Postcard from Philadelphia ~ 5 Free Things To Do in the City of Brotherly Love

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 ūüėČ Here are a few budget-friendly things to do in America’s former capital…¬†


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).¬†¬†

Liberty Bell in Philadelphia

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.¬†



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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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!!¬†

Mural Mile in Philadelphia


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.¬†


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 ūüėČ

Rocky Statue in PhiladelphiaBarnes Foundation

Rodin Museum in Philadelphia










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 ūüėȬ†

Termini Brothers Cannoli

Reading terminal market



Yes, there are LOVE sculptures all over the world now (including one, en espa√Īol/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‚Äôs Alley, America’s¬†oldest continuously inhabited residential street.¬†

Postcard from Philladelphia: Mural Mile

I didn’t venture too far for my first trip of 2016. Philadelphia is just¬†an hour and half away from New York by train and less than two hours from Washington, so my NYC bestie Caitlin and I met up halfway for a quick early January birthdays day-trip in the City of Brotherly Love. Neither one of us had visited the new Barnes Foundation¬†so¬†we¬†had agreed to make the new-ish museum our first stop (purchasing tickets for timed entry in advance is highly recommended). Afterwards, however, we took a break from the Renoirs to¬†explore the open air “museum” that is Philadelphia’s Mural Mile.¬†

With¬†more than 3,000 murals, Philadelphia is one of the top cities in the US for street art (according to this Huffington Post ranking, it’s # 2 in the country!). Most of the edgier and more interesting work¬†is located in neighborhoods that tourists rarely venture to, like the Market Street corridor in West Philly, Point Breeze or the up-and-coming Fishtown. But not all and there’s a concentration of 17 of them over a 2.5 miles route downtown that’s known as Mural Mile. The recommended route to see them all 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.

Philadelphia's Mural Mile Map

While organized tours are available,¬†¬†you can easily walk Mural Mile on your own using the map above from the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s website¬†or this curated Google Map. Caitlin and I¬†leisurely meandered through the streets, admiring the architecture of the city as well as the murals. Good thing it was unseasonably warm that day ūüėȬ†


Philadelphia's Mural Mile: A Taste of Summer by Ann Northrup

This lush mural about food as art by Ann Northrup is on the side of Vetri Ristorante, a landmark northern Italian restaurant at 1312 Spruce Street

Philadelphia's Mural Mile: Winter-Crystal Snowscape by David Guinn

Winter: Crystal Snowscape by David Guinn, one of four murals in the “Four Seasons” series¬†painted by the Philadelphia based artist around town

Philadelphia's Mural Mile: Meg Saligman's 'Philadelphia Muses'

Meg Saligman’s ‘Philadelphia Muses’ is located near Avenue of the Arts, Philadelphia’s cultural center

Philadelphia's Mural Mile: 'Women of Progress' by Cesar Viveros and Larissa Preston

‘Women of Progress’ by Cesar Viveros and Larissa Preston shows the progression of women in various roles and professions over time. It’s painted on the side of the New Century Trust, an organization that highlights the contributions of women to society.

Philadelphia's Mural Mile: Gimme Shelter by David Guinn

Philadelphia native David Guinn painted “Gimme Shelter” near the Morris Animal Shelter on Lombard Street

They may not be the edgiest – or even the most colourful – but all of the 17 murals of Mural Mile give an insight into Philadelphia’s history, its communities and their creativity. They also sure look better than plain brick walls … and I can’t think of a better way to discover a new city!