Philadelphia, PA - When it comes to visiting Philadelphia, some of the best things to see and do are free—or close to it. For families and budget-conscious travelers eager to explore the region, that’s excellent news. Check out the city’s many low-cost or no-cost attractions, including historic Independence Hall, student recitals at the Curtis Institute of Music, and the high-tech production line of Herr’s Potato Chip Factory.
On 5th Street, snuggled behind the east wing of Independence Hall, is Philosophical Hall. Erected in the late 1780s for the American Philosophical Society, it functioned as the nation’s first museum, national library, and science academy. Today, the site houses the American Philosophical Society Museum, where changing exhibitions highlight the intersections of history, art, and science. $2 donation requested. 104 S. 5th Street, (215) 440-3440, apsmuseum.org
After a two-year revitalization, the Benjamin Franklin Museum reopened in 2013. Dedicated to celebrating one of America’s most storied forefathers' legacy, the museum features artifacts, computer animations, and interactive displays that explore Franklin’s life and character. Day-of tickets are available at the door and cost $5 for adults and $2 for children ages 4 to 16. Admission is free for children three and under. 317 Chestnut Street, (215) 965-2305, nps.gov/inde
The Betsy Ross House was the pint-sized Colonial home of Betsy Ross, credited with sewing the first American flag at General George Washington's request. Visitors meet Betsy herself as she works in her upholstery shop. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for children, plus $2 for the optional audio tour. 239 Arch Street, (215) 629-4026, betsyrosshouse.org
For a bird’s-eye view of Philadelphia, visitors head to City Hall’s observation deck, which sits just below the William Penn statue. Four-person tower tours occur every 15 minutes from 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. and cost $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $4 for students and children. Broad & Market Streets, E. Market Street Portal, Room 121, (215) 686-2840, phila.gov/virtualch
The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site was once home to the legendary writer who wrote short stories such as The Black Cat. Visitors can explore his fascinating life and learn how Poe influenced today’s literary heavy-hitters. Tours are self-guided or led by a park ranger from Friday through Sunday. Free. 532 N. 7th Street, (215) 597-8780, nps.gov/edal
Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously occupied residential Street in the U.S., is a quaint cobblestone alley located in Historic Philadelphia. Admission for a guided tour of the museum and gallery is $5 per person. Family rates are available and vary depending on the size of the family. Children under six get in for free. Closed during winter months; open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons the rest of the year. Between Front & 2nd Streets and Arch & Race Streets, (215) 627-8680, elfrethsalley.org
Known as the birthplace of our nation, Independence National Historical Park (INHP) includes attractions such as the Liberty Bell Center, The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation, and Independence Hall, the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Timed tickets for Independence Hall can be picked up at the Independence Visitor Center on the day of the tour for free or reserved in advance online for a $1.50 reservation fee per ticket. No tickets are required in January and February. All other attractions are free, and no tickets are required. INHP attractions, between 5th & 6th Streets and Market & Chestnut Streets, (215) 965-2305, nps.gov/inde; Visitor Center, 6th & Market Streets, (800) 537-7676, phlvisitorcenter.com
Johnson House National Historic Site, a Quaker home in Germantown owned by three generations of the abolitionist Johnson family, once served as a vital stop on the Underground Railroad. Today, the house displays various slavery-era artifacts and hosts lectures, art shows, and other special programs. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $4 for children 12 and under, and hour-long guided tours are available during select hours on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Reservations accepted. 6306 Germantown Avenue, (215) 438-1768, johnsonhouse.org
