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Insiders’ guide to 19 essential museums just outside Philadelphia

From art museums to historic battlefields, here's where you can learn about history, art, science, and more in the towns just outside of Philadelphia.

Dragon’s Shrill in the Cosmic Void by Yuyu Yang at the Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J.
Dragon’s Shrill in the Cosmic Void by Yuyu Yang at the Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia’s museums and cultural attractions sometimes get all the fanfare, but the towns surrounding the city are also home to museums, arts institutions, and national parks that have significant regional and national history. From the grounds where George Washington’s Continental Army encamped and the house of a Nobel Prize-winning author an early 20th-century castle, the sheer volume of world-class institutions just a brief car ride from the city’s center are almost overwhelming.

To help you navigate the must-visit museums and historic attractions in nearby towns, we’ve compiled a list of suburban Philadelphia sites ideal for interests like looking at fine art atop Valley Forge Mountain, browsing contemporary sculptures in an outdoor garden, touring Revolutionary War battlegrounds, booking a helicopter flight, and more.

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Here are the best museums, battlefields, and historic homes right outside Philadelphia.

Bucks County

Located inside the historic Hall House is the Bucks County Civil War Museum. Outside of muskets, maps, art, photographs, flags, horns, silverware, and other rare artifacts from the Civil War period, the institution also celebrates the role that Bucks County’s 104th Pennsylvania Volunteer “Ringgold’' Regiment had in the war. ( The group’s 1868 monument in Doylestown is one of the earliest Civil War memorials in the United States.) The museum has also assembled old newspapers, charters, and other materials that are centered on town history.

Highlight: The Bucks County Civil War Research and Reading Library includes more than 1,500 first-edition books, in addition to CDs, maps, periodicals, and more. In addition to this collection, the museum allows full access to America’s premium military records forum and database, Fold3. Fold3 includes the stories, photos, and personal documents of the individuals who served in any U.S. military conflict.

📍32 N. Broad St., Doylestown, 📞 215-822-1562, 🌐, 🕑 Sat. 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. 💵 Free but donations are welcome

The Mercer Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, features both local and national seasonal exhibits as well as a core collection of more than 50,000 pre-industrial tools and utility machines like stagecoaches, weaving wheels, plowshares, and nautical compass that were used to shape America. From a hanging Conestoga wagon and a whaling boat to a look at the labor that went into broom making, this glimpse back into 60 trades and crafts is one of the world’s most comprehensive portraits of American material culture.

Fonthill Castle was built between 1908 and 1912 and was the home to Henry Chapman Mercer. He was a Doylestown native, archaeologist, and tile maker (He also designed The Tileworks and Mercer Museum). Mercer called Fonthill “a Castle for the New World … the plan of the whole house was an interweaving of my own fancies blending with memories of my travels and suggestions from several engravings.” The castle features 44 rooms and 18 fireplaces, an extensive collection of ceramics and decorative tiles, and over 1,000 prints from Mercer’s collection. Many of Henry Chapman Mercer’s collectibles from his world travels are also on display like stone Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets that date to 2300 BCE. Fonthill hosts public events throughout the year, like a Winter Wonderland castle holiday series in November and December, a popular beer festival, and more. It’s also a popular spot for weddings and other celebratory events.

Highlight: One of the items that make the trip to the Mercer Museum worth it is the Lenape Stone. The first of the two stone slabs was found in Bucks County by farmer Barnard Hansell in the spring of 1872. A few months later, Hansell found the second and final piece in the same field where he discovered the first. On the stone is an image of an Indigenous hunting party tracking woolly mammoths.

📍Mercer Museum, 84 S. Pine St. Doylestown, Fonthill Castle, 525 E. Court St., Doylestown, 📞 215-348-9461, 🌐, 📷 @mercerandfonthill, 🕑 Tue.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 💵 $15 for adults, $13 for seniors (65+), and $8 for youth ages 6-17

Named after Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and Doylestown resident James A. Michener, this former 19th-century jail features work depicting the art and history of the Bucks County region. Within the museum is a collection of works from the Pennsylvania Impressionism movement and art colony that was centered in New Hope during the early 20th century. The Michener Art Museum has more than 2,700 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. Throughout the year, Michener also hosts art discussions, panels, concerts, gallery talks, and family events.

Highlight: Outside the museum is the community labyrinth and the Patricia D. Pfundt Sculpture Garden. The seven-circuit pattern and winding path in the Michener lot mirrors a design dating back thousands of years. In the sculpture garden, bronze and stainless steel pieces by George Anthonisen, Raymond Granville Barger, Isaac Witkin, Greg Wyatt, and others allow you to get a sense of the art inside the museum.

