-4026, betsyrosshouse.org
  • For a bird’s-eye view of Philadelphia, visitors head to City Hall’s observation deck, which sits just below the William Penn statue. Four-person tower tours take place on weekdays, every 15 minutes from 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. and cost $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and $4 for students and children. Broad & Market Streets, E. Market Street Portal, Room 121, (215) 686-2840, phila.gov/virtualch
  • The Edgar Allan Poe National Historical Site was once home to the legendary writer who wrote short stories such as The Black Cat here. Visitors can explore his fascinating life and learn how Poe influenced today’s literary heavy-hitters. Tours are self-guided or led by a park ranger from Friday through Sunday. Free. 532 N. 7th Street, (215) 597-8780, nps.gov/edal
  • Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously occupied residential street in the U.S., is a quaint cobblestone alley located in Historic Philadelphia. Admission for a guided tour of the museum and alley is $5 per person. Family rates are available and vary depending on size of family. Children under six get in for free. Closed during winter months; open Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons the rest of year. Between Front & 2nd Streets and Arch & Race Streets, (215) 627-8680, elfrethsalley.org
  • Known as the birthplace of our nation, Independence National Historical Park (INHP) includes attractions such as the Liberty Bell Center, The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation and Independence Hall, the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independenceand theU.S. Constitution. Timed tickets for Independence Hall can be picked up at the Independence Visitor Center on the day of the tour for free or reserved in advance online for a $1.50 reservation fee per ticket. No tickets are required in January and February. All other attractions are free, and no tickets are required. INHP attractions, between 5th & 6th Streets and Market & Chestnut Streets, (215) 965-2305, nps.gov/inde; Visitor Center,
    6th & Market Streets, (800) 537-7676, phlvisitorcenter.com
  • Johnson House National Historic Site, a Quaker home in Germantown owned by three generations of the abolitionist Johnson family, once served as a vital stop on the Underground Railroad. Today, the house displays various slavery-era artifacts and hosts lectures, art shows and other special programs. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and $4 for children 12 and under, and hour-long guided tours are available during select hours on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Reservations accepted. 6306 Germantown Avenue, (215) 438-1768, johnsonhouse.org
  • On Independence Mall, the National Museum of American Jewish History invites people to enjoy one of its most popular exhibitions for free. The Only In America® Gallery/Hall of Fame celebrates the lives and achievements of 18 Jewish-Americans who show that America has provided individuals with extraordinary opportunities. The ground-floor gallery boasts some big-name artifacts: Albert Einstein’s pipe and Steven Spielberg’s Super 8 camera, among others. 101 S. Independence Mall East, (215) 923-3811, nmajh.org

    Independence Hall - Family Fun in Philadelphia For Free

    Independence Hall

  • History buffs of all ages enjoy Once Upon A Nation’s storytelling benches at 13 locations around Historic Philadelphia, right where the action happened more than 200 years ago. Children can obtain a story flag at any bench, collect a star from each storyteller and exchange the flag complete with 13 stars for a certificate and coupon that can be used at the Betsy Ross House and the Franklin Square Shop. Benches are open from Memorial Day through Labor Day; check website for days and times. Free. (215) 629-4026, historicphiladelphia.org
  • Founded in 1751, Pennsylvania Hospital was the nation’s first chartered hospital. Today, visitors can explore the historic hospital, including the surgical amphitheater used from 1804 through 1868. Guided and self-guided tours are available with a suggested $5 donation; visitors can call to schedule a guided tour. 8th & Spruce Streets, (215) 829-5434, uphs.upenn.edu/paharc
  • During self-guided tours of the United States Mint, visitors watch coin production from 40 feet above the factory floor and see the nation’s first coining press. Audio and video stations explain currency’s history. Free. 5th & Arch Streets, (215) 408-0112, usmint.gov
  • The site of the 1777-78 winter encampment of General George Washington and the Continental Army, Valley Forge National Historical Park offers a glimpse into the Revolutionary War with historic structures such as Washington’s Headquarters and commemorative monuments such as the National Memorial Arch. Visitors can explore the park by car, by bike or on foot guided by the park’s cell phone tour, obtained by calling (484) 396-1018. Free. Route 23 & N. Gulph Road, King of Prussia, (610) 783-1099, nps.gov/vafo

