13 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Pennsylvania

Jul 22, 2021

During the early colonial days, Philadelphia was simply called "the first colony" of the United States. Little did it know that this tiny, fledgling settlement would become a huge port that would ship out much of the cargo that would help the fledgling country establish itself in the world.

While Philadelphia is now a bustling metropolitan city with over 2.7 million residents, that was not the case when the early colonists arrived. In fact, the area was almost an empty prairie when they started developing the city. The first European settlers to arrive were Dutch, and by 1725, nearly 1,800 people had settled in the city. When the British took over, and American colonists fled there in the aftermath of the American Revolution, the city's population continued to grow. Today, Philadelphia is the 5th most populated city in the United States and has seen more history than most European cities.

Today, Philadelphia is a cultural hub with a rich history, a bustling nightlife, a burgeoning restaurant scene, and some of the most unique museums in the country.

During your stay, the sights in and around Philadelphia will open up to you, and there's a reason that many people call it the "city of brotherly love." Plan your visit using our list of the best things to do and places to visit in Philadelphia.

Gettysburg National Military Park

Photo of Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg National Military Park: en.wikipedia.org

Established in December 1863, when the first shots were fired at the climax of the Civil War, Gettysburg is considered one of the most important battles in American history. In terms of numbers of casualties, it's the second bloodiest battle in American history after the Civil War. The history of the battle, and Gettysburg itself, is portrayed in fascinating exhibitions at the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center, while visitors can also take a 5-mile drive to see the battle site on the grassy slopes of Cemetery Ridge.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Photo of Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art: en.wikipedia.org

This impressive art museum lies in the center of Philadelphia, a city famous for its cultural life. Exhibits at the Philadelphia Museum of Art offer a broad overview of both Western and Eastern art from prehistoric times to the present. Most of the museum's collection is European in origin, but the museum also features works by some of America's most famous artists, such as Norman Rockwell, Norman Rockwell Jr. and Grant Wood. Highlights include Jean-Michel Basquiat's Warhol-inspired 'Black and White', Warhol's self-portrait in 'Self-Portrait as Velvet Elvis', and an exhibition of paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Adjacent to the art museum is the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the oldest art school in the United States. Its notable alumni include Thomas Eakins and William Merritt Chase, as well as Joseph Highsmith and John Singer Sargent, who studied at the academy in his youth. Both the art museum and the academy are within the boundaries of the old Fairmount Park.

Philadelphia Zoo

Photo of Philadelphia Zoo
Philadelphia Zoo: en.wikipedia.org

Philadelphia Zoo is home to more than 100 animals representing 50 different species, including European, African, and North American, and a wide variety of them are rescued, rehabilitated, and permanently rehomed. The zoo houses the giant sea turtle Groove, a sea lion, and baby bears. Philadelphia Zoo offers a wealth of exhibits, many of them hands-on or interactive, with special activities such as seasonal pumpkin picking, baseball activities, animal presentations, and play time for children. If you want to learn a little more about the animals, there is also an IMAX theater and Planetarium, and various exhibits that include animals from around the world. Visitors can also take a short bus tour of the park, driving through the zoo's residential neighborhoods.

Pennsylvania State Capitol

Photo of Pennsylvania State Capitol
Pennsylvania State Capitol: en.wikipedia.org

The Pennsylvania State Capitol is one of the largest and most impressive of all the U.S. state capitols. Its classical design and many marble columns are popular with tourists, but the surrounding grounds and adjacent office buildings, including the State Museum and Library, are the most interesting, as the latter contain the presidential library and the law library, among other treasures. The marble sculpture of Atlas supporting the world was the work of Thomas Crawford of Philadelphia and is the largest free-standing sculpture in North America. Things to do in the capitol include visiting the underground City Room Museum and the House-Senate chambers, and browsing in the shops, restaurants, and specialty shops nearby.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Photo of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: en.wikipedia.org

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, located in a handsome colonial redbrick building on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, dates back to its establishment in 1805. The academy has been home to the likes of Paul Manship and the Hudson River School painters, Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand, and features an extensive museum collection. When in town, you should visit the academy for a tour, and if time permits, check out its excellent exhibits. Highlights include Art and Design, the Joel Silver Black Box Gallery, and the group and ceremonial arts galleries. Among the many highlights are paintings by Andrew Wyeth, Adolphe Blanc, Frank Lloyd Wright, H.A.R. Lewis, and Oscar Bluemner. There are plenty of places in Philadelphia to eat, shop, and play, but there's nothing quite like the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for those who love art, architecture, and fine living.

