Philadelphia has come a long way since Pierre Eugène du Simitière opened the nation’s first public museum in 1782 and naturalist Charles Willson Peale went from displaying artifacts in his home to founding the Philadelphia Museum in 1786.
In a town where historical markers, buildings, and neighborhoods abound, Philadelphia’s museum game is stronger than ever. While we’re sure Peale and Simitière never imagined QR code entry tickets or eating avocado toast in a garden between exhibits, our talent at showcasing cool art, history, and culture remains vast.
But since we live in the first World Heritage City in America, there’s a lot of options. So we’ve assembled a list with some insider museum tips to help you out, even if you’ve lived here your whole life.
Here are a few places where you can easily spend an afternoon diving into early American history, uncovering the legacy of a world-renowned singer, indulging in great works of art, and even taking some selfies with a dinosaur.
Note that Philadelphia museums are required to follow COVID precautions, and some have enhanced procedures like timed ticketing and temperature checks. Be sure to check in regarding specific requirements and ticketing rules before heading out.
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Founded in 1812 and opened to the public in 1828, The Academy of Natural Sciences is the oldest natural science research facility and museum in America. With a scientific collection of more than 18 million specimens, public lectures, classes, and an extensive library, this is a true bridge between global expeditions and research. From the T.rex in Dinosaur Hall to lions in the African and Asian Hall, here you’ll find a showcase of the evolution of people and the natural world.
Highlight: “The enormous meteorite on display in North American Hall is my favorite treasure. It is one of several pieces from the Canyon Diablo meteorite that plowed into the Arizona desert 50,000 years ago. The meteorite created the most famous and best-preserved meteorite crater in the world, the Barringer Crater. Meteorites in general are very valuable to collectors and can be worth their weight in gold at some auctions. Ours weighs 480 pounds.”
Jennifer Sontchi, Senior Director of Exhibits and Public Spaces, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
📍1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 📞 215-299-1000, 🌐 ansp.org, 📷 @acadnatsci, 🕑 Wed.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (9 a.m. for members), 🎧 audio guided tours, 💵 $22 for adults and discounts for purchasing tickets online, seniors age 65+, military, kids, and students (with ID),🍽 café on-site
Located just a few blocks from the Liberty Bell and opened as part of the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations, the African American Museum in Philadelphia understands that Black history is American history. With four gallery spaces and a spacious auditorium for lectures and workshops, the museum celebrates African heritage and the lives of foundational Black Americans in Philadelphia’s history. Beyond the 750,000 artifacts in the collection, there are also a ton of family-friendly events, films, concerts, and panel discussions centered on the Black experience.
Highlight: Outside of the museum on Seventh and Arch streets stands the sculpture Whispering Bells: A Tribute to Crispus Attucks. The towering bells, created by sculptor Reginald Beauchamp, were made in tribute to Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave who was killed by British troops while protesting for national independence and against conditions under the crown during the Boston Massacre. He is famously considered to be one of the first American casualties of the Revolutionary War. Beauchamp designed the brass open tower for the opening of the African American Museum in Philadelphia in 1976.
📍 701 Arch St., 📞 215-574-0380, 🌐 aampmuseum.org, 📷 @aampmuseum, 🕑 Thu.-Sun., 10 a.m-5 p.m. (book by the time slot), 🎧 audio guided tours, 💵 $14 for adults and discounts for seniors age 65+, military, kids, and students (with ID)
Built on a sizable land grant from Queen Christina of Sweden, the American Swedish Museum features 12 galleries that span the history of the 1968 Delaware Valley’s New Sweden Colony (a colony that settled on both sides of the Delaware River from 1638 to 1655 in an effort to colonize America during the Thirty Years War), the country’s history, and the vast contributions of Swedish figures in art, design, literature, and music to the rest of the world. The building’s design is based on Ericsberg Castle, Stockholm’s City Hall, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon home.
Highlight: Among the collection is John Ericsson’s solar steam engine model. The prototype on display was invented in 1870 and uses the focus of light through the lens to concentrate light onto a boiler. It’s a true indicator of the search for alternative energy sources as early as the 19th century.
📍1900 Pattison Ave., 📞 215-389-1776, 🌐 americanswedish.org, 📷 @americanswedish, 🕑 Thu.-Sun., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat.-Sun. noon-4 p.m., 💵 $10 for adults and discounts for seniors age 65+, military, kids, and students (with ID)
What started with Albert C. Barnes’ passion for collecting and teaching others how to view art, has blossomed into an institution with more than 4,000 objects on display, including the works of Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso, and Greek antiquities, African art, Indigenous art, and other one-of-a-kind collections. The building also features a 150-seat auditorium, a conservation and research lab, classrooms, a restaurant, and a beautiful reflecting pool near the entrance.
