Performers in historic Elfreth’s Alley // © 2015 R.Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia
Feature image (above): Philadelphia’s skyline // © 2015 M.Edlow for Visit Philadelphia
Transformation doesn’t even begin to describe the revitalization that Philadelphia has seen in the past 15 years. As the area gentrifies and crime rates decrease, neighborhoods are turning into hubs for modern townhouses, bustling coffee shops, museums and galleries. Now is the time for families to visit the City of Brotherly Love to discover its history, culinary and art scenes and world-class museums.
Philadelphia has long been an easy city to get to and navigate using public transportation. Philadelphia International Airport offers direct flights to and from some 130 destinations in the U.S. and abroad. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) bus, subway and rail systems make a rental car unnecessary, as long as families don’t mind a little walking and know how to read a map.
Parents interested in exposing their children to the latest art trends and techniques should take time to explore Philadelphia’s creative scene. First Friday in Old City combines colonial history and architecture with art, as galleries open their doors once a month to the public to share a few snacks and offer a glass of wine as guests peruse the shows.
Add a little historical magic to your trip with a stroll down Elfreth’s Alley, the nation’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street. Peek into the private homes that line the alley (they don’t mind; they’re used to it!) and pop into the museum to get a taste for life in the 1700s and 1800s.
For more sweet history, kids will enjoy a trip to The Franklin Fountain, an old-fashioned soda shop creating sundae concoctions with locally made ice cream in seasonal flavors such as Jersey blueberry, as well as old standbys like cotton candy, rocky road and “Franklin Mint” chip.
If the kids are getting antsy to play, head up to Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park, where little ones can literally touch everything in sight. Combine this trip with a stop at the Philadelphia Zoo, America’s oldest zoo and home to more than 1,300 creatures. If families have time, they can pop over to Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse. This historical space has been encouraging unstructured creative play for 100-plus years. And best of all, it’s free.
To keep the grade school and teen crowd entertained, bring them to The Franklin Institute. This museum is great for kids of all ages but has a plethora of science-based activities that older kids really enjoy. Every member of the family can walk through the Giant Heart exhibition, a rite of passage at this museum.
To refuel for another fun-filled day, head to Sabrina’s Cafe for unpretentious but delicious meals such as scrambled eggs, bacon, challah French toast and huevos rancheros. The breakfast menu will satisfy any appetite, but be warned: This place fills up quickly on the weekends.
For a bit of outdoor fun, bring the kids to Sister Cities Park, just across from The Franklin Institute. Kids can splash around in the 1-foot-deep wading pool and water fountains while parents sip on chai lattes and Americanos from the connected Logan Square Cafe. A lifeguard is usually on duty to watch over kids, though children should not be left unattended.
No trip to Philadelphia would be complete without a day or two of American history immersion. See the Liberty Bell and its famous crack, walk the path of the founding fathers in Independence Hall and visit Betsy Ross’ house. Because they’re part of the National Park Service, both the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall offer free entrance, though you will need tickets to enter the latter.
After a long day of sightseeing, families can rest at Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco, located near Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell on Chestnut Street. Adults will love the funky decor, animal-print bathrobes and large suites. Kids will love that they can borrow a pet fish for their room and snag a toy from the treasure chest.
When to Go
An estimated 30 million-plus people (approx. 84,000 daily) move through Philadelphia International Airport each year. As one of US Airways’ hubs, the airport services major cities across the U.S. and around the globe, making it quick and easy to get to town. If traveling by car, families can take 95 straight north or south through the city. Parking outside of downtown is easy and rarely metered, and there are plenty of garages and hotel lots downtown.
Don’t be fooled by its location above the Mason-Dixon line —Philadelphia can get hot and steamy in the summer. It also sees its fair share of snow in the winter. Late spring and early fall are the best times to visit. Plus, visitors can beat the summer crowds that come to this historic city to load up on American revolutionary knowledge.