Monday, October 14, 2013

Field Trips in Philadelphia, PA and the surrounding area

I'm so excited to share so many great field trip ideas with you from my hometown.  I'm a city girl, born and raised in Philadelphia, and transplanted to the Garden State.  We love to do day trips - we get to see everything without having to pack  - and the Philadelphia area is a perfect base camp.

Some of these ideas are free and some have paid admissions (so please check your destination's website before going for current rates), but all of them are fun!  I know that there is plenty more to do than what I've shared, but these are our favorites.

Planning a longer trip and looking for more to do? Check out the following Visitor's Center websites:

Visit Philly
Visit Bucks County
PA Dutch Country Visitors' Bureau

New Jersey
New Jersey Tourism 
Visit South Jersey

Visit Delaware
Visit Wilmington

All are within a two-ish hour drive of center city Philadelphia, PA - obviously, how long it takes to get there for you will depend on where you're starting from and any traffic.  Like any big city, we do have a consistent "rush hour" - from about 6:30-9:30 am and 4-7 pm.   Generally, Mapquest etc. will do a good job of getting you to where you want to be, and are fairly good estimates of time.  Well, UNLESS you are taking I-76 through Philadelphia.  In that case, add an extra 30 minutes, regardless of time of day.  The Schuylkill "Expressway" probably should be renamed the "Schuylkill Parking Lot" - it's so very heavily traveled. 

Historic Sites in the Philadelphia area

Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia, PA

Includes Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell;  Franklin Court

Betsy Ross House, Philadelphia, PA

$5 adults, $4 children/seniors/military

National Constitution Center, Philadelphia PA

$14.50 adults, $8.00 children, Senior/Student discounts, active military free

This is a fantastic place. Matthew and I visited here last spring, and I can't wait to go back.  It includes a presentation on the Constitution, and then interactive exhibits of the Constitution "in action." 

Hopewell Furnace NHS, Elverson, PA

Read about the history of the furnace here
 and our visit  to the furnace here

Washington's Crossing Park - PA
Pennsylvania Park website - includes information on Bowman's Hill Tower and the Thomson-Neely house

The annual "Christmas Crossing" re-enactment takes place annually on Christmas afternoon from the Pennsylvania side, weather and river permitting.  There is also a "dress rehearsal" held a few weekends before.  The Christmas Day re-enactment is free, but the preview has a small charge.  

Washington's Crossing State Park - NJ
NJ State Park website - includes information on Johnson Ferry House, John W.H. Simpson Observatory, and Washington's Crossing Natural Area

Things to do in PA Dutch Country

Note: Many attractions in the Lancaster area are not open on Sunday, in deference to our Amish neighbors.   Plan carefully if you are spending a weekend in Lancaster County and the surrounding areas.   If you are driving in Amish Country, please be alert for horse & buggies and children on scooters, especially on back roads.  Please be respectful of Plain customs if taking photographs.

The Amish Farm and House - Lancaster, PA

Admissions range depending on package chosen.  Basic tour of house & farm is $8.95 adults, $5.95 child (ages 5-11), children under 4 free.  Discounts and group rates available for some tours.

Open daily (including Sunday) except Thanksgiving and Christmas; hours vary by season.  

This 1805 home and farm was formerly owned by an Amish family and now has been opened to the "English."  Includes a tour of the homestead and an information session about the Amish.  For those who wish to learn about the Amish culture, this is a very well-done and respectful tour.

The Amish Experience  - Bird in Hand, PA

This tour company, based out of the Plain and Fancy Farm, is a well-established guide group. They offer tours of the local countryside, including stops at working Amish farms.  They have worked very hard to establish and maintain a good relationship with the Amish.  Hours and ticket prices vary based on tour, but tours are not available on Sundays.

The Underground Railroad 
Due to its location not too far north of the Mason-Dixon line,  Susquehanna Valley and Lancaster County farms and homes often became stops along the Underground Railroad.   Slaves escaping along the "Pilgrim's Trail" were often housed by sympathetic Amish, who appreciated the freedoms granted in America.