Highlight: “The Barnes Foundation houses many iconic paintings, but Cézanne’s ‘The Card Players’ was probably our founder’s most hard-won purchase. Over the course of several years, he pursued the picture through various channels, finally acquiring it in 1925. It was the most expensive work he ever bought. ‘The Card Players’ was important to Barnes because it shows Cézanne’s respect for tradition. The theme is time-honored and yet — with its broken brushstrokes and expressive colors — the work also encapsulates the artist’s innovative way of painting. As a collector who prioritized the visual characteristics of artwork, Barnes also liked how ‘The Card Players’ demonstrates Cézanne’s powers of composition. The table centers the image while, to either side,
individual players balance the scene.”
Nancy Ireson, Ph.D., Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions & Gund Family Chief Curator of the Barnes Foundation
📍2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 📞 215-278-7000, 🌐 barnesfoundation.org, 📷 @barnesfoundation, 🕑 Thur.-Mon., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (10 a.m. for members), 🎧 app guided tours, 💵 $25 for adults and discounts for seniors age 65+, military, kids, students (with ID), and free on the first Sunday of the month, 🍽 restaurant on-site
Designated a U.S. National Landmark, Fairmount’s Eastern State Penitentiary has housed some of the country’s most notorious criminals such as Joe Bruno, Al Capone, and Willie Sutton. Opened in 1829 and known for its design, it later became a model for over 300 prisons worldwide. Outside of marveling at its wheel-like look and the seven cell blocks fanning out of the center, visitors can entertain themselves with permanent exhibits like The Big Graph, Prisons Today, Hidden Lives Illuminated, Jewish Life, Al Capone’s Cell, and Murals of the Chaplain’s Office.
Highlight: Don’t miss the award-winning “Prisons Today” exhibit, which looks at how mass incarceration in America is driven by disproportionate laws and policing of poor and communities of color. The powerful exhibit sheds light on the 2.2 million citizens who are behind bars today.
📍2027 Fairmount Ave., 📞 215-236-3300, 🌐 easternstate.org, 📷 @easternstate, 🕑 Wed.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (night tours also available), 🎧 audio guided tours, 💵 $17 for adults and discounts for seniors age 65+, military, kids, and students (with ID), 🍽 beer garden on-site
Named after inventor and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, The Franklin Institute is a hub for science and technology education. Along with 12 permanent exhibitions spanning from electricity to anatomy, the museum also has the largest collection of objects from the Wright brothers’ workshop.
Highlight: “Would you be surprised to hear there were robots in the late 18th century? What appears to be a foot-tall doll sitting at a desk atop a lovely table in our Amazing Machine exhibit is actually an intricate piece of engineering you may miss if you don’t know to take a closer look. Though unassuming in appearance, this artifact is a robot that holds one of the largest mechanical memories of any automaton still in existence. Made by the Maillardet atelier, this Automaton can draw four pictures and write three poems, two of them in French. The automaton doll is exhibited unclothed and with a glass cover over the cam bank so museum visitors can explore the wonders of its complex components.”
Susannah Carroll, Assistant Director of Collections and Curatorial at The Franklin Institute
📍222 N. 20th St., 📞 215-448-1200, 🌐 fi.edu, 📷 @franklininstitute, 🕑 Wed.-Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 🎧 audio guided tours, 💵 $23 for adults and discounts for seniors age 65+, military, and kids, 🍽 café and restaurant on-site
» READ MORE: Franklin Institute will host the world debut of ‘Harry Potter: The Exhibition’
The Independence Seaport Museum was founded in 1961 and ever since it has continued its ongoing mission to discover and illustrate Philadelphia’s maritime history and connections. It holds the largest maritime art and artifact collections in North America, features several permanent exhibits, and offers fun water excursions like kayaking. Its biggest on-the-water offerings are the Cruiser Olympia, the oldest floating steel warship that is docked nearby, and the Submarine Becuna, a World War II-era Balao-class submarine.
Highlight: “Make sure to climb up our grand staircase and meet Independence Seaport Museum’s own tin man, Dennis Stephen. Created at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard’s Sheet Metal Shop in the 1980s, ‘Dennis’ helped instructor Bob DiGambasta teach apprentices the skills of bending, riveting, and welding aluminum.”
