One of the best things about raising a kid in Philly is just how many opportunities there are to learn and experience something new. You can walk out your door in the morning and suddenly end up under a T. rex, aboard a 1940s submarine, navigating the human heart, or just admiring world-famous art. Our museum selection is an embarrassment of riches, and has also gotten increasingly kid-friendly.
Philly museums have been boosting their family programming for kids of all ages and expanding access for those with learning differences.
Still, it can be hard to decide where to go. So we’re here to help.
The important thing is just to get out there. Research, including an extensive study by the Smithsonian, overwhelmingly shows that early museum experiences can spark curiosity, creativity, critical thinking skills, and a lifelong love of learning new things.
“Don’t discount any museum because you think your kids are going to be too young or bored,” says Liz Baill, a museum educator who helped build family programming at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Kids have a capacity for asking questions that can astound us as parents.”
Rebecca Franco, family programs manager at Museum of the American Revolution and parent to two school-age children, recommends looking for museums that offer a variety of activities: “things to read, watch, touch, experience … covering all the different senses. Some kids are really big readers [while others] are more tactile.” To put it another way: “Is this a place where it seems my kids are welcome to be kids?”
Here’s our guide to Philly’s best.
⭐ Best for ages 1-8
Dedicated to learning through play, the Please Touch Museum is likely the first place that comes to mind when you think of children’s museums. Of course, its classic attractions, the Alice in Wonderland maze, replica SEPTA bus, and massive water play area remain draws for the littlest museumgoers, but if you haven’t been to the Please Touch Museum for a while, it’s worth another look.
In recent years, the museum has made over its building and mission to better serve a 21st-century child growing up in a more global, interconnected, and science-based world. The rebrand includes the friendly, furry, and nonbinary mascot Squiggles, a permanent exhibit on financial literacy, an art studio, a STEM-focused maker space (with experiments and workshops that are good for older kids), and cultural programming like Drag Queen Storytime. And the space is much more kid-friendly and globally aware: The ever-popular supermarket section still allows kids to fill their little carts with groceries for checkout, but a new renovation also focuses on food’s connection to the community — where it comes from, donating to a food bank, and its importance in cultural traditions. The somewhat dated downstairs which centered on the 1876 World’s Fair has been transformed into Centennial Innovations, highlighting world-changing ideas, inventions, and people.
😌 Sensory Friendly: The museum’s Play Without Boundaries events provide a relaxed environment for individuals with autism, learning differences, or other sensory and communication needs. Quiet spaces and on-site sensory-accommodating items are available.
⭐ Best for ages 2-18
Dating back to the early-1800s, the Academy of Natural Sciences is the oldest natural sciences institution in the Americas, boasting more than 18 million specimens, including two floors of animal dioramas, a walk-through butterfly habitat, and of course its collection of dinosaur (and other Mesozoic creatures) skeletons and fossils.
Dinosaur Hall — and its 42-foot-tall T. rex — is a must for dino lovers of all ages. Walk through to the back where you’ll find even more prehistoric fun. Up the back stairs, The Big Dig lets kids grab goggles and brushes and pretend to dig for fossils. The “time machine” is a fun green-screen romp through the prehistoric eras (and a great photo op). Head down the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hall to visit the Fossil Preparation Lab and talk with staff as they clean and prepare real fossils.
While the museum’s focus on science makes it great for school-age kids and older, the third floor’s Outside In is tailored specially for little ones, making the Academy a great first museum experience. Kids can play in the sand, climb through a giant eagle’s nest (complete with toddler-size eggs), meet live animals, or just take a quiet break in the book nook.
😌 Sensory Friendly: Access to Science: Opening the Doors to Autism events open the museum to children on the spectrum and their families before the crowds. The museum also designed guides to the exhibits for children with developmental disabilities, including visual elements and easy–to-follow narratives, which you can download or pick up from the admissions desk anytime.
