Museums, tours and admission costs to popular attractions can run up the tab in a hurry, but those in the know in Philadelphia can find plenty to do and see on a dime. In fact, many folks are often surprised to learn how affordable a visit to the City of Brotherly Love can be. This is due, in part, to the fact that a number of Philadelphia’s top attractions are part of the U.S. National Park Service, and as a result, entrance to visit is free (although there can be associated fees for making advance reservations). Additionally, a number of other attractions in Philadelphia, including many museums, provide inexpensive or discounted admission.
National Constitution Center
525 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
The quintessential “must-see” stop for any visitor to Philadelphia is Independence Hall, where 56 courageous men gathered in defiance of the King of England to endorse the Declaration of Independence. See George Washington’s “rising sun” chair in the Assembly Room, the original inkstand used to sign the Declaration of Independence and feast your eyes on the original draft of the U.S. Constitution. All of these sights are yours to see free of charge. Just across Independence Mall is the world-famous Liberty Bell (again, no charge to see it, but be ready to wait in line), and although there are any number of paid walking, bus, trolley and carriage tours available to guide you through the many other historical sites nearby, you can easily explore on foot for free.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130
While it may not hold an official spot in history books, one of the first places many visitors ask their Philly hosts to take them is ‘The Rocky Stairs,’ better known as the stairs to the Philadelphia Art Museum. It’s a hotspot for locals and visitors alike to exercise — rarely does one pass by the museum without noticing any number of folks sprinting up or down those iconic stairs, from serious fitness buffs to jeans-clad, camera-toting tourists — and even the heaviest of snowfall doesn’t stop the fans from visiting, as many enjoy this unofficial hill for sledding each winter. But for the real deal seeker, the true treasure is inside the museum itself. While tickets to explore this national treasure may be too pricey for some, the first Sunday of every month and every Wednesday after 5 p.m. are “pay as you wish” days.
The Philadelphia Zoo
3400 W. Girard Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Philadelphia is home to our nation’s first zoo, which has served the City of Brotherly Love for well over a century and a half. A longtime role model for conservation, environmental education and environmental sustainability, The Philadelphia Zoo is “Committed to connecting people with wildlife.” To ensure that the gardens are available to Philly-area residents regardless of their economic standing, The Zoo welcomes Title 1 schoolchildren and individuals from a number of community-based organizations through its Community Access Program, which provides free admission to eligible children, community groups and 501(c)(3) organizations. In addition to this community give-back, the zoo also offers discounted admission through partnerships with other zoos (if you are a member at another zoo, check to see if you qualify), group rates, combo tickets (provides discounted access to multiple area museums and attractions), discount tickets through hotels and other services, as well as various membership opportunities, which for the frequent visitor, easily pays for itself in just one or two visits.
Related: Ecotourism Spots In Philadelphia
Reading Terminal Market
51 N. 12th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
You don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy Reading Terminal Market, although we bet you’ll find something delectable you just can’t pass up. No visitor to Philadelphia should consider his or her experience complete without stopping by the famous market, a mecca of shopping, dining and cultural experiences. Here, modern meets new as you navigate the busy aisles of this lively marketplace to explore intriguing shops, inviting restaurants from which mouth-watering aromas waft, as well as a number of local vendors hawking their fresh-from-the-farm produce, hand-crafted home goods and Amish specialties. Fresh meats and seafood and poultry abound, as do handmade confections and baked goods straight from the oven.
Wissahickon Valley Park
300 Northwestern Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19118
Think you need to pack up the car and drive for hours to hike or backpack? Think again. Save time, gas money and other travel costs by heading to one of Philadelphia’s crown jewels, Wissahickon Valley Park. This is part of the Fairmount Park system — the largest city park system in the nation — which encompasses approximately 1,800 acres along the Wissahickon creek. Access Forbidden Drive (the name alone begs one to set out on an adventure) and the surrounding trails of this park can be found via Valley Green Road in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood, where parking and bathrooms are available, too. Need another reason to check out this park? Head to Chestnut Hill, a vibrant yet quaint Philly neighborhood brimming with family-friendly activities and venues, before or after your walk. Window-shopping is always free — as is the charming atmosphere — along cobble-stoned Germantown Avenue, which is lined with shops, eateries and interesting galleries.
Related: A Day In Chestnut Hill
Christy Ayala covers sports, recreation, the outdoors, and leisure activities in the Philadelphia area. She earned a masters degree in recreation administration from George Williams College and managed programs in the Midwest, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.