Alexis Furlong, Director of Marketing & Communications at Independence Seaport Museum
📍211 S. Columbus Blvd., 📞 215-413-8655, 🌐 phillyseaport.org, 📷 @@phillyseaport, 🕑 Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 🎧 audio guided tours, 💵 $18 for discounts for seniors age 65+, military, kids, and students (with ID)
One of the city’s newer museums, the Museum of the American Revolution opened its doors in 2017 on the 242nd anniversary of the first battles of the war at Lexington and Concord. Home to artwork, weapons, art, textiles, books, and other artifacts from that time in history, the museum uses its galleries and interactive visuals to highlight the events surrounding America’s quest for liberty and freedom. General admission tickets to the museum are valid for two consecutive days. So if you miss something on your first visit or if there’s something you want to explore more deeply, you can come back.
Highlight: “I am charmed over and over again by one of our smallest artifacts — a small pair of red baby booties. Sergeant James Davenport returned to his Dorchester, Massachusetts home in 1783 after years of service in the Continental Army and after losing two brothers in the Revolutionary War. One of the things he carried home as a souvenir was a British soldier’s red coat. He married, and when the young couple’s first child was born the following year, the infant’s feet were warmed by that red coat, repurposed into little shoes. I can’t think of another Revolutionary artifact that speaks so powerfully to service, sacrifice, renewal, and hope.”
R. Scott Stephenson, president and CEO.
📍101 S. Third St., 📞 215-253-6731, 🌐 amrevmuseum.org, 📷 @amrevmuseum, 🕑 daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 🎧 audio guided tours, 💵 $2
1 for adults and discounts for seniors age 65+, military, kids, and students (with ID), 🍽 café on-site
The Mütter Museum was established in 1858 by physician Thomas Dent Mütter for the purposes of biomedical research and education. A part of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, there are more than 20,000 specimens in the institution ranging from skeletal and pathological specimens, wax models, and traditional medical instruments. Keeping up with the times, the Mütter Museum also has its own medical history podcast, My Favorite Malady.
Highlight: Einstein’s brain remains the biggest draw among visitors. It’s only one of only two places in the world where you can see pieces of the German physicist’s vital organ. You can see sections, about 20 microns thick, and stained with cresyl violet, that have been preserved on glass slides.
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Nearby Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, The National Constitution Center was added to Independence Mall on the 213th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 2000. Though it does not house the actual constitution, it’s got engaging exhibits that celebrate one of the nation’s founding documents.
Highlight: “Little-known to most, on view in the National Constitution Center’s main exhibit, The Story of We the People, is a display that captures what life was like for everyday Philadelphians in the late 1700s. The exhibit, created by the Center, features over 80 of the nearly one million artifacts which were excavated by the National Park Service during the 2000 to 2003 construction of the museum. Artifacts include dishes, coins, homemade toys, and other personal items left behind by the professionals, immigrants, laborers, and children who once occupied this bustling neighborhood. Unique to this display, visitors can also touch the past by interacting with 3D-printed artifacts — hand-painted replicas of some of the original artifacts on display. With these tangible connections to the past, the exhibit highlights the everyday people who lived and worked where the museum now stands — just steps away from where the nation was founded.”
Merissa V. Blum, Senior Communications Manager
📍525 Arch St., 📞 215-409-6700, 🌐 constitutioncenter.org, 📷 @constitutionctr, 🕑 Wed.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 💵 $14 for adults and discounts for seniors age 65+, military, kids, and students (with ID), 🍽 café on-site
The National Museum of American Jewish History started welcoming visitors in 1976 and originally shared its building with the Congregation Mikveh Israel in Old City. The museum’s educational programs, lectures, films, family days, musical events, and panel discussions all shine a light on the history of Jews in America. With more than 30,000 objects, it holds the largest collection of Jewish Americana in the world including an 1881 Hanukkah lamp from Lodz, Poland, an 1820 Tzedakah (charity) box or Kupat Tzedakah made of silver, and an 1890 brass Hanukkah menorah from Russia, and antique Kiddush cups.
Highlight: For now, the museum has gone completely virtual with NMAJH From Home. When the doors reopen, stop by the National Museum of American Jewish History Hall of Fame. Established in 2010, it’s one of the museum’s permanent exhibitions and honors famous Jewish Americans like Harry Houdini, Barbra Streisand, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Estée Lauder, and others.
Part of the University of Pennsylvania, the Penn Museum is an archaeology and anthropology museum with grounds that feature gardens, a rotunda, a fountain, a reflecting pool, and more. Founded in 1887, the museum houses more than a million objects like Bangongo tribal masks, an Apalaii Headdress, and an Asian collection with objects from an expedition to India from 1915 to 1918, with some of the earliest Indian art in America. Explore extensive artifacts from Africa, Mexico, China, Egypt, and beyond, designed to illustrate connections between cultures, and remember civilizations and tribes long gone.
