The City of Brotherly Love has a rich history and a thriving art scene, much of which can be enjoyed for nothing at all. From free museums to fun neighborhoods to explore – and some very famous steps to run – here are 17 of the best free things to do in Philadelphia.
Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are free to visit © dszc / Getty Images
1. Visit America’s birthplace at Independence Hall
Philadelphia’s prime attraction, Independence Hall, is considered the “birthplace of American government,” and it’s here the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4, 1776. Tours are on a first-come-first-served basis, and lines can be long (around an hour) in summer.
2. Let freedom ring at the Liberty Bell Center
Previously mounted in Independence Hall, Liberty Bell tolled the day of the first public reading of the Declaration. It’s now housed in a glass building across the street, where you can learn all about the Bell, from its casting in London to the story behind the crack, its inscription and its significance today. Again, expect long lines when waiting to see this symbol of American independence.
Local tip: Skip the line and peek in the window for a view that’s really just as good.
3. See America’s oldest residential street at Elfreth’s Alley
Historians and architecture lovers will want to stroll down this picturesque, narrow cobblestone lane, lined with well-preserved Federal and Georgian row houses. It’s been occupied since the 1720s and is America’s oldest residential street. It was first occupied by artisans and traders who made Philadelphia their home.
4. Soak up the sun at Fairmount Park
Fairmount Park is the biggest outdoor park in Philadelphia and a wonderful place to have fun at no cost at all. Bring some comfortable walking shoes: there are more than 2000 acres of hills, trails and woodlands, many of which wind through a true urban forest. In addition to its verdant, lush forests, Fairmount Park is also home to huge architectural structures, like the Smith Memorial Arch.
Local tip: Bring a picnic for an affordable meal with a view.
The Schuylkill River Trail is one of the best places to enjoy a summer sunset © Sean Pavone / Getty Images
5. Walk the Schuylkill River Trail
The greenish-blue Schuylkill River (pronounced “skoo-kul,” if you’re wondering) has several places on its banks for visitors to enjoy themselves. Explore the Schuylkill River Trail, which extends alongside the river for around 75 miles. The 10-mile stretch within Philly is perfect for a stroll or a jog, and it’s one of the best places to watch the sun setting over the city too.
Local tip: In the summer, Parks on Tap sometimes sets up a beer garden on the banks of the Schuylkill.
6. See the spirits of Philadelphia through Mural Arts
Philadelphia has more murals throughout its city limits than almost any other city in America, and that is due mostly to the work of Mural Arts. This philanthropic organization helps paint gigantic, colorful murals featuring hometown heroes throughout the city, like Grammy Award winners the Roots, basketball legend Julius “Dr J” Irving and more. You’ll find a mural anywhere you go; to catch them all, follow the official Mural Arts Tour.
Local tip: While some of the largest murals are in Center City, the program is famous for installing murals in residential neighborhoods, so keep your eyes peeled as you wander the streets.
It’s free to wander the historic site of the President’s House © Michael Butler / Lonely Planet
7. Ponder America’s legacy at the President’s House
The President’s House is an open-air structure that commemorates the complicated legacy of enslaved Africans in the United States. US presidents George Washington and John Adams both owned slaves, creating circumstances that make visitors reevaluate the true meaning of freedom and the American dream. Fact-filled explanatory panels are on display throughout the space, allowing for an educational look at America’s past.
8. Snap a photo at the LOVE sculpture
Any Insta-loving photographer is going to want to stop by the LOVE sculpture in Love Park. The artwork by Robert Indiana was first placed there in 1976, briefly removed in 1978 and quickly reinstalled due to public demand. Grab that perfect shot with the Philly architecture in the background.
Philadelphia’s most popular summer park is along the Delaware River © M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia
9. Play games at Spruce Street Harbor Park
There’s a lot happening on the Delaware River Waterfront. If you’re visiting in summertime, you need to soak up the colorful lights and spacious hammocks of Spruce Street Harbor Park. Play a free game of ping-pong or shuffleboard at this Old City attraction. If you’re looking to spend some money, it’s a great place to stop for craft beer and food stalls, too.
