In a city with as many museums, historical sites, parks, gardens, and more that you'll find in Philly, you risk seeing half of everything or all of nothing. So use the efficient itineraries here to keep you on track as you explore both the top attractions and what's off the beaten path.
It's possible to get a good taste of what the city has to offer even if you only have a couple days. You'll want to get the tour of the historic sights accomplished on Day 1.
Sign up at the Independence National Historical Park Visitor Center for a walking tour hosted by a National Park Service guide, or try a go-at-your-own-pace tour offered by Audio Walk and Tour. For lunch, hit Reading Terminal Market, where you can sample the cuisine Philadelphia is known for—cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, and Bassett's ice cream—or something else from the dozens of food stalls. After lunch, walk nine blocks east on Arch Street (or take a bus on Market Street) to Old City; Christ Church, the Betsy Ross House, and Elfreth's Alley are all in close proximity. The galleries, cafés, and independent boutiques along 3rd street may tempt you to take a short break from your pursuit of history. In the late afternoon, head back to Independence Hall for a horse-drawn carriage ride. Have dinner in Old City; then catch the Lights of Liberty 3-D show.
Spend the morning exploring the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, followed by lunch in the museum's lovely dining room. Afterward you could walk to Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site for a tour of a former prison or to the Franklin Institute. Another option is to explore one of Philadelphia's distinct neighborhoods. Stroll around Rittenhouse Square and stop in at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, which has a diverse collection ranging from the original manuscript of James Joyce's Ulysses to the works of beloved children's author Maurice Sendak. There's also Society Hill, Queen Village, and South Philadelphia for the Mummer Museum on 9th Street and the outdoor Italian Market.
Start with the two days mapped out here, then go deeper into your personal interests, whether they include art, shopping, history, the outdoors, or keeping your kids happy and occupied.
Delve into more Philly neighborhoods. Check out Chinatown or Northern Liberties, or take a drive through Germantown and Chestnut Hill (stopping at Cliveden). If the weather's nice, you can drive to the northwestern tip of Fairmount Park and check out the Wissahickon —a local favorite for all sorts of activities, from strolling to cycling. Afterward, head back into the city to check out the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in University City and stroll down Locust Walk, the heart of University of Pennsylvania's leafy urban campus. In the evening, drive or catch the SEPTA R6 train to Manayunk, where you can have dinner in one of the restaurants lining Main Street; many stores here are open late, too.
On Day 4, families will enjoy spending the morning visiting Penn's Landing, where they can check out the Independence Seaport Museum and take the ferry across the river to the Adventure Aquarium and Camden Children's Garden. In the afternoon hit the Philadelphia Zoo, the Eastern State Penitentiary, or the Franklin Institute —whichever attractions you didn't get to visit on Days 2 and 3—or another neighborhood, where you can dine at a local BYOB (Locate the nearest wine store at www.lcb.state.pa.us). Check the local papers for an evening activity—perhaps a sporting event at the South Philadelphia stadiums, a show in Center City, or live music at a jazz club. If it's the first Friday of the month, go to Old City for First Friday, when stores and galleries stay open late.
Head out of the city by car to Valley Forge National Historical Park, where you can hike or picnic after you've taken the self-guided auto tour of General Washington's winter encampment, or take a day trip to the Brandywine Valley. Your first stop will be the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, which features the art of Andrew Wyeth and his family, as well as works by other area painters and illustrators. Next, head south to Winterthur and feast your eyes on Henry Francis du Pont's extraordinary collection of American decorative art in an equally extraordinary mansion. Spend the balance of your day strolling through Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, which is in bloom even in winter. If it's a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday in summer, stay for dinner and the fountain light show. You can also break up your stay with longer side trips to Bucks County or Lancaster County. Both have an abundance of charming bed-and-breakfasts that make for perfect overnight or weekend stays.