Family Friendly Philadelphia
We are a New York based family of history buffs. Accordingly, our kids – ages 6, 8, and 12 – not only love United States history, but also movies about history, like National Treasure. Enter Philadelphia – the perfect destination for a quick 48-hour getaway.
Philadelphia hits the US history jackpot with unlimited things to see for people of all ages. Therefore, I’ve crafted this “greatest hits” itinerary – in the order we visited – so it’s easy to follow for young families.
Generally, most family friendly Philadelphia landmarks have a knowledgeable National Park Ranger stationed there. They are ready to answer the most challenging questions from little history buffs. Be sure to ask each ranger for a historical figure “playing card”. My kids loved hunting for these, and they made a nice (and free!) souvenir.
Philadelphia is a great walking city with lots of metered street parking. Even better, there’s an app called meterUP you can use to pay online and focus on sightseeing.
Family Friendly Philadelphia: Day 1
Eastern State Penitentiary
Eastern State is America’s most historic – and one of the most influential – prisons ever built. It is both architecturally stunning and insanely haunting to visit. The included audio guide (narrated by Steve Buscemi, with additional stories told by former inmates) made the walls come to life. Today, Eastern State is not only a family friendly Philadelphia historical site, but also an unexpected space to see an art installation. While you are there, check out the current exhibits and visual commentaries about today’s international prison system. Additionally, check out the prison’s synagogue and Jewish life exhibit.
The Franklin Institute
The Franklin Institute is a excellent science center famous for its walk-through heart exhibit. It’s a must for any family friendly Philadelphia vacation. This Institute brings many of Ben Franklin’s experiments to life through interactive exhibits and experiences. All are guaranteed to entertain your kids for hours. My kids loved learning about electricity (yes, they got a small shock, yes they did it 300 times), the brain, simple machines, space, Foucault’s Pendulum, and more. They were also thrilled to find a giant Luckey Climber – the biggest crowd pleaser in my house.
In addition to the permanent exhibits and planetarium, the Franklin Institute has great limited-time exhibitions (most recently Harry Potter: The Exhibition, and, opening in 2023: Disney’s World Premiere Exhibit Disney100: The Exhibition).
If you’re a fan of the movie National Treasure, you’ll recognize the steps and façade from the scene where the little boy goes into the museum to help crack the code on a Post-It note revealing the names “Pass and Stow”. This clue leads the treasure hunters to the Liberty Bell for their next clue.
Family Friendly Philadelphia: Day 2
If you’d like to see the most influential chair in American history, head over to Independence Hall. Here, a National Park Ranger will outline the amazing things that happened in the complex in 1776. This includes the birth of our nation with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While many of the artifacts in this room are replicas, the Rising Sun armchair – where George Washington sat while signing is still there.
Additionally, National Treasure fans will “recognize” the rope jumped to sneak up into the bell tower searching for the next clue. Sadly, this scene was actually filmed at a church in Maryland.
The Liberty Bell
The most famous cracked bell in American history has been a family friendly Philadelphia stop for decades. Get your kids excited about it by picking up a National Parks Department Junior Ranger booklet across the street at Independence Visitor Center. Afterwards, once this fun interactive activity book is completed, a park ranger will deputize them like in Washington, DC. They get a little wooden badge, it’s cute.
Franklin Court Printing Office
Ben Franklin was a man of many talents. His fingerprints are all over Philadelphia, but are strongest by his Franklin Court Printing Office. Here you can see old fashion printing presses and learn about the painstaking task of printing. This includes picking out each letter one by one and setting it in place for printing newspapers, pamphlets, or anything else needed in historical times. In a world of fast technology and emails, my kids loved this old-fashioned family friendly Philadelphia stop. I loved learning the terms “upper case” and “lower case” originated from the literal placement of the bins in offices like this one. The capital letters were in the upper case and the rest were in the lower case).
Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continuously inhabited residential street in the United States – meaning people have lived here for over 300 years! It was a beautiful little stretch to walk through. I think it counts as a cute family friendly Philadelphia destination since it is colorful, made of cobblestones, and has little paths for kids to explore.
Betsy Ross House
The Betsy Ross House is the birthplace of the American flag. Kids will love this family friendly Philadelphia attraction. They can walk up and down the winding staircases to the rooms Betsy Ross occupied while living here. As always, my kids loved seeing the kitchen and the unique ways of heating and cooling food in the 18th century.
Franklin Square Park
After two great days of sightseeing our Philadelphia grand finale was an evening at the historic Franklin Square Park. This family friendly Philadelphia park has deep roots going all the way back to William Penn himself. It is one of the five original open-space parks Penn planned while laying out the city in 1682.
While the park is relatively small, it is filled with several fantastic family friendly attractions. Not only is there a carousel and a historic dancing fountain, but it is home to the city’s only miniature golf course – featuring iconic symbols of Philadelphia.
This park is located right off the Ben Franklin Bridge. It is the perfect last stop vibe if you’re heading home to the North. Don’t forget to fill everyone’s bellies at SquareBurger before hitting the road.
Family Friendly Philadelphia Statues and Signs
Of course, one of my favorite parts of Philadelphia – and all the historic cities we visit – is walking around and stumbling upon history. Likewise, Philadelphia has so many statues, sculptures, and fountains (some historical, some modern) it became a little treasure hunt for us. Be sure to make time to walk around and look at the public art, it will not disappoint.
Some of our favorites were the OY/YO sculpture by Deborah Kass at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History. The Rocky statue by A. Thomas Schomberg in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The History of the Philadelphia Fire Department mural next to Ladder 2 Fire Station on Arch Street. The Amor sculpture by Robert Indiana in Sister Cities Park (and her more famous sister – the Love sculpture, also by Robert Indiana in Love Park). Lastly, the Franklin Square Fountain – the oldest water fountain in the United States – in Franklin Square Park.
More Family Friendly Travel in the Northeast
Don’t forget to check out all the family friendly destinations we’ve researched!