Highlight: Head to the Sphinx Gallery to see the red Granite Sphinx of Ramses II (19th Dynasty, circa 1293-1185 BCE). It’s the largest sphinx in the Western hemisphere and represents the power of the Pharaoh and his ability to protect his people. Excavated from the temple of the god Ptah at Memphis, Egypt, it’s estimated to weigh around 13 tons.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art was originally commissioned in 1876 for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Opened in 1928, the building now houses more than 240,000 pieces from around the world. It’s also home to two of the most sought-after tourist attractions in the city: the Rocky steps and statue. Besides the main building, there are several annex museums like the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building and the Rodin Museum, which has one of the largest holdings of the French sculptor’s works outside of Paris.
Highlight: Don’t miss the $233 million dollar renovation designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry. The renovation includes 20,000 square feet of new gallery space, a restored the vaulted walkway in front of the building, and Gehry-signature curved and sculptural staircase.
📍2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 📞 215-763-8100, 🌐 philamuseum.org, 📷 @philamuseum, 🕑 Thur.-Mon., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 🎧 audio guided tours, 💵 $25 for adults and discounts for seniors age 65+, military, kids, students (with ID), and pay-what-you-wish on the first Sunday of the month, 🍽 café and restaurant on-site
Located inside a former Warner Bros. theater, the Asian Arts Initiative is a community-based arts center and nonprofit organization in Chinatown. It was founded in 1993 from a program at the Painted Bride Art Center in response to racial tensions and a need to promote understanding of Asian-American culture and experiences. It works to amplify underrepresented artists through rotating exhibitions, film screenings, live concerts, youth workshops, panel discussions, open-mic nights, and even has a unity skateboarding room.
Highlight: Inside the Asian Arts Initiative, there’s the the indoor 1223 Skate Park, an area filled with wheat paste poster art and elements like a quarter pipe, double launch grid box, two mini grid boxes, and a couple of rails. Individual skaters have the flexibility to lay the mini boxes and rails in various places throughout the room. Reservations can be made in 30- or 60-minute blocks of time. A pod of 4-5 people is recommended for each reservation.
Founded by Vashti DuBois in, The Colored Girls Museum is a collective of art, books, jewelry, collectibles, sounds, and other objects that encapsulates the everyday experiences of Black and Brown girls. Following the tradition within the Black community to use a home space as one for organizing, the museum is equal parts research facility, gallery space, community area, meditation center, and workshop. Located in a three-story and 130-year old Victorian house in Germantown, the museum is dedicated to honoring the ordinary and extraordinary of women of color through art and preservation of relics.
Highlight: All the pieces in the space, from clothing and furniture to art, display a collective existence between the artists. And you can actually contribute. The museum invites women and girls of color to submit art and collectibles that are significant to them, to be part of the collection.
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Established in 1977, the Fabric Workshop and Museum is a workspace and contemporary art museum that features exhibits ranging from abstract pieces outlining the history of art to dynamic canvas work. The museum also cultivates and encourages new artists with its artist-in-residence program, as well as a high school, college, and postgraduate apprentice training program, family workshops, and studio tours.
Highlight: In addition to dynamic rotating exhibits, the museum also has a terrific gift shop, full of unique artwork, home goods, clothing, accessories, and gifts made by artists-in-residence that you won’t find anywhere else.
To explore freedom’s backyard, head to Historic Germantown. With 18 historic houses like the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion and Cliveden, museums like the Lest We Forget Slavery Museum, and historic sites like Hood Cemetery in the collective, interesting stories of abolition, settlement, industry, and the past are all around.
Highlight: Check out the grounds of the Wyck House, which has a 197-year-old rose garden that spans two-and-a-half-acres, and features 70 varieties of the beloved flower. Developed by architect William Strickland, it is the oldest rose garden in its original plan in America. The grounds also feature perennial flowers, fruit trees, and a herb and vegetable garden. There is also a carriage house, smokehouse, greenhouse, and ice-house that date back as early as the late 18th century.
Purchased in 1924, this became the home of the first Black singer to perform at the White House and also the first Black person to sing with New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Marian Anderson called this residence her home until 1943. The museum preserves her legacy through artifacts, photography, and more. It’s also the hub for the Marian Anderson Scholar Artist Program which develops and sponsors artists, classical and opera singers, and musicians. The artists, ranging from 18 to 45, perform seasonally at events that the society sponsors yearly. They also perform around the world.