📍 1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 📞 215-299-1000, 🌐 ansp.org, 📷 @acadnatsci, 🎟️ $22 for adults; $18 for children over 2; free for children 2 and under. Discounts for purchasing tickets online, seniors age 65+, military, and students (with ID)
⭐ Best for ages 3-18
A perennial family favorite for all things STEM, the Franklin Institute is a great spot to bring kids of varying ages — there’s something accessible for everyone in its 12 permanent exhibits. You can walk through the Giant Heart, navigate the brain’s neurons, climb into a U.S. Air Force jet and learn about flight, experiment with gravity in Sir Isaac’s Loft, dream beyond our universe in the Planetarium, and so much more. In addition to its permanent collection, the Franklin Institute is home to some of the buzziest special exhibits, from shows based on Marvel and LEGO to Harry Potter: The Exhibition, though many require an additional ticket.
😌 Sensory Friendly: To prepare visitors with sensory processing issues, the museum created sensory alert maps to explain how the senses may be affected in each exhibit. You can ask to borrow a sensory backpack at admission, containing noise-reducing headphones, sunglasses, fidgets, and weighted toys to help reduce sensory stimulation.
⭐ Best for ages 3-18
The U.S. Navy started here, so this museum situated on the Delaware River waterfront is the perfect place to learn about maritime history — it also contains one of the largest maritime art and artifact collections in North America.
Exhibits include Patriots & Pirates, which explores the founding of the Navy (and the pirates they encountered) and lets kids climb aboard a replica of the 18th-century Schooner Diligence. The newest permanent exhibit, River Alive!, is the museum’s most interactive and high-tech, focusing on all aspects of the Delaware River watershed from wildlife to conservation. Kids will love the creature dress-up corner where they can become “river characters” and move through paths of outlandishly large blades of grass while a narration station triggers different light and sound patterns to mimic what’s happening.
Outside, grab tickets to explore two historic war vessels: the World War I cruiser Olympia and World War II submarine Becuna. Both are meticulously restored, and the experience of touring naval forces’ living quarters gives visitors an incomparable glimpse into the past. In the spring and summer, you can also buy tickets to Paddle Penn’s Landing and hop in a kayak or swan boat on the Delaware River. Kids under 18 must be accompanied by a legal guardian, and all participants must weigh over 35 pounds (and fit safely in their life vests).
⭐ Best for ages 2-18
Bug lovers unite. The Insectarium’s interactive exhibits, hands-on learning, and high-tech displays take a look into the world of insects — from bees in their see-through hive to scorpions that glow. Founded in 1992, the museum expanded in 2017, adding a 7,000-square-foot butterfly pavilion, home to hundreds of live tropical and native species. Tip: Wear bright colors to encourage the butterflies to land on you. Daily activities include bug talks, roach races, crafts, and the chance to hold a tarantula.
📍8046 Frankford Ave., 📞 215-335-9500, 🌐 phillybutterflypavilion.com, 📷 @philainsects, 🎟️ $20 for adults; $15 for children over 2; free for children 2 and under. Discounts for teachers, students, seniors, police, fire and military.
⭐ Best for ages 1-18
Travel just over the river to Camden and you can touch stingrays, walk through a tunnel of sharks, meet some adorable penguins, and learn all about ocean life. Plus, Adventure Aquarium is the only aquarium in the world that has hippos — and watching Genny and Button bounce along the floor and press their snouts up against the glass is a mesmerizing delight. If you’d like to do more than just observe the animals in their habitats, you can also learn from the experts during daily animal chats and feedings or add on an animal encounter to go behind-the-scenes with some of the aquarium’s most popular residents.
😌 Sensory Friendly: Ask to borrow sensory-accommodating items (sound-reducing headphones and weighted blankets) at the information desk or at member services.
⭐ Best for ages 4-18
Opened in 2017 (on the 242nd anniversary of the “shot heard ‘round the world” which began the Revolutionary War), this museum tells the story of the birth of our nation, blending 18th-century history with 21st-century technology to bring to life stories from the people who shaped this country. Learn about the Founding Fathers, and also the lesser-known stories of a diverse range of influential people — from enslaved Africans to the Oneida Nation to women and children.
In addition to the permanent exhibits, there is a special exhibit space that often has activities appropriate for little learners. And keep an eye out for pop-up Discovery Carts: These contain tactile objects (“Like being able to put your hand on a cannonball,” says Franco), and typically focus on specific people or events. Kids who want to dive deeper into history can attend quarterly History Explorers meet-ups with museum staff and special guests to play games, make art, hear stories, and more.
