Introducing guest blogger Alison from Five Family Adventurers
Philadelphia is formally referred to as the city of Brotherly Love and, informally, the capital of the cheesesteak sandwich. The city played a pivotal role in the creation of the United States of America. Visitors will discover a family-friendly city with plenty of sites and attractions to fill up 48 hours.
Exploring Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, will give you a glimpse into the nation’s history, a chance to explore a science museum giving a hands-on view of inventions turned into modern necessities, a walk through the country’s oldest zoo (now solely dedicated to conservation and education), and impressive arts and theater.
Philadelphia has also been recognized for its culinary scene for the past two decades. Not only is it home to top restaurants and James Beard-award winners (hooray, Michael Solomonov, the latest), but visitors can start the morning meal with dim sum in China Town, and try the notorious Philly cheesesteak—a, thinly sliced steak, grilled, and served with melted cheese, spread onto a long “hoagie” (another word for bread roll) for lunch.
Later, you can stroll through the unchanged South Philly’s Italian market, seemingly lost in time, for a snack in the late afternoon and finish the day with a dinner at a James Beard award-winning restaurant; Philadelphia has six James Beard winners.
This post is part of our Explore My City series – come and visit cities around the world through the eyes of local parents
48 hours in Philadelphia with kids
Although a large city, Philadelphia is an easy city to navigate by foot. Most neighborhoods are connected and easily walkable, as well as scenic. Public transportation is easily accessible in Philadelphia, with many options from which to choose.
A great budget-friendly option is to buy a 2 day pass on Philadelphia Phlash pass. The Philly Phlash connects all key attractions, stopping every 15 minutes from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
The public bus system in Philadelphia, Septa, is extensive and covers all the city and outer neighborhoods. Of course, you can also use Uber and taxis.
Hotels suiting all budgets are spread throughout the city. Most visitors will find that staying in Center City or Old City are the most convenient options for a 48-hour stay in Philadelphia.
When traveling as a family in Philadelphia, a great option is to buy a CityPASS to offset some of the costs of the museums and attractions. Passes can cover 3, 4, or 5 attraction visits. A 5-pass visit could be the best bet if you are planning 48 hours in Philadelphia.
Day 1, Historic Philadelphia
Philadelphia is the birthplace of the United States of America. Both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were signed here. Start out the day by going to visit the Liberty Bell, which is a free visit and usually has a fast-flowing line.
The information center has detailed information on the history of the Liberty Bell with some interactive exhibits for the younger kids. Once at the Bell, you’ll snap the obligatory photos with the iconic bell and its crack.
After visiting the Liberty Bell, head across the street to Independence Hall and see where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution was signed. Make sure to reserve tickets ahead of time if visiting March through December, as the Assembly Room (the actual place where the Constitution was signed) does sell out.
You can also go early in the morning to get your timed tickets for a tour. If you cannot get tickets, you can still visit the historic site and see copies of the Constitution. The entire Liberty Bell and Independence Hall should take between 45 minutes to an hour.
Grab a Philly soft pretzel from any of the street vendors to tide you over for the next museum and before lunch. The Philly pretzel is its own unique species. It’s not as firm and crusty as a New York pretzel. Instead, it’s soft and doughy, speckled with salt, and served with a big dollop of yellow mustard. They’re cheap, filling, and irresistible.
A couple of blocks away from Independence Hall is the American Revolutionary War Museum, dedicated to the war and all that fought in it. The museum has two short movies and an interactive exhibition hall describing the war from start to end.
One of the movies is all about George Washington’s (America’s first President) war tent. At the end of the movie, the curtain rises to reveal the actual tent. It’s a surreal experience. The museum highlights those that fought on both sides, the lives of enslaved people during the war, and Native Americans and their involvement. Even kids will find it an informative and educational museum. Seeing everything will take about 1½ hours to complete if you watch both movies.
Lunch & Afternoon – Day 1 in Philly with Kids
Grab lunch nearby at The Continental, located on 2nd and Market streets. This well-known Philadelphia eatery is designed to look like a retro- diner. Both adults and kids will find palatable options, including salads, satays, sandwiches, and innovative drinks.
After lunch, walk around the corner on Market Street, and head a block and half up the street to treat the kids to ice cream cones or milkshakes at Franklin Fountain, an old fashioned ice-cream parlor.
Keep following American history a few blocks away. On Arch Street between 3rd and 4th Street, with a visit the Betsy Ross house. Kids love this tour because they get to visit an 18th century home with narrow stairs and creaky floors. They also get to discover one of the first flags every made for the United States of America with 13 stars for each of the first 13 states.
You’ll need to hop the Phlash or call an Uber for your next visit up to the Museum neighborhood. The Eastern State Penitentiary is worth a tour in the afternoon. You can’t miss the massive fortress-like walls surrounding the penitentiary, sticking out like some medieval European city.
Built in 1829, this was once one of the most expensive and famous prisons in the world. Prisoners were housed in solitary, chapel-like cells designed for penance. The layout, a wagon wheel with the guard stand in the middle, was innovative for the time and copied by hundreds of US prisons in the 19th century.
Eastern State has housed some of the country’s most notorious gangsters of the 20th century, including Al Capone. Now, it stands in ruins. There is an audio tour that provides this interesting background. Kids will be excited, as they can actually go into some of the cells. The halls are long with high vaulted ceilings, giving it an eerie feeling – notorious as one of the world’s most infamous haunted buildings.
