Top 20 Free Things to Do in Philadelphia

free things to do in philadelphia skyline

Whether you live in Philadelphia or plan to visit, there is a lot to see and do.  You probably have some must-do-at-any-price activities on your Philadelphia list, but round-out your excursions with some of the top free things to do in Philadelphia.

Many great free things to do in Philadelphia are seasonal (like free yoga classes at the Race Street Pierhanging out at Winterfest, or free recitals at the Curtis Institute of Music), but my list focuses on year-round offerings.

These free things to do in Philadelphia are within the city limits, so nearby attractions like the Valley Forge National Historic Park and The Scott Arboretum do not make the cut.

Location key

free things to do in philadelphia old city = Old City area

Ben Franklin Parkway = Ben Franklin Parkway area

center city Philadelphia= Center City

Top 20 Free Things to Do in Philadelphia overview

free things to do in philadelphia waterfront

  1. Independence National Historic Park
  2. Reading Terminal Market
  3. The Rocky Steps
  4. Elfreth’s Alley and Old City
  5. Macy’s Center City and the Wanamaker Organ
  6. Free First Sunday at the Barnes Foundation
  7. Philadelphia Museum of Art (pay what you wish at certain times)
  8. Institute of Contemporary Art
  9. U.S. Mint
  10. Christ Church
  11. Science History Institute
  12. Rodin Museum
  13. Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site
  14. Hike Philadelphia
  15. Play tennis
  16. Free at noon concerts with WXPN
  17. Free at the Kimmel Center
  18. Tour a brewery
  19. The Mural Mile
  20. 30th Street Station

20) 30th Street Station

free things to do in philadelphia station
Photo by Dan Gaken

I am starting with an underappreciated gem.  30th street station (completed in 1933) is one of the few remaining grand stations of America’s rail system.  The Neoclassical exterior and Art Deco interior designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White are breathtaking.  The main concourse is 95 feet tall and almost 1000 feet wide.  There is some public art to view, like Karl Bitter’s sculpted panel The Spirit of Transportation.

This is a great place to sit and think about the past. The nostalgia-inspiring clicks of the Solari board will have you wondering why Lauren Bacall is running late and looking over your shoulder for the hotel detective.

19) The Mural Mile free things to do in philadelphia old citycenter city Philadelphia

free things to do in philadelphia mural mile
Photo by David Saddler

Mural Arts Philadelphia, the nations largest public art program, has helped to make a Philadelphia a must-visit destination for mural lovers.  You can pay for a tour on foot, trolley, or segway or simply print out the self-guided tour.  I suggest printing the map and reading about the works on your phone as you progress.

There are actually two mural miles to choose from (north and south), but they could be combined if you are feeling extra peppy.

18) Tour a brewery

free things to do in Philadelphia brewery

Professional brewing has been a part of Philadelphia since 1685. John Adams told his wife Abigail, “I drink no cider, but feast on Philadelphia beer.”  Before prohibition there were more than 100 breweries within the city limits.

Even if you do not drink beer, learning about the process is pretty neat.

There are many local beers to sample and many breweries to tour. (Don’t forget closed-toe shoes for brewery tours!)  You can get an excellent tour of the The Philadelphia Brewing Company for free, just check the schedule.

PBC is a bit off the beaten path for tourists, but do not be discouraged.  The Kensington neighborhood is rough around the edged but not without its charms.  If you want to stay on the beaten path, Yards Brewery has an excellent tour for $5.

17) Free at the Kimmel Center center city Philadelphia

The Kimmel Center
Photo by Timothy Vollmer

From kids programs to world music to organ demonstrations, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts does an amazing job making live music accessible.  As a bonus, they also offer free tours of the building.  (The Kimmel center is a beautiful facility including public art, a glass-and-steel barrel vault roof, and massive atrium.)

16) Free at Noon Concerts with WXPN

Public radio station WXPN plays a wide variety of new music.  Every Friday the station in partnership with World Cafe Live offers a free concert.  It is usually an up-and-coming act promoting a new album and the concert is broadcast live.  All you have to do is RSVP for your free tickets.

