The Top Free Things to do in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is an ideal vacation destination for history buffs, photographers, and foodies. The city has seen a massive spike in tourism in recent years. The PHLCVB reports a record breaking 45 million people visited the city in 2018! Recently, National Geographic ranked Philly as one of the “world’s 25 best travel destinations in 2020.” This likely means the city will see even more tourism in future years. Unfortunately, with increased popularity, often comes a higher price tag. Luckily, with plenty of historical sites and beautiful parks to explore, there are plenty of free things to do in Philadelphia.
After forking out tons of cash for a hotel and a flight, the last thing you want to do is spend more money! For anyone interesting in saving a few bucks, there are plenty of fabulous attractions to enjoy around Philly. Thus, no need to break the bank when there are so many freebies lurking about! From museums, to historical attractions, to beautiful parks, there’s basically something for everyone, anytime of the year.
Below are 30+ fun & free things to do in the Philly region. This list should provide more than enough ideas for budget friendly fun to take you through the entirety of your trip!
1. Take your pic by the famous Love sculpture
The iconic symbol of the city of Brotherly Love is the Love statue located in John F. Kennedy aka Love Park. On any given day, tourists line up in droves to take their photo underneath this trademark art piece. The cityscape in the backdrop really makes for quite an attractive photo opp. Designed by Robert Indiana, a pioneer in the pop art movement, this piece arrived in Philly in 1976. While the sculpture has been moved on numerous occasions, today, it is back in its’ original picture-perfect location.
Location: 1500 Arch Street
2. Run up the Rocky steps
Fans of Rocky will definitely have a blast recreating the inspiring running scene which culminated at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. All year-round, you can find tourists jogging up the 72 steps of the museum a la Sylvester Stallone in honor of this popular underdog sports classic. Not only do you get to recreate an iconic movie moment, but you also get to enjoy a stunning vista of the city. And, if you happen to be in town in November, consider challenging yourself to the Rocky Run.
Location: 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
3. Take your pic next to the Rocky statue
Also in the vicinity is an 8’6″ tall bronze Rocky statue which sees a huge line anytime of year as one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. In fact, the statue probably sees more visitors than the museum itself! You may remember seeing this statue at the top of the museum steps in Rocky 3. Today, it stands off to the side. Stallone, a Philadelphia native, donated the statue after filming. Stallone has since made frequent surprise visits to the site, much to the delight of fans.
Location: 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
4. See the Liberty Bell
Philadelphia is a city rich in historical significance. As the “birthplace of America” there are plenty of interesting museums and historical attractions to check out, many of which are free to visit. One of the most iconic symbols of American freedom is the Liberty Bell. Inscripted on the bell is the Bible verse “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
Location: 526 Market Street
5. Tour Independence Hall
One of the top tourist activities in Philly is seeing the rooms where the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence were signed. You will need a timed ticket (free) which you will pick up at the Visitor Center. January/February tours are first come/first served, no tickets required. Each tour lasts about 30-40 minutes. Independence Hall is conveniently located within walking distance of many other notable attractions in an area known as “America’s most historic square mile.”
Location: 599 Market Street (visitor’s center)
6. Get back to nature at Fairmount Park
Philly’s treasured Fairmount Park is one of the country’s largest parks. While some of the attractions like the Philadelphia Zoo and the Shofuso Japanese Garden have an entrance fee, it costs nothing to explore the various nature trails throughout the park. Picnicking, disc golf, and cycling are popular activities to take advantage of during the milder seasons. Check out this little guide to the best trails in Fairmount Park. If you are up for a good workout, check out Boxer’s Trail where Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier once trained on.
7. Watch a show on one of the largest LED video walls
The Comcast Experience is a free show which takes place on one of the largest continuous LED video walls in the world. The screen is 2100 square feet and contains 27 million pixels. The resulting picture quality is amazingly crisp. The Comcast Holiday Spectacular runs from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Eve and is really worth checking out if you will be in town during this time.
Location: 1800 Arch Street
8. Browse over 100 portraits at the Second Bank Portrait Gallery
This gorgeous Greek Revival building houses one of Philadelphia’s most unique attractions. Although far from one of the city’s most popular tourism draws, checking out 100+ portraits of notable 18th century leaders is a must for history buffs and art lovers alike. Portraits by 18th century painter Charles Wilson Peale comprise the majority of the collection. Consider this a little hidden gem where you can escape the crowds for a while.
Location: 420 Chestnut Street
9. Stroll down the oldest street in the US
This short stroll will just take a few minutes out of your day, although it’s worth adding to your itinerary if you are a big history buff. Dating back to 1702, Elfreth’s Alley still stands strong as the oldest continuously inhabited street in the US. Walk down the cobblestone alley and admire the beautiful historic architecture of an era long gone. Thirty two beautiful Georgian and Federal homes line both sides of this narrow street. In 1966, this historic street became a National Historic Landmark.
