The 5 Best Free Things to Do in Philly When Your Kids Say ‘I’m Bored’
Check out this list of free things you’ll want to add to your family’s summer bucket list.
The days have gotten longer, the weather is warmer, and your kids have suddenly appeared in front of you to let you know just how boooooored they are. Ah, summertime has finally arrived!
If you’re like most parents, the arrival of summertime also means trying to come up with new and inventive ways to keep your kids happy and busy while not breaking the bank. After all, there are only so many times you can rewatch “Moana” before you get sick of it. (Just kidding, nobody gets sick of “Moana.” That’s all we neeeeeeed!)
Lucky for you, this is Philadelphia. You - whether you're a parent, nanny, or sitter - can find something free to do on almost every corner here, as long as you know where to look. And if you’re looking for something a little more substantial than fountain hopping or running the art museum steps while doing your best Rocky impersonation, then look no further!
Here’s a list of the top five free things you are going to want to do with your kids this summer!
Constitutional Walking Tour, Center City
Address: Various locations | Click here for a map.
Hours: Vary by location
If you have a little history buff in the family or just a kid that loves walking, this is the perfect activity for you. It would be ambitious to try to do all of this in one shot with small children, but older kids and teenagers may be able to make a full day out of it. It is a self-guided walking tour (not to be confused with the paid version) through Philadelphia’s most important historical attractions. The tour spans approximately 3 miles and 33 locations while telling the story of the birth of our nation.
This is something that is best done with a little planning so that you can decide which sites you’d like to see if you aren’t planning on hitting all of them. You’ll also want to check pricing if you are planning on leaving the tour to enter any of the museums along the way, as they are each subject to their own pricing and hours. You’ll find public bathrooms at some of the locations along the way -- the Bourse Building, Franklin Court, and the National Constitution Center, to name a few.
Pack a lunch to make this a truly free experience! As an added bonus, you probably haven’t been to most of these places since you visited with your school on a field trip. You could use the refresher for when your kids inevitably start asking you questions about their homework!
Once Upon a Nation Storytelling Benches, Center City
Address: Thirteen locations around town | Click here for a map.
Hours: June 13 - Aug. 12, Tuesdays - Saturdays, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. | Aug. 18 - Sept. 2, Fridays & Saturdays, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. | Sept. 3 & 4 (Labor Day Weekend), 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Do you have a little one that loves story time but hates sitting still? Or do you just dread the idea of sitting inside of the library with a reading group on a gorgeous day? If that sounds like you, then you’ll want to hit up the storytelling benches.
With 13 locations across historic Center City, you can practically stumble upon them at will. You will recognize them by their standard teak benches. Each one is clearly marked with a sign that says “Once Upon a Nation Free Stories.” The volunteers may not be dressed in the clothing of the day (which is disappointing, but understandable), but they have no trouble transporting you back in time. They don’t just tell you about what happened in those locations, they also talk about what life was like back then. Listening to descriptions of the way the city looked, sounded, and smelled, it’s easy to get transfixed by the stories and forget it’s 2017.
Fireman’s Hall Museum, Old City
Address: 147 N. Second St., Philadelphia, PA 19106
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
The Fireman’s Hall Museum is located inside a firehouse that dates back to 1902. The entrance is off Second Street and down a small side street. You’ll want to keep an eye out, because it’s easy to miss the main doors. Once inside, you will immediately see why this is a favorite for children of all ages. For your littler ones, they have firefighting gear to try out and brightly colored statues and displays. Older kids will be amazed by the history of firefighters across our country.
There are original fire trucks on display in the bay dating back to the very first horse-drawn model. In the background, a scanner plays the emergency services line, and you can hear firemen being sent out on calls. There’s a large 9/11 memorial, as well. Fair warning, as that may lead to some tough questions from your kids.
The museum is two stories and has an elevator, so keep that in mind if you have small children in strollers. And there are no changing tables in the bathrooms. The building is small, but there is enough to keep you busy for an hour or so. Before you leave, check out the souvenirs that range from mini fire trucks to pint-sized firefighter gear. (But that will also make this trip cost a little more than free!) While there’s no charge to visit, the hall accepts donations to maintain the displays.
Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse, Fairmount Park
Address: 3500 Reservoir Drive, Philadelphia, PA 19121
Hours: Tuesday - Friday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. | Saturday & Sunday, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
This sprawling playground is over 16,000 square feet, and I mean it when I say there is something for everyone. You will have no problem finding equipment that is suitable for all your kids, all the way from toddlers to teens. You could spend an entire day here and still not play with everything. The park is laid out across an expanse of trees and hills, which provides some much-needed shade for sneaking off to cool down. It’s also the perfect backdrop for the nature areas where kids can go to learn and explore.
There are plenty of benches, but you can bring your own folding chairs with you if you prefer. Drinks are allowed, but they request that you leave food and balls at home. There’s also an indoor play area with toys and bathrooms with changing tables, but if the weather is nice, you’ll want to be outside, as the building can get warm.
If you are planning on bringing your kids’ friends, call ahead, as groups of eight or more require a reservation. To play in the park is free, but they accept donations and suggest $5 per family. The only down side of Smith Playground is getting your kids to leave. My toddler cries from the sidewalk to the car every time, so consider yourself forewarned. The park is accessible by car and public transportation, and there is free parking on site. Although, depending on what time of day you go, that may include a bit of a walk.
Philadelphia’s Free Libraries, Philadelphia
Address: Click here to view locations
Hours: Vary by location
The free library system of Philadelphia has so much to offer! Any list of free things to do with your children would be incomplete without it. School-aged children can play games at the Northeast Regional Library on Saturdays. You will find storytime for babies and toddlers at Parkway Central Library on Mondays. Teenagers can gather at Richmond Library on Mondays for board games.
At 36 years old, I still have fond memories of sitting on a large (ugly) rug in our library, while the kind librarian read us “Sideways Stories from Wayside School.” With locations across the city, I recommend going to their website to find out what’s going on at the location nearest you. It’s also a great way for your kids to make new friends over the summer!