Baboons, Ben Franklin, Big Bird, and baseball—the City of Brotherly Love has something exciting and educational to offer children of all ages. And heck, why should kids have all the fun? These Philadelphia attractions are cool enough to bring out anyone’s inner child.
1. The Rittenhouse Hotel
This kid-friendly hotel located on Rittenhouse Square in Center City, Philadelphia offers a bit of luxury for every member of the family (even pets, if they come along). For baby, The Rittenhouse provides such amenities as a bottle drying rack, baby bathtub, and crib. Children will be thrilled to pick out a gift from The Rittenhouse Treasure Chest, and to read a copy of the book “Goodnight Philadelphia” at bedtime. Pre-teens and teenagers can take advantage of the complimentary in-room movies and popcorn. Perhaps plan to spend an afternoon with the kids at the pool, while parents take turns working out at the fitness center, or enjoying a massage at the spa. At the concierge desk, be sure to ask about discounts on tickets to The Philadelphia Zoo, Please Touch Museum, and Adventure Aquarium (because you should actually leave the hotel at some point).
2. The Philadelphia Zoo
As America’s first zoo, these 42 acres of Victorian gardens make for the perfect all-day habitat for those animals you call your children. Not only does the zoo house more than 1,300 animals, many of which are rare or endangered, but there are countless other attractions to check out, like the Amazon Rainforest Carousel, a Camel Safari, even the opportunity to ride in a hot air balloon! The new, eco-conscious children’s zoo and wildlife academy, KidZooU, won top honors from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Philadelphia Zoo’s commitment to excellence in animal care has even taken the idea of a zoo into a whole new dimension. Through an innovative concept they call Zoo360, many of the animals are not confined to a single enclosure, but can roam around above the grounds through a campus-wide network of see-through mesh trails.
3. Independence National Historical Park
Visit Independence National Historical Park to dispel any notions that American History is dusty or boring. Take a seat at any of the 10 different Storytelling Benches scattered throughout the area and be regaled with tales of the past, told by Once Upon a Nation storytellers. Walk right up to the Liberty Bell to see if the city’s icon is all it’s cracked up to be. Then be sure to tour Independence Hall, where the nation’s founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. If possible, time the visit to catch an historic reenactment of a Declaration reading in Independence Square, just behind the Hall. This is just one of many living history performances around the city put on by 18th and 19th century citizens of Philadelphia.
4. Betsy Ross House
Bring more Revolutionary history to life at the Betsy Ross House. The Declaration of Independence may be an important part of the fabric of American history, but what is a newly declared nation without a flag? Introduce kids to the woman who made an important contribution to our past, and help them learn about the Stars and Stripes to which they pledge allegiance. Travel back in time to tour the 18th century house which is furnished just as it was when Betsy sewed the flag. And of course, meet Betsy Ross herself. She’s hard at work in her upholstery shop, stitching bed curtains. She is happy to chat with visitors while she is sewing, and can answer questions about her masterpiece, the American flag, as well as questions about her own fascinating life story.
5. The Franklin Institute
One of the premier science museums in the country, The Franklin Institute pays homage to Benjamin Franklin’s inquisitive mind. The institute has a mission to spread its namesake’s passion for science, and it is impossible for kids or adults to leave without having caught the bug. Visitors can walk through the famous Giant Heart (sized for a person as tall as the Statue of Liberty!), learn about electricity, engage in “Live Science,” and visit the Planetarium. Just be sure to purchase tickets in advance. Before leaving, take a closer look at that organ you’ve been using all day. The Institute’s new wing (completed in 2014) houses a core exhibit on Your Brain where visitors can explore a two-story climbing structure built to mimic the neural network of the human brain, complete with visual and sound effects triggered by footsteps.
6. Please Touch Museum
An educational museum more appropriate for younger children (especially 7 and under) is the Please Touch Museum. For parents exhausted by scolding their kids about what not to do while on vacation, this museum is a welcome relief. In the interest of a mission “to enrich the lives of children by creating learning opportunities through play,” the Please Touch Museum has everything to inspire a child’s imagination, from dress-up clothes and play cash registers to flying machines and a playground of giant foam blocks. Tomorrow’s architects, astronauts, and musicians will learn more about the world around them by engaging with interactive exhibits like City Capers, Flight Fantasy, and River Adventures.
7. Franklin Square
Centered around a fountain that dates back to 1838, Franklin Square is one of Philadelphia’s five original squares. Be sure to make a wish and snap some family photos in front of the fountain, play on the playground, gallop around the carousel on a racehorse, a zebra, or even a dragon, and putt past shrunken Philadelphia landmarks at the 18-hole mini golf course. Hungry from all that activity? Chow down on a SquareBurger and milkshake without even having to leave Franklin Square.
8. Adventure Aquarium
For a day spent getting to know marine creatures, hop in the car or take the Phlash Trolley and Riverlink Ferry to the top-ranked Adventure Aquarium. Learn about ancient Dinosaurs of the Deep, visit a Hippo Haven, and check out a Penguin Feed and Talk, then mimic these flightless birds down a 40-foot super slide. For a more up-close and personal experience, touch and feed stingrays, or walk right through the middle of a tank of sharks in the transparent shark tunnel—if you dare!
The ultimate fix for any child’s fascination with creepy-crawlies, a visit to the Insectarium should score you serious points with the kids. Thousands of fascinating live and mounted insects are on display. Special exhibits include a kitchen full of cockroaches and a working beehive. Curious kids will not only be delightfully grossed-out, but also learn about the important role that insects play in our world. Another plus: scrambling around on the man-made spider web is sure to get out some of that excess energy.
10. Sesame Place
The wonderful world of Sesame Street comes to life outside the TV. A short drive from downtown Philadelphia to Sesame Place in Langhorne is totally worth it to see Big Bird and Cookie Monster in person. Be sure to plan the visit around schedules for “Let’s Play Together” (a show about friendship) or “Elmo the Musical.” Take time to wander among friendly monsters in Cookie’s Monster Land, and go for a ride in a Flying Cookie Jar or one of Oscar’s rusty garbage cans, repurposed as a rocket. On a hot day, bring bathing suits and shoot down Bert and Ernie’s Slip and Slide, or any of the other Wet Fun attractions in the water park section.
11. Take Them Out to the Ball Game
In keeping with this colonial city’s deep roots in history, the Philadelphia Phillies are the oldest continuous one-name, one-city franchise of all professional American sports teams. The Phillies date all the way back to 1883. Plus, the Phillies mascot, Phanatic, looks like a muppet and must be the most unique of all mascots. Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies (and of Phanatic), has many features geared specifically towards kids, like a “Phun Zone” play area, and a Kid’s Corner. What could make for a more perfect opportunity to introduce your kids to the American pastime of eating hot dogs and crackerjacks while cheering a team through 9 innings?