We’re spoiled here in Washington that most of our museums and historical attractions are completely free, making DC a very wallet-friendly destination for tourists and locals playing tourists. Like Washington, and just a quick bus or train ride away, Philadelphia is also rich in history and pretty affordable to explore, so long as you’re willing to put up with some lines 😉 Here are a few budget-friendly things to do in America’s former capital…
VISIT AMERICA’S MOST IMPORTANT HISTORICAL SITES
Bonus: they’re all conveniently located within a square mile. Between 1790 and 1800, while the Federal City (<– DC) was under construction, Philadelphia got to be the temporary capital of the United States. Before that, it played a key role in the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers gathered there to sign the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (though of course, to actually see those, you have to come here to DC!) . The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and Congress Hall are all right there, right next to one another, and yes, they’re all free to explore, though you’ll need a timed ticket to get into Independence Hall, so get there early in the busy summer season (like 8:30AM).
Not as related to US history, but pretty cool nonetheless, is Dream Garden, a stunning mosaic made of 100,000 pieces of Tiffany Glass that graces the lobby of the Curtis Center, just a block away from Independence Hall along Washington Square. Since it’s in an office building, you have to visit it during business hours or before noon on Saturdays.
WALK MURAL MILE
With over 3,000 public murals, Philadelphia is one of the top city for street art in the US. There’s a concentration of 17 of them over a 2.5 miles route downtown that’s known as Mural Mile. You can check out my blog post for more information on doing a self-guided tour. The recommended route starts at 7th and Chestnut, steps away from the independence visitor center so you can easily combine it with a visit to the city’s most famous monuments like the Liberty Bell. While on tour, make a detour and swing by Rittenhouse Square Park, where you will find the original La Colombe coffee shop location. Grab a glass of still or sparkling water… it’s free there!!
CATCH A FREE PERFORMANCE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST FULLY FUNCTIONING PIPE ORGAN
Located in the Grand Court of a former Wanamaker department store (one of the oldest chain of department stores in the country) the 111 years old, 7 stories tall and 287 tons instrument is now one of the main reason to go shopping at the Macy‘s City Center. Grand Court Organ concerts are performed twice daily, Monday through Saturday (at 12PM and in the evenings). I found out about the organ in this Smithsonian Magazine piece and I’m definitely glad I did.
CLIMB THE ROCKY STEPS
If you’re not up for the exercise of the 72 steps hike leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you can at least snap a pic with the statue of Rocky near the bottom of the stairs. Admission to the museum is a steep $20 but you can save a few bucks if you visit on the first Sunday of every month and after 5PM on Wednesday, when the museum charges a “Pay What You Wish” admission fee. Also more affordable on the first Sunday of every month is the Barnes Foundation down the street on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, though tickets are limited and given on a first come first serve basis, so you’ll want to get there before 9AM. Next door to the Barnes Foundation, the Rodin Museum has a $10 suggested admission but is actually “Pay What You Wish” every day so you can leave less than that if you’re on a tight budget. The garden around the museum is free year round too. I know, it’s not as good as our Smithsonians here, but at least there are a few ways to see the art for free or close to free 😉
EXPLORE ONE OF THE GREATEST FOOD HALL IN THE COUNTRY.
I hesitated to add Reading Terminal Market to the list because while it’s free to walk around and see all the different food stalls, you’ll have a hard time not reaching out for your wallet to purchase a bite or two or five. At Reading, you’ll find pretty much every type of cuisine you can think of, from Asian to Cajun but the most interesting are obviously the only-in-Philadelphia options like the family-run restaurants offering traditional (and very cheap) Pennsylvania Dutch fare (try the apple fritter at Beiler’s Donuts!), authentic Philly cheesesteaks at Spataros’ or decadent cannolis at Termini Brothers Bakery. And if the food isn’t free, the wifi is… so at least there’s that 😉
BONUS: SNAP A SELFIE WITH ROBERT INDIANA’S FAMOUS LOVE SCULPTURE.
Yes, there are LOVE sculptures all over the world now (including one, en español/Italian, right here in DC), but this one, installed in 1976 is probably the most famous one of them all! The park where it’s located, which everyone calls Love Park though it’s official name is JFK Plaza, is currently undergoing a major renovation. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it’s done! For some more great instagram snaps, head down to Elfreth’s Alley, America’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street.