Top 10 Things to Do in Philadelphia for First Time Visitors – Must See & Do Attractions

Philadelphia is a wonderful destination for family vacations. It’s filled with educational and historic attractions, from the Liberty Bell to the Betsy Ross House, as well as family-favorites like a zoo, an aquarium, and a top-notch science museum.

You’ll also find plenty of arts and culture, an expanding culinary scene, and lots of outdoor recreation activities. Throw in an exciting selection of sporting events, and you’ve got the makings of one fantastic vacation.

For first time visitors, this can seem overwhelming. What to tackle first? What’s worth it, and what’s ok to skip? While it depends on what you want to see and what kinds of attractions interest you and your family the most, there are a few basic things that you simply can’t miss during your trip to Philly.

If you’re in search of top things to do in Philadelphia during your trip, check out some of our favorite attractions, including:

  • Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus Philadelphia Tour
  • The Liberty Bell
  • Franklin Institute
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • Philadelphia Zoo
  • Barnes Foundation
  • Christ Church Tour
  • And more!

Save on Admission to Top Things to Do in Philadelphia

Many of these must see attractions are available on The Philadelphia Pass.

Choose as you go from dozens of popular Philly attractions and save up to 45% off combined admission vs. paying at the gate.

See all available Philadelphia passes, attractions & prices – Learn more.

Please note that not all attractions in this post are included on The Philadelphia Pass.

Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus Philadelphia Tour

Big Bus Philadelphia Hop-On Hop-Off sightseeing tour

One of the best ways to explore Philly for first-time visitors is with a comprehensive bus tour. This hop-on hop-off option provides maximum flexibility and is a fun excursion to boot.

Ride the entire route for about 90 minutes, or disembark at any of the included stops. Stops feature major neighborhoods, historic landmarks, and top attractions. You can even use it to visit several of the attractions on this list!

Getting In: Philadelphia Bus Tour tickets are included on The Philadelphia Pass.

The Liberty Bell & Independence National Historical Park

If you only see a few things in Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell should be on that list. It’s a free attraction located in the Liberty Bell Center, right in front of Independence Hall. See this famous icon in person, and snap as many photos as you’d like.

There are also a number of informative exhibits about the Liberty Bell, including the various uses it’s been put to in the past in the service of abolitionist movements and women’s suffrage (to name a few examples).

The Liberty Bell is part of a larger National Park, which also includes Independence Hall. You need tickets to enter the Hall, but the tickets are free.

Getting In: The Independence National Historical Park & Liberty Bell are free to visit.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Aerial View of Eastern State Penitentiary

For fans of all things spooky, the Eastern State Penitentiary is a great attraction to visit year round. Come here to see an abandoned prison with a long history and plenty of creepy rooms.

It was built in the nineteenth century and was only closed in the 1970s, so there are countless stories of famous prisoners and historic changes to incarceration tactics.

A visit here is especially awesome in the fall, too, with the return of their famous haunted house.

Getting In: Eastern State Penitentiary tickets are included on The Philadelphia Pass.

Franklin Institute

The Franklin Institute Memorial Statue

One of the best science museums on the east coast, hands-down, the Franklin Institute is a must visit for curious families. Exhibits are geared towards a wide range of ages, and all are appropriate for children.

You can explore dozens of interactive exhibits covering a wide variety of topics, including biology, virtual reality & related technology, engineering, environmental science, and much more.

A particular highlight is their train exhibit, featuring a real engine that was brought into the building prior to the completion of construction.

Getting In: Franklin Institute tickets are included on The Philadelphia Pass.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Exhibit hall at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

A visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a good opportunity to explore the cultural side of Philly. This prestigious art museum boasts an eclectic collection of art, with particular strengths in American art & decorative arts, European painting, contemporary & modern art, and more.

The museum also hosts frequent special programming, including family events, adults-only events, and events just for members. If you’re traveling with little ones, you’ll be pleased to know that kids 12 and under get in for free!

Insider tip: Love sculpture? Be sure to visit the affiliated Rodin Museum, featuring a large collection of the works of Auguste Rodin.

Getting In: Philadelphia Museum of Art tickets are included on The Philadelphia Pass; the Rodin Museum is separately ticketed and is not included on the pass.

