Steeped in American history and culture, Philadelphia is a popular destination for kids and families from all over.

On any given day, the City of Brotherly Love draws in countless history buffs, art lovers, and sports fans, as well as class trips from neighboring towns. But Philadelphia’s bragging rights don’t end there: It’s also home to the oldest zoo in the country, an interactive science museum, plenty of outdoor spaces, plus an endless supply of soft pretzels and water ice (or, as the locals say, "wooder ice"), giving it plenty of universal appeal. If you’re not sure where to start, here's our list of the most exciting attractions families shouldn’t miss in Philly.

1. Get a history lesson at Independence Hall

While some kids might struggle with history lessons from text books, you’ll find they’ll become much more engaged when they get to experience a bit of it firsthand by visiting Independence Hall. Located in the Old City neighborhood (aka Philadelphia’s Historic District), the stately brick building is home to the Assembly room, where Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and other founding fathers debated and signed the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Admission is free (though there is a $1 handling fee), and you’ll need to secure timed tickets online ahead of time.

Opt for a tour to get the most out of your experience (these begin every 15 minutes). Kids ages five and up can pick up a Junior Ranger activity booklet at the Independence Visitor Center afterwards to complete activities and earn a badge.

Adults and kids gather in front of an enclosure to look at giraffes, creatures with long legs and long necks
Seeing the animals at Philadelphia Zoo is sure to be a hit with the kids © Helen89 / Shutterstock

2. See wandering tigers and feed a goat at the Philadelphia Zoo

Known for being the oldest zoo in the US, the Philadelphia Zoo was first chartered in 1859, with its opening delayed to 1874 due to the Civil War. History aside, it’s also one of the most innovative of its kind. The Zoo360 program, for example, allows animals like tigers, lemurs and gorillas to roam around sections of the 42-acre campus via a series of see-through mesh trails, giving the human animals even more opportunities to observe all their favorites.

Spend a day visiting with the lions, giraffes and penguins, and don’t miss exhibits like KidZooU, an indoor and outdoor education center and children’s zoo where tots can feed goats, brush sheep, and get up close with chickens and ducks. Open Wednesdays through Mondays (and closed Tuesdays), visitors need to purchase tickets ahead of time. 

Planning tip: If you’ll be visiting multiple ticketed attractions in Philly, make sure to check out City Pass as a good money-saving option. 

3. Get into the swing of things at Smith Memorial Playground

Traveling with kiddos ages 12 and under? Head for Smith Memorial Playground. Located inside the sprawling Fairmount Park, this popular outdoor playground has been delighting kids for a century with swings, play structures, a massive wooden slide and a 16,000-sq-ft playhouse. The free playground is open for visitors on Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm (though the playhouse stays open til 5pm), and is closed on Mondays. Check out the website before your visit as it hosts some ticketed annual events, including the Kidchella Music Festival, Winter Wonderland and Healthy Halloween. While the playground is ideal for younger kids, older children won’t be turned away (pets, however, are not allowed unless they are service animals).

Families with young children play on trucks and interact with exhibits in a museum
The Please Touch Museum encourages little ones to explore and have fun © Courtesy Please Touch Museum

4. Roll up your sleeves and learn at the Please Touch Museum 

For kids seven and under, the Please Touch Museum is a 157,000-sq-ft wonderland, located inside Fairmount Park. Exhibit highlights include a fairy-tale garden, river adventures (where kids can float a boat down a mini Schuylkill River), a rocket room for launching ships into space, and a working vintage carousel, set inside a 9000-sq-ft glass pavilion.

On New Year’s Eve day, the museum is the hottest ticket in town for the small set, with a countdown to noon to celebrate in (bedtime-friendly) style.

If you don’t spend all day at the museum, walk three minutes through Fairmount Park to visit the Shofuso House and Garden. The traditional Japanese tea house was built in the 1950s in Japan and shipped to New York City to be displayed in the Museum of Modern Art before arriving in Philadelphia. Nowadays, it’s a perfect place to spend a peaceful afternoon, and kids love the gardens and koi pond (you can buy fish food at the entrance).