📍 138 S. Pine St., Doylestown, 📞 215-340-9800, 🌐, 📷 @michnerart, 🕑 Thur. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m., 💵 $15 for adults, $13 for seniors (65+), $8 for students, $5 for youths ages 6-18, 🍽 Café on-site

This 67-acre home and farm was the home of Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck for 40 years. It was where she wrote such works as The Good Earth, Today and Forever, and The Child Who Never Grew. Within the stone farmhouse is a collection that includes her personal typewriter, family board games, her sculptures, personal papers, photographs, and more. Also on the grounds is Buck’s grave site, a greenhouse, gardens and ponds, a renovated barn where Buck held community events, an indoor pavilion that can be rented out for weddings and events, a gift shop, and a gallery.

Highlight: You can choose between two different styles of tours: one focuses on Buck’s activism and forward-thinking human rights advocacy and the other is a biographical and personal rundown of her life.

📍520 Dublin Rd., Perkasie, 📞 215-249-0100, 🌐, 📷 @pearlsbuckintl, 🕑 Mon.-Fri. 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sun. noon-3 p.m., 💵 $15 for adults, $12 for seniors (65+), and $7 for students

The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works is a rare survivor from the American Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 20th century. Founded by Henry C. Mercer in 1898, the Tile Works moved into its second (and current) building in 1912. The concrete structure, roughly based on Spanish Colonial missions of the 16th century, still houses a unique collection of early tile-making equipment, tools, drawings, commission records, and nearly 6,000 plaster molds that were used to make Mercer’s decorative tiles. Today, this National Historic Landmark is maintained as a working history museum under the direction of The Tileworks of Bucks County and offers tours of the site, tile-making classes, and special events.

Highlight: “[The] Tour of the site begins in the Big Room, a space that was the original showroom for the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works; this room has recently been reinstalled and transformed into its historic appearance with its original tool collection and historic tile samples scattered throughout the room.”
Vance A. Koehler, Curator of Museum & Exhibits

📍130 E. Swamp Rd., Doylestown, 📞 215-239-9797, 🌐, 📷 @thetileworks, 🕑 Tue.-Sun. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 💵 $10 for adults, $8 for seniors (60+) and military, and $6 for kids (ages 4-13)

Chester County

The American Helicopter Museum & Education Center explores the innovations and history of rotary wing aviation, with more than 35 restored military aircraft, civilian aircraft, helicopters, convertiplanes, and autogyros. The museum displays the pioneering efforts of developers like Frank Piasecki, Harold Frederick Pitcairn, Arthur M. Young, and others. Thousands of people visit annually to explore the aircraft, visit the Renzo Pierpaoli Memorial Library, and even purchase five-minute helicopter rides. The research library has flight documents, artifacts, films, and memoirs that are all accessible to museum members.

Highlight: “Our newly restored, vintage 1945 Sikorsky HOS-1 U.S. Coast Guard rescue ship, the “Gander Express,” is now on display after eight years of hard work by our dedicated all-volunteer restoration department. The single rotor aircraft is the oldest and possibly most famous one in our gallery. On September 18, 1946, a Sabena Airlines DC-4 airliner crashed 20 miles southeast of Newfoundland’s Gander Airport. The HOS-1 [was] dismantled for shipping via military cargo and reassembled on site. The two helicopters made 40 flights to rescue 18 surviving passengers and crew.”
Jan Feighner, PR Coordinator and Bookkeeper

📍 1220 American Blvd., West Chester, 📞 610-436-9600, 🌐, 📷@amerhelimuseum, 🕑 Thur.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m., 💵 $10 for adults, $8 for seniors (60+), students (with ID), and kids (ages 2-12)

The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum shines a light on the iron and steel history of Chester County and Southeastern Pennsylvania. The museum’s foundational mission is to collect, preserve, exhibit, and provide education about how those alloys helped shape the state. The museum is one of the many buildings in the 35,000-square-foot steel-making complex that houses both indoor and outdoor exhibits. On the immersive and hands-on tours, you can see a narrow-gauge locomotive, a re-creation of the original mill, a Navy sonar sphere, a historic railroad bridge, a Lukens fire engine from 1947, and an ambulance from 1965.

Highlight: Museum-led tours through the Historic District begin at the Lukens Executive Office Building where you can view exhibits about the steel-making process. Lukens steel was used in the production of Seattle’s Space Needle, Philly’s Veterans Stadium, the USS Nautilus, and the deep-sea submersible Alvin. The tour also takes you through the family houses on the property: Brandywine Mansion, Terracina, and Graystone.