Location: 124 Elfreths Alley
10. Take a walk through Rittenhouse Square
This pretty public square is located in one of the trendiest, most affluent sections of Center City. Numerous foodie establishments draw continuous tourism to this bustling area. William Penn planned 5 parks in the 17th century, Rittenhouse being one of the most gorgeous. The scenery changes throughout the year with lush greenery & fountains to be enjoyed spring and summer, golden foliage in the fall, and twinkling lights over the holiday season.
Location: 210 W. Rittenhouse Square
11. Enjoy the festive ambiance at Winterfest
Winterfest is the premier winter activity in the Old City region. A large ice rink looking out upon the waterfront, firepits, a hot cocoa stand, festive treats, photo opps, and more are all on the lineup. While ice skating will set you back a bit (not much though as admission is just 4 bucks and skate rentals just $10), admission to the festival itself is free. Grab a seat in a cozy rocking chair, cuddle up with a blanket, and watch the skaters glide about.
Location: 101 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd.
12. Visit the Museum of Art Wednesday after five
The renown Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the largest art galleries in the world, is pay-as-you-wish (at least a penny) the first Sunday of each month and Fridays from 5-9pm. This is a great deal as admission is normally 25 bucks. The massive 240,000+ collection includes sections dedicated to European, Asian, and American art. By far, it’s one of the top things to put on your Philly bucket list, even more so if you are an art lover.
Location: 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
13. Attend the Wanamaker organ concert at Macy’s
Daily at noon (except Sundays), you can stop by Macy’s in Center City to listen to a wonderful show via the world’s largest playing pipe organ. This gorgeous building was at one point the Wanamaker Store, one of the country’s first department stores (opened in 1911). On an interesting side note, it was the first store to guarantee refunds and the first to use electric lighting! During the Christmas season, you will get to watch an amazing LED light and music show featuring popular holiday figurines and songs. Movie fans will remember seeing this building in the 80’s cult classic Mannequin – one of my faves!
Location: 1300 Market Street
14. Take a bike ride along the Schuylkill River
Philly’s favorite bike path is the 18 mile long Schuylkill River trail. Plans are currently underway to extend the path for a total of 120 miles! Today, you can enjoy sections of the trail throughout the city. The best section for new tourists is a 9 mile loop which begins near the Art Museum on Kelly Drive. Featuring amazing views of the river and skyline, even beginning cyclists will be motivated to complete the course. The best time to plan your ride? During the gorgeous cherry blossom blooming (early spring).
15. Explore the Science History Institute
Science geeks will love exploring how far we have come in terms of medicine and science over the years. This is a great little free museum conveniently located in Old City, just a quick walk from most of the other popular tourist attractions.
Location: 315 Chestnut Street
16. Visit the National Museum of American Jewish History in winter
Explore over 30,000 artifacts and learn the detailed history of how and why Jewish people came to America. The museum offers detailed exhibits on the past 360 years of Jewish life in America. This museum offers free winter admission starting on January 13th. Additionally, if you cannot make it out here in the winter for the free admission, you can always explore the first floor for free. The Only in America gallery features numerous interesting exhibits including Stephen Spielberg’s camera & Einstein’s pipe.
Location: 101 S. Independence Mall
17. See the meeting place of the First Continental Congress
From September 5-October 26, 1774, the First Continental Congress met in Carpenters Hall. This beautiful landmark was also home to The American Philosophical Society, The Franklin Library, and The First and Second Banks of the United States. In 1857, Carpenters Hall became the first private US building opened to the public as a historic monument. Today, you can explore this living piece of history via a self-guided tour.
Location: 320 Chestnut Street
18. Tour a replica of the house where Benjamin Franklin drafted the Declaration
Stop by to see the replica of the house where Benjamin Franklin wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 (it took him 17 days). Franklin rented 2 rooms upstairs. Unfortunately, touring the inside is currently off limits due to a lack of federal funding. However, you can still stroll past the exterior. While the original house was demolished in 1883, an exact replica was built in 1975. The house is located just a few minutes walk away from Independence Hall.
Location: 700 Market Street
19. See the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Washington Square Park
Not only is Washington Square Park a beautiful place to take a stroll, it also holds much historical significance. William Penn planned 5 public squares, with Washington Square being the most historical of the bunch. Stop by to see the Revolutionary War memorial and the Tomb of the Unnamed Revolutionary war soldier. Beneath the concrete lies the bodies of hundreds of soldiers. Conveniently, the park is located within walking distance of Independence Hall, thus making it a great nature escape after a long day.
