PHILADELPHIA — The best things in life are free (or almost free), and I’m not talking about love and friendship. In Philadelphia, you can see the most essential sights for hardly anything. World-renowned icons, cultural gems, historical treasures, it’s all here in the City of Brotherly Love.

On a recent visit, my family opted to stay just outside the city limits because Center City isn’t my speed (or budget). Pick a location near a SEPTA public transportation station and most of these attractions are walkable. It’s often easier to walk than to drive and find parking.

Our best purchase ever was a case of water at the grocery store. As proper Seattleites, we avoid single-use plastic but we found few places to fill up reusable water bottles in Philly. Stay hydrated! That East Coast humidity is no joke.

1. Visit the Liberty Bell

526 Market St.

Cost: free

It’s one of the most iconic symbols of freedom, and it’s so easy to visit. Admission is free, and you don’t need to book advance tickets. Just walk up and go in. There’s a bit of a bottleneck at the security checkpoint, but once inside, there are some informational panels and then of course the famously cracked 2,080-pound bell. Visitors kept politely forming a line despite the park rangers encouraging everyone to walk around.

Pro tip: If you’re driving, there’s a parking garage underneath the Independence Visitor Center that is $26 for the day, a cut-rate price for the city.

2. Run up the Rocky steps

2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Cost: free

Yo, Adrian! Sprint up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art à la Rocky Balboa. Sylvester Stallone’s movie franchise turned these steps into a cultural landmark, and you’ll have plenty of company fist-pumping the air when you reach the top. At the base of the Rocky steps, there’s a larger-than-life bronze boxer (originally created for “Rocky III”) where you can pose with your biceps.


If you aren’t wiped out from running the steps, walk along Kelly Drive to see the beautiful Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill River.

3. Eat a cheesesteak

Pat’s King of Steaks (1237 E. Passyunk Ave.) and Geno’s Steaks (1219 S. Ninth St.)

Cost: $13 for one cheesesteak

Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed, Pat’s King of Steaks vs. Geno’s Steaks. Visit Philadelphia’s second most famous rivalry and decide for yourself which cheesesteak is better.

Pat’s and Geno’s face each other in South Philly: Both are open 24 hours and both charge $13 for a big, meaty cheesesteak (Geno’s is cash only). You could choose American cheese or provolone, but locals know to get their cheesesteaks “wit Whiz.” Street parking and outdoor seating only, and no restrooms.

If you have room after, stop for gelato or cannolis next door to Geno’s. The Italian Market is just three blocks north on South Ninth Street.

4. Tour Independence Hall

520 Chestnut St.

Cost: $1

For 10 years, Philadelphia served as the nation’s capital while Washington, D.C., was being built. That’s why Philly rightly claims the title of “birthplace of American democracy.” The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both hammered out in Independence Hall.


Like the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall is run by the National Park Service, and we could not recommend it more. The rangers are enthusiastic, deeply knowledgeable, helpful — and funny. You do need to book a $1 advance ticket online for the tour. It’s a bargain!

5. Snap a selfie with LOVE

Arch Street and North 15th Street

Cost: free

There’s no more quintessential photo op in the City of Brotherly Love than in front of the LOVE sculpture. Philly’s most famous piece of public art is located across the street from City Hall. Sculptor Robert Indiana created many versions of this iconic design; there’s an “AMOR” (“love” in Spanish) just a short walk away at 18th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

6. Foodie heaven: Reading Terminal Market

51 North 12th St.

Cost: Varies depending on your appetite

Seattle has Pike Place Market, Philly has Reading Terminal Market. It’s an indoor bazaar with everything from butcher shops to produce stands to every kind of cuisine you could possibly want. Go in with an empty belly and you will be sure to waddle out. One highlight was watching the live pretzel-making at Miller’s Twist, then eating a freshly baked $3 soft pretzel. Yum.

7. Check out budget-friendly museums on the Ben Franklin Parkway

Philadelphia Museum of Art (2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway), the Franklin Institute (222 N. 20th St.), Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway)

Cost: free or minimal

Picture the perfect date night: You and your sweetie, sitting on the Grand Staircase in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with drinks and tapas, listening to a jazz pianist. Later you wander hand-in-hand through gallery after gallery of period rooms. We love the Seattle Art Museum, but man, oh, man there is just no comparison to the breadth of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection.

Best of all, this has got to be a record-setting cheap date. Every Friday, admission is pay-what-you-wish from 5 to 8:45 p.m., and parking in the museum’s garage is $5 after 5 p.m. 


The art museum anchors one end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which is modeled after the Champs-Élysées in Paris. If you have a Pacific Science Center membership, that membership gets you free admission at two other fantastic museums at the other end of the Parkway. The Franklin Institute is a sprawling science museum. Next door, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University features dioramas of taxidermied animals from around the world.

8. Get outside at Valley Forge National Historical Park

1400 N. Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia, Pa.

Cost: free

Going out as a family gets expensive really fast — but not at Valley Forge! Free admission, free parking, beautifully maintained grounds. Once again, the National Park Service knocks it out of the park.

Valley Forge became the fourth largest “city” in the colonies when George Washington and his 12,000 troops made their winter camp here in 1777. It’s 20 miles outside the city, which was close enough for Washington to keep an eye on the British troops occupying Philadelphia, but far enough to prevent a surprise attack. Today you can drive a well-marked 10-mile loop through the grounds, with parking at each point of interest and clean restrooms along the way.

On weekends through Oct. 24, professional storytellers are stationed at the Once Upon A Nation storytelling benches at Valley Forge. Again, it’s free. Sit down for an exciting, five-minute tale that even the most determinedly bored kids can’t help but enjoy.