Museums in the Philadelphia area

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA  General admission $20 adults, $18 seniors, $14 Youth (13-18) and Students (with ID), Children under 12 free; memberships available.  "Pay what you wish" days include 1st Sunday of month and Wednesdays after 3.   Note: Paid admissions are valid for two consecutive days; some exhibits may have an additional entry charge.

Hours vary depending on building.  Most are closed Mondays.

And yes, this is the museum with the steps made famous by Sylvester Stallone in Rocky.  Try running up them - it's not as easy as it looks!
Philadelphia Museum of Art Pennsylvania USA
By su1droot (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The museum gets its height about street level by being built atop Fair Mount, site of the original Philadelphia Water Works (see below).

The Benajmin Franklin National Memorial & Franklin Institute

 This is a two-part venue. At the front of the main entrance is the National Memorial to Benjamin Franklin.  Admission is free.

Behind the memorial is the Franklin Institute science museum.  Admission varies based on program.  General museum admission is $16.50 adults, $12.50 for children ages 3-11.  IMAX and/or Franklin 3D Theaters and limited presentation exhibits additional.  Museum open daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Days, Franklin Awards Day (annually in April but date varies), and pre-advertised special events.

Read about our visit here.

Children's Hands-On Museums:

Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia, PA

Hands-on House, Lancaster, PA

Garden State Discovery Museum, Cherry Hill, NJ

Jersey Shore Museum, Mays Landing, NJ

Amusement Parks in the Philadelphia area

Check individual sites for hours and admissions, as they often vary by season and/or event.


Sesame Place - Langhorn, PA

Dutch Wonderland - Lancaster, PA

This is a great park for families with smaller children - up to about age 12.  Most of the rides are geared for the littlies. 

Hershey Park - Hershey, PA

Hershey Park is one of our favorites.  It is generally not too crowded, is extremely family-friendly, and has rides for all ages.  We often go at Halloween - it's a not-so-scary party that includes Trick-or-Treating!


Storybook Land - Cardiff, NJ

Storybook Land, Egg Harbor New Jersey
Photo credit: Storybook Land

This park, themed on classic children's tales,  is located not far outside of Atlantic City, NJ.  It is very popular among the preschool and early elementary crowd, and is a common South Jersey spring field trip.  At 20 acres big, it's large enough to pack in the fun but not so overwhelming that you feel like you missed half of everything!   Hours vary by season, and the year ends with a spectacular annual Christmas light display.  In December, the park doesn't open until around 4 pm - so you can sneak a nap in and stay up a little past bedtime!

Boardwalks are some of the most popular shore attractions.  Play in the Atlantic Ocean by day, and enjoy the rides on the piers at night.  Popular ride piers include Morey's Piers and Waterparks in Wildwood, NJ and Gillian's Wonderland in  Ocean City, NJ.

Botanical Gardens in the Philadelphia area

Philadelphia Flower Show - Philadelphia, PA

Ticketing: Tickets go on sale beginning the November before the show, with prices set annually.  Discounts are available for children, students, families, and parties of four; . The Flower Show is free for children under the age of two.

Tickets can also be purchased in advance of the Flower Show at participating sales outlets, including Acme Markets, Giant Food Stores, SEPTA retail locations, SugarHouse Casino, AAA Mid-Atlantic, and Boscov's, often at a discount.  Tickets (usually full price) can also be purchased at all Show entrances during the run of the Show.

Held annually, this is one of the first signs that spring is coming to Philadelphia!  Actual dates vary, but it is held in early March. Every year there is a themed horticulture display competition, and the entries are simply magnificent.  Weekends are VERY crowded, so try to attend mid-week.

Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania - Philadelphia, PA

This 92 acre garden is the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Located in historic the Chestnut Hill area, the arboretum is open daily except major holidays.  Hours of operation range seasonally; admission charge is $16 adults, $14 Seniors (65+), and $7 for youth 3-17 and students or active military with ID and seniors.  If you come on foot, by bike, or public transportation, you may enter for the $7 rate.  (University of Pennsylvania students/staff enter for free with school ID.)  The arboretum offers activities from self-guided tours to formal classes.

