20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Philadelphia
With three exciting sites on its famed Riverwalk, Philadelphia is a prime location for outdoor enthusiasts. Although the city has had a bustling seaport and steel industry since colonial times, it gained a reputation as a premier holiday destination in the 19th century when tourism flourished due to the world's first electric Christmas tree and the first Santa Claus parade in America.
In the past few years, Philadelphia has continued to make tourism its number one industry and the number of visitors is expected to continue to grow.
Philadelphia offers visitors a fine selection of top sites for the beginner to the more advanced traveler, whether it's for shopping, dining, or hanging out in a bar, Philadelphia is a welcoming city where people of all ages and nationalities can feel right at home.
Our list of the top places to visit in Philadelphia will get you planning your vacation.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Located on a 170-acre campus, the Philadelphia Museum of Art was founded in 1876 by philanthropists who wanted to collect important works of art for a purpose that was not merely to make money. Its collection now boasts more than 200,000 pieces of art, including works by Vincent van Gogh, Thomas Gainsborough, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Picasso, and Claude Monet. There are several museums on the grounds, among them the Rothchild-Field Institute, John F. Kennedy Memorial, Museum of Modern Art, the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Academy of Fine Arts, as well as a planetarium, a number of beautiful gardens, and the famous Rodin Museum, which was founded in 1879.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
One of America's great national treasures, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has been offering art education since 1876. Located in the middle of Philadelphia's premier cultural district, the National Historic Landmark includes the home and studios of Alexander Archipenko, an iconic modern sculptor and poet. One of the largest museums in Philadelphia, PAFA's collections include an outstanding assemblage of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings as well as paintings from the artists of the Ashcan School. The fine arts academy holds master classes in painting and sculpture throughout the year, for example the spring semester. Open to the public throughout the year. The museum's galleries were designed by Santiago Calatrava, who worked in collaboration with architect Frank Lloyd Wright to create the museum's monumental limestone building. The classrooms, sculpture studio, art library and the main gallery are all open to the public.
The Liberty Bell
There is only one Liberty Bell and it is located in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Pennsylvania. The bell has been used at major government events and is one of the most recognizable national symbols in the world. The Liberty Bell and the museum are open daily. The museum's exhibitions usually include a special display devoted to the famous bell.
National Constitution Center
The National Constitution Center offers visitors a look into the history of the United States through a series of exhibits and interactive exhibits. Visitors can learn about the creation of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the fight for independence from Great Britain. Visitors can also experience the excitement of the American Revolution and experience the creation of the Declaration of Independence. The exhibition center has a variety of large-scale models of some of the most famous buildings in Philadelphia including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
Reading Terminal Market
When you can't decide what to eat in Philadelphia, head to Reading Terminal Market for an excellent variety of fresh food. It was opened in 1899 and its Market Hall, a popular indoor venue where you can buy picnic provisions, is a great place to mingle with the locals. The shopping center, which is divided into about 50 different stalls, is open from Monday to Saturday from 7:00 AM to 1:00 AM. The vast number of stalls make it easy to shop without having to pay full price, with many goods at half-price.
Independence National Historical Park
Independence National Historical Park is a stunning memorial to the fight for freedom and equality in the United States. It was constructed as a result of the famous protests in the US city in 1787, the first large-scale anti-slavery demonstrations in US history. Located near the center of Philadelphia, the park offers walking tours as well as a number of other sites that tell of the struggle for liberty, and which include a monument to William Penn, a wall from the original city wall and the historic Independence Hall. The National Constitution Center, an architectural marvel, is home to the Liberty Bell.
The Franklin Institute
This museum (founded in 1824) houses America's oldest natural-history museum. The Franklin is a must for anyone interested in the study of science, with exhibits and collections covering geology, astronomy, aeronautics, meteorology, anthropology, and the natural sciences. The Franklin has an observatory built in 1836, with a 12-inch refracting telescope, at the center of which is a large domed roof containing a magnificent two-toned, three-story cathedral-like dome made of steel and bronze and topped with an octagonal copper-nickel band. Also on the grounds of the Franklin are the archives and collection of fine arts, history of science, and world cultures, as well as the world-famous revolving airplane car, the Aerofiles.
Preserved as Independence Hall since 1835, it's the oldest public building in the United States and the place where the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed. Among the five rooms of Independence Hall National Historical Park, the most spectacular is the first-floor Hall of the Ratification. Here, the American Congress voted on July 8, 1776, to approve the Declaration of Independence. The 275 delegates to the session heard the Declaration read and then voted on it.
Eastern State Penitentiary
Built in 1829 and later used as a state prison, Eastern State Penitentiary was the country's first maximum security facility. It was closed in 1996 after 48 years of operation and restoration has turned the site into an interesting museum offering the chance to walk among the walls and buildings of a notorious prison with a mass murder scene, homicidal inmates and brutal guards in their cell areas. Take a tour of the museum or read more about the prison's history on the site. There are also informative displays about the people and events that have shaped the site. During the summer months, families can try their hand at life in prison with a daily lunchtime re-enactment of a prison cell.
An innovative museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, houses the world's largest collection of Roman and ancient Mediterranean artifacts. The Penn Museum features a collection of more than 100,000 pieces from Bronze Age Anatolia to Pompeii. Highlights include the 3,000-year-old Loculus from Mycenae, Greece; the oldest coin in the world found in Ipesh, Sardinia, in 1975; and an exquisite Egyptian sculpture, The Mummy of Tarkhankh. The history section includes a Greek Amphora tomb from the 6th century BC, a Roman mosaic and other Roman statues, and a medieval German townhouse, the Pavillion House, that houses an eclectic collection of Chinese ceramics, clocks and mechanical devices.
