Philadelphia culture on a budget: discounts on art, nature, and history

In a world full of bougie tourist guides and TikTok travel destination suggestions, it’s easy to forget that there’s plenty to see in Philadelphia without breaking the bank.

Whether you’re visiting the city or are a resident wanting to see more sights, there’s plenty to do at a discounted price — too much to fit in a guidebook. 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 one-of-a-kind local creations, to making new discoveries at the city’s historical institutions, to simply enjoying nature in the heart of the metropolis, here’s a roundup of some great ways to experience Philly’s art, nature and history without breaking the bank to strain.

Artistic Offers

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

The Art Museum has unlimited entry on the first Sunday of every month, making it a great way to cap off a weekend and support the arts without paying the standard adult price of $25. You can start your weekend there too, as it’s served up at your leisure with music performances and drinks every Friday from 5pm in the Great Stair Hall (aka the interior continuation of the Rocky Steps). And if you are under 18? Every day free.

Those of the Barnes Foundation Prices are a lot more static, but — kudos to educators — if you’re teaching K-12 in Philadelphia, you get free admission on Sundays. If you are an ACCESS or EBT cardholder, Barnes is always free. Otherwise, keep an eye out for free programs that run regularly, most consistently including the Free First Sunday Family programs run with the support of PECO.

Outside the museum framework First Fridays have been an integral part of the old town for 30 years, a major hub for the city’s smaller galleries. As the name suggests, the first Friday of the month is a day when galleries open their doors and visitors are invited to an open house along the Corridor of Artistic Institutions. Musicians and various vendors have also joined the show, rounding out the experience.

Additionally, 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 art viewing, the new self-guided tour guide from independent art publication Streets Dept. Available for $35 (about $40 with shipping and taxes) 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 restaurants. If you want to see the breadth of Philly’s public art — much of it has been created thanks to the lauded Mural Arts Program — this is a good place to start.

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Explore nature

The basic free activity is a day at the park, and Philadelphia doesn’t disappoint, with tons of green space that sometimes includes curated options.

Bartram’s garden in Southwest Philly, believed to be the country’s oldest surviving botanical garden, is a learning and horticultural center on the banks of the Schuylkill River. Its 50 hectares are open to the public every day from morning to 4 p.m. You can walk a trail, visit the gardens, learn about the local wildlife and learn about the history of the site.

Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum is on the extreme southwestern edge of Philadelphia, right next to the airport, but it’s worth the trek. The refuge was established to preserve the Tinicum Marsh and is federally protected as part of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. From the many hiking trails in the area to fishing, paddling and archery, there is no shortage of activities with plenty of wildlife to spot. The best way to keep up with the occasional free program is through Facebook.

On the northwest side of town, Awbury Arboretum in Germantown can fit the bill. Always free to visitors, the 56 hectares of undeveloped space is the largest of its kind in its part of the city. With a calendar full of programmes, there is plenty for nature lovers to do.

Of course there is the Leviathan Fairmount Parkreally vast in nature with too many notable places to list and lots of programming.

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

Glendinning Rock Garden in Fairmount Park
Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

Philadelphia Pass Opportunities

If you want to explore Philly history and go beyond the bus tours, Go City’s is the place to be Philadelphia Pass is a bundle offering that offers one price across a variety of locations. The pass is an obvious option for tourists but underestimated by local residents who want to quickly traverse some destinations they want to visit.

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

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

That’s not even half of the destinations on offer, but since many of these sights are within walking distance — the cluster of Old Town Museums, for example — and many more are easily accessible by public transport, the ambitious pass holder could visit half-dozens of places in one day, which makes the package a real bargain.

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