Philadelphia is a city filled with amazing history, art, science, food, and culture. And, while there are many places you can experience each of these throughout the city, there are few better spots than the many great Philadelphia Museums.
From world-renowned institutions to small collections few even in the city know about, there are enough museums in Philly to keep you busy for years.
While this is far from an exhaustive list, I’ve listed below a few of the best museums in Philadelphia, many of which are among my personal favorites.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Out of all of the Philadelphia museums, none are more iconic than the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Considered one of the best art museums in the country, this museum features thousands of pieces of incredible art ranging from ancient Chinese works to contemporary pieces made in recent years. Truly, no matter what type of art you like, you’re sure to find something to enjoy here.
Plus, when visiting the museum, you can also run to the Rocky Steps!
Independence National Historical Park
While you might think that Independence National Historical Park only consists of Independence Hall, it’s actually comprised of 17 different sites in Philadelphia’s Old City.
In addition to tours of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, you can also check out great museums like the Portrait Gallery in the Second Bank, the New Hall Military Museum, and the Declaration House.
There are enough spots in the park to keep you busy for a long time.
The Barnes Museum is another of the great art museums in Philly and is home to one of the largest collections of impressionist paintings in the world. The museum features 181 paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 69 paintings by Paul Cézanne, 59 by Henry Matisse, and 46 by Pablo Picasso, as well as paintings by other well-known artists.
The museum was the work of Albert C. Barnes, who started collecting artwork in the early 20th century. When he died, he stipulated that the works must be displayed exactly as he placed them, making this museum a monument to this great collector as well.
The Mummers Museum in South Philly is one of the best free museums in Philadelphia.
The museum tells the story of Philadelphia’s unique Mummers tradition with costumes, videos of performances from throughout the years, props, and much more. While the museum is showing its age a bit, it’s still an interesting spot to learn more about this unique tradition and the annual Mummers Parade.
Museum of the American Revolution
The Museum of the American Revolution is one of the newest history museums in Philadelphia, but it’s a spot that’s definitely worth checking out if you want to learn more about the history of the Revolutionary War.
The museum tells the story of the entire war for independence from one of the most important areas in the country during that time period. Many fantastic artifacts, battle simulations, and videos walk visitors through the war’s pivotal moments.
Academy of Natural Sciences
Founded in 1812, the Academy of Natural Sciences is the oldest natural sciences museum in the Americas and the first museum in the world to display a mounted dinosaur fossil.
Today, this museum in Center City features dozens of dinosaur fossils, dioramas of modern animals, and a fantastic research library. There is also a year-round butterfly garden within the museum that is a lot of fun to experience.
In my opinion, the often overlooked Ryerss Museum in north Philly is one of the city’s most impressive hidden gems.
This was once the home of local collector Joseph Waln Ryerss, and later his son Robert Ryerss. Together, the two men amassed an amazing array of art, religious, and cultural items from around the world.
This free Philadelphia museum is now a museum that showcases the collection of these two men, as well as the collection of Robert’s wife Mary Ann and her second husband, Reverend John Bawn.
Fireman’s Hall Museum
The Fireman’s Hall Museum is located within an old fire station in Philadelphia’s Old City. The museum highlights the city’s rich firefighting history from the earliest days, through the creation of the first fire department by Benjamin Franklin and even into the present.
There are several antique firetrucks on displays, as well as several other large pieces of equipment. There are also smaller pieces that trace the city’s firefighting history through the years, as well as some interactive elements for the kids.
Before leaving, also take a few moments to pay your respects at both the memorial to the fallen firefighters from the 9/11 attack, as well as those that have perished fighting fires in Philadelphia.
Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial
Did you know that Philly is home to one of the least visited National Park Service sites in the country? Despite this, the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial is well worth visiting.
The memorial honors the life of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish volunteer during the American Revolution whose military engineering prowess helped defeat the British in several important battles. The memorial is one of the homes in which he lived and offers a ton of great information about the life of this forgotten hero.
The Rodin Museum is located along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and is home to the largest collection of sculptures by artist Auguste Rodin outside of Paris.
The museum is best known for its authentic cast of The Thinker, which sits near the street outside of the museum. Inside the museum, there are dozens of incredible sculptures that are sure to delight any art lover.
Independence Seaport Museum
The Independence Seaport Museum tells the story of Philadelphia through its port and shipping industry. The museum covers everything from naval shipbuilding to the painful scars of the slave trade through artifacts, signage, and interactive elements
Outside of the building, tickets also give you the chance to tour a World War 2 submarine and the Olympia, a very historic ship from the Spanish-American War.
African American Museum in Philadelphia
The African American Museum in Philadelphia was the first museum in the United States to focus on the story of African Americans in the country.
One popular gallery highlights what life was like for African Americans in Philadelphia in the first 100 years after the United States was founded. Displays in this section included video recordings of stories from reenactors and focus on aspects of life such as religion, family traditions, and education.
The museum also features displays of great African American art.
Science History Institute
The Science History Institute is located in Philadelphia’s Old City and tells the story of chemistry from its early days in alchemy through the present day.
