Philly on a Budget: 15 Museums & More You Can Visit For Free

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Photo of the Philadelphia skyline from a park outside of downtown.
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Seriously, stop trying to label Philadelphia as New York City’s sixth borough. 

The City of Brotherly Love has — literally, since our country’s founding — more than enough to stand on its own. And those offerings only keep expanding. Even so, travel expenses can add up, and while it may always be sunny in Philadelphia, it isn’t always cheap.

Well, we here at Wanderu don’t think you should have to sell your kidney to afford a weekend away, which is why you can find crazy-cheap prices on bus rides to Philly from places like Boston, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

It’s also why we put together this extensive guide. Whether you’re day-tripping from NYC (buses and trains are very frequent and affordable between the two cities) or dedicating your days to Philly, the city has an abundance of free activities so you can save your dollars for the things that matter. Like giving Philly’s food scene its due. 

We found 15 awesome attractions that you can enjoy for free and broke them down by category to get you started. Some of them are “pay what you wish,” and if what you wish is nothing at all, who are we to judge? Start by picking a subject from the menu below, or scroll through to see the full list. Either way, prepare to let that Philly-philia flow.

ART

Photo of an ancient exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum.
2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.
Philadelphia, PA 19130
10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Sun, Tues, Thur, Sat)
10 a.m. – 8:45 p.m. (Wed, Fri)
Closed on Mondays
Official site
Pay what you wish on the first Sunday of the month, and on every Wednesday night.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The famed “Rocky” stairs aren’t the only thing that will have you running: The museum’s collection includes a number of works by Cy Twombly, Paul Strand, Mary Cassatt, Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O’Keefe, Diego Rivera, Andy Warhol and many (many) more — on top of a sculpture garden and a number of special exhibitions.

As for Rocky Balboa himself: There is, naturally, a statue in his honor out front.

1214 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Mon – Fri)
12 p.m. – 5 p.m. (Sat & Sun)
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: For starters, there is no other museum like it worldwide. (Don’t believe us? Check out their current exhibitions.) What started as a silkscreen printing operation in the 1970s now houses a collection approaching 6,000 items from some 500 artists.

Even cooler: After exploring the exhibitions, you can tour the artists-in-residence studios and see their fantastic fabric works come to life in real time.

2151 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.
Philadelphia, PA 19130
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Mon – Wed)
Closed on Tuesdays
Official site
Admission is always pay what you wish.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: This is the only dedicated Auguste Rodin museum outside of France — with a collection of roughly 150 works from throughout the famed sculptor’s career. This Beaux Arts building was constructed in 1929 and restored in 2012 to properly showcase the masterpieces inside.

Want some fresh air, or just want a taste of Rodin’s work without fully committing? The garden, which contains eight works, is free and open year-round.

118 S. 36th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
11 a.m. –8 p.m. (Wed)
11 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Thur – Sun)
Closed on Mondays & Tuesdays
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Get the scoop on what’s happening in contemporary art. Part of the University of Pennsylvania, ICA has been around since 1963 and has never let up on its mission to show students what’s happening in the present rather than the canonical past. (They’re a non-collection institution.) Even more, they’re passionate about bringing attention to under-appreciated artists. Fun fact: Andy Warhol’s first solo show was at ICA.

OUTDOORS

Photo of Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.
18th and Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: One of city founder William Penn’s five original plaza parks, Rittenhouse Square is the civic heart of Philly’s Center City.

There’s a reflecting pool and sculptures throughout, but there’s also stellar people (and dog!) watching, as well as a steady schedule of events (farmers’ markets, art) and entertainment (live music, etc.).

Those in the know grab a pastry from K’Far Café two blocks down, then find a bench and settle in.

Fifth and Race St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Walkway hours:
6 a.m – 8 p.m. (Oct – Apr)
6 a.m. – 9 p.m. (May – Sep)
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Need an adrenaline rush? Want a boost on your daily steps to counter all that babka and rugelach you just ate in the park? Determined to find the best possible view of the skyline? Trek the bridge’s pedestrian walkway, which spans nearly two miles from Philly to Camden, N.J., and permits both bikes and pets.

Race Street Pier: Race St. and N. Columbus Blvd.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The banks of the Delaware have had a serious glow-up since George Washington crossed — and, more specifically, since the nonprofit Delaware River Waterfront Corporation got involved.

Of note among the many free places to explore? The two-tier promenade and picnic area of Race Street Pier, which literally glows with some 200 lights at night.

Or, should you visit in May through September, you can lounge in a handmade hammock, play bocce or grab a beer and explore the floating gardens at Spruce Street Harbor Park. You’re also in for a terrific view of the light installation on the Ben Franklin Bridge.

5400 Lindbergh Blvd.
Philadelphia, PA 19143
Welcome Center Hours:
10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (Mon – Fri)
10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Sat & Sun)
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Not all National Historic Landmarks are old structures – some are actively growing like the 45 acres of Bartram’s Garden. It was founded in 1728 by John Bartram, a Quaker with a scientific bent who put together the world’s most biodiverse collection of North American plants.

