Making decisions about our time in Philly -- what to do?

Sueb20April 12, 2012

Many of you helped with suggestions when I first started thinking about this trip, and now it's almost here. We will be in Philly for 3 nights next week. It will be just me and my DS, age 16, and DD, age 11. The "definites" on our itinerary are Reading Terminal Market, all the historical stuff around the Liberty Bell/Constitution Center/Betsy Ross House/Independence Hall, the South Street area, the Museum of Art (have tix for Van Gogh exhibit), and maybe the Mutter Museum. We have a "slot" for one activity on one morning, and I can't decide between the Franklin Institute, the zoo, or the aquarium. Any advice? We live in Boston where we do have a good aquarium, and we have been to others... we also are not far from a good zoo in Providence, and have been to others... are the Philly zoo and/or aquarium fantastic, or just okay? Of course it will partly depend on weather -- if it happens to be raining, we won't go to the zoo!

This will be quite an adventure for me. Leaving DH home with oldest DS, who has school, and this is the longest drive I have ever done solo. Wish me luck! Fortunately, these are my two "easy" kids, so I know we'll have fun.

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Have you considered the Eastern State Penitentiary? I think it would be more memorable than yet another zoo or aquarium.

The Philly Zoo is nice though, and my kids love the aquarium in Camden (although we have a great one here they never get tired of looking at fish).

Here is a link that might be useful: Eastern State Penitentiary

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 1:14PM
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I think you would have fun at the Franklin Institute, check out what the temporary exhibits are. The Eastern State Pen is interesting but I don't know if it is always open?

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 2:54PM
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It really depends on what your kids are interested in.

We were zoo members when my kids were little. I think first of all the weather is iffy lately. It was in the low-40s this morning (and morning is when you said you'd be going). There are some really nice displays but getting to the zoo takes a little drive from Center City. The Schuylkill (the road you take) is ALWAYS jam packed. I don't know if you'll have a car -- you didn't mention that. Anyway, it wouldn't be my first choice.

The Camden Aquarium -- the only one around, so I assume it's what you mean. You're going to have to either cross the bridge and drive into Camden or take the ferry across the river from Center City (minor hassle). It's an okay aquarium. It's newer than your Boston Aquarium. There are some really nice exhibits but as you say, it's similar to what you've seen. The one thing that is kind of nice is that the Battleship New Jersey is next to the Aquarium. If your kids have never been inside an aircraft carrier they might really like that. It's like the Intrepid in NYC. As far as I know Boston doesn't have anything like that.

The Franklin Institute is in the city, very close to everything. With 3 days you don't really lose any time traveling like you do with the other attractions. I don't know what's there right now. Within walking distance is also the Academy of Natural Sciences. You could probably hit up both of those if you wanted to.

Have you checked the tourist website?

My kids are science crazy so the Mutter would be on their list. If your kids like cars, one little known museum is the Simeone Car museum. It's a beautiful collection of European racing cars. It is not very well known. Also little known is the American Chemical Society museum on Chestnut and 3rd.

Near that (this part of town is called Olde City) is the Benjamin Franklin ghost house and the Benjamin Franklin museum/post office. It's in a complex called Franklin Court. By complex, I mean an open courtyard, not a building complex. There is an underground museum about Franklin, statesman/inventor/scientist etc. I'm not sure of the hours, there was some renovation going on so you should check that it's actually open. The ghost house is a robert venturi project, it's the outline in white beams of the actual house that Franklin lived in with his wife Deborah. It's burnt down now but they did some excavation and did artifacts. It's a national park service site, there are sometimes historians and guides there who can tell you what you're looking at.

There is a very cool ice cream parlor near there also called Franklin Fountain. It is a perfect Victorian ice cream parlor. Very historic with flavors you'll never find anywhere else. The servers wear authentic barbershop quartet type outfits. Again, I've never seen this anywhere else.

Another little museum in the neighborhood is the American Philosophical Museum. This is another of Franklin's inventions. It was founded by Franklin as a place for people to debate and discover and it still exists. They have a small museum with changing exhibits -- one I saw a little while back was all about Steampunk art, so it's not a dusty fusty place at all.

Each of these places only take 30 - 40 minutes to walk through. They're not expensive either. I think we only paid maybe $3 a person at the American Philosophical Museum when we were last there. What's nice is you can sort of "chain" them together and en route, stop of coffee, bathroom breaks, and see some of the beautiful pocket gardens and brownstones. The gardens should be blooming by then (we're a little ahead of Boston for blooming times).

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 4:21PM
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I would do the Franklin Institute over the zoo or aquarium. Both the zoo and aquarium are farther out of town and both are pretty typical of their genres -- nothing fantastic. The Franklin Institute is a great museum and has some really cool stuff (like a giant heart that you can walk through following the path of the blood through the 4 chambers -- definitely something you'll remember.) There's also a planetarium and an IMAX there, so if you walk through it all and still have time, you can watch the IMAX movie (about a half hour long, always educational) or see one of the planetarium shows.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 5:30PM
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Skip zoo and aquarium. The Franklin is fun, but takes a few hours to see. The Eastern State Penitentiary is creepy cool and the kids would like it. Be sure to stop in the lobby of the Comcast Center to see the ginormous TV screen with the specially made show. Just walk in the lobby -- it's free. Cool art, too.

If you go to the Franklin, be sure to walk on the Winter St side and look up at the hawks that have nested there. They won't leave the nest until June. There is a Hawk Cam you can watch in the meantime.

Consider a ride on the Big Bus or Trolley which will take you by all the sights. It's a good way to get your bearings about where things are located. Stop and take your pictures with the Rocky statue at the bottom of the Art Musuem stairs, in the Parkway side.

Here is a link that might be useful: Franklin Hawks

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 5:44PM
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Okay, thanks! I definitely think we can skip the zoo and aquarium and stick with the Franklin Institute.

Funny you mention the Penitentiary. Last weekend we watched an episode of Samantha Brown's Weekends (whatever it's called) and she was in Philly, and visited the penitentiary at night. DD, who is a scaredy cat, watched it with me, and I figured no way would she ever want to go there. Today I asked her and she said, "Sure! As long as it's during the day!" Alrighty then, adding it to the list.

judithn, thanks for all your ideas! Not sure if we can squeeze them in, but good to have your list in case we do.

The weather forecast at least for the beginning of the week looks wonderful -- hope it lasts through the week! We arrive Tues. and leave Fri.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 7:22PM
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Yep, definitely the Franklin Institute!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 5:50PM
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And the Mint and, the Rodin museum and the botanical gardens where the old World's Fair was just down the boulevard from the Philadelphia Muesum of Art.
Frankly there's so much to see to see at the Museum of Art....the Calders and that gallery of portraits.....and the Mummys and the Egyptian art...
And Love plaza, China town.....
Frankly the Zoo is in a sort of dicey part of town. I wouldn't go alone with 2 kids. But a walk along the river by the boat houses is always fun and I recall there are a few interesting pieces of sculpture there.
And point out to your kids the Calder of Wm Penn atop....forget what...tall building, done by the father of the Mobile making guy Also the sculpture of Ben Franklin over the river bridge is amazing

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 6:18PM
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