Location: 210 W. Washington Square
20. View one of the largest Tiffany pieces in the world
The Tiffany Dream Garden mosaic, an extravagant art piece comprised of 100,000 pieces of hand blown glass, is one of the most beautiful sights in the city. At one point, it was the largest glass mural in the country. This magnificent artwork is free to view and conveniently located just steps from Independence Hall in the lobby of The Curtis Center. Before being declared a “historic object,” the piece was almost sold to a Vegas casino (for a stunning 9 million bucks).
Location: 601 Walnut Street
21. Explore an early 1900’s firehouse
The Fireman’s Hall Museum is a little known gem to check out during your time in Old City. This museum is located in a historic 1902 firehouse. At this small museum, you will be able to explore exhibits relating to Philly’s early fire history. If anything, plan a quick visit just to see the old time fire trucks on display. On an interesting side note, Philadelphia was home to the first volunteer fire company, Union Fire, co founded by Benjamin Franklin.
Location: 147 N. 2nd Street
22. Tour the home of the US Congress, from 1790-1800
Congress Hall is another freebie to take advantage of while in the Independence Mall area. In 1790, Philadelphia was made the temporary capital of the US. From 1790-1800, Philly’s Congress Hall was home to the US Congress. During the winter, you can take a self-guided tour of the House of Representatives room on the Main Floor, as well as the Senate on the upper floor. From March-Dec, tours run every 20-30 min.
Location: Chestnut and 6th Street
23. Toss a penny on Benjamin Franklin’s grave
Toss a penny on Franklin’s grave located at the Christ Church Burying Ground. This tradition is done in honor of Franklin’s popular saying “a penny saved, a penny earned.” On an interesting side note, the beloved tradition actually ruined the grave. Several years back Christ Church ran a Go Fund me page asking for donations to repair the crack that resulting from a combination of throwing too many pennies and weather erosion.
Location: 340 N. 5th Street
24. Take a hike at Wissahickon Valley Park
One of the most beautiful place to take a nature walk without venturing too far outside of Center City is Wissahickon Valley Park. More than 50 miles of gorgeous rustic hiking trails can be found here. Forbidden Drive, a beautiful 5 mile woodsy trek, is one of the most popular. Although crowded with hikers and cyclists most of the year, it still remains relatively peaceful. It’s hard not to relax when surrounded by such gorgeous greenery and tranquil creek views.
Check out the full variety of hiking trails at Wissahickon Valley Park
25. Bird watch at John Heinz Wildlife Refuge
Several parks around the Philly area have been declared birdwatching hotspots. The most easily accessible is the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge located just 20 min outside of Center City. Not only is this park great for birdwatching, it also features the largest remaining freshwater marshland in the state. There is a beautiful 3 mile loop around Tinicum Marsh where you will get in a nice workout while also enjoying the unique opportunity to see lots of birds and other small forms of wildlife.
Location: 8601 Lindbergh Avenue
26. See the house where Edgar Allan Poe lived
Few tourists know that you can take a self guided tour of the Philly home which Edgar Allan Poe once resided. Poe lived in several Philly houses, although this house in the Spring Hill neighborhood is the only one still standing. This house was built in 1842 and was designated a National Historic landmark in 1962. Besides exploring the 3 story residence, you will get to watch an informative video and read through various exhibits. This is a really cool add on activity particularly if you love Poe’s work.
Location: 532 N. 7th Street
27. View the Benjamin Franklin bridge via Penn’s Landing
A short section of the Delaware River Path runs along the waterfront at Penn’s landing. From here, you can feast your eyes on a prime view of the beautiful Benjamin Franklin Bridge. During the summer, the area is extra lively with many special events, a roller skating rink, and various food vendors. It’s also free to walk the 1.5 mile course over the Benjamin Franklin bridge. If you are up for the challenge, the views of the skyline are pretty spectacular!
Location: 101 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd.
28. See The Thinker sculpture by Rodin
Philly’s museum scene is pretty incredible. If you plan on exploring the wonderful Museum of Art, save your ticket as it is also good for admission to The Rodin Museum. This renowned museum is home to one of the largest collections of Rodin pieces in the world. The museum operates on a pay-as-you-wish format, and thus, is accessible to everyone. Additionally, exploring the grounds of the museum is always free. Here you will get to see the iconic Thinker statue, along with a variety of great Rodin masterpieces.
Location: 2151 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
29. Take your pic by the AMOR sculpture
Similar to the iconic Love sculpture, the AMOR sculpture is another popular selfie opportunity. This piece in Sister Cities Park is located near the museums, and thus, you will probably walk right past it while you are out and about. The Robert Indiana art piece was brought to the city when the Pope visited in 2015. Amor translates into love in Spanish, and thus, was brought in to commemorate the pope’s native language.
Location: 210 N. 18th Street