Unlike many science museums that feature many interactive elements, the Science History Institute is more of a traditional history museum and tells the story of chemistry through signage, displays, and interactive tablets.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn about the history of science, you won’t want to miss this great spot.
The Insectarium is located in North Philly and is one of the largest bug museums in the country. Home to more than 7,000 animals, this small, but incredibly interesting museum is unlike any other zoo or museum you’ve ever visited.
The many bugs, spiders, snakes, and more are housed in specially designed cages and both signs and staff members provide a wealth of knowledge about the unique species on display.
The Insectarium is also home to an incredible 7,000-square-foot butterfly garden that is really neat to explore.
Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site
Did you know that author Edgar Allan Poe spent several years in Philadelphia? One of the homes he spent time in in the city is now known as the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site.
While much of the home lacks furniture, there is a great museum that tells about the life and career of this famous 19th-century author with a focus on his life in Philadelphia and the works he produced while living in the city.
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts is often overlooked but is a great museum for art lovers. Founded in 1805, this is the first and oldest art school and art museum in the United States.
The museum’s collection features many works of current and former students. However, since this is such a prestigious art institution, the student work here is really quite amazing. It also features an outstanding collection of some of the best American artists since the country’s founding.
Benjamin Franklin Museum
One of the most famous Philadelphians is Benjamin Franklin, and the Benjamin Franklin Museum tells the story of this influential Founding Father.
The museum is located underground below where Franklin’s home was located. You can even peer down into the hole where Franklin’s outhouse once stood.
Within the museum, you can learn more about Franklin’s life, his inventions, and his impact on the United States through artifacts and some rather comical videos.
There is probably no stranger museum in Philadelphia than the Mütter Museum. Part of the College of Physicians, this museum has been teaching about the human body since 1863.
The museum’s collection is very macabre and features everything from slices of Einstein’s brain to a tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland. There are also collections of skulls and other medical curiosities.
Just be warned that this museum features some fairly disturbing exhibits and might not be for everyone.
National Constitution Center
If you want to learn more about the history of the United States, the National Constitution Center offers a great overview.
The museum highlights each of the amendments to the Constitution and explains the history and context behind each. There is also a live show and the chance to pose with a statue of your favorite Founding Father.
While this isn’t my personal favorite out of the Philadelphia museums I’ve visited, it is quite popular and offers a nice overview of this important document.
Neon Museum of Philadelphia
The Neon Museum of Philadelphia is a small one-room museum located in a revamped warehouse in Kensington. However, while it’s quite small, there are dozens of incredible pieces of neon signage dating back decades and spanning nearly every possible interest.
All of the pieces of neon on display are in working order, and there is fantastic signage that offers everything from the piece’s history to its design and creation. You could easily spend a couple of hours here if you read all of the signage.
Museum of Illusions
While there are some educational components here, the Museum of Illusions in Old City is more about having fun and creating unique photos than it is about learning.
Throughout the space, there are dozens of optical illusions which are sure to bend your mind and make you question reality. Most fun, though are the large display areas where you can get some pretty fun and unique photos of yourself and those with you in a variety of settings.
I especially enjoyed the Beuchet Chair, which really created a fun optical illusion of there being one tiny person in the photo.
Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum
If you love antique automobiles, there is no better destination in Philadelphia than the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum.
The Simeone Museum is home to an amazing collection of historic race cars dating back many decades. Without a doubt, this museum is home to some of the most beautiful antique sports cars in all of Pennsylvania.
Rosenbach Museum and Library
If you love history and rare books, a visit to the Rosenbach Museum and Library should be on your list.
The museum is located in a Rittenhouse home that used to belong to Dr. Abraham Rosenbach. Rosenbach was one of the world’s foremost rare book dealers in the early 20th century, and he helped build some of the country’s preeminent rare book libraries. However, Rosenbach often kept his best finds for himself.
A tour of this fantastic museum will allow you to see some of his most treasured collections and some of the rarest and most amazing books in the world.
National Museum of American Jewish History
The National Museum of American Jewish History offers a great look at the history and impact of Jews in America.
The museum features both permanent and rotating exhibits that utilize interactive displays, signage, and artifacts to tell the stories of how Jews have impacted the country from its earliest days through to the present.
Portions of the museum are free to visit. In these galleries, you can see things like Einstein’s pipe, Irving Berlin’s piano, and Steven Spielberg’s first camera.
Pizza Brain might be home to the most delicious museum in Philadelphia. That’s because this Fishtown museum is located inside one of the city’s best pizzerias.
Pizza Brain claims to be the world’s first pizza museum, and they feature many interesting pizza-related artifacts, toys, and advertisements throughout the establishment. While it lacks signage explaining what the items are, it’s still fun to check out these neat displays while eating their great food.
The Shoe Museum
The little-known Shoe Museum is part of Temple University’s School of Podiatry and is located in the heart of the city.
The museum features a collection of hundreds of shoes from throughout history and from around the world. Highlights include a 2,000-year-old shoe from Egypt, shoes used in foot binding, Mummers shoes, and shoes used by famous athletes
Note that visits to the museum need to be pre-arranged as it has no regular hours.
