Philadelphia’s always been home to immigrants, innovators, and artists, all of whom continually shape the city’s culture to this day. Philadelphia’s pivotal role in American history can be seen on every street corner, not just Independence Hall. Art is everywhere, thanks to the Mural Arts program, one of the largest outdoor art displays in the world. There’s also, on the more off-beat side of things, an allegedly haunted prison, a maze of mosaic glass, and museums filled with creepy medical oddities. These are some of the city’s most fascinating cultural and artistic landmarks to visit.
Philadelphia Museum of Art — Even if you’ve never been to Philadelphia, you’ve probably seen the art museum (that’s all you have to say, everyone will know which one you mean). It’s famous in pop culture for the Rocky steps, but the cultural powerhouse is much more than that. Originally created for the 1976 Bicentennial celebration, it has grown over the years to include 240,000 art pieces. There’s a little of everything inside: ancient Egyptian and pre-Columbian art, traditional Asian and European designs, and works by artists like Picasso and Salvador Dali. Admission is $20 for adults, and the first Sunday of every month is free from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, as well as Wednesdays from 5:00 PM to 8:45 PM. There’s also a Rocky statue in the front to pose by, if running up the stairs is all that’s on your itinerary.
Independence National Historical Park — While it might seem overly touristy, it’s absolutely worth checking out. The park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, showcases the story of the beginning of the US, starting with revolutionary debates through the formation of its modern government. The footprint of the place is huge, taking up seven blocks that are jam-packed with history: Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution crafted), the Liberty Bell, the Constitution Center, and the President’s House, just to name a few. There’s even a recreation of City Tavern, the most popular bar among the founding fathers. Tickets are free for most attractions (pay $1 online to avoid the lines), though the Constitution Center is $14.50.
Mural Arts — Apart from the City of Brotherly Love, Philly is also known as the City of Murals. And for good reason: Philly has the largest public arts program in the US. A big chunk of that public art comes from Mural Arts Philadelphia. Mural Arts is a collaboration of city and graffiti artists who’ve created 3,800 murals for the city in 30 years. The murals, which cover a range of artistic styles, show everything from the civil rights movement to an eagle clutching Tom Brady in its talons. You’ll see murals wherever you go as there’s one in every corner of the city, but you can also take a trolley tour of the program’s highlights.
LOVE sculpture — Over the years, the LOVE sculpture’s become famous — it’s on everything, from T-shirts to stamps. But this famous Philly sculpture isn’t even native to the city. Created by Robert Indiana, it was loaned to Philadelphia for the 1976 Bicentennial celebration. Thanks to popular demand, it was brought back as a permanent part of the park that’s named after it (well, actually the park is called JFK Plaza but literally everyone calls it LOVE Park). Simple yet eye-catching, it resonates with people all over the world.
Franklin Institute — There’s a good reason why every kid in Philadelphia’s been to the Franklin Institute. This museum, built with money donated by Benjamin Franklin himself, promotes the founding farther’s passion for science through hands-on exhibits. There’s a giant walk-through heart, build-your-own Mars rovers, and flight simulators, to name a few. The monthly Science After Hours events are perfect for adults with childlike curiosity.
Eastern State Penitentiary — You can’t miss Eastern State Penitentiary. The massive, black stone fortress sticks out from the rest of Fairmount like an evil villain’s lair. The prison started out as a Quaker reform designed to keep prisoners in solitary confinement to reflect on their sins. Of course, 19th-century Quakers didn’t account for the damaging psychological effects, and the prison earned a ghastly reputation. Eastern State Penitentiary appears in multiple ghost hunting series, and, walking down its decrepit halls, it’s easy to see why. Make sure to check out Al Capone’s luxury cell. If you visit in October, the prison is transformed into Terror Behind the Walls, a genuinely terrifying haunted house-style experience, except in an (allegedly) haunted prison. Tickets to the prison cost $14, but tickets to Terror Behind the Walls cost considerably more and sell out around Halloween time.
Your Move — Of all the sculptures in the city, Your Move especially stands out for being fun. It’s located just across the street from LOVE Park. As you walk along the plaza, you’ll see giant game pieces scattered everywhere. The chess pieces, Monopoly pieces, checkers, bingo chips, and dominos look like a giant forgot to put away their toys. Feel free to climb on them for a picture.
The Mutter Museum — The Mutter Museum is not for the squeamish. This medical museum is a celebration of medical history and oddities. You’ll see terrifying surgical tools, Civil War medical care, and Dr. Joseph Hyrtl’s skull collection, which was created in 1874 to disprove racist phrenologist junk science. It also displays Albert Einstein’s dissected brain, a cast of famous conjoined twins Chang and Eng, and the Soap Lady mummy. Tickets cost $18 for adults.
Magic Gardens — South Street is where anything goes, with dozens of shops that attract artists and eccentrics. Of all that South Street has to offer (and it’s a lot), Magic Gardens still stands out. Stepping into Magic Gardens is like stepping into another universe. It’s a mosaic maze made up of ceramic, cement, bicycle spokes, empty bottles, and dolls. There are touch tours for the visually impaired. Because most of it is outdoors, you need to brush up on the forecast before visiting. Tickets are $10, with discount rates for groups and students.
First Fridays — First Friday is an Old City tradition that’s so popular it has expanded into neighborhoods like Fishtown and Fairmount. On the first Friday of every month, local art galleries open their doors for free showings. There’s usually live music to listen to as you stroll down the street, and many places offer wine and finger food. First Friday draws a crowd, but the atmosphere is casual and relaxed. It’s an excellent way for art lovers to get the most of neighborhood galleries.
Clothespin — The Clothespin sculpture is a simple concept that leaves a big impact. Standing on 17th and Market Street, it’s simply a steel replica of a massive clothespin. It has become a Center City landmark that always gets some kind of reaction, whether it’s love, confusion, or amusement.