National Constitution Center

Inside the National Constitution Center

History buffs will find much to love in Philadelphia, and the national Constitution Center is just one of many ideal attractions. Come here to learn about this foundational American document, its historical context, and its enduring influence on contemporary culture.

A few highlights of this museum include “Signers’ Hall” (where you can see 42 life-sized statues of the Founding Fathers), “The Story of We The People” (filled with over 100 interactive exhibits about the Constitution), and “Freedom Rising” (an introductory film that provides an excellent overview of the museum).

Getting In: National Constitution Center tickets are included on The Philadelphia Pass.

Philadelphia Zoo

Lions at the Philadelphia Zoo

Visit America’s first zoo right in Philadelphia! This 42-acre expanse is home to scads of amazing animals, from aardvarks to zebras and beyond. Featured exhibits include Bear Country, the Small Mammal House, the Giraffe Habitat, and Wings of Asia.

Tourists will particularly appreciate the little extras, like keeper talks, animal feedings, and rotating programming. The zoo also hosts special events around the holidays, like Octobearfest (see what they did there?), Boo at the Zoo, and Zoo Noel.

Getting In: Philadelphia Zoo tickets are included on The Philadelphia Pass.

Barnes Foundation

Visitors looking at a painting at the Barnes Foundation

Another one for the art lovers is the Barnes Foundation. This exquisite collection of more than 2,000 works includes art that spans the gamut from European impressionist painting to Native American and African craftwork.

The unique thing about this museum is its organizational scheme. Designed by the founder Dr. Barnes, objects are grouped in ensembles that mix media, time period, and place of origin in an effort to inspire visitors to rethink the connections between works of art.

The museum has particularly strong collections of work by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso. You’ll also encounter new or unknown artists, so even the most experienced art museum-goer will find something special.

Getting In: Barnes Foundation tickets are included on The Philadelphia Pass.

Christ Church Tour

Burial Ground at the Christ Church Tour in Philadelphia

Come tour the church that many of Philadelphia’s most important historical figures attended, including Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross. This charming historic building is one of the oldest churches in the region and was actually the first Anglican parish in Pennsylvania.

The burial ground is another point of interest as well, as the final resting place of Franklin and four other signers of the Declaration of Independence. A guided tour of the interior of the church and the burial ground is an excellent way to see this fascinating attraction.

Getting In: Christ Church Tour tickets are included on The Philadelphia Pass.

City Hall Tower

View from the City Hall Tower in Philadelphia

See the city from a distinctive perspective at the top of the City Hall Tower. As one of the largest municipal buildings in the world, Philadelphia’s City Hall is also among the most beautiful. The architecture is striking, from the expansive interior to the famous statue of William Penn that tops the building.

Head to the Tower to see the city from nearly 550 feet above ground level and to get great photos of the city below. You can choose to ascend to the top of the Tower, and/or take a tour of the interior.

Getting In: City Hall Tower tickets are included on The Philadelphia Pass.

National Museum of American Jewish History

Visitors at the National Museum of American Jewish History

This Smithsonian affiliate is located in Philadelphia’s all-important historic district (also home to the Betsy Ross House, Christ Church, and more) and is a useful complement to learning about the city’s history.

The history of Jewish people in America (and particularly in Philadelphia) is explored through multiple exhibits that cover topics like immigration, labor, celebration and worship, community building, and more.

Take a guided “Highlights Tour” to see the most popular and significant exhibits and objects, or explore on your own. Be sure to stop by their gift store, too!

Insider tip: If you are interested in learning more about Jewish American history and love arts and literature, the Rosenbach Museum & Library is another local attraction to visit.

Getting In: National Museum of American Jewish History tickets are included on The Philadelphia Pass; the Rosenbach Museum is separately ticketed and is not included on the pass.

Let’s Recap

We hope this selection of most popular, top 10 things to do in Philadelphia helps to inspire your vacation planning.

Consider adding a few of these attractions and activities to your next Philly trip, and we’re sure that you’ll have a truly memorable family vacation.

Don’t forget to pick up The Philadelphia Pass, to save up to 45% on combined admission prices. Bon voyage!

The information contained in this post, to the best of the author's knowledge, was accurate at time of publishing. We do our best to ensure and maintain the accuracy of this information.

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