📍50 S. First Ave., Coatesville, 📞 610-384-9282, 🌐, 📷 @ironsteelmuseum, 🕑 Mon.-Tue. and Thu.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 💵 $10 per person

Once the studio of American artist and craftsman Wharton Esherick, this museum sits at the top of Valley Forge Mountain. Esherick was a sculptor and Philadelphia native who studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) and the University of the Arts. Esherick’s work, which was predominately wood sculptures, has been featured at three World’s Fairs and in many of the country’s finest art museums. Showcasing and preserving the works of Esherick and set on 12 wooded acres, the museum consists of several buildings — his home and studio, a 1956 workshop designed with architect Louis Kahn, a 1928 German Expressionist log garage (the museum’s visitor center), a woodshed, and a German Expressionist outhouse.

Highlight: “One great thing about the Esherick Museum is that you’re on a guided tour, so you’ll never miss the big hits like Esherick’s hand-carved spiral staircase to his bedroom — or the trap door at the top. But everything at the Wharton Esherick Museum is a piece of art, not just the staircase and the furniture, but even the heat vents and the spoons in the kitchen. If you pay attention to the light pulls and switches, you’ll find some are aluminum birds, and others are oxtail bones, or even carved wooden figures pulling with all their might to shut out the light.”
Katie Wynne, Communications and Public Programs Director

📍1520 Horseshoe Trail, Malvern, 📞 610-644-5822, 🌐, 📷@wescherickmuseum, 🕑 Close until March 3, 💵 $15 for adults, $13 for seniors (65+), $12 for students (with ID), and kids (ages 5-12)

Delaware County

Brandywine Battlefield Park is a National Historic Landmark that covers 52 acres. The park makes up a portion of the area where the Battle of Brandywine was fought on Sept. 11, 1777, during the Revolutionary War. The grounds served as the military encampment for the Continental Army two days prior to the battle. The site regularly hosts reenactments featuring British soldiers, Continental soldiers, and Quaker farmers who read speeches, act during open houses, and host seminars.

Highlight: Outside of the battlefield, there was a thriving Quaker farming community, which included prominent Quaker farmhouses like the Benjamin Ring House and the Gideon Gilpin House. The Benjamin Ring House served as George Washington’s headquarters before the battle, and the Gideon Gilpin House was used as the quarters for Marquis de Lafayette. Throughout both homes are Quaker-style furniture and historical information about what took place in both structures during the battle.

📍1491 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, 📞 610-459-3342, 🌐, 🕑 Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. for passive grounds visitation, Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. for museum store, visitor center, and exhibits, 💵 $8 for adults, $7 for seniors (65+) and veterans, and $5 for youth ages 6-17

The Brandywine River Museum of Art is commonly known as the “Wyeth Museum” because of its vast collection of works by celebrated American realist painter Andrew Wyeth, N.C. Wyeth (his father), Jamie Wyeth (his son), and Anne Wyeth (his daughter.) This converted 19th-century mill overlooks the Brandywine River with an impressive glass-wall lobby that offers prime views of the river and the picturesque countryside. Outside of the Wyeth family works, the museum also displays landscape paintings, illustrations, and still life works by Jasper Francis Cropsey, Harvey Dunn, Peter Hurd, Maxfield Parrish, Howard Pyle, and other artists whose work centered on the Brandywine Valley.

Highlight: You can tour three nearby National Historic Landmarks: the N. C. Wyeth House and Studio, the Kuerner Farm, and the Andrew Wyeth Studio. The locations were the inspiration for nearly 1,000 of Andrew Wyeth’s works over the course of 70 years. Wyeth painted in the studio from 1940 until his death in 2009.

📍1 Hoffman’s Mill Rd., Chadds Ford, 📞 610-388-2700, 🌐, 📷@brandywinerivermuseum, 🕑 Wed.-Mon., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 🎧 self-guided audio tours available, 💵 $18 for adults, $15 for seniors (65+), $6 for students (with ID) and youths (ages 6-18), and free digital content, 🍽 Café on-site

Only at the Newtown Square Railroad Museum can you get a nice piece of history while sitting near a last-of-its-kind train car or marveling at an engine-shaped playground. Once the Newtown Square Freight Station, this terminal was a center for lumber, coal, and grain. It also had a post office and was the last stop on the Philadelphia line. From 1895 to 1988, as many as 13 trains pulled into the station daily. To make room for the construction of the nearby Winding Way Bypass, the abandoned freight station was saved by the Newton Square Historical Society and relocated to Drexel Lodge Park, where the museum currently is housed. The grounds include a 1902 passenger car, 1907 boxcar, 1950 caboose, other steam engines and rolling stock, and memorabilia related to the Pennsylvania Railroad branch line.