On Independence Mall, the National Museum of American Jewish History invites people to enjoy one of its most popular exhibitions for free. The Only In America® Gallery/Hall of Fame celebrates the lives and achievements of 18 Jewish-Americans who show that America has provided individuals with extraordinary opportunities. The ground-floor gallery boasts some big-name artifacts: Albert Einstein’s pipe and Steven Spielberg’s Super 8 camera, among others. 101 S. Independence Mall East, (215) 923-3811, nmajh.org
History buffs of all ages enjoy Once Upon A Nation’s storytelling benches at 13 locations around Historic Philadelphia, right where the action happened more than 200 years ago. Children can obtain a story flag at any bench, collect a star from each storyteller and exchange the flag complete with 13 stars for a certificate and coupon that can be used at the Betsy Ross House and the Franklin Square Shop. Benches are open from Memorial Day through Labor Day; check the website for days and times. Free. (215) 629-4026, historicphiladelphia.org
Founded in 1751, Pennsylvania Hospital was the nation’s first chartered hospital. Today, visitors can explore the historic hospital, including the surgical amphitheater used from 1804 through 1868. Guided and self-guided tours are available with a suggested $5 donation; visitors can call to schedule a guided tour. 8th & Spruce Streets, (215) 829-5434, uphs.upenn.edu/paharc
During self-guided tours of the United States Mint, visitors watch coin production 40 feet above the factory floor and see the nation’s first coining press. Audio and video stations explain the currency’s history. Free. 5th & Arch Streets, (215) 408-0112, usmint.gov
The 1777-78 winter encampment of General George Washington and the Continental Army, Valley Forge National Historical Park, offers a glimpse into the Revolutionary War with historic structures such as Washington’s Headquarters and commemorative monuments such as the National Memorial Arch. Visitors can explore the park by car, bike, or foot guided by the park’s cell phone tour, obtained by calling (484) 396-1018. Free. Route 23 & N. Gulph Road, King of Prussia, (610) 783-1099, nps.gov/vafo
Tour-goers can snag a CityPASS ticket booklet, including four tickets to Philly favorites, for some serious savings on Philadelphia's most popular attractions. Some attractions include Adventure Aquarium or The Philadelphia Zoo, but Philadelphia Trolley Works, The Franklin Institute, and Eastern State Penitentiary are included. Tickets are valid for nine consecutive days, including the first day of use. Flexible 365-day risk-free return policy on nonactivated tickets. Moreover, it allows holders to skip the main entrance ticket line at most attractions. (888) 330-5008, citypass.com/philadelphia
Located in a former Civil War-era bank building, the museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation houses permanent and rotating exhibitions, showcasing hundreds of 18th- to 20th-century artifacts that tell the successes' stories, spectacular failures, and strange surprises behind the scientific discoveries that changed our world. Free. 315 Chestnut Street, (215) 925-2222, chemheritage.org
The Mummers Museum celebrates a centuries-old Philadelphia tradition traced back to Swedish settlers who brought the Colonies their Christmas custom of dressing in costume and performing pantomimes. The annual parade started in South Philadelphia on New Year’s Day in 1901 and has grown into an elaborate 10,000-person, all-day affair. A pay-what-you-wish donation to the museum, featuring a rich collection of Mummer memorabilia, is all that’s required. 1100 S. 2nd Street, (215) 336-3050, mummersmuseum.com
Through 78 imaginative and interactive exhibits, the National Liberty Museum reminds visitors of the fragility of freedom. This message is illustrated by an expansive collection of glass art and the stories of 2,000 heroes who have made a difference in protecting liberty. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for students with I.D., $2 for children ages 5 to 17, and free for children under 5. 321 Chestnut Street, (215) 925-2800, libertymuseum.org.
For Target First Wednesdays, Please Touch Museum® presents family fun at a discounted price every first Wednesday of the month. From 4-7 p.m., admission is only $2 per person and includes storytime, live puppet shows, interactive activities, and more.