10. Take in the city from Dilworth Park
Formally opened in September 2014, Dilworth Park is one of Center City’s most photogenic outdoor spaces, known for gushing fountains and ongoing programming featuring live music, fitness classes and more. Enjoy the sights and sounds of downtown Philadelphia with the classical architecture of City Hall looming overhead.
11. Experience culture at Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
South Broad St’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts has free concerts showcasing genres as diverse as modern jazz and Latin salsa. It also offers family fun days, plus workshops, plays and concerts for kids.
The 40ft Chinatown Friendship Gate makes for a great photo-op © Visit Philadelphia
12. Take in the Chinatown Friendship Gate
Whether you’re in Chinatown for bubble tea or dinner at one of many Chinese restaurants, Philly’s Chinatown community is widely recognized by its ornate, beautifully designed Chinatown Friendship Gate, which was renovated in 2008. This symbol of cultural exchange and goodwill between Philly and its Chinese sister city, Tiajin, is a great backdrop for a memorable photo or two.
Local tip: Chinatown isn’t just home to Chinese restaurants, but also Vietnamese, Malaysian and Japanese eateries.
13. See modern art at the Institute of Contemporary Art
Located on a very visible corner of University City, the Institute of Contemporary Art has free admission year-round and showcases socially conscious and avant-garde artwork. ICA is known for exhibits that reimagine how we view visual art and the media used to create it. Don’t be surprised to see installations featuring video cameras, large sculptures or even engaging performance art.
14. Learn the value of a dollar at the United States Mint
The United States Mint in Philadelphia gives visitors an intimate look at the coin-making process for free. Take a self-guided tour of a facility that produces millions of coins (!) every 30 minutes. Even if you can’t take coins home with you from the facility, this fascinating Old City destination shows how much work goes into even one cent of US currency.
15. Get your heart rate up at the Rocky statue and steps
Once upon a time, an emerging actor called Sylvester Stallone created a film that would eventually represent the toughness that people have come to expect from Philadelphians. That movie was Rocky (1976), and the star’s portrayal of fictional boxer Rocky Balboa has been immortalized with a statue near the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps that his film helped make famous. Grab a picture with a Philly legend, or head for the real prize, the Rocky Steps! Run to the top, just like Stallone did in the movies.
Local tip: Don’t be embarrassed if you decide to run the steps. Many visitors travel to Philly from all over the world just to recreate this classic film moment.
16. Wander historic Franklin Square
You’ll pay to play mini golf or ride the carousel, but it’s free to enter historic Franklin Square, which hosts events throughout the year. Time your visit to see the impressive sound and light show at the fountains, which benefited from a $2 million renovation in 2019.
Wander through the University of Pennsylvania campus © SINITAR / Shutterstock
17. Learn a thing or two at the University of Pennsylvania
The leafy campus of the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania is a lovely spot for an afternoon stroll. It’s immediately west across the Schuylkill River from downtown Philly and, together with Drexel University, will make you feel like you’re part of one big college town.
18. Meet a legend at the Joe Frazier statue
While fictional boxing hero Rocky Balboa may receive more fanfare in pop culture, former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier’s statue at the Sports Complex is a treat for any sports fan. The late Philly sports star’s statue is located near Xfinity Live! and features “Smokin’ Joe” just as he looked after knocking out Muhammad Ali in what sports lovers affectionately call the Fight of the Century.
Local tip: If you get hungry near the sports stadiums, Chickie & Pete’s crab fries, which come dusted with Old Bay, are a local favorite.
19. Spend an evening at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
With new exhibits opening on a regular basis, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is always worth checking out. Adult tickets are usually $25, but every Friday night from 5pm and the first Sunday of every month, it’s pay whatever you want for admission. Immerse yourself in iconic art from visual artists, like Pablo Picasso, and afterward, pause at the top of the museum’s steps for a scenic view of Philly’s skyline.
Local tip: If you aren’t in the city on a free-admission weekend, the nearby Rodin Museum is always free.