As the place where the Constitution of the United States was first drafted and the capital of the young nation during the turbulent 1790s, Philadelphia has a rich history well worth exploring. In fact, in many ways, the history of Philadelphia is the history of the United States. The City of Brotherly Love has had as big a role in shaping the past and present of the nation as any other city in the union. Therefore, it's no surprise that Philadelphia is home to some spectacular museums.
However, the museums of Philadelphia are not devoted solely to history. You'll also find extensive art galleries and fun interactive science centers that are some of the best things to do in Philadelphia with kids. Ultimately, whatever you're interested in, chances are good that you'll find a cultural institution in Philadelphia that's worth exploring.
Of course, museums and historic sites aren't great places to bring unneeded bags. That's why, before visiting these fascinating institutions, you should drop off your unneeded bags at a Bounce luggage storage in Philadelphia. That way, you'll be free to explore the cultural highlights of this vibrant city without having to worry about your things.
The Best Museums in Philadelphia
Independence National Historical Park
To explore the history of Philadelphia and the broader history of the United States, there's no better place to start than Independence National Historical Park. Located in the heart of Philadelphia, this large park contains many of the city's most significant museums and historic monuments. You'll find the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall here, along with the Independence Visitor Center and the Museum of the American Revolution.
These sites are familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of American history. The American Revolution began here, and the interactive exhibits of the museums and visitor centers in this fascinating area tell the exciting story of the revolution from its earliest beginnings to the formation of a new country. The American Revolution shaped the history not just of the nation but of the world that followed, and so this stunning historic park is a must-visit not only for Americans but for visitors from around the globe.
Located in Center City, the Franklin Institute is the kind of museum the whole family will enjoy. This fascinating science museum is packed with interactive exhibits, so you can crawl through a gigantic model of the human heart or explore the tangled pathways of the brain for yourself. Twelve permanent exhibits cover scientific subjects from anatomy to electricity, and there are also rotating temporary exhibits bringing some of the best scientific knowledge from around the world to the Franklin Institute. The hours will fly past in this thrilling science center, and neither you nor the kids will realize you're learning a lot thanks to these absorbing exhibits.
Independence Seaport Museum
For something a little quirkier during your trip to Philadelphia, check out the Independence Seaport Museum. Located along the Delaware River at Penn's Landing, this museum features exhibits telling the story of Philadelphia's past as an important port city. After all, it's the city's status as a port that made it one of the most important in the early days of the nation, and that maritime history has continued to shape the city to this day.
At this museum, you can visit an authentic World War I ship, learn more about the early United States' battle against piracy, dive into the sinking of the Titanic, and explore a World War II submarine. The museum also hosts frequent educational programs which can be very entertaining for kids and adults alike.
And when you're done exploring this fascinating museum, you will be in one of the best spots to find the best street food in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Fans of visual art owe it to themselves to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This museum's collection of fine art is one of the best in the country, with over 240,000 beautiful and priceless objects in its archives. The Philadelphia Museum of Art also includes the Rodin Museum, devoted to the famous sculptor, so fans of his work shouldn't miss this impressive institution.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art curates art and artifacts from around the world spanning almost the whole of human civilization, from ancient Egypt up to the present day. Early modernist paintings rub shoulders with Baroque masterpieces and medieval icons, and after a visit here, you're bound to come away with a new appreciation for human creativity. Highlights of the collection include work by Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso. In fact, there are so many world-famous artists represented here that it would probably be easier to list who isn't on display. On top of that, the museum hosts traveling exhibits that bring even more incredible art to the city on a regular basis, so even for Philly locals, there's always something new to see here. As a result, this is easily one of the best museums in Philadelphia, and an endlessly rewarding place to visit for fans of fine arts and culture.
Science History Institute
If the exciting Franklin Institute only whet your appetite for more interactive exhibits exploring human knowledge, you're in luck. Philadelphia's Science History Institute explores the history of science in a fun and entertaining way. Although small, this museum offers an intriguing trip through the history of the pursuit of scientific knowledge, from ancient Babylonian astronomers to today's quantum physicists. You'll come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the work of scientists past and present, and it's the perfect place to inspire any budding scientists in your family.
African American Museum
The history of African immigration to America goes back to the first founding of the country, and it continues to shape the nation to this day. This rich heritage is celebrated at Philadelphia's African American Museum, which is the perfect place in the city to learn more about stories that have often been underrepresented in the past. The African American Museum first opened in 1976 and was the first of its kind to focus on the stories and contributions of African-Americans to the United States.