Old City Hall
Set in a park on a steep slope, this French Renaissance Revival town hall in Philadelphia dates back to the turn of the century and can be visited on a self-guided tour. Established in 1833 to be the first government of the United States capital after independence, the city hall was designed in 1844 by architect John McArthur, later a well-known architect of San Francisco. If you would like to spend a day or two here, visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia's famous historic district, The Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the University of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as the world-famous Liberty Bell.
Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, PA is one of America's premier spots to shop. The State Theater, Kimmel Center, Academy of Natural Sciences, Merrifield's Restaurant & Bar and other buildings were constructed between 1891 and 1911. The City and Country Club of Philadelphia, and several museums, the Penn Museum and the Free Library of Philadelphia are all situated on the northeast corner of the square.
Built in 1876, Philadelphia City Hall is a grand edifice that faces Independence Hall. Commissioned by Mayor Samuel Smith, construction of the building began shortly after an article published in the Paris Illustrated American described the Statue of Liberty as a new symbol of the city. Today, Philadelphia City Hall serves as a municipal center, a police headquarters, and the location of many municipal government departments and agencies. The nearby Rittenhouse Square has many notable attractions including the Shippen House Museum and a beautiful series of buildings, including the Walnut Street Theatre. Also nearby is the National Museum of American Art.
Built in 1857 for the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876, Pennsylvania Hall is a historically significant building housing many functions, including an assembly of the US Supreme Court on its second floor. The building is located just one block from Independence Hall and Franklin Square. It was closed in 2001 but was being restored in 2009 and will reopen in 2020. It is worth visiting if you're in Philadelphia.
The Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation, located in a vast 19-acre home and garden built by the 19th century architectural scholar Benjamin Robert Haydon, is an extension of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and contains a collection of nearly 2,000 paintings, 400 of which are on display at any time. Since it was founded by the Barnes Foundation in 1935, the center has seen a stream of famous American painters come to work and paint. The Barneses collection includes works by John William Waterhouse, Henri Matisse, Mary Cassatt, and Edward Hopper, among many others. Founded by Barnes, a renowned art collector, and his second wife, Sarah, the Barnes Foundation maintains an active collecting policy and has acquired numerous other collections, including a number of major Impressionist and modern paintings. While the artists themselves would be thrilled by the fortune the foundation has made in acquiring their works, it has had its share of financial problems that have made many call its endowment too small to meet the financial burden of operating a gallery. The foundation is not open to the public but hosts a number of events, exhibitions, and educational programs, including lectures, workshops, and tours led by curators, who share their expertise on the works in the galleries.
It's hard to believe that the magnificent wooden-roofed Congress Hall was the world's first art museum, built in 1805. The Hall was renovated by Thomas U. Walter, who considered art as "the noblest and most sublime of all the branches of knowledge." The Hall was built on the site of the University of Pennsylvania's original meeting place, which was founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin and named for King George II. The Hall is located at the western end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, a short walk from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Be sure to visit the hall's famous third floor for its superb collection of art from the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa, including many pieces by French painters.
The university is named after Antonin Balthazar Raymond Henri Joseph (Antoine) Drexel, a Wall Street businessman and financier. Founded in 1891, Drexel University has been named one of America's best schools and ranked as one of the country's most diverse. The campus lies in the Northeast area of the city, home to bustling restaurants and boutiques. The nearby University City is home to plenty of great museums, a vibrant theater scene, and the Walter Rand Theater. The area is a magnet for tourists and residents who enjoy the many recreational activities available, including basketball, golf, hiking, swimming, skating, cycling, fishing, baseball, soccer, volleyball, tennis, and live music.
The Italian Market is a unique collection of more than 160 vendors of Italian-influenced goods, selling produce, delicatessen items and antiques in the heart of Center City. The wares are primarily from Philadelphia and New Jersey, with most vendors selling wholesale to the stores and restaurants in the area. Most visitors will have to walk the distance from 3rd and Market streets, but with the bulk of the market on a raised area, it's possible to walk in with the vendors without getting wet. To enjoy the vendors, and to get more out of your visit, purchase a coupon from the market's information booth and spend the $1 to jump on a trolley-car.
Ben Franklin Parkway
The Ben Franklin Parkway is a nearly 3-mile-long parkway on the Philadelphia waterfront. It is named for the father of the American nation, Ben Franklin. Located on the western side of the Schuylkill River, this park has a series of walking and cycling paths along with a wide range of lawns, gardens, and trees. Much of this parkway is a trail that leads to sports fields, both for baseball and soccer, and a large skating area. The Franklin Institute is also located in the park.
Franklin Square is the largest urban park in the United States and one of the most dramatic. The main promenade is lined with major neoclassical buildings in the center of Philadelphia's business district. Each spring and summer, from dusk to midnight, the public is invited to enjoy the works of living artists, musicians, and other performers. One of the highlights is the renowned jazz concert series, the Tanglewood Jazz Party. Held in Franklin Square's Pennsylvania Building, concerts are free of charge, although attendees should be aware that entrance to the Pennsylvania Building requires formal dress, so no T-shirts or shorts are permitted.