📍101 S. Third St., 📞 215-253-6731, 🌐 amrevmuseum.org, 📷 @amrevmuseum, 🎟️ $21 for adults; $13 for children (6-17); free for children 5 and under. Discounts for seniors age 65+, military, teachers, and students (with ID). General admission tickets are good for two consecutive days.
⭐ Best for ages 4-18
This two-story 24,000-square-foot art gallery inside the Fashion District mall invites you to think, feel, and become a part of each installation. “We believe taking art to unexpected places is a key part of creating the next generation of art lovers, and making art more accessible is a core part of our mission,” says Wonderspaces’ cofounder Jason Shin. At this gallery, kids can move their bodies and not feel like they’re constantly being told to stay behind the line on the floor.
While you’re taking in the artwork, you can also take family photos in rooms like Submergence, Squidsoup’s installation of 8,000 stringed lights programmed to a soundscape. Some of the installations are permanent, while others are temporary, so you can see something new with each visit.
😌 Sensory note: Due to flashing lights and other effects, some installations may be ill-suited for those with epilepsy or other photosensitivity. Rooms that have such effects have warnings by the door, so watch for those graphics before going in.
📍27 N. 11th St., 🌐 philadelphia.wonderspaces.com, 📷 @wonderspacesphl, 🎟️ $24 for adults; $15 for children (3-12); free for children under 3. Discounts for seniors age 65+, military, health-care workers, teachers, and students (with ID).
⭐ Best for ages 4-18
The Magic Gardens are a great way to experience art outside of the typical museum experience. Explore the levels and tunnels of this larger-than-life mosaic art installation with colorful tiles and everyday objects like bicycle wheels, bottles, and pottery. The art continues inside the adjacent building — there, you’ll find a temporary exhibit space and even more mosaics (even in the bathroom).
Philly artist and South Street icon Isaiah Zagar began the project in 1991 when the site was little more than a vacant lot. In 2004, the installation was at risk of destruction by the site’s Boston-based landlord, but the community rallied, and the space, now a nonprofit, opened to the public in 2008. It hosts tours, art activities, community celebrations, and annual free days for Philly residents. For kids, the best bet is Peco Family Jams, a monthly series that includes a themed craft activity and family tours, usually on the second Sunday of the month. It is free with the price of admission.
📍1020 South St., 📞 215-733-0390, 🌐 phillymagicgardens.org, 📷 @phillymagicgardens, 🎟️ $15 for adults; $8 for children (6-12); free for children under 6. Discounts for seniors age 65+ and students (with ID). Online reservations required.
⭐ Best for ages 3-18
Where else can you travel from the bold brushstrokes of European impressionist paintings to the peaceful architecture of an entire Japanese teahouse in a matter of steps? Home to nearly 250,000 works of art (and that’s not even counting the Rocky statue at the bottom of its iconic steps), the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the quintessential Philly museum, capping the Parkway with its grandeur. From medieval to modern, you’ll find art in all its forms, and find plenty to inspire even the smallest aesthetes. And if your kids are more of the free-range types, head to the free sculpture garden out back.
Look for kid-friendly programming throughout the week including weekend tours and art-making, Little Art Kids for toddlers, homeschool days, and even virtual kids’ programming. Don’t miss the drop-in Art Kids Studio on Sundays, where families can bond by creating something together and experimenting with different materials, tools, and techniques. Another kid-friendly bonus: admission is always free for kids 18 and under.
😌 Sensory Friendly: During Sensory Friendly Mornings, the lights, volume, and crowds are turned down for children on the autism spectrum or who have other sensory sensitivities.
📍2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 📞 215-763-8100, 🌐 philamuseum.org, 📷 @philamuseum, 🎟️ $25 for adults; free for children 18 and under. Discounts for seniors age 65+, military, and students (with ID). Pay-what-you-wish on the first Sunday of the month.
⭐ Best for ages 3-18
Nestled in South Philly’s FDR Park, the oldest Swedish museum in the United States is a chance to learn about the Swedish immigrant experience through interactive exhibits. The biggest highlight for the smallest visitors is the colorful, interactive Pippi Longstocking exhibit, which has toys, a playhouse, a dress-up corner, and lots of little surprises. Kids may also enjoy the hands-on section of Swedish fashion and textiles and the re-created 19th-century Swedish farmhouse.
