Philadelphia calls itself the City of Brotherly Love. It’s also a city that loves visitors and proves it by offering lots of fabulous things to do for free or on the cheap. Every American should visit Philadelphia, where our nation was born and grew strong enough to fight of its independence. Some of its best attractions, like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, are free. You also can take in an art or science museum, hear a free concert and find much more to fill your visit with budget-friendly entertainment. Here are 10 terrific free (or almost free) things to do in Philly, whether you live there or are just visiting.
- Independence Park. Philadelphia’s best attraction also is free. Independence National Historical Park includes the Liberty Bell Center, The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation and Independence Hall, the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Free, timed tickets for Independence Hall can be picked up at the Independence Visitor Center on the day of the tour or reserved in advance online (but there’s a $1.50 reservation fee per ticket). For more details, check out the Visitor Center online.
- Literary. The Edgar Allan Poe National Historical Site was once home to the legendary writer who wrote short stories such as “The Black Cat” here. Not a Philly native, Poe lived here just six years, but they were some of the most prolific of his writing life. Visitors can explore his fascinating life and learn how Poe influenced his contemporary counterparts. Tours are self-guided or led by a park ranger from Wednesdays through Sundays. Admission is always free.
- Storytellers. All ages will enjoy Once Upon A Nation’s free storytelling benches at 11 locations around Historic Philadelphia, including the Betsy Ross House, Christ Church, Franklin Square and Signers’ Garden. Children get a story flag at any bench, collect a star from each storyteller and exchange the flag complete with 13 stars for a certificate and coupon that can be used at the Historic Philadelphia Center, Betsy Ross House and the Franklin Square Shop. Benches are open seasonally; check website for days and times.
- Money. Visitors can take free self-guided tours of the United States Mint, watch coin production from 40 feet above the factory floor and see the nation’s first coining press. Audio and video stations explain currency’s history. (Sorry, they don’t give out free samples.) Teachers should check out their free lesson plans, geared to teaching history through coinage.
- Military moments. The site of the 1777-78 winter encampment of Gen. George Washington and the Continental Army, Valley Forge National Historical Park offers a glimpse into the Revolutionary War with historic structures such as Washington’s headquarters and commemorative monuments such as the National Memorial Arch. Whether you explore the park by car, by bike or on foot, it’s free. You also can use the park’s free cell phone tour.
- Science. The city’s Chemical Heritage Foundation museum and conference center cost $20 million to build, but its exhibits are free. Located in a former Civil War-era bank building, the 10,000-square-foot museum houses the permanent exhibition, “Making Modernity,” showcasing hundreds of 18th– to 20th-century artifacts, including scientific objects, artwork, rare books and everyday objects that feature discoveries that shaped the modern world.
- Art. At 5 p.m. every Wednesday, and on the first Sunday of each month, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is open to visitors who can pay what they wish to explore the entire main building, showcasing works by Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí, Himalayan artists and well-known local artists. The museum also offers free cell phone tours that add information and perspective to the collections.
- Music. Enjoy a free 45-minute pipe organ concert twice a day (except Sundays) at Macy’s in Center City. Debuting at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the organ was originally purchased by famous merchant John Wanamaker and today features 28,677 pipes. It only adds to the ambiance that the concerts are held in the Grand Court of this National Historic Landmark building. For more about the organ, the concert schedule and special events, visit the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ site.
- Public art. Philadelphia blooms with public art everywhere. And Museum Without Walls: AUDIO gives people a fun way to experience more than 50 outdoor sculptures at a35 stops along Kelly Drive and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Passersby can listen to three-minute interpretive segments for free by using their cell phones and the program’s mobile app or as audio downloads or streaming audio from the website. About 100 people who are personally connected to the works reveal the untold histories behind the art.
- Beer. Sample some suds at two local breweries, Yards Brewing Company and Philadelphia Brewing Co. Both offer free tours on Saturday afternoons. Guests get to explore the facilities and learn how draughts go from hops and barley to beer. Guided tours begin and end in the tasting rooms. You must be 21 to take a tour.
For more free and cheap things to do in Philadelphia, check out the Visit Philly website.
- Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by B. Krist for GPTMC.
- Liberty Bell. Photo by J. Fusco for GPTMC.
- Once Upon a Nation storyteller. Photo by G. Widman for GPTMC.
- Brew Tour. Photo by R. Kennedy for GPTMC.