15) Play tennis

In a world where you pay to careen down a snow bank and need a permit to swim in the ocean, it is nice that some outdoor activities are still free.  For some reason (Arthur Ashe, perhaps?), it is easy to play outdoor tennis for free in Philadelphia, so don’t forget your paddle or whatever.

I live in the northwest region of the city, and I can tell you that the Pleasant Playground courts and the Water Tower courts are well maintained and almost never fully occupied. The website Tennis Philly can help you find a court and a partner.

14) Hike (or bike) Philadelphia

top free things to do in philadelphia hiking
Photo by TheTurducken

You probably do not think of any of the ten largest U.S. cities as a place do do some hiking, but Philadelphia should be an exception.  Philadelphia has the largest municipally managed park system in the U.S. and more park space per resident than any other major U.S. city.

This is actually many free things to do in Philadelphia, but I have selected two hikes to highlight.

Schuylkill River Trail (flat and urban) Ben Franklin Parkway

The Schuylkill River Trail is an ongoing project that will ultimately connect 130 miles of trail for recreation.  The Philadelphia section is ten miles long, but you can have a much shorter hike.

I recommend a short hike starting at the Girard Avenue trail head and heading down river.  You will be sharing the path with bikers, joggers, roller-bladers, etc. This path takes you past Kelly Drive (where Rocky jogs), boathouse row, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the historic Fairmount Water Works, and the Schuylkill Banks.

Wissahickon Valley (natural beauty)

Within the city limits is a verdant 1,800 acre gorge with 57 miles of trails.  If the hustle and bustle of Philadelphia is getting to you, the Wissahickon Valley is the remedy.  Hike, bike, ride horseback, or even fish.  The combination of geological diversity and the meandering of the Wissahickon Creek have made a wonderland.  Check out the Friends of the Wissahickon website to learn more.

Note: Philadelphia Parks and Recreation requires bikers to get a trail permit for all natural surface trails (although this stipulation is ignored by many.)  The permit is $35 for non-residents and the fine for biking without a permit is $25 (Whaaaah?).

13) Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

It should come as no surprise to Baltimorons that the six happiest years of Edgar Allen Poe’s life were spent in Philadelphia (Sick burn!).  The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site is a must for any fan of Gothic literature looking for free things to do in Philadelphia. (It also happens to be near Yard’s Brewing.)

If your tastes are a bit off-beat, check out Atlas Obscura for more weird things to do in Philadelphia.

12) Rodin Museum sculpture gardens Ben Franklin Parkway

things to do in philadelphia rodin museum
Photo by Eric Dillalogue

The Rodin Museum is a gorgeous oasis on the Ben Franklin Parkway.  The 150 works of the collection span Rodin’s career.

The inside of the museum is pay-what-you-wish, but the the sculpture gardens are free to all.  Many of the most spectacular works are outside.  You are not going to find a more pleasant way to view “The Gates of Hell”.

It is a great free things to do in Philadelphia add-on as it is located near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation, The Academy of Natural Sciences, The Franklin Institute, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and more.

11) Science History Institute Museum free things to do in philadelphia old city

The Science History Institute Museum offers “…a journey through the weird and wonderful world of matter and materials.”  The collection ranges from antiquated instruments to informative displays to fine art.  Check out their website for a list of current exhibits.

The Science History Institute Museum is not a whole-day affair. However, it is in the heart of Old City and located near Independence Hall, The Museum of the American Revolution, Elfreth’s Alley, etc.  Even if you are a not wild about science, it makes a great free things to do in Philadelphia add-on.

10) Christ Church free things to do in philadelphia old city

Christ Church Philadelphia
Photo by Peter Miller

This is a must-visit site for both history-lovers and Christians.  This is the first Episcopal Church as the sentiments of the American Revolution induced American Anglicans to reorganize its connection to the Church of England.

Attendees to Christ Church included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Betsy Ross.

Christ Church is open for visitors daily for free (not during services). You will have to pay a fee to visit the burial grounds or take a guided tour.