Fairmount Park - Philadelphia, PA

With too many places to name, Fairmount Park is a treasure.  Some of the highlights are the Japanese Tea House, Boathouse Row and Kelly Drive along the Schuylkill River, and Smith Memorial Playground (on our to-visit list!).  Fairmount Park is also home to the original Philadelphia Water Works, developed by Fredrick Graf in response to the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic.

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA Admission ranges from $8-18 for admission during the regular year;  Christmas Season is slightly higher.  (Well worth it - the display is simply breathtaking!!)  Note: tickets are timed admission only so it's a good idea to purchase in advance.

Nemours Mansion and Gardens
Image courtesy Nemours Mansion and Gardens
Nemours Mansion and Gardens, Wilmington DE.  Open May-December.  Timed tours only.  Admission $10-15.   **This may be more appealing to those with older children.***  I no longer see any age restrictions, but at one time it was requested that guests be at least 12 years of age.

This is a beautifully restored area on the grounds of the Alfred I. DuPont estate.   Part of the estate is available for touring, other sections are home to the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.  If you are a patient of the hospital, there are complimentary daily riding tours of the grounds offered (weather permitting); check with the concierge in the hospital lobby for information. 


Admission prices: $15 adults, $5 children (2-11), free for under 2.
General admission tickets are honored for two consecutive days and include access to the garden, a garden tram tour, the Galleries and special exhibitions, and an introductory house tour.  While there is a cafĂ© available, "leave only footprints" picnics on any of the public grounds are welcome! 

Winterthur is another duPont estate.  It belonged to the Henry Francis duPont family.  Pronounced "winter-tour," it is both historic museum and horticulture delight.  One of the highlights is the Enchanted Woods children' garden.  They also offer various educational programs.

Philadelphia area Zoos

Philadelphia Zoo 

This 42-acre oasis in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park is home to America's first zoo.   Hours and admission vary by season, with family memberships available.

Cape May County Park and Zoo - Cape May Court House, NJ

Cape May County Park  Zoo

Open daily starting at 10 am (closing depends on season), and located near the Jersey Shore, this FREE activity is a local favorite.  An 85 acre zoo adjoins a park complete with two huge playgrounds (one for big kids and one for tots),  picnic grounds, wooded walking paths, open green space...and quite a few climbable trees.

Brandywine Zoo

This section of Brandywine Park is home to over 85 species of animals, including two absolutely adorable river otters named River and Clark.  Hours are daily 10-4, year round (admission varies based on season).

Please consult individual sites for current schedules and ticket fees.  Be aware that during "Day Out with Thomas" events, the stations and trains will be especially crowded.  Many offer different themed weekend excursions.  These are not only for the small folk - may offer an "adults only" wine & cheese train. 

Strasburg Railroad
I can say from experience, these are all great excursions.  Strasburg is the one we ride the most often, but we've been to the first three and love them all.  The others are on our list - Luke has not outgrown his love of trains. 

New Hope & Ivyland Railroad - New Hope, PA

Strasburg Railroad - Strasburg, PA

Middletown-Hummelstown Railroad - Middletown, PA

Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine and Steam Train
- Ashland, PA - not just a train ride, but a trip through an anthracite coal mine as well.

Wilmington and Western Railroad -  Wilmington, DE

Are you exhausted yet?  There's still plenty of other things to do!  I hope you visit my hometown soon!

Want to see where else we've gone on a field trip?
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  1. You left off the Philly attraction we visited most often. ;) Wish we were still close enough to try some of your other ideas.

  2. Meg @ Adventures with JudeOctober 14, 2013 at 10:17 AM

    I think "Destination hospitals" should be it's own post.

  3. What a fun post! Thanks for sharing your list with us!

  4. What an awesome list! I love it! I live here and still haven't taken my kids to everything on this list! You have inspired me. :-) Thanks for sharing with Field Trip Friday.

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