Top 12 Museums in Philadelphia

Last Updated on February 17, 2024 by Emily Johnson

As one of America’s oldest and most historic cities, Philadelphia developed a robust museum culture early on to preserve its formidable heritage. Today over 70 museums entice visitors to immerse themselves in Philly’s illustrious past, quirky mysteries, scientific wonders, and world-class fine art.

Museum NameHighlights
Philadelphia Museum of ArtFine art collection, “Rocky steps”, Rodin Museum’s gardens
Museum of the American RevolutionRevolutionary war artifacts, interactive exhibits
Independence Seaport MuseumMaritime history, ship exploration
National Constitution CenterInteractive Constitution exhibits, historical documents
Eastern State PenitentiaryHistoric prison tours, architectural interest
The Franklin InstituteScience exhibits, temporary displays like Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes
Penn MuseumArchaeological and anthropological collections
Academy of Natural SciencesDinosaur skeletons, natural history exhibits
Museum of IllusionsOptical illusions, interactive exhibits
America On Wheels MuseumAutomotive history, unique vehicles
Battleship New Jersey MuseumNaval history, battleship exploration
Betsy Ross HouseAmerican flag history, colonial life

From Independence Hall where the nation began to outdoor sculpture gardens inspiring creativity, Philly museums educate and delight all interests. Here are 12 unmissable museum experiences.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Name and Location: Philadelphia Museum of Art

Collections and Exhibits: Extensive collections of European and American fine art plus Asian arts, costume/textiles, furniture, photography and more spanning over 2000 years of cultural history on display across 200+ galleries.

What to Expect: See iconic pieces like Monet’s waterlily paintings, Rodin’s The Thinker sculpture & the Gross Clinic painting. Admire creative works by masters like Van Gogh, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso plus contemporary mixed media and fashion exhibitions.

Visitor Information: Located at the end of the Ben Franklin Parkway in Center City. Timed tickets required. Accessibility options available. Dining on-site plus multiple gift shops. Parking rates apply weekdays.

The iconic “Rocky steps” leap to fame thanks to Sylvester Stallone’s fictional boxer charging up the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s imposing staircase. But beyond the legendary movie moment, the museum houses an astonishing fine art collection spanning across continents and millennia. Wander Monet’s radiant water lily ponds, Van Gogh’s vibrant landscapes, Renaissance sculptures, Asian ceramics, and cutting-edge contemporary installations inside the majestic Greek Revival building. Outdoors, don’t miss touring the Rodin Museum’s exquisite gardens showcasing over 140 Auguste Rodin sculptures like The Thinker.

Museum of the American Revolution

Name and Location: Museum of the American Revolution

Collections and Exhibits: Extensive galleries using immersive settings, artifacts and personal stories to chronicle the beginnings of the American revolutionary war period through the formation of the United States government across three floors of exhibits .

What to Expect: Multi-sensory exhibits like a privateer battle simulator, tobacco wagon ride and “Revolutionary City” tours bring history alive. Artifacts highlight George Washington plus ordinary citizens’ involved in winning independence.

Visitor Information: Located just steps from Independence Hall. Timed, dated tickets required. Accessibility options available. Onsite restaurant and gift shops. Validated garage parking available.

Dive into America’s dramatic beginnings at the Museum of the American Revolution, which authentically transports visitors back to discover life in the 18th century. Multimedia exhibits and artistic renditions realistically showcase Revolutionary battles, historical figures, and the ragtag Continental Army against Britain leading up to independence. Step inside a privateer warship,General Washington’s field tent with Revolutionary War artifacts, and immerse in the “Siege Theater” recreating the 1777 Battle of Germantown. Costumed reenactors provide living history demonstrations from blacksmithing to Surgeon General Dr. Benjamin Rush’s medical instruments for insights into the real people who fought for and shaped the new nation.

Independence Seaport Museum

Name and Location: Independence Seaport Museum

Collections and Exhibits: The former Port of Philadelphia’s 1960s-era terminal buildings house interactive galleries exploring maritime history and the Delaware River’s impact on the region. Anchored museum ships, boatbuilding workshops and cruises provide hands-on aspects.

What to Expect: Climb aboard WWII submarine Becuna plus four other naval vessels while learning about their histories. Sign up for a sail on the tall ship Gazela. Exciting family programs foster ocean navigation and wildlife appreciation on the river year-round.

