My favorite price is always free and that puts Philadelphia near the top of the list of cities that pack a lot into a family’s vacation dollar. The City of Brotherly Love boasts sites as important to the founding of our country as Washington, D.C.—and just like our nation’s capital, those landmarks do not have to come with steep admission. There’s plenty that can be enjoyed at no charge. But if free doesn’t excite you, seeing history books come to life in my children’s eyes makes all the agony over 5th-grade history homework worth it.
Free in Philadelphia – 5 Must-Dos
Independence Hall. No visit to Philadelphia is complete without seeing the iconic Assembly Room where the country’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence and penned both the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. Many will only see the room as it is painted by John Trumbull in history books or on the back of the two-dollar bill. The brief tour, that may be perfect for school-age children on a field trip, might leave adults feeling a bit short-changed as you’ll spend almost as much time in line waiting to get through security as the tour itself. So, read up a little on the building’s significance before you get there. Tip: Some guides give pop quizzes to test your Revolutionary knowledge and tours can vary greatly from guide to guide on content; that brief brush-up on your own is wise to fill in the gaps and help your children while they are fully in-the-moment. Although it is free, you need a time-stamped ticket for entry from the Independence Hall Visitors Center, about a football field away.
Liberty Bell Center. Although you may feel like they’ve “padded” the exhibit with trite information about the Liberty Bell (yes, there’s a display featuring plates that have the Liberty Bell in their centers), the kiosks leading up to the bell are also chock-full of nuggets about its tour of America and history, too. Like Independence Hall, the wait in line for this attraction may be longer than the time you will spend inside, and can get longer as the day wanes-much of it in full sun. (If you have small ones, there are benches in the shade across the grass lawn from the line.) The picture you’ll take of your family beside the storied Liberty Bell will be one that is treasured for years from your trip and will make you forget your wait in line.
U.S. Mint. A self-guided tour of the U.S. Mint presents a wonderful opportunity for families to go at their own pace. You can read as much as you want and interact with the displays as your children have attention spans. It’s housed just two blocks away from Independence Hall, and provides the opportunity to actually see U.S. coins pressed from huge coils as you make your away across a skywalk looking at the operation. Keep in mind that there is an intriguing gift shop on the premises, so if you want to make this stop truly free, be aware or you may leave with not only a shiny new nickel but a few proof sets as well.
Reading Terminal Market. No longer used as a train terminal, the expansive building now houses part of the convention center upstairs but it’s the market below that deserves a look see. I know this can be a controversial entry under a “free” category, but window shopping, technically, is “free.” The bonus here is that you’ll find many vendors willing to give you a sample of their goods, making a stop here even better! Children may find the meat displays with fish and chicken lining the cases fascinating. And a snack of fresh cherries or nuts will bring as much delight as confections to young appetites. If you can, try to get to the market first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds, as breakfast brings in fewer than lunch. Of note: there are several Amish vendors who are not opened on Sundays.
Rocky’s Statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Not everything in Philadelphia must be historic, and chances are the #1 question you’ll get when you return home and friends find out you visited Philly is, “Did you see the statue of Rocky?” If you’ve got a teenage boy in your group (or just want to admit your love for all things Sylvester Stallone), seeing the statue, not to mention running up the steps to the museum should be a rite of passage. If you choose to walk from a downtown hotel, be aware that you’ll be crossing several lanes of traffic a few times to get to the museum but the walk down Ben Franklin Parkway is refreshing.