We are on the road a lot. If I’m being honest, some cities tend to meld together and it’s easy to forget where a museum was or which neighbourhood we liked best in each. Before arriving in Philadelphia last week, I was unsure how I would feel about it. Would the kids find it to be just another city? Would we be able to find enough to do to fill three days?
I can tell you that within being in the city for just a few short hours, I absolutely fell in love with Philadelphia. A love that continued to grow over 3 days and was shared by my two kids who are now 8 and 6.
It seems we discovered something many Canadians already knew judging from the amount of Blue Jays hats we saw while out exploring; Philly is close to the border and a perfect city for families looking for fun, food, and Americana.
Family Hotels in Philadelphia
Depending on your budget, there are a number of family hotels in Philadelphia to choose from. We stayed at the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District. We arrived to find a bustling lobby full of families ready to explore Philly. Our room was bright and clean and had been recently renovated. The hotel has a rooftop pool where families would congregate in the evenings. The location was perfect as we were close to Penn’s Landing (read on for more) and many historic sights including the National Park that houses the Liberty Bell. The hotel offered self-parking and room service and is a great find for families traveling on a budget.
For families looking for a little more of a splurge, check out the Sonesta Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square. I recently discovered this hotel brand while staying at the one in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I oddly found this hotel when seeing Philly from above from the tourist attraction One Liberty Observation Deck which is similar to the Top of the Rock in New York. From that height, it was easy to see that the hotel’s luxurious design stretched all the way to their rooftop pool. It’s a hotel we will definitely check out during our next stay.
Getting Around Philadelphia
No matter which hotel you choose in Philadelphia, you will likely be close to a PHLASH stop. The Philadelphia PHLASH is the best way to see a city we have found so far. Only $5 a day for unlimited rides, the PHLASH is an air-conditioned purple bus that hits every major tourist attraction and crosses the entire city. Knowing that you will not need to worry about navigating a city, learning to use a new transit system and finding parking makes visiting Philly even more desirable.
Family Activities in Philadelphia
Once you’ve found lodging, there are plenty of family activities in Philadelphia. Some steeped in American history and others just cool things to do with your kids. Here’s what we liked best.
Eastern State Penitentiary
Stay with me. It may seem weird that our top family recommendation is a historic prison. Trust me, I know. When we explore cities, I like to let the kids each choose an activity. For some reason, Will chose to visit the Eastern State Pen. Now in ruins, the Penitentiary was an operational prison from 1829 until 1971 and was the world’s first penitentiary. First off, it’s eerily cool but not overly frightening. Secondly, kids are welcomed with a Scavenger Hunt that simplifies some of the lessons we can all learn from the Penitentiary. The Scavenger Hunt is perfectly thought out to match the audio tour offered to adults and children alike. Visiting the Penitentiary brought up a lot of conversations around things like race and American history. It even introduced the kids to Al Capone. I thought we would visit for under an hour but we only called it quits closer to hour 3. While I wouldn’t recommend the Penitentiary for really small kids, children over 5 will likely love it.
The Please Touch Museum
Families with younger kids may find Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum to be a better fit. Located along the PHLASH route, the museum is huge and extremely fun for kids 6 and under. Will, at 8, enjoyed it but found he was a little too big for some of the activities. Plan on spending at least half a day exploring the Alice in Wonderland maze, Curious George exhibit, and rocket launching room.
The Smith Playground & Playhouse
Located a little off the PHLASH route and just off the I-76 if you are driving, the Smith Playground & Playhouse is an absolute gem. The building is stunning and the playground situated on 6.5 acres is mind-blowing. Watching my kids run and explore without worrying about them learning a thing was very freeing. The large wooden slide is laughter inducing and you’ll find yourself climbing into a potato sack and joining in on the fun. When my kids and I look back on our time in Philadelphia, I have no doubt that the Smith Playground and Playhouse will be something we all remember fondly for life.
The Rocky Steps
At 8 and 6, my kids haven’t had the privilege of watching Rocky quite yet. You can bet that didn’t stop me from making them run up the Rocky Steps located outside of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As we headed up the steps and I danced around like Rocky at the top, Will wondered aloud what we were doing but followed along. It’s hilarious to sit on the steps and simply watch the number of people that do this daily.
The Liberty Bell Center
When in Philadelphia, you must go see the Liberty Bell. A huge piece of American history, the Liberty Bell is housed in a very cool building with plenty of historic multi-media. My kids were surprisingly intrigued by the Liberty Bell and listening to the Park Ranger explain its significance to Charlie was a neat experience. He was animated, very knowledgeable and funny. A great stop in Philadelphia which will take under an hour of your time.
Spruce Street Harbor Park and Penn’s Landing
Located next to each other and on the waterfront, Spruce Street Harbor Park and Penn’s Landing became our go-to nightly destination. A quick walk from our hotel, Penn’s Landing is home to a roller skating rink, an inventive mini-golf course, a restaurant serving seafood and craft beer and an outpost of the famous Franklin Fountain ice cream store. We loved visiting and stayed for at least an hour each night.
After checking out Penn’s Landing, walk to the adjoining Spruce Street Harbor Park to find what may be Philadelphia’s coolest hangout. We joined tourists and Philadelphians alike who were huddled in one of 50 hammocks or stretched out on the netted dock enjoying the beautiful summer nights. The design of this park is amazing and your kids will love the energy and hundreds of fluorescent lights dangling from the trees. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to move to a city or at least makes you wish your home city would come up with a similar space.
This photo is credited to M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia.
There are plenty of food trucks, restaurants, bars and ice cream vendors here so don’t worry about having dinner first.
For Pokemon Go players, this is the ultimate spot to find some water type Pokemon and meet like-minded players. (Side note: Most of the Pokestops in Philadelphia are historical monuments and sign posts. This is one educational place to let your kids try and catch ’em all).
To Philly With Love
Everyone I know who has visited Philadelphia lately has loved it. It is clear that people are smitten with this city. I found Philly to be an incredibly friendly city where I felt quite comfortable being out after dark with my kids. As a solo mom, there wasn’t a moment where I felt unsafe. Every person we met in restaurants, local attractions and on the street was warm and welcoming. While we waited for the PHLASH which was never more than 5-10 minutes, locals always stopped to check that we weren’t lost or offer advice on what to do next. This truly is a city that has captured my heart in a way few cities have.
I hope you will reach out if you need tips or want advice on planning your own Philly escape. We’re already planning ours for next summer.
Other Philadelphia Resources To Check Out:
Stop by VisitPhilly.com before your stay to see the complete list of activities available for families.
For families with teens, check out R We There Yet Mom’s 11 Things to Do in Philadelphia with Kids.