Rittenhouse Square

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Rittenhouse Square: en.wikipedia.org

Home to Philadelphia's new Mummers and Muffins, Rittenhouse Square's annual 'Ring a Day' Carnival celebrates the links between Philadelphia and the musical roots of the Great Wagon Road. The neighborhood's center is Rittenhouse Square, where thousands converge to celebrate the ritual and observe the Parade of Villains, featuring costumed children from all across the country. Other events at Rittenhouse Square include the nationally acclaimed Jazz Festival, outdoor film screenings, and a famous flea market.

Lincoln Memorial

Photo of Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool: en.wikipedia.org

The Lincoln Memorial is a circular chapel and park memorializing Abraham Lincoln and constructed from the same Pennsylvania white marble as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. It is a stark white on the east side and in the days before modern artificial lighting, it was the only source of light on the grounds for miles around. Today, it stands as a place of contemplation amid the tall, snow-covered forest surrounding it.

Empire State Plaza

Photo of Empire State Building
Empire State Building: en.wikipedia.org

For visitors to Philadelphia who don't care to join the throngs in the infamous French Quarter or visit the Museum of the American Revolution, the Empire State Plaza offers a quieter, more affordable alternative. This stately, modern office building is as big as a city block, and sits in the middle of an almost perfectly square 12-acre site. Inside, two restaurants are housed in the atrium and two more in the adjoining malls, while rooms are found in a further 15 floors above ground. For shopping, there is a three-level Bloomingdale's Department Store, and other shops in the larger mall.

Central Park

Photo of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania
Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: en.wikipedia.org

An ultimate city experience at a more affordable price, Central Park in Pittsburgh offers stunning panoramic views of the city, the Allegheny River, the downtown skyscrapers, and rolling green hills. Once a famous artists' refuge, the park attracts visitors today from all around the world. Visiting Central Park is easy. You can park at one of several lots located in the heart of the city. While there, you can enjoy a walk through the park along the Indian Creek Park, visit the Cradle of the U.S.A., ride the carousel and view the crystal sculptures of the Streamline Moderne features.

National Constitution Center: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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National Constitution Center: en.wikipedia.org

Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the National Constitution Center offers visitors an engaging look at the relationship between the United States and its document. While millions of people read the Constitution during its first 212 years of existence, few actually read it as it's currently written. A hands-on museum and learning center, the National Constitution Center hosts exhibits, programs, workshops, lectures, and the next generation of constitutional scholars through a program called Groundwork. Educational activities for schools and scholars provide a deeper context for the document, and encourage visitors to question whether our basic freedoms and rights outlined in the Constitution today are being eroded. The Center's educational outreach program, C-SPAN, provides Americans with access to the national political process and provides vital historical insight. C-SPAN brings the daily life of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House to television viewers across the nation and around the world.

Lehigh Valley Museum

Photo of Lehigh Valley
Lehigh Valley: en.wikipedia.org

The Lehigh Valley Museum is a cultural anchor of Allentown, Pennsylvania, hosting a wide variety of art, history and science exhibitions and displays. Its collection includes examples of everything from German and Chinese art, to Roman and Greek art, to a collection of Civil War artifacts. More than 30,000 items are housed in the museum. Among the highlights include a Pompeii catacomb in the courtyard, a Revolutionary War era city, and the Lloyd George Building, which displays a wide variety of art. The museum also contains a variety of educational programs and off-site learning opportunities, such as mini-golf.

Monongahela National Forest

Photo of Cheat River
Cheat River: en.wikipedia.org

Located in the Allegheny National Forest in the state of Pennsylvania, the Monongahela National Forest (Monongahela National Park) protects a large area of forestlands in northeastern Pennsylvania. The natural attractions include the Palisades of Northeastern Pennsylvania, which consist of the Delaware Water Gap, the Shawangunk Mountains, the Catskills, and the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, of which the latter is a subset. The cultural attractions include a rural co-op farm, a museum, and an historic area with several trails. These include the "Dirtless Way," "The Ridge to Trail" (an 89-mile-long trail along the eastern edge of the mountain range), the Pinchot State Forest, and the "Heritage Trail" in the region's northeast. The only stop along this trail is Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, which is about six miles from Port Jervis, New York. There is a small airport in the central part of the region with flights from New York City.

Pennsylvania Farm Show

Photo of Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center
Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center: en.wikipedia.org

In the second of two major agricultural shows, The Pennsylvania Farm Show travels from Harrisburg to York to features displays from farmers, food, handcrafts, entertainment, and more. This huge event with more than three million visitors draws people from across the U.S. and Canada for the huge displays of American farm produce, animals, and even big-ticket equipment.