Today, Bartram’s Garden is a delightful, invigorating place for you to explore. If you’d like to get out on the water, there is also free kayaking and row boating from the garden’s river access.

919 S. 9th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Open daily
Hours vary by vendor
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: It’s 10 city blocks of open-air vendors, restaurants, bakeries, butcher shops and specialty stores. It’s South Philly in its perfect and particular state of being.

The Italian Market has been here since the 1880s, and continues to welcome new generations of immigrant families and business owners into its community. Which is to say: grab a slice of pizza, for sure, but walk around long enough to build up an appetite for some of the city’s tastiest Vietnamese and Mexican food, too.

SCIENCE

Photo of the Wagner Free Institute of Science in Philadelphia.
(Credit: Christine Fisher / Flickr)
1700 West Montgomery Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19121
9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Open Tuesday – Friday
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Per locals and visitors alike, this fairly hidden (yet expansive) 19th-century exhibit hall-turned-museum is totally weird and totally not-to-miss. Among the massive collection of mounted mammals, fossils, rocks, minerals, shells and dinosaur bones: The first saber-toothed tiger found on American soil.

Just note that no photography or filming is allowed — this one’s for your memory, not the ’gram.

HISTORY

Photo of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Independence Hall: 520 Chestnut St.
Liberty Bell Center: 526 Market St. (exit near Chestnut St.)
Philadelphia, PA 19106
9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Open daily
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: When in Philly, you just kind of have to. It is the Liberty Bell, after all — and Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were ushered into existence.

There will be crowds. The bell will not be as big as your grade-school textbooks led you to believe. But the other option is being haunted forever by the ghosts of the Founding Fathers, so … (Sorry, we don’t make the rules.)

420 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Open Saturday & Sunday
Note: hours change seasonally
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: You’re definitely not scoring “Hamilton” tickets for free, so instead scope out the Portrait Gallery here, which includes paintings of Alexander Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette among its ranks. (Philly is actually a stop on our 14-city Hamilton tour.)

And though they’re not on center stage, don’t think there’s no drama. Per the National Park Service site: “Chartered by Congress in 1816, the Second Bank played a pivotal role in the ‘bank wars,’ which pitted President Andrew Jackson against powerful bank president Nicholas Biddle.”

532 N. 7th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19123
9 a.m. – 12 p.m., 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Open Friday – Sunday
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Edgar Allan Poe lived in this home with his wife and mother-in-law for just a year in 1843 — he wrote “The Black Cat” while living here — but it’s the only one of his residences in the city that still stands.

And although his time there was short, the place shouts Poe: the creepy basement, the giant door knocker you must (unironically) use to be let in, the audio recordings of his work, the discussion of poverty and illness in his family … you get it.

126 Elfreth’s Alley
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Museum House is open April – October:
12 p.m. – 5 p.m. (Fri - Sun)
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Elfreth’s is the country’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street. In the roughly 300 years since construction, the cobblestones and 32 homes have only increased their charm (and, we assume, their building code standards).

Not in the original city plan and named for blacksmith Jeremiah Elfreth, the alley started as an alternate cart path to the port in 1706. In other words: It’s peak historic preservation meets tiny house trend.

151 N. Independence Mall East
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Open weekdays
9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (entrance closes at 4:15 p.m.)
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: You heard it from Cardi B first: “All I really wanna see is the (Money).” And no, she probably won’t be along for your self-guided 45-minute tour. But that doesn’t matter, because you’ll be eyeing the entire coining operation from 40 feet above in the Tiffany glass-filled historic building. You’ll quickly learn there’s something satisfying about seeing money get made — for free!

So, whether you’re an American history buff or just like a good cheesesteak, Philadelphia should be on your radar — and it doesn’t have to cost an 💪 and a 🦵 to get there.

These parks, historic sites and museums are the very best way to explore the The Cradle of Liberty on a budget. And the best way to get there is by booking through Wanderu, where you can compare cheap bus, train and flight options all in the same search. 

And once you’ve had your fill of Philly, don’t stop there! Just check out all the places you can visit from Philadelphia for less than $20.

Looking for low-cost activities in other expensive cities? Check out our guides to New York City and Washington, D.C. for more free tours, museums and more. 

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About the author
Alyssa Konermann

Alyssa Konermann

Alyssa Konermann has hitchhiked through rural Thailand; lived next to the beach in Goa, India; danced to folk music in Las Pampas and to club music is Buenos Aires; road-tripped around Morocco on some winding mountain roads she should not have survived; eaten from a communal pot of snails in Barcelona—and is always planning her next trip, even if it’s just a weekend eating in NYC. A freelance writer and former editor at Cincinnati Magazine, the adventure she’s currently on is pursuing a graduate degree in creative writing.