Visitor Information: Located along Penn’s Landing waterfront. Ticket options vary. Open daily 10am-5pm. Active ship tours require climbing ladders/steep steps. Accessibility options limited on vessels but available in museum spaces.

Philly’s history integrates tightly with the Delaware River, best understood while exploring the Independence Seaport Museum along Penn’s Landing. Guests board the J. Welles Henderson, a retired 1921 steel tugboat floating as a museum allowing kids to shovel coal in the boiler room and navigate views from the pilothouse. On land, the interactive “River Alive!” exhibit traces shipping’s evolution with dramatic sights, sounds and stories transporting visitors through time. The museum also houses an entire congress of restored crabs plus the world’s largest exhibit of navigational tools called “A Worthy Voyage” plotting early explorers’ paths.

National Constitution Center

Name and Location: National Constitution Center

Collections and Exhibits: High tech, interactive Constitution Center museum spans five areas over three floors creatively outlining milestones that shaped the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights using films, sculptures and hands-on displays to foster understanding and encourage civil debate around issues.

What to Expect: Take Constitutional debates head on via interactive voting booths and sign the Constitution alongside life-size bronze Founding Father statues. Engaging programs make constitutional ideas highly palatable for kids through adults via game show formats.

Visitor Information: Located steps from Independence Mall. Timed entry tickets available online. Open daily 9:30AM-5PM. Accessible exhibits on all floors. Onsite cafe plus Constitution Store sells educational gifts.

The U.S. Constitution’s profound impact on American life becomes clearer while engaging exhibits at the National Constitution Center located right near the iconic Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Participate in interactive Constitution debates, test knowledge during trivia games, and sign alongside delegates electronically. During the 17-minute “Freedom Rising” live theatrical production, the constitutional signing unfolds across three stages harnessing cutting-edge technology and imagery for the most immersive insight into this history-making process.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Name and Location: Eastern State Penitentiary

Collections and Exhibits: Audio tour guides and cell block exhibits profile Eastern State’s 1829 origins as one of the world’s first true penitentiaries advocating solitary confinement on all prisoners. Later notorious inmates like bank robber Willie Sutton and Al Capone occupied cells.

What to Expect: Daytime self-guided tours allow visitors to imagine life imprisoned there, like viewing Al Capone’s restored cell and Death Row. Night tours with live theatre around Halloween feature elaborate decorations. The penitentiary provides gritty insight into outdated correctional theory.

Visitor Information: 2027 Fairmount Ave. Day and night tours offered Apr-Nov. Timed tickets required. Food trucks on-site midday. Not suitable for young children due to mature themes. Cash preferred for some gift shop purchases.

America’s most historic abandoned prison still conjures chilling vibes and tortured souls at Eastern State Penitentiary, now a stabilized ruin and museum that fascinates locals and tourists. Its vaulted Gothic architecture specialized in solitary confinement to inspire penitent inmates’ reform, revolutionary yet controversial when opened in 1829. Take the “Terror Behind the Walls” night tour for frightful peeks inside decaying cell blocks, or admire sunshine streaming through skylights into ghostly corridors during day visits of the ominous yet architecturally impressive site.

The Franklin Institute

Name and Location: The Franklin Institute

Collections and Exhibits: Dynamic hands-on permanent exhibits focusing on astronomy, aviation, computers, neuroscience, electricity and other scientific principles span the Institute’s 7 floor building named after Benjamin Franklin including the renowned Fels Planetarium theater and giant walking heart experiences.

What to Expect: Over 400 interactive stations allow kids through adults to perform experiments illustrating fundamental scientific wonders across biology, physics and chemistry topics. Featured spaces change periodically. Seasonal mobile STEM studio visits libraries and schools.

Visitor Information: East end of Logan Square. Open daily 10am-6pm. Ticket prices vary. Accessibility and family resources. Validated parking garage connected by skybridge. Dining court and science shop onsite. Add on IMAX movies.

Science springs to life surrounded by dynamic hands-on exhibits at The Franklin Institute, which innovates to instill wonder and knowledge since opening in 1933. Have noodle conversations through giant whisper dishes in the popular Sir Isaac’s Loft designed for kids to explore principles of light, sound, and simple machines. Witness world-class temporary displays like Real Bodies that showcase awe-inspiring physiology through dissected and polymer preserved specimens including entire nervous systems. Or experience traveling exhibitions like Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes celebrating legendary comic history with original art, costumes, tech replications plus interactive components.