Cultural Attractions:

  • For some serious savings on Philadelphia’s most popular attractions, tour-goers can snag a CityPASS ticket booklet, which includes four tickets to Philly favorites. Visitors can pick either Adventure Aquarium or The Philadelphia Zoo, but Philadelphia Trolley Works, The Franklin Institute and the brand-new One Liberty Observation Deck are always included. As of March 1, 2016, the cost is $59 for adults and $39 for children ages 2 to 12—45% cheaper than full-price admission costs. The pass is valid for nine consecutive days beginning with the date of first use. What’s more, it allows holders to skip the main entrance ticket line at most attractions. (888) 330-5008, citypass.com/philadelphia
  • Located in a former Civil War-era bank building, the museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation houses permanent and rotating exhibitions, showcasing hundreds of 18th– to 20th-century artifacts that tell the stories of the successes, astonishing failures and strange surprises behind the scientific discoveries that changed our world. Free. 315 Chestnut Street, (215) 925-2222, chemheritage.org
  • The Mummers Museum celebrates a centuries-old Philadelphia tradition, which can be traced back to Swedish settlers who brought to the Colonies their Christmas custom of dressing in costume and performing pantomimes. The annual parade started in South Philadelphia on New Year’s Day in 1901 and has grown into an elaborate 10,000-person, all-day affair. A pay-what-you-wish donation to the museum, featuring a rich collection of Mummer memorabilia, is all that’s required. 1100 S. 2nd Street, (215) 336-3050, mummersmuseum.com
  • Through 78 imaginative and interactive exhibits, the National Liberty Museum reminds visitors of the fragility of freedom. This message is illustrated by an expansive collection of glass art and the stories of 2,000 heroes who have made a difference in protecting liberty. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for students with I.D., $2 for children ages 5 to 17 and free for children under 5. 321 Chestnut Street, (215) 925-2800, libertymuseum.org
  • For Target First Wednesdays, Please Touch Museum® presents family fun at a discounted price every first Wednesday of the month. From 4-7 p.m., admission is only $2 per person and includes storytime, live puppet shows, interactive activities and more. 4231 Avenue of the Republic, (215) 581-3181, pleasetouchmuseum.org

Art & Gardens:

  • The Barnes Foundation, which houses one of the most important collections of impressionist, post-impressionist and early modern paintings in the world, offers free admission and programming on the first Sunday of every month for its Free First Sundays, presented by PECO. The Barnes also has an art library located on the lower level, which is free to visit Monday through Saturday, as well as free audio tours and free ARTime Storytime programs that are best for children ages 2-5 and their caregivers. 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 278-7200, barnesfoundation.org
  • A contemporary art museum devoted to creating work in new media and new materials through its Artists-in-Residence program, The Fabric Workshop and Museum boasts an extensive permanent collection, in-house and touring exhibitions and comprehensive educational programming. Free. 1214 Arch Street, (215) 561-8888, fabricworkshopandmuseum.org
  • The Moravian Pottery & Tile Works, a working history museum in Bucks County, welcomes visitors to watch the production of decorative tiles using methods employed by Henry Mercer’s crew beginning in 1898. The tiles produced, available in the museum’s shop, are of Mercer’s original line. A video and self-guided tour cost $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children ages 7 to 17. 130 E. Swamp Road, Doylestown, (215) 348-6090, buckscounty.org/mptw
  • Every Wednesday night starting at 5 p.m., the Philadelphia Museum of Art is open to visitors who can pay what they wish to explore the entire main building, showcasing works by Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí, Himalayan artists and many others. Budget-conscious art lovers can also pay what they wish on the first Sunday of every month. In addition, the museum offers free cell phone tours that add perspective to the collections. 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100, philamuseum.org
  • Housing the largest collection of works by Auguste Rodin outside of Paris, the renovated Rodin Museum features treasures such as The Gates of Hell and a bronze caste of The Thinker. The surrounding gardens are also a great place to find artistic inspiration. Guests pay what they wish to explore. 2151 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100, rodinmuseum.org
  • Shofuso: Japanese House and Garden, a traditional-style Japanese house and nationally ranked garden in West Fairmount Park, reflects the history of Japanese culture in Philadelphia.Admission to Shofuso, which is open to the public April through October from Wednesday through Sunday, includes a tour and costs $8 for adults and $5 for seniors, children ages 3 to 17 and college students with student I.D.; children under 3 get in for free. Lansdowne & Horticultural Drives, (215) 878-5097, shofuso.com
Liberty Bell - Family Fun in Philadelphia For Free

