Philadelphia Culture on a Budget: Discounts for Art, Nature, and History

In a world filled with boogie travel guides and TikTok destination suggestions, it’s easy to forget that there’s a lot to see in Philadelphia without spending too much money.

Whether you’re visiting the city or a resident looking to see more of the sights, there’s plenty to do on a discount – too many to fit into one guide. But we’ve taken stock of what’s currently available and rounded up some of the best options.

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From appreciating world-famous paintings or unique local creations, to making new discoveries at the city’s historic institutions, to simply enjoying nature in the midst of the metropolis, here’s a roundup of some great ways to experience Philly’s art, nature, and history without harming the your wallet.

Artistic proposals

If you’re looking for the classic art museum experience, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation are notable destinations.

The art museum there’s pay-what-you-want admission every first Sunday of the month, making it a great way to end a weekend supporting the arts without having to pay the standard $25 adult fee. You can also start your weekend there because you pay what you want after 5pm every Friday, with musical performances and drinks served in the Grand Staircase (aka the indoor extension of the Rocky Steps). And if you’re under 18? Free every day.

Barnes Foundation prices are much more static, but — kudos to the educators — if you teach K-12 in Philadelphia, you can get in for free on Sundays. If you’re an ACCESS or EBT cardholder, Barnes is always free. Otherwise, keep your eyes open for the free programming that happens regularly, most consistently featuring the Free First Sunday Family Programs run with the support of PECO.

Outside the museum setting, First Fridays are a staple of the Old Town, a major hub for the city’s smaller galleries for 30 years now. As the name suggests, the first Friday of every month is a day when galleries open their doors and visitors are treated to an open house along the Art Institutions Corridor. Musicians and various vendors also got in on the act, adding to the experience.

In addition, First Friday has expanded to other parts of the city, including Fairmount, Northern Liberties and Fishtown.

Get even more adventurous with the first edition of Viewing art, the new self-guided tour from independent arts publication Streets Dept. Available for $35 (close to $40 with shipping and tax) and curated by the site’s Conrad Benner and Eric Dale, the book provides an introduction to the murals that cover the city, along with public parks and the curators’ favorite dining spots. If you want to see the breadth of public art in Philly—much of it created thanks to the vaunted mural arts program—this is a great way to start.

Dania Henninger / Billy Penn

Exploring nature

The typical free activity is a day in the park, and Philadelphia doesn’t disappoint with plenty of green spaces that sometimes include curated options.

Bartram’s Garden in Southwest Philly, considered the oldest surviving botanical garden in the nation, is a teaching and horticultural center on the banks of the Schuylkill River. Its 50 acres are open to the public daily from morning to 4pm. You can walk a trail, visit the gardens, learn about the local wildlife and learn about the history of the place.

Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum it’s in the far southwest end of Philly, right next to the airport, but it’s worth the trip. Established to preserve the Tinicum Marsh, the refuge is federally protected as part of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. From the area’s many trails to fishing, boating and archery, there’s no shortage of activities, with plenty of wildlife to see. The best way to keep up with freebies from time to time is through Facebook.

In the northwestern part of the city, Aubury Arboretum in Germantown might fit the bill. Always free for visitors, the 56 acres of undeveloped space is the largest of its kind in its part of the city. With a calendar packed with programs, there’s plenty for nature lovers.

Of course, there’s also Leviathan Fairmount Parktruly sprawling in nature with too many highlights to list and many programs.

There are so many more parks to explore, so once the options above are crossed off your checklist, don’t stop there.

Glendinning Rock Garden in Fairmount Park
Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

Philadelphia Pass options

If you want to explore Philly’s history and go beyond the bus tours, Go City’s Passage Philadelphia is a package deal that offers one price for different locations. An obvious option for tourists, the pass is underrated for residents who want to quickly hit a few destinations you intend to visit.

A one-day all-inclusive pass is $52 for adults and $32 for children ages 3-12. This gives you access to:

  • Eastern State Penitentiary
  • Franklin Institute
  • Philadelphia Zoo
  • Academy of Natural Sciences
  • Museum of the American Revolution
  • National Constitution Center
  • Rodin Museum
  • African American Museum in Philadelphia
  • Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History
  • Camden Adventure Aquarium

That’s not even half the destinations on offer, but with many of these sites within walking distance of each other – the cluster of museums in the Old Town, for example – and many more easily accessible by public transport, the aspiring pass holder can visit half a dozen places a day, making the package a definite bargain.

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