Planning tip: The museum offers sensory-friendly hours once a month, as well as Quiet Kits available for checkout at the Admission desk. It also has a Sensory Guide to help you plan your next visit ahead of time.

5. Get your science on at the Franklin Institute 

This science museum named after Ben Franklin is nearly 200 years old, and is still wow-ing visitors with a slew of interactive permanent exhibits and experiences. Among them are the SportZone (where you can race against virtual pro athletes or the Philly Phanatic), the Giant Heart (where walking through larger-than-life ventricles is a rite of passage for every local school kid), and Sir Isaac’s Loft (the perfect place to learn Newton’s Laws firsthand via pulleys, pendulums, and more). Don’t forget to check out a show at the Fels Planetarium, where you and your little ones can learn all about the cosmos while resting your feet.

Planning tip: For a lunch or dinner the whole family will love, walk a few blocks north to Pizzeria Vetri for brick oven-fired pizzas, fresh salads, and soft serve gelato.

Exterior of a large art gallery, with columns lining the entrance
Entry to the Philadelphia Museum of Art is always free for those under 18 © Samuel Borges Photography / Shutterstock

6. Be inspired at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Always free for kids and teens through age 18, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is an excellent destination for introducing your children to incredible works of art while also inspiring them to create their own. Whether you’ve visited in the past or are checking it out for the first time the world-renowned museum is a sight to behold, having unveiled a $233 million renovation in 2021 led by star architect Frank Gehry, including a stunning floating staircase and luminous tiled walkway inside.

With over 200 galleries filled with artwork in the collection, it’s a good idea to plot out your visit a bit beforehand. Don’t miss captivating pieces like horse armor from the 16th century, paintings by the French Impressionist masters, and larger-than-life sculptures like the Giant Three-Way Electric Plug by Claes Oldenburg in the outdoor sculpture garden.

Check the online calendar, too, to see the lineup of hands-on projects offered as part of the ongoing Art Kids Studio programming, like crafting sparkle knots inspired by the work of artist Lynda Benglis.

Older kids might appreciate the famed “Rocky” steps, the 72 steps fictional boxer Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone, ran up before raising his arms in triumph overlooking a sweeping view of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the film’s training sequence. Reenact the scene, and stop by the statue at the base of the steps for a photo.

7. There's sew much to learn at the Betsy Ross House

Tour Betsy Ross House, the home where the patriotic seamstress created the first American flag. Kids will love the kitchen, set up with items that would have been on hand when she lived there back in the 18th century, and Betsy herself (a talented historical reenactor, that is) who tells the tale of how she convinced George Washington it was best to use a five-point star on Old Glory. You might also get the chance to meet a few other important historical women, including Mary Crathorne, Margaret Woodby and Margaret (Peggy) Chew.

Planning tip: While many other nearby attractions are free, be prepared to pay for self-guided tours here ($10 for adults, $8 for kids aged 6–12 and seniors). Kids 5 and under, however, enjoy free admission.

A large crowd stands outside the popular Franklin Fountain, a local ice cream shop in Philadelphia.
It's definitely worth braving the crowds for a sweet treat from the Franklin Fountain © Toni L. Sandys / The Washington Post via Getty Images

8. Indulge in sweet treats at Franklin Fountain

This beloved Old City staple is open daily from 11am to midnight and conveniently located for a visit after exploring historic sites like the Liberty Bell and the Betsy Ross House. Choose from a range of homemade flavors like strawberry and butter pecan, or go big with a specialty sundae like the Stock Market Crunch, with rocky road ice cream, peanut butter sauce and pretzels. There are also plenty of vegan options, including vegan chocolate and mango real fruit ice.

If you’re in a rush and the line is long (it usually is) head next door to the brand’s sister property for a scoop on a handmade maple waffle cone, or one of its signature Keystone bars — ice cream hand-dipped in bean-to-bar chocolate roasted at its other business, Shane’s Confectionery.

This article was first published September 2021 and updated September 2023

Explore related stories

Where-to-go-when-BiT-hero-image.png

Where to go in 2024: when to visit our Best in Travel winners

Oct 25, 2023 • 19 min read