Penn Museum

Name and Location: Penn Museum

Collections and Exhibits: Focused on human cultural heritage, the Penn Museum houses over 1 million artifacts primarily from ancient and native societies of the Americas, Africa, Middle East and Asia including rich collections covering dynastic Egypt, Mesoamerica and Mesopotamian civilizations across 85+ galleries.

What to Expect: View monumental stone carvings and sarcophagi lids from ancient palaces plus interactive daily life depictions using walk through recreations of a painted Egyptian tomb chambers prepared for nobility and an ancient Maya city plaza.

Visitor Information: On Penn campus along South Street. Open Tuesday–Sunday 10am-5pm. Accessibility options with 3 days notice. Validated parking at Museum lot and garages. Onsite cafe plus multiple museum shops.

The Penn Museum displays one of the finest archaeological and anthropological collections with over 1 million objects spanning human existence all under one impressive building on UPenn’s campus. Marvel at the towering 40-ton Sphinx of Ramesses II greeting guests at the Egypt Gallery’s dramatic entrance. Chinese dinosaurs, Mayan glyphs, Native American arts, and ancient Iranian pottery rotate among expansive galleries and emerging scholars’ research labs. Don’t miss the Museum’s interactive “Day of the Dead Family Festival” each November celebrating Mexican heritage with music, traditional crafts, food, and guided tours.

Academy of Natural Sciences

Name and Location: Academy of Natural Sciences

Collections and Exhibits: Over 18 million animal, plant and geological specimens fill the Academy’s scientific research collections while public exhibits highlight dinosaurs, colorful tropical species, gems/minerals, wildlife dioramas and interactive ecology displays across its 19th century halls.

What to Expect: Meet huge dinosaurs up-close including T-Rex and Triceratops skeletal casts while surrounded by exotic taxidermic animals collected by early scientist explorers. Discovery Labs teach kids about fossils, shells and animals using games and activities guided by staff.

Visitor Information: In Logan Square next to The Franklin Institute. Open 10am-4:30pm daily. Ticket prices vary by exhibits. Accessible entrances and restrooms. Dining cafe and science store onsite. Discounted parking in Academy lot.

Founded in 1812, the Academy of Natural Sciences declares itself America’s oldest natural history museum filled with dinosaur skeletons, live animal habitats, exotic taxidermy dioramas, and interactive educational exhibits. Kids rush toward the butterfly habitat swarming with hundreds of tropical species fluttering freely among visitors, while adults puzzle over the towering Hadrosaurus foulkii dinosaur fossil discovered in 1858. Multiple fossils uncovered by early naturalist members and still actively studied provide a remarkable record of life on earth and universe at the trailblazing Academy.

Museum of Illusions

Name and Location: Museum of Illusions

Collections and Exhibits: Featuring intriguing displays in optics, mathematics, biology and astronomy; the Museum of Illusions relies on the anomalies of human perception to distort reality through dozens of fascinating, shareable exhibits across two floors that seem to defy physics utilizing varying perspectives.

What to Expect: Lean against an Ames Room to appear giant or tiny opposite your partner. Stand inside spinning tunnels playing visual tricks. Journey an upside down room to test your balance and spatial awareness. Photo ops promise weird, wowing moments to flood your feed.

Visitor Information: 908 Market Street. General admission tickets $19.50 adults. Open daily 10am-8pm. Kids and group rates plus combo deals online. Small gift shop sells brainy toys onsite. Most exhibits are wheelchair accessible.

Trick eyes and baffle brains at the Museum of Illusions packing 70 intriguing exhibits into three floors that manipulate perceptions through math, science and artistry. Lean against the powerful vortex tunnel, pose sticking out a “lion’s mouth” wall cutout, and play illusion trickery with friends in amusing photo ops. Visit with kids to enhance learning about physical phenomena through interactive experiences like balancing on an uneven slant walking path. Just don’t believe everything witnessed inside these distorted rooms purposefully engineered to challenge senses!

America On Wheels Museum

Name and Location: America On Wheels Museum

Collections and Exhibits: Showcasing over 100 years of automotive history, the America On Wheels museum features antique and concept cars, motorcycles, classic trucks plus gas station memorabilia and auto-themed art spread across three floors depicting the country’s love affair with innovative transportation.