Elfreth’s Alley Museum
Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia’s Old City is the oldest residential street in the United States. While many simply walk down the street and enjoy the beautiful homes here, the Elfreth’s Alley Museum offers a great overview of not only this street but what life was like in 18th century Philadelphia.
The museum is located inside one of the historic homes and offers you the chance to better appreciate the beauty and history of residential life in historic Philadelphia.
The Penn Museum is an incredible world history museum of the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.
The museum offers a look into a variety of cultures from around the world including Egypt, Iraq, and Rome. The artifacts here are definitely world-class and include the third largest Sphinx ever found.
The Franklin Institute is an incredible science museum in the heart of the city.
Founded in 1824, this museum features a wide variety of scientific displays that offer a great introduction to a number of fields and topics. This is a perfect museum for the whole family, and I had just as much fun exploring this museum as my young son did.
While visiting, make sure you take a few minutes to check out the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial which is located just inside the museum’s entrance.
Wells Fargo Museum
The Wells Fargo Museum is connected to a Wells Fargo Bank in Center City Philadephia.
This free-admission museum offers an interesting look at the history of the company from its earliest years as part of the Pony Express and stagecoach operations through modern methods of banking. Throughout the museum, there are many exhibits and interactive displays.
**Please note that the Philadelphia branch of this museum has closed**
Polish American Culture Center Museum
The Polish American Culture Center Museum is a small museum located in the city. This interesting museum offers a great look into the history of Poles in the United States and some of the most influential immigrants to this country.
There is also information on Polish history and culture, including some artifacts that offer a great introduction into this Eastern European Country.
Wagner Free Institute of Science
The Wagner Free Institute of Science was established in the mid-19th century and little has changed here over the years.
The museum features over 100,000 items on display ranging from minerals to large dinosaur fossils and gives visitors the chance to see and explore a Victorian-era science museum. Signs throughout the space explain how scientific thought has changed over the years.
Philadelphia was home to the country’s first mint, and there is still a money-making facility located within Old City. The Philadelphia Mint produces coins, as well as the medals given out by the government.
Visitors can take a tour of the money-making process as well as view artifacts dating back to the earliest days of the country through to present money-making techniques.
Fairmount Water Works
The Fairmount Water Works is well known in Philly as a beautiful spot along the Schuylkill River. However, even many residents aren’t aware that there’s a museum hidden inside this historic spot.
Inside the museum, visitors can learn about this amazing history of this water pumping facility and how it once was a tourist attraction bringing in visitors from around the world. There are also displays on the Schuylkill River, modern water pumping, and the importance of conserving and protecting our waterways.
National Liberty Museum
The National Liberty Museum pays homage to the ideals of the Founding Father and honors those that live them out from around the world. Displays including information on individual people, as well as how liberty has been shaped by things like religions and culture.
Probably my favorite part of the museum, however, is their authentic replica of the Liberty Bell. Visitors are invited to touch it and can even hear it ring.
Also known as the Benjamin Chew House, Cliveden is located in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Built in the 1760s by Benjamin Chew, a prominent Philadelphian, Cliveden was a stately summer home in what was, then, a rural farming area away from the city.
What makes the home most notable today is that it was the central point of the Battle of Germantown during the Revolutionary War. The home was in the middle of fierce fighting, and many scars can still be seen inside and outside of the home.
SEPTA Transit Museum
Located in Center City, the SEPTA Transit Museum is one of my favorite free things to do in Philadelphia. The museum is located mostly below ground level and offers some great displays on the development of public transportation in the Philadelphia area.
The museum is centered around a 1947 trolley that used to ply the city’s streets.
Betsy Ross House
That might be no Philadelphia women more well known that Betsy Ross. While parts of her story are up for debate, there’s no question that she was one of the most successful female business owners of her time.
Tours of the Betsy Ross House offer visitors the chance to learn more about her life, her story, and what life was like for women in 18th century Philadelphia.
Dr. and Mrs. Edwin Weaver III Historical Dental Museum
Part of the Temple School of Dentistry, the Dr. and Mrs. Edwin Weaver III Historical Dental Museum offers the chance to see one of the best collections of historical dental tools in the country.
Artifacts on display span the history of American dental practices and include a recreated Victorian dental office and tools used during the Revolutionary War.
Second Bank of the United States
The Second Bank of the United States was chartered in 1816 and served as a national bank until 1836. In the years that followed, the building was used as the city’s customs house.
Today, little remains in the interior of the building’s past functions. However, it is home to a fantastic Portrait Gallery that includes over 150 portraits of prominent people in the story of American independence. If you are looking for a great overview of some of the well-known and lesser-known figures of the revolution, this is a great stop.
Philadelphia Center for Architecture
The Philadelphia Center for Architecture features a small collection of items related to the history and importance of architecture, both in Philly and further afield. At this free Philadelphia museum, there is a series of rotating exhibits that allow you to see something different during each visit to the center.
Was one of your favorite Philadelphia museums not included on our list? Let us know in the comments below?