Highlight: Of the 600 passenger cars created in a West Philadelphia plant in 1902, the museum has the last-remaining car in existence. The all-wooden cars, crafted exclusively for the Pennsylvania Railroad, illustrate the passenger experience from over 100 years ago.

📍4140 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square, 📞 610-975-0290, 🌐, 🕑 Saturdays, Jun.-Sept., 1-4 p.m., 💵 Free but donations are welcome

Once a circa-1790 stone barn, this house was converted into studios for artists Charles H. Stephens (a PAFA instructor and painter) and Alice Barber Stephens (a painter and engraver) in 1904. The design of famed American architect Will Price, the fieldstone-and-stucco house includes a three-story octagonal stair tower that connects every wing of the building on all five levels. The lodge is one of the foundational buildings of Rose Valley, a carefree community of artists who moved to the area to get away from the smog of Philadelphia. Here, they created work side by side. The lodge was also a meeting place for social reform advocates like Allen Seymour Olmsted, Mildred Scott Olmstead, Jane Addams, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington Carver, and James Farmer.

Highlight: The furniture in the lodge was all produced by artisans in the Rose Valley workshop. The pieces feature intricate carvings, Gothic-inspired designs and deep colorings, and were always handmade with the simplest tools. The works include benches, rocking chairs, library tables, and other surfaces which can all be seen on tours through the lodge.

📍41 Rose Valley Rd., Media, 📞 484-444-2961, 🌐, 📷 @rosevalleymuseum, 🕑 open select weekends, 💵 $10

Montgomery County

Serving Montgomery County since 1989, Ursinus College’s Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art celebrates visual arts, photography, and works on paper. It features continuing exhibits like Mini Me: Maquettes from the Permanent Collection, which showcases models for larger sculptures by artists like Paul Sisko, Menashe Kadishman, and Gladys Noble Wagner.

Highlight: “Across from the campus’ verdant grounds, the Berman Museum’s collection of 20th-century modern sculpture draws visitors for guided or self-guided tours. The outdoor sculpture collection of the Berman Museum contains more than 75 contemporary artworks spread over the college.”
Betsy Witt, Operations Manager

📍601 E. Main St., Collegeville, 📞 610-409-3500, 🌐, 📷 @bermanmuseum, 🕑 Tue. — Sun. 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 🎧 guided and self-guided tours, 💵 Free

Built between 1743 and 1748 by Quaker businessman Samuel Morris, this Georgian colonial-style mansion was home to Washington’s Continental troops during the 1777 Philadelphia Campaign of the Revolutionary War. It was also used as a hospital by Washington’s surgeon general, John Cochran. Outside of the self-guided tours throughout the home, the site offers annual reenactments each November of the 1777 Whitemarsh Encampment (a three-day battle that resulted in the British retreating to Philadelphia), host holiday-themed tours, hold Ambler symphony concerts, have car and motorcycle shows, and conduct Halloween lantern excursions.

Highlight: While walking through the halls of Hope Lodge, visitors are dropped into two distinct time periods, the 1770s (colonial period) and the early 20th century (colonial revival period), which reflect the home’s two owners: Samuel Morris and William and Alice Degn, who purchased it in 1922. Outside of the rooms displaying everyday life during the colonial period, you’ll also find the Degn Collection of Fine Arts, which includes old photographs of the home, interviews from people in the 1920s who knew the Degns, and their personal art collection.

📍553 S. Bethlehem Pike., Fort Washington, 📞 215-646-1595, 🌐, 📷@historichopelodge, 🕑 Sun., 12:30-4 p.m., 🎧 self-guided tours only, 💵 $8 for adults, $5 for seniors (ages 65+) and for youth ages 6-17

The John James Audubon Center, a safe haven for birds and other wildlife, is a space to connect with nature. The 1762 home was once the residence of the naturalist, artist, and author John James Audubon — with the hillsides, flowing Schuylkill River, and farmland as its backdrop, the area inspired Audubon’s passion to paint nature and animals. He turned the 175-acre estate into a place for conservation where, today, visitors can escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. There are more than seven miles of trails on the property, in addition to access to Perkiomen Creek, a bird habitat, and a three-story stone farmhouse — which houses the museum where you can see the work of Audubon and learn the history of Mill Grove.

Highlight: The Wow Birds! Gallery includes a sound forest where you can listen to different birds from various habitats, a magnifying station where you can peek into an actual bird’s nest, and an interactive flyaway map where migration patterns of different species are tracked using bulb lighting.

📍1201 Pawlings Rd., Audubon, 📞 610-666-5593, 🌐, 🕑 Wed.-Sun. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 💵 $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, $10 for youth (ages 6-17), and free admission Sunday mornings from 10 a.m.-noon.