4231 Avenue of the Republic, (215) 581-3181, pleasetouchmuseum.org
Art & Gardens:
The Barnes Foundation, which houses one of the most important collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modern paintings in the world, offers free admission and programming on the first Sunday of every month for its Free First Sundays, presented by PECO. The Barnes also has an art library located on the lower level. It is free to visit Monday through Saturday, and free audio tours and free ARTime Storytime programs that are best for children ages 2-5 and their caregivers. 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 278-7200, barnesfoundation.org
A contemporary art museum devoted to creating new media and new materials through its Artists-in-Residence program, The Fabric Workshop and Museum boasts an extensive permanent collection, in-house and touring exhibitions, and comprehensive educational programming. Free. 1214 Arch Street, (215) 561-8888, fabricworkshopandmuseum.org
The Moravian Pottery & Tile Works, a working history museum in Bucks County, welcomes visitors to watch the production of decorative tiles using methods employed by Henry Mercer’s crew beginning in 1898. The tiles produced, available in the museum’s shop, are of Mercer’s original line. A video and self-guided tour cost $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for children ages 7 to 17. 130 E. Swamp Road, Doylestown, (215) 348-6090, buckscounty.org/mptw
Every Wednesday night starting at 5 p.m., the Philadelphia Museum of Art is open to visitors who can pay what they wish to explore the entire main building, showcasing works by Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí, Himalayan artists, and many others. Budget-conscious art lovers can also pay what they wish on the first Sunday of every month. Also, the museum offers free cell phone tours that add perspective to the collections. 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100, philamuseum.org
Housing the most extensive collection of works by Auguste Rodin outside of Paris, the renovated Rodin Museum features treasures such as The Gates of Hell and a bronze cast of The Thinker. The surrounding gardens are also a great place to find artistic inspiration. Guests pay for what they wish to explore. 2151 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100, rodinmuseum.org
Shofuso: Japanese House and Garden, a traditional-style Japanese house and nationally-ranked garden in West Fairmount Park, reflect the history of Japanese culture in Philadelphia. Admission to Shofuso, which is open to the public April through October from Wednesday through Sunday, includes a tour and costs $8 for adults and $5 for seniors, children ages 3 to 17, and college students with student I.D.; children under 3 get in for free.
Lansdowne & Horticultural Drives, (215) 878-5097, shofuso.com
Before each central stage performance officially debuts, the Arden Theatre Company fulfills its commitment to making theater accessible to diverse audiences by opening the final dress rehearsal to the public. Attendees pay what they can to see the entire cast, full costumes, and whole scenery at this sneak preview, with proceeds benefiting a Philadelphia non-profit. For regular performances, students with I.D. can pay $10 cash for available seats 30 minutes before the show begins. 40 N. 2nd Street, (215) 922-1122, ardentheatre.org
Music lovers can scope out future stars at the Curtis Institute of Music, where students perform solo and chamber works most Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings during the school year, as well as many weekends, as part of the free Student Recital Series. 1726 Locust Street, (215) 893-7902, curtis.edu
On the first Monday of every month, FringeArts hosts Scratch Night. This event features a fast-paced sampling of contemporary theater, dance, and performance art and offers an inside look at works in progress. Free. 140 N. Columbus Boulevard, (215) 413-1318, fringearts.com
Helium Comedy Club, featuring local and international funnymen and women, offers a $5 discount to students with I.D. for most shows on Wednesday through Friday evenings. Guests may call the box office to receive four free tickets to a Wednesday or Thursday night show (special events excluded) during their birthday month. 2031 Sansom Street, (215) 496-9001, heliumcomedy.com
Penny-pinching culture vultures pay what they wish for a performance of InterAct Theatre Company’s thought-provoking shows at the beginning of each run. 1512 Spruce Street,
(215) 568-8079, interacttheatre.org
Art lovers can enjoy performances of all genres through the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts Free at the Kimmel Series, offered intermittently throughout the year. Also, $10 community rush tickets are available for many Kimmel Center Presents performances. Tickets are available at the box office at 5:30 p.m. for evening performances and 11:30 a.m. for matinees. Limit one access per person. Accessible building and theater tours, offered daily at 1 p.m., give visitors a behind-the-scenes look. 300 S. Broad Street, (215) 670-2327, kimmelcenter.org
Macy’s in Center City offers the signature shopping experience customers expect, but it also provides visitors with an unexpected musical treat—the sounds of its spectacular pipe organ. Debuting at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the organ was originally purchased by famous merchant John Wanamaker and enlarged by his store’s pipe organ shop to include 28,750 pipes. In the Grand Court of this National Historic Landmark building, visitors can enjoy 45-minute concerts twice daily except Sundays. After each performance, if time permits, the console loft is available to explore. Free. 13th & Market Streets, (215) 241-9000, visitmacysusa.com
The Walnut Street Theatre invites theatergoers to see shows at bargain prices. Plan ahead: At the start of the season, a limited number of Mezzanine seats are available for $20 for every Mainstage performance. On performance day, select tickets are sold for half-price to the general public using promotion code WSTDAY. For youth (24 and under), Mainstage day-of-show tickets are available for $20 at the box office with a valid I.D. Independence Studio on three day-of-show tickets is open to the general public for $20 with promotion code STUDY. 825 Walnut Street, (215) 574-3550, walnutstreettheatre.org
The ultimate one-stop shopping for cultural savings comes from the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s Funsavers emails. Every Thursday, subscribers receive half-price ticket offers for dozens of the hottest shows and events in the Philadelphia region, including theater, music and dance performances, museum exhibitions, and more. Sign up to receive Funsavers emails or view this week’s offers online at phillyfunguide.com/funsavers-sign-up.