⭐ Best for ages 2-8
Located in a 1902 firehouse in Old City and operated by the Philadelphia Fire Department, this museum covers the history of firefighting and fire safety. You can see an antique horse-drawn fire carriage and fireboat (sadly, much of the collection is not hands-on), both sure to captivate little kids in their point-and-wave-to-big-loud-trucks phase. An hour is enough time for a visit to this museum and admission is always free (though donations are accepted and reservations are required), so it’s a great little outing before naptime or while you’re exploring other Old City attractions.
⭐ Best for ages 3-8
Founded in 1976 to celebrate the nation’s Bicentennial, the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) is dedicated to creating a deeper understanding of the Black experience in America — from the African diaspora, to prominent Black Philadelphians throughout history, to contemporary stories and achievements. AAMP’s family-friendly festivals for MLK Day, Juneteenth, and Kwanzaa feature daylong programming, performances, storytelling, and more activities that make these perfect days to introduce kids to the museum. You can also catch family programming on select Saturdays — drop-in workshops led by local artists and focused on culturally relevant themes or historical figures.
Interspersed among paintings by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso, you’ll find pieces of metalwork, African masks, Grecian urns, and other eclectic antiquities, all arranged in a deeply personal way. Barnes’ extensive collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modern art has remained meticulously organized since it moved to the Parkway, but this newish space has allowed room for special exhibits, a garden restaurant, and family programming. Look out for Toddler Time on select Saturday mornings, which includes a visit to the collection and an art activity just for kids up to age 5 and their parents and caregivers. Toddlers are free with the purchase of an adult general admission ticket.
📍2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 📞 215-278-7000, 🌐 barnesfoundation.org, 📷 @barnesfoundation, 🎟️ $25 for adults; $5 for teens (13-18); free for children 12 and under. Discounts for seniors age 65+, military, teachers, and students (with ID). Free on the first Sunday of the month.
Dedicated to diversity, leadership and civic engagement, the National Liberty Museum encourages you to “Live like a Hero” with interpretive art, interactive exhibits, and galleries highlighting real-life heroes like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malala Yousafzai. Notable pieces include a replica of the Liberty Bell and glass art like the “Jellybean Children” and Dale Chihuly’s 21-foot “Flame of Liberty.”
📍321 Chestnut St., 📞 215- 925-2800, 🌐 libertymuseum.org, 📷 @nationallibertymuseum, 🎟️ $12 for adults; $6 for children (6-17); free for children under 6. Discounts for seniors age 65+ and students (with ID).
Learn about world cultures through artifacts from Africa, Mexico, China, Egypt, and beyond at this museum of archaeology and anthropology. From ancient everyday tools to the giant Sphinx, from a mummy’s sarcophagus to an ancient queen’s jeweled headdress, more than a million objects tell the history of human civilization and achievement — and connections between cultures. Since its 2018 renovation, the space is more interactive and kid-friendly. The new Middle East gallery, for example, includes a kids’ guide to make it more accessible and thought-provoking for little visitors. Since the pandemic, the museum has also hosted virtual At-Home Anthro Live, a free event each week where kids can do a hands-on project inspired by a museum artifact and the culture it represents.
📍3260 South St., 📞 215-898-4000, 🌐 penn.museum, 📷 @pennmuseum, 🎟️ $18 for adults; $13 for children ages 6-17; free for kids under 6. Discounts for seniors age 65+, military, teachers and students (with ID). Free for Penn students, faculty, and alumni (with PennCard).
This Chestnut Hill museum celebrates Philly art and artists with exhibits, events, and art classes. Located in a 19th-century stone mansion on six acres, the museum’s collection also includes an outdoor sculpture garden that is a nod to founder Charles Knox Smith’s vision to bring art and nature together.
About the writer:
Laura Swartz is a freelance writer and photographer living in Center City. She is the former editor of Philadelphia Family magazine and is a constant resource for “city kid life beyond the playground.” Follow her on Instagram at @pompomflipflop.