Highlight: Don’t miss the basement. For many Black people during the time, going out socially was not safe or they were prohibited from entering certain venues. Anderson transformed the basement of the house into a parlor and entertainment space for her friends. The basement includes Anderson’s portable bar, pieces of furniture, and a piano.
📍762 Martin St., 📞 215-779-4219, 🌐 marianandersonhistoricalsociety.weebly.com, 📷@marianandersonhistoricalsociety, 🕑 Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (virtual tours); living history tours are by phone reservation only, 💵 $10 for adults and discounts for groups
» READ MORE: Marian Anderson will be honored with a sculpture on S. Broad Street
After collecting neon signs for more than 40 years, Len Davidson realized his dream of opening the Neon Museum of Philadelphia in 2021. The museum has more than 120 signs, many of which have ties to the city. Davidson’s collection started with personal warehouse storage, eventually moved to Drexel University where he displayed 29 neons in the old Firestone tire store at 32nd and Market, and now is in a permanent museum space in Northern Liberties.
Highlight: “The Neon Museum of Philadelphia has a number of signs by Philly neon legend Joe Feldman of Ajax Sign Co., including his masterpiece — the original Pat’s Steaks crown. There were 39 neon tubes on the sign, but by the time it came into our hands, only two were left. Though the beautiful porcelain was restored, the neon restoration remains a bit of a mystery, as no photos of the sign with all of its neon have ever surfaced. Local lore says the sign was so spectacular and bright that you could see it from airplanes. It’s also home to the original neon sign for McGillin’s, the oldest tavern in Philly, dating to 1860. Due to maintenance problems, the double-sided sign was replaced with a replica and we were lucky enough to obtain and restore the original.”
Len Davidson, creator of The Neon Museum
📍1800 N. American St., 📞 215-534-3883, 🌐 neonmuseumofphiladelphia.com, 📷 @neonmuseumofphiladelphia, 🕑 Fri., 4-8 p.m., Sat. and Sun, noon-5 p.m., 💵 $10 for adults and discounts for members and kids aged 7-12
The Rosenbach spans two 19th-century townhouses near Rittenhouse Square, and houses the collections of Philip Rosenbach and his younger brother Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach, both predominant dealers of rare books and manuscripts during the first half of the 20th century. After joining with the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation in December 2013, the Rosenbach collection has now grown to more than 130,000 manuscripts and 30,000 rare books including the works of Bram Stoker, Lewis Carroll, Phillis Wheatley, Miguel de Cervantes, Charles Dickens, Mercedes de Acosta, and others.
Highlight: Every year on June 16, the world and The Rosenbach celebrate Bloomsday, the day that James Joyce’s literary odyssey Ulysses takes place in 1904. Celebrating the literary legacy of Ulysses, the event includes a complete reading of the text and musical performances in front of The Rosenbach. The celebration takes all day, and includes readers who are everyday Joyce fans as well as some of Philadelphia’s well-known personalities.
Taller Puertorriqueño is a community-based organization that develops, promotes, and conserves Puerto Rican and Latino art and culture. Open since 1974, the center exhibits art, creates cultural programming, has live music performances, hosts author literary talks, screens films, and holds after-school education with a singular mission to foster community empowerment.
Highlight: Named after famed Puerto Rican poet and Advocate, Julia de Burgos, the Taller Puertorriqueño gift shop features bilingual literature and collectibles that celebrate Latinx culture, including a collection of Puerto Rican folk stories, children’s picture books, diaspora studies texts, graphic novels, jewelry, and art, and more.
Go here to get a real glimpse at a Victorian-era science museum. A National Historic Landmark, the Wagner Free Institute of Science opened in 1855 and was designed by John McArthur Jr., the architect who mapped-out City Hall. The renowned natural history museum also functions as a research center, library, and educational facility. The museum maintains more than 100,000 specimens like Chinese pangolins, the Jurassic fish lizard-like creature Ichthyosaurus intermedius, Asian and African elephant skulls, two-toed sloths, and more. The exhibit hall still retains its 19th-century style, with objects displayed in cherry wood and glass cabinets from the 1880s.
Highlight: Remnants of the first American saber-toothed tiger, Smilodon floridanus, was discovered on a museum-sponsored expedition to Florida in 1886. Collected by well-known paleontologist and former Wagner lecturer Edward Drinker Cope, the fossil is now on display in the exhibition hall. The institute also has the remains of the Brontosaurus excelsus, the 38-ton dinosaur which lived 157 million years ago.
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