Special-Interest Tours & Attractions:
Part of the Bucks County Wine Trail, family-owned and folksy Buckingham Valley Vineyards offers self-guided tours and complimentary tastings Tuesday-Friday ($5 on weekends). Founded in the Philadelphia suburbs in 1968, Rushland Ridge Vineyard & Winery focuses on Chambourcin, cabernet franc, and chardonnay grapes and provides free tastings seasonally from Thursday through Sunday. Buckingham, 1521 Route 413 (Durham Road), Buckingham, (215) 794-7188, pawine.com; Rushland, 2665 Rushland Road, Jamison, (215) 598-0251, rushlandridge.com
Philadelphia’s spectacular 58-floor Comcast Center, one of the country's tallest “green” buildings, features The Comcast Experience. This stunning blend of art and technology depicts realistic nature imagery, urban landscapes, and much more on one of the giant four-millimeter video LED screens globally—with five times the resolution of high-definition television. 1701 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, visitphilly.com/comcast
Along with two playgrounds and plenty of open space, Franklin Square, a revitalized city park named in honor of Ben Franklin, features a fountain, Philly-themed miniature golf, SquareBurger food stand, and the Parx Liberty Carousel. The park, celebrating its 10th birthday in 2016, hosts free events and programs throughout the year. Mini golf: $9 for ages 13 and up, $7 for ages 3 to 12; carousel: $3 for ages three and up. 6th & Race Streets, (215) 629-4026, historicphiladelphia.org
The one-hour Herr’s Snack Factory Tour finishes with samples of chips just out of the cooker. Tours take place Monday through Friday, and reservations are required. A small fee is required beginning in June 2016. Route 272 & Herr Drive, Nottingham, (800) 284-7488, herrs.com
Nature lovers who tour Linvilla Orchards, a fully functioning, 300-acre farm, pick up some delicious goods at the year-round market, spot barnyard animals, and head to the fields to pick fruits. Minimal costs for activities. 137 W. Knowlton Road, Media, (610) 876-7116, linvilla.com
Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO, a program of the Association for Public Art, gives people a fun and engaging way to experience more than 65 outdoor sculptures along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and in Fairmount Park and Center City anytime they want. Art enthusiasts and recreational passersby can listen to three-minute segments using their cell phones via the program’s free mobile app, audio downloads, or streaming audio from the website. More than 150 people with personal connections to the works tell each sculpture’s different story. Free. (215) 399-9000, associationforpublicart.org/program/mww-audio/#
Pizza Brain offers its guests more than just a traditional pizzeria experience. This Fishtown eatery houses the world’s first and only pizza museum, filled with anything and everything pizza-related. The collection ranges from pizza-themed toys and comic books to records about cheesy, saucy pies. Free. 2313 Frankford Avenue, (215) 291-2965, pizzabrain.org
The brew crew can sip suds at two local breweries, Yards Brewing Company and Philadelphia Brewing Company (PBC). Guests explore the facilities and learn how draughts go from barley to beer. Free guided tours run in the early afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays at Yards and Saturdays at PBC. Yards, 901 N. Delaware Avenue, (215) 634-2600, yardsbrewing.com; PBC, 2440 Frankford Avenue, (215) 427-BREW, philadelphiabrewing.com
VISIT PHILADELPHIA® makes Philadelphia and The Countryside® a premier destination through marketing and image building that increases the number of visitors, the number of nights they stay, and the number of things they do in the five-county area.