9) The U.S. Mint free things to do in philadelphia old city

I love to see how things as made.  The Philadelphia Mint is the largest coin factory in the world. The self-guided, 45-minute tour shows you how America’s first mint makes circulating coins and commemorative coins and shows how the sculptor-engravers find inspiration to apply their craft.

The self-guided tour is free, but you may have to wait in line during busy times.  Adults must present photo ID.

8) Institute of Contemporary Art

The ICA has a special place in the history of cutting-edge and controversial art.  It hosted the first museum shows of artists like Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, and Andy Warhol.  It is located on the University of Pennsylvania Campus and is free to all.  Open your mind and check out the avant garde.

7) Pay what you wish at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Ben Franklin Parkway

free things to do in philadelphia rocky steps

Admission to the Philadelphia Museum of Art is normally $20 and is worth every penny.  The collection is extensive and includes everything from a complete Hindu temple to Picasso to Rubens to O’Keefe to Van Gogh to a Japanese tea house to Renoir to Saint-Gaudins, to arms and armor, to Cassatt, to colonial furniture to…you get the point.

So how did the museum make it on to the list of free things to do in Philadelphia? The first Sunday of the month (10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.) and every Wednesday evening (5:00–8:45 p.m.) is pay what you wish. Do not forget to check out the museum’s events calendar as some of the events are free.

6) Pay what you wish at the Barnes Ben Franklin Parkway

The new Barnes museum created quite a controversy here in Philadelphia when it was moved to the city from Lower Merion, but you can’t argue that the new location is shabby.  The Barnes offers a world-class collection of impressionism, post-impressionism, modernist, Native American, and African works.

Do not forget to check out their calendar of events as many of the events are free to all.

5) Macy’s and the Wanamaker organ center city Philadelphia

Macy’s Center City is housed in the Wanamaker building and is a national historic landmark.  John Wanamaker was a pioneer in department store retail and built this temple of consumerism in 1877.  Check out the breathtaking spaces, the grand court organ (the largest functioning musical instrument in the world), and the bronze Wanamaker eagle. (Paid tours are available.)

4) Elfreth’s Alley and Old City free things to do in philadelphia old city

free things to do in Philadelphia Old City
Photo by Stephen Downes

One of the top free things to do in Philadelphia is simply walk around Old City. Elfreth’s Alley is the nation’s oldest continuously occupied residential street.  It is like stepping into a time warp without the bother of smallpox.

As you walk around Old City, you will see horse-drawn carriages, historical figures, and buildings like Carpenter’s Hall (site of the first Continental Congress), the First Bank of the United States, the Betsy Ross house, and the Declaration House (where Jefferson completed the most important homework assignment in U.S. history).

3) The Rocky Steps Ben Franklin Parkway

Free things to do in Philadelphia Rocky Steps
Photo by Ahd Photography (yarn bombing by Jessie Hemmons)

Climbing the Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is obligatory.  You can sheepishly jog up the steps with your hat pulled down over your eyes like you are too cool for school, or you can own the moment. (Do not claim that you are just excited to see the new exhibit. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they climb the Rocky steps.)

Don’t forget to take your picture with the Rocky statue.  (If the prop-masters from Rocky III had known that this prop would have such a legacy, I think they would have tried harder.)

2) Reading Terminal Market center city Philadelphia

Reading Terminal Market Philadelphia
Photo by Peter Miller

The Reading Terminal Market is not named for the number of people who have terminally clogged their arteries here but due to the site’s former use as a terminal for the Reading Railroad.  Philadelphians have been arguing about the price of cheese in this building since 1893.

Whether you are looking for Pennsylvania Dutch confections, an amazing lunch, or the city’s best prosciutto, the Reading Terminal is the place.  Reading Terminal Market volunteers can help you find your way (look for the green aprons).

1) Independence National Historical Park free things to do in philadelphia old city

free things to do in Philadelphia Liberty Bell

If I do not put this as number one on the top free things to do in Philadelphia, I risk being tarred, feathered, and left in New Jersey.  See the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, reflect on the hypocrisy of revolution-era slavery at the President’s House Site, and take a “bellfie” with America’s most beloved piece of defective junk.