Liberty Bell from my trip in 2013

Performing Arts:

  • Before each main stage performance officially debuts, the Arden Theatre Company fulfills its commitment to making theater accessible to diverse audiences by opening the final dress rehearsal to the public. Attendees pay what they can to see the full cast, full costumes and full scenery at this sneak preview with proceeds benefiting a Philadelphia non-profit. For regular performances, students with I.D. can pay $10 cash for available seats 30 minutes before the show begins. 40 N. 2nd Street, (215) 922-1122, ardentheatre.org
  • Music lovers can scope out future stars at the Curtis Institute of Music, where students perform solo and chamber works most Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings during the school year, as well as many weekends, as part of the free Student Recital Series. 1726 Locust Street, (215) 893-7902, curtis.edu
  • On the first Monday of every month, FringeArts hosts Scratch Night.This event features a fast-paced sampling of contemporary theater, dance and performance art and offers an inside look at works in progress. Free. 140 N. Columbus Boulevard, (215) 413-1318, fringearts.com
  • Helium Comedy Club, featuring local and international funnymen and women, offers a $5 discount to students with I.D. for most shows on Wednesday through Friday evenings. Guests may call the box office to receive four free tickets to a Wednesday or Thursday night show (special events excluded) during their birthday month. 2031 Sansom Street, (215) 496-9001, heliumcomedy.com
  • Penny-pinching culture vultures pay what they wish for a performance of InterAct Theatre Company’s thought-provoking shows at the beginning of each run. 1512 Spruce Street, (215) 568-8079, interacttheatre.org
  • Art lovers can enjoy performances of all genres through the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts’ Free at the Kimmel series, offered intermittently throughout the year. In addition, $10 community rush tickets are available for many Kimmel Center Presents performances. Tickets are available at the box office at 5:30 p.m. for evening performances and 11:30 a.m. for matinees. Limit one ticket per person. Free building and theater tours, offered daily at 1 p.m., give visitors a behind-the-scenes look. 300 S. Broad Street, (215) 670-2327, kimmelcenter.org
  • Macy’s in Center City offers the signature shopping experience customers expect, but it also provides visitors with an unanticipated musical treat—the sounds of its spectacular pipe organ. Debuting at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the organ was originally purchased by famous merchant John Wanamaker and enlarged by his store’s own pipe organ shop to include 28,750 pipes. In the Grand Court of this National Historic Landmark building, visitors can enjoy 45-minute concerts twice daily except Sundays. After each performance, if time permits, the console loft is available to explore. Free. 13th & Market Streets, (215) 241-9000, visitmacysusa.com
  • The Walnut Street Theatre invites theatergoers to see shows at bargain prices. Plan ahead: At the start of the season, a limited number of Mezzanine seats are available for $20 for every Mainstage performance. On performance day, select tickets are sold for half-price to the general public using promotion code WSTDAY. For youth (24 and under), Mainstage day-of-show tickets are available for $20at the box office with valid I.D. Independence Studio on 3 day-of-show tickets are available to the general public for $20 with promotion code STUDAY. 825 Walnut Street, (215) 574-3550, walnutstreettheatre.org
  • The ultimate in one-stop shopping for cultural savings comes from the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s Funsavers emails. Every Thursday, subscribers receive half-price ticket offers for dozens of the hottest shows and events in the Philadelphia region, including theater, music and dance performances, museum exhibitions and more. Sign up to receive Funsavers emails or view this week’s offers online at phillyfunguide.com/funsavers-sign-up.
City Hall Observation Deck - Family Fun in Philadelphia For Free