What to Expect: Nostalgic autos like a bright pink ’59 Caddy, mid-70s “kept” classic VW bugs and a massive yellow Tonka truck. Celebrity/movie vehicles include the 1961 Ferrari from “Ferris Buellers Day Off.” Period displays like an 1930s Shell filling station entrance and neon signs.

Visitor Information: Located in Allentown. Adult admission $12. Open daily 10am-5pm. Validated parking garage connected via indoor skybridge crossing busy road. Prize counter and race simulators on-site. Museum cafe offers light fare.

As an ode to Americans’ automotive obsession, the America On Wheels Museum displays over 25 uniquely quirky vehicles plus specialty exhibits covering motorsports and pop culture through unique cars. Meet the outrageous Bugmobile shaped like an enormous insect that appeared in the 1997 movie “Men in Black,” or say hello to Scoop the Goodyear Blimp miniature model floating above classic roadsters. Kids and kids-at-heart admire a replica Lightning McQueen “Cars” character car, the original 1961 #3 “GadRaon” Golden Nasty funny car that raced in the ‘70s, and much more highlighting how autos changed mobility.

Battleship New Jersey Museum

Name and Location: Battleship New Jersey Museum

Collections and Exhibits: Docked along Camden’s waterfront for guided tours, the 45,000-ton Battleship New Jersey supported troops through four wars before its 1991 retirement. Onboard exhibits chronicle ship history plus the technology and sailor lives that kept it seaworthy on WW2/Vietnam journeys for over 21 years cumulatively.

What to Expect: Climb steep steps/ladders (no wheelchair access) touring crew quarters to bridge stacking 16 decks high while viewing ropes, valves, gauges and staterooms. Expansive top deck provides scenic waterway views. Below deck multimedia displays chronicle battles and missiles launches in combat.

Visitor Information: 100 Clinton St, Camden Waterfront. Self or audio guided tours daily. Admission plus add-on experiences like simulated missile launches. Active duty military always free. Light food/gifts onsite. Parking and NJ transit line nearby.

The fearsome USS New Jersey Battleship lets visitors imagine living 6 months straight on this metal behemoth that fought across the globe from WWII through Vietnam. Climb into bunks within the cramped sleeping quarters, navigate multi-story engine rooms and gun turrets, stare down the barrels of enormous 16-inch guns, and walk the teak decks just like sailors once did when this battlewagon sailed mighty seas. While excellently preserved with many areas accessible, the Battleship New Jersey respects active duty by limiting certain classified spaces. Honor military history while exploring this grand warship-turned-museum.

Betsy Ross House

Name and Location: Betsy Ross House

Collections and Exhibits: Built in 1740, oral tradition holds the Betsy Ross House as the site where seamstress Betsy Griscom Ross potentially contributed to creating the first American flag in 1776 at the request of George Washington. Period rooms displays early tools and Betsy’s upholstery work.

What to Expect: Short guided tours through tight staircases and small rooms describe the historic home Betsy operated her upholstery business from in colonial America’s fight for independence as interpreters answer questions about her disputed but enduring national fame.

Visitor Information: 239 Arch Street alley, Old City. Adults $7; senior & youth discounts. Open daily Apr-Oct 10am-5pm; Nov-Mar Th-Mon 10am-4pm. Accessible only on ground floor. Small gift shop sells Americana souvenirs.

Located right on the iconic Betsy Ross House property where America’s first flag supposedly was stitched in 1776, The Betsy Ross House immerses visitors into the famed Philadelphia seamstress’ life through interactive period rooms and costumed interpretations. Chat with Betsy herself in the colonial-era kitchen hearth preparing dinner or her daughters sewing upstairs by candlelight retelling the flag’s origin tale. Outdoors, kids run the Tricorn Game obstacle course just as colonial children tested their agility when America was newly born. Remembrance of Betsy Ross’ intrepid contribution lives on at her tiny historic Philadelphia row home.

Remarkable history merged with quirky mysteries make Philadelphia a premier American museum town. Independence National Park sites transport back when the Declaration first unfurled across the land while the National Constitution Center decodes the brilliant U.S. framework. Showcasing fine arts, oddities, battleships, autos, and dinosaurs through interactive exhibits, Philly museums educate with hands-on fun. Visitors uncover inspiration, revelations and surprises spending days immersed in these 12 top museums.

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