Almost everything in the park is free. (The Constitution Center and the Benjamin Franklin Museum are the exceptions).

Tips:

  • Be prepared for crowds during touristy times.
  • Stop by the visitor center to get a map and info.
  • Independence Hall gets very busy, and you need timed tickets.  Stop in to the visitor center early to get your ticket or reserve in advance. (Reserving in advance has a $1.50 fee.)
  • Be ready for security screenings.
  • Do not forget about Carpenters’ Hall (the site of the first Continental Congress).
  • The portrait gallery in the Second Bank is a must-see for art lovers.

Free things to do in Philadelphia honorable mentions

Bartram’s Garden

This is a great place for reflection, observation, rejuvenation, and recreation.  Learn about medicinal plants, native species, tidal environments, and more. Bartram’s invites you to bring a picnic, your bird-watching gear, or even your sled.

The grounds at Bartram’s Garden are free to the public all year long.  A guided tour will cost you $12.

Woodmere Art Museum

The Woodmere Art Museum, dedicated to the art and artists of Philadelphia, has free admission on Sundays. The museum often hosts fascinating photography exhibits.

The Woodmere is located in the charming and well-heeled neighborhood of Chestnut Hill, so leave time to sip lattes on Germantown Avenue.

Fireman’s Hall Museum free things to do in philadelphia old city

Philadelphia was the birthplace of America’s volunteer fire companies (the first in 1736). This renovated 1902 firehouse houses cool equipment and displays.

Laurel Hill Cemetery

According to the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery, the national historic landmark is “an outdoor sculptural garden, a horticultural gem, and a truly unique historical resource.”  You are encouraged to picnic, bike, walk your dog, sketch, visit graves of note, etc.  The cemetery hosts neat events, but they are rarely free.

Skateparks Ben Franklin Parkway

Philadelphia has a rich skating history.  Check out SkatePhilly.org if that’s your jam.

Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul  Ben Franklin Parkwaycenter city Philadelphia

Visit the largest Catholic church in Pennsylvania (also the largest brownstone structure in Philadelphia) which opened its doors in 1864. Cathedral ambassadors are available to give tours, but they also offer self-guided and audio tours.

Dream Garden free things to do in philadelphia old city

Art lovers should stop in to the Curtis Building and see Maxfield Parrish’s masterpiece “Dream Garden”.  Designed by Parrish and executed by Louis Tiffany, the work is a stunning glass mosaic fifty feet wide.

Chinatown center city Philadelphia

Chinatown is a bit of a misnomer, this vibrant community is very diverse.  Check out some Asian cultures, and don’t forget the bubble tea.

First Fridays free things to do in philadelphia old city

On the first Friday (evening) of every month, Old City galleries and shops go all out.  Check out the works, people watch, and enjoy free goodies.

Well’s Fargo Museum center city Philadelphia

This is a cute little museum of Wells Fargo history stuff.  The main thing is an authentic Wells Fargo stagecoach.  It is a nice free things to do in Philadelphia Center City add-on.

Organizing your excursion

free things to do in Philadelphia Ben Franklin Parkway

Many of top free things to do in Philadelphia do not take much time (after all, they’re free).  So you will probably want to group sites geographically. Sites like Free Tours by FootGPS My City, and The Constitutional can help.

Consider an audio tour

I love using audio tours; you get all of the info and are in complete control. (The time I went to Gettysburg and couldn’t find anything that they were talking about is an exception.  Based on my visit, Picket’s Charge occurred in a 7-11.)

Finding free events

Do not forget to look for free events.  PhillyFunGuide, WXPN concert calendar (sort by price to see the free concerts), and Philly.com events calendar can point you in the right direction.

Related Post: Reducing the Costs of Fun

Conclusion on “Top 20 Free Things to do in Philadelphia”

I am not suggesting that you should limit your experiences to free attractions and events.  Some of my favorite things to see and do in Philadelphia are well worth the price of admission. On the other hand, one should not assume that free attractions are without merit.  Include free things to do in Philadelphia to round out your itinerary.

How did I do?  Did my top 20 miss the mark?  Did I forget your favorite? Leave a comment, and let me know.

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