Philadelphia is a city full of world-class and sophisticated attractions from Independence National Historical Park to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. However, if you are looking for something decidedly less serious, the Museum of Illusions is a great choice.
Located just around the corner from Independence Hall in the heart of Philly’s Old City, the Museum of Illusions features dozens of fun illusions that are both mind-bending and make for great photographs. Unlike most Philadelphia Museums, there aren’t artifacts on display here. Instead, there are a variety of illusions and puzzles to enjoy.
The Museum of Illusions is a rather small space, occupying just a few rooms on the ground floor of a building along Market Street. It opened to the public in March 2022 and is one of several dozen similar establishments around the world (The first opened in Zagreb, Croatia in 2015.)
The museum’s website indicates that there are more than 60 different exhibits. And, while this is true if you count every single thing separately, many of these are smaller and similar exhibits, like magic eyes and wooden puzzles. If you are just counting the large exhibits designed to create fun social-media photos, it’s probably around 8-10 larger spaces.
That isn’t to discount some of the really fun smaller exhibits, I just feel it’s worth stating upfront that you shouldn’t come expecting 60 large and photography-worthy spaces.
All that being said, this is a really fun spot and somewhere that I can see both children and adults enjoying. In fact, my wife and I visited without our kids and really had a great time exploring the Museum of Illusions.
As a photographer, one of my favorite aspects of the museum was that many of the exhibits didn’t look like much until you looked at the photo. This was especially true in the Beuchet Chair, where one person appears to tower over another (see the image at the top of this article), and the Ames Room, where the person closest to the camera appears large than the person further away.
Both situations were really fun to go back and look at the photos to see how silly the optical illusion appeared on the camera.
In addition to these spaces, there were also two that were built upside down, creating an illusion once the photo was flipped that you were climbing up Elfreth’s Alley or upsidedown in a diner.
Fortunately, not all of the spaces were only camera illusions. In fact, some spaces, like infinity rooms and the headless dining area look just as good in person as they do on cameras. Others still, especially the smaller exhibits, look their best in person.
One thing that I really liked about the Museum of Illusions was that in many spots where the reason for the illusion wasn’t obvious, there was an explanation of the visual aspect or what was going on in your brain to create the effect. This meant that not only did I have a lot of fun in the space, but I also learned a bit as well.
On the negative side, this is a relatively small space and you can definitely try everything in about an hour. That is, of course, unless it’s busy, and this is a spot that I could see getting crowded very easily, especially when someone is trying to get the absolute perfect photo.
Because of this, I definitely recommend trying to check out the space on a less popular day or visiting first thing in the morning on what is likely to be a busier day.
All that being said, my wife and I did have a ton of fun at the Museum of Illusions in Philly, and we can away with some really silly photos. So, if you are looking for something that is very much not a serious attraction to check out in the city, this is definitely a fun option.
Museum of Illusions
Hours: Daily: 9a-9p
Cost: Adults: $23.49, Children: $17.49
Address: 401 Market Street