Sweeping 360-degree views from the City Hall Observation Deck is another one of the more than 40 budget-friendly activities to do on a visit to the City of Brotherly Love. Credits: Photos by M. Fischetti (right) for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

Special-Interest Tours & Attractions:

  • Part of the Bucks County Wine Trail, family-owned and folksy Buckingham Valley Vineyards offers self-guided tours and free tastings Tuesday-Friday ($5 on weekends). Founded in the Philadelphia suburbs in 1968, Rushland Ridge Vineyard & Wineryfocuses on chambourcin, cabernet franc and chardonnay grapes and provides free tastings seasonally from Thursday through Sunday. Buckingham, 1521 Route 413 (Durham Road), Buckingham, (215) 794-7188, pawine.com; Rushland, 2665 Rushland Road, Jamison, (215) 598-0251, rushlandridge.com
  • Philadelphia’s spectacular 58-floor Comcast Center, one ofthe tallest “green” buildings in the country, features The Comcast Experience. This stunning blend of art and technology depicts realistic nature imagery, urban landscapes and much more on one of the largest four-millimeter video LED screens in the world—with five times the resolution of a high-definition television. 1701 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, visitphilly.com/comcast
  • Along with two playgrounds and plenty of open space, Franklin Square, a revitalized city park named in honor of Ben Franklin, features a fountain, Philly-themed miniature golf, SquareBurger food stand and the Parx Liberty Carousel. The park, celebrating its 10th birthday in 2016, also hosts free events and programs throughout the year. Mini golf: $9 for ages 13 and up, $7 for ages 3 to 12; carousel: $3 for ages 3 and up. 6th & Race Streets, (215) 629-4026, historicphiladelphia.org
  • The one-hour Herr’s Snack Factory Tour finishes with samples of chips, just out of the cooker. Tours take place Monday through Friday, and reservations are required. Small fee required beginning in June 2016. Route 272 & Herr Drive, Nottingham, (800) 284-7488, herrs.com
  • Nature lovers who tour Linvilla Orchards, a fully functioning, 300-acre farm, pick up some delicious goods at the year-round market, spot barnyard animals and head to the fields to pick fruits. Minimal costs for activities. 137 W. Knowlton Road, Media, (610) 876-7116, linvilla.com
  • Museum Without Walls: AUDIO, a program of the Association for Public Art, gives people a fun and engaging way to experience more than 65 outdoor sculptures along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and in Fairmount Park and Center City anytime they want. Both art enthusiasts and recreational passersby can listen to three-minute segments using their cell phones, via the program’s free mobile app or as audio downloads or streaming audio from the website. More than 150 people with personal connections to the works tell each sculpture’s distinct story. Free. (215) 399-9000, associationforpublicart.org/program/mww-audio/#
  • Pizza Brain offers its guests more than just a traditional pizzeria experience. This Fishtown eatery houses the world’s first and only pizza museum, filled with anything and everything pizza-related. The collection ranges from pizza-themed toys and comic books to records about cheesy, saucy pies. Free. 2313 Frankford Avenue, (215) 291-2965, pizzabrain.org
  • The brew crew can sip suds at two local breweries, Yards Brewing Company and Philadelphia Brewing Company (PBC). Guests explore the facilities and learn how draughts go from barley to beer. Free guided tours run in the early afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays at Yards and on Saturdays at PBC. Yards, 901 N. Delaware Avenue, (215) 634-2600, yardsbrewing.com; PBC, 2440 Frankford Avenue, (215) 427-BREW, philadelphiabrewing.com

 

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