On any given day at the Richard Wall House, you can pose for selfies with mannequins dressed in flapper dresses, embark on a guided tour of the home’s colonial kitchen, and marvel at the massive door in the center hall that was once an entryway for log-wielding horses. Dating back to 1682, the historic home was the residence of Richard and Joane Wall, one of William Penn’s “first purchasers” from Cheltenham, England. The museum highlights events in different eras, including local life during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Gilded Age when the wealthy business class of Philadelphia constructed opulent estates in the bucolic countryside. Notably, the first formal protest against slavery was read at the Richard Wall House in 1688.

Highlight: “One of the perennially popular exhibits for children and adults alike is the magnificent Langsdorf Doll House, a Victorian masterpiece. At five feet high, it contains ten rooms and over one hundred and seventy pieces of furniture.”
Tom Wieckowski, Chair of the Cheltenham Township Historical Commission

📍1 Wall Park Dr., Elkins Park, 📞 215-887-9159, 🌐, 📷 @cheltenhampatwp, 🕑 fourth Sunday of each month from 1-4 p.m., 💵 Free but donations are welcome

Valley Forge National Historical Park is the third site of the winter encampment of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Valley Forge became a national park in 1976 and is comprised of 3,500 sprawling acres that include restored historical buildings like General George Washington’s headquarters, log huts and other reconfigured encampment structures, memorial areas, a museum that houses war artifacts, and places for recreation. You can also take walking or trolley tours and enjoy numerous hiking and biking trails throughout the park.

Highlight: Among the John F. Reed Collection in the museum is a Dec. 23, 1777, letter written at Valley Forge by General George Washington to the President of Congress, Henry Laurens. Washington goes into detail about the low morale of the army, the various branches of army departments, and his belief that if he didn’t address the Continental Army, there may be some deserters.

📍1400 N. Outer Line Dr., King of Prussia, 📞 610-783-1077, 🌐, 📷 @valleyforgepark, 🕑 Visitor Center, daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Park grounds, 7 a.m.-sunset, 💵 Free

New Jersey

Founded by artist and philanthropist Seward Johnson in 1992, Grounds For Sculpture is a not-for-profit sculpture park, arboretum, and museum. To facilitate meaningful encounters with art and nature, the vibrant 42-acre campus features nearly 300 contemporary sculptures, ranging in size from mere feet to multiple stories tall by both renowned and emerging artists. The sculptures are set in a dynamic landscape hosting hundreds of plant species, lakes, and lots of green space. It also has six indoor galleries that present diverse, rotating special exhibitions, which are complemented by educational programming for all ages and abilities.

Highlight: “Be sure to see Bruce Beasley’s Dorion, an other-worldly monumental work sat dramatically upon a hidden reflecting pool.”
Dorion first came to Grounds for Sculpture in 1995 on loan from the artist. Purchased years later to be a part of the permanent collection, the piece is surrounded by water. The way the sculpture is angled, it’s as if Dorion is skimming the water’s surface. With dimensions of 20 x 30 x 10 feet, its size and shape are completely mirrored by the pool, which is also triangular.
Kathleen Ogilvie Greene, Chief Audience Officer

📍80 Sculptors Way, Hamilton Township, NJ, 📞 609-586-0616, 🌐, 📷@groundsforsculpture, 🕑 Thur.-Mon. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 🎧 interactive mobile map available, 💵 $18 for adults, $15 for seniors (65+), active military/veterans, and health care workers, and $10 for students ages 6-17 🍽 Café, restaurant, and picnic area on-site

The collection at the New Jersey State Museum includes more than 2 million prehistoric and historic specimens and more than 2,000 ethnographic objects. The natural history, cultural history, fine arts, and archaeology museum has everything from Native American textiles, bead and hide work, pinned insects, fluid-preserved fauna, ceramics produced by Trenton potteries, and artifacts like flags used in battle by New Jersey Civil War regiments. Beyond the anthropology objects and historic collectibles, the museum has more than 12,000 works of art, including paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture, and photographs.

Highlight: The museum has a 140-seat planetarium with an 8K viewing experience and a virtual planetarium website that includes monthly 10-minute “sky talk” videos. The videos let you track the current configuration of the stars, planets, galaxies, and constellations from home.

📍205 W. State St., Trenton, NJ, 📞 609-292-6464, 🌐, 📷 @nj_statemuseum, 🕑 Tue.-Sun. 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m., 💵 Museum admission, free; Planetarium admission, $10 for adults, $5 for kids ages 12 and under, and $1 off for seniors (65+)

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