At one time, a dog was even sentenced to life at the Eastern State Penitentiary in 1924 for killing a feline belonging to the wife of the then-governor. Film buffs may recognize its interior as the setting for the asylum scenes in Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys.
The prison closed in 1971 and was almost turned into a mall and apartments. Fortunately, it wasn’t and now is a landmark. During Halloween, the penitentiary hosts Terror Behind the Walls, a scary and huge haunted house. Halloween requires separate tickets. For the daily tour, buy tickets prior to your visit as the number of visitors are limited and can sell out.
Dinner – Day 1 in Philly with Kids
For a nationally acclaimed and awarded restaurant, try Zahav, located in Old City Philadelphia. This innovative, chef-driven restaurant serves nouvelle-Israeli cuisine. Small and grilled meats will please both kids and parents. The prix-fixe also includes an astonishing pomegranate-glazed lamb shoulder. If you are looking for something a bit faster paced, then grab the family and head over to Chinatown. You’ll find offerings including Vietnamese (try Vietnam Restaurant), Chinese (Lee How Fook), and Malaysian (Penang).
Day 2 – All about Kids in Philadelphia
Philadelphia has museums dedicated to letting kids be kids. It would be hard to do all them in one day. Given they are all great options, it’s really a personal preference which your family would like or which the kids would like the best.
You can choose among the Zoo, the Franklin Institute, and the Aquarium, you can’t go wrong. The Philadelphia Zoo is one of the United States’ premier zoos. It was one of the first, opening its doors in 1874. The Philadelphia Zoo has dedicated itself to conservation and education. You’ll notice mesh canopies allowing animals to walk above you, as the animals explore you just as you explore them.
Younger kids will zoom in on the children’s zoo where they can brush goats and climb on exhibits. Go into the aviary and you will walk right next to birds or “duck” out of the way as they fly right above your head. The 42-acres will consume the majority of your morning or afternoon depending on your visit.
You will need to take public transportation to get to the zoo if you do not have a car. The Philadelphia Phlash does go to the zoo, but if you want to get to the zoo when it opens at 9:30 AM, this will not be your best option, as Phlash service does not start until 10 :00 AM.
Lunch & Afternoon – Day 2 Philly with Kids
The Franklin Institute, named after Benjamin Franklin, is one of the oldest science centers in the country. It’s now a dedicated science museum, with interactive exhibits as well as rotating exhibits. The exhibits also feature things for “older” kids at heart, like escape rooms.
Find the life-sized heart, and climb through it with your kids and see what the inside of a human heart looks like. A full-sized steam engine train moves on its tracks, a fabulous planetarium has shows, the obligatory (and nausea-inducing) IMAX, flight simulators, and more will take up a good 2-3 hours.
If you plan to come after visiting the zoo, first grab lunch at Buen Onda. Located a quick walk from the Institute, on the other side of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, it’s a quick and tasty lunch. The taqueria specializes in Baja-style tacos. The ingredients are fresh and fast, and the drinks in the self-serve fountain are all cane-sugar sodas. It’s cute and–importantly –it’s not a chain.
If you love aquariums, then Adventure Aquarium should not be missed. Located across the Delaware River, in Camden New Jersey, it’s still Philadelphia’s must-see attraction. You will have to take a taxi or Uber here if you don’t have your own transportation.
The ride over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge (the “Ben Frank” in local parlance) is fun and quick. The aquarium exhibits are large and children’s eye level. The kids can push their faces right up to the glass and stare endlessly at the fish swimming back and forth.
Throughout the aquarium, kids can touch sea life, including rays, sand sharks, and starfish in special exhibits. Also, check out the interactive penguin section and the entire section dedicated to sharks.
The aquarium’s best attractions are the hippopotami that call the aquarium home. They swim in a massive tank area filled with fish. Kids love seeing these massive (and somewhat cute) animals putting on a show for them. Finish up the tour by walking through the shark tunnel and watching all the different sharks swim right above you.
Dinner – Day 2 Philly with Kids
If visiting Philadelphia in spring, summer, or even early fall while weather is still warm, then head to the Spruce Street River Waterfront. The food vendors include the awesome Federal Donuts (for both killer fried chicken and donuts), with outdoor seating, Games for the kids include oversized Jenga and shuffleboard. If the kids can sit for a bit, get an outdoor table overlooking swanky Ritenhouse Square at Parc (or sit inside any time)
About the Blogger Alison
I have been an avid traveler since a young child, exploring the world by myself and now with my family. I am a mom, wife, and individual when not running after three little dependents and a fat Labrador. I do work, but traveling, writing, and raising three is my best work.
I love to learn about new cultures, and food and now try to bring that information to others in order to encourage them to embrace what the world has to offer. Life is short-fill it with family travel and adventures you will not regret it. It is a wonderful time.
Oh, we are also baseball-obsessed; not sure how that snuck into our lives. You can follow along with Alison and her family adventures here:
With thanks to Alison for her contribution to our guest series. You may also like to read her previous contribution to the Explore My City Series – Things to do in Baltimore with Kids, or further afield come and explore unique places in Washington DC with kids.
Traveling further around the state, check out these magnificent lakefront locations in Pennsylvania.
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