Philadelphia was at the center of the abolitionist movement from the earliest days of the United States, and as a result, has always had a large African-American population. African-American history is very much a part of Philadelphia's history, and you'll learn more about the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, the artistic contributions of African-Americans, and many other facets of this unique community.
National Constitution Center
Philadelphia is famous for being the place where the United States Constitution was first drafted, and while the Constitution is no longer housed in the city, the creation of this vital document is celebrated at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center. Located in the center of the city close to Independence Hall, the exhibits here celebrate the complex story of the creation and preservation of the country's constitution, and the way this document continues to inform American life to this day. You'll come away with a deeper understanding of American customs and culture and a greater appreciation for the work of the Constitution drafters who shaped the country in its infancy.
If you're interested in humanity's distant past, the Penn Museum is the place to visit. Located on the University of Pennsylvania campus, this museum is dedicated to anthropology and archaeology. Many of the artifacts here were collected by alumni of the University during the 19th and early 20th century. The galleries are organized by geography, so wandering through the halls here is like taking a trip around the world without leaving Philly. You'll see tribal masks, Native American artifacts, and a 13 ton Egyptian Sphinx that is the largest in the Western Hemisphere, among other incredible treasures. This museum isn't as well known as some of Philadelphia's others, which makes it a great place to visit to get away from the crowds.
National Liberty Museum
The American Revolution was founded on principles of individual liberty. Three hundred and fifty years later, the struggle for liberty still continues around the world. That's the story that's told at the National Liberty Museum, located in Philadelphia's Old Town. While the exhibits cover the American Revolution and Philadelphia's own struggle for liberty, the museum takes a much broader view to focus on freedom struggles around the world. As a result, it's a fascinating place to visit, and sadly, a very relevant one, too. If nothing else, you'll leave this museum with a greater appreciation of those that fought for the freedoms we now enjoy, and perhaps even a resolve to help those still struggling for their own freedom.
Benjamin Franklin Museum
As well as being one of Philadelphia's most famous sons, Benjamin Franklin is one of the most famous Americans of all time. The fascinating life of this unique individual is celebrated at the Benjamin Franklin Museum. Museum visitors will learn more about the life of this inventor, businessman, publisher, statesman, and founding father.
Elfreth's Alley Museum
This historic site dates back to 1703 and is recognized as a National Historic Landmark. In fact, it's often considered the oldest street in the United States. Elfreth's Alley contains 32 historic houses, with the museum located at numbers 124 and 126. You'll learn about the changing fortunes of the street which in many ways reflect the changing fortunes of the city of Philadelphia. Walking the street is like taking a trip back in time to the earliest days of Philadelphia, and offers a glimpse of the way the city was in colonial times long before the United States was even founded.
Academy of Natural Sciences
Another of Philadelphia's great museums for families, the Academy of Natural Sciences is the oldest natural science museum in the Americas. Dating back to 1812, the collection features natural history specimens from around the world. You can dive into the sea to explore the world beneath the waves or take a wander through the butterfly garden and interact with the brightly colored live butterflies that live there. One of the museum's most popular attractions is the Dinosaur Hall, where you'll come face-to-face with a terrifying T Rex and several other prehistoric monsters. It's an unforgettable place to visit for both kids and adults alike, and definitely not a museum you want to miss while you're in Philadelphia.
Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum
For something a little bit different, check out the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum. Often considered the number one car collection in the world, this expansive museum holds more than 75 historically important vehicles, making this museum a must-visit for anyone into cars and bikes. The museum features racing cars from the early 20th century through some of the most legendary vehicles from the modern-day racing scene, and if you're a racing fan, this is simply not a place you can afford to miss.
What are the best free museums in Philadelphia?
This city has so many great museums that you could spend a fortune on admission for all the Philadelphia museums you'll want to see. Luckily, if you plan ahead, you can visit some of the top museums in Philadelphia without spending a penny. For instance, the majestic Philadelphia Museum of Art offers completely free entry on the first Sunday of every month. The Rodin Museum can be visited on a pay-what-you-like basis. And the Science History Institute is always free to visit, making it one of the best free things to do in Philadelphia.
Which are the best museums in downtown Philadelphia?
The downtown core of Philadelphia is home to some of the city's most impressive museums. Independence National Historic Park takes pride of place, since it contains so many fascinating historic sites, including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. You'll also find the Philly Museum of Art, Elfreth's Alley, and the African American Museum here.
Are there any cheap museums in Philadelphia?
Visiting Philadelphia isn't cheap. If you can take advantage of free admission to some of the city's top museums, it can go a long way toward helping you stay within your budget. Additionally, a Philadelphia Pass will give you discounted admission at several top museums, including the Franklin Institute, the Academy of Natural Science, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.