Philadelphia with Kids: A Day at the Franklin Institute

Franklin InstituteWe always love spending time with my sister and her husband in Philadelphia and this past weekend was no exception, especially considering the fact that we spent time at a keeper of many of my childhood memories, the Franklin Institute.  Ever since I was a young girl,I can recall looking over the handrail of the marble stairwell to look at the Foucault pendulum going back and forth (pictured on left).  The pendulum is the centerpiece of this impressive museum but it only begins to scrape the surface of what the museum has to offer.  My brother-in-law reminded me of this unique experience when he discovered it before we left, and I’m so glad that he did.

My kids love the museum because it’s very interactive.  I love it because it’s educational.  Kids aren’t expected to just walk around and look, they are expected to experience, join in, discover, explore.

When you walk in to the museum, you are greeted by a statue of Ben Franklin in the lobby, which reminds you of his importance in history.

There are three floors of exhibits, mainly for young kids.  My son adored the Train Factory, where he took a ride in the Baldwin 60000 locomotive from 1926.  At the Franklin AirFranklin Institute Show, my son enjoyed sitting in the Wright Model B,the first plane manufactured in quantity by the Wright Brothers, and learning the history, majesty, science, and technology of powered flight.  For a child into trains and planes, he was certainly in his element.  The Air Show contains over 20 interactive devices in three environments—an aircraft hangar, a midway, and a pilot training area—showcasing the historical and contemporary facets of aviation and aeronautical technologies and the life stories of a broad spectrum of aviation pioneers, including the Wright Brothers, Bessie Coleman, the Tuskegee Airmen, and Amelia Earhart.

The exhibit Electricity is another remnant of my childhood memories.   You learn the history behind Benjamin Franklin’s pioneering inventions by building circuits, learning how batteries are made, what’s behind switches, circuits, wires, LEDs and energy.  It’s a real history lesson for anyone, adults and children.  Who can forget the hugely popular Giant Heart, giving Franklin Institutekids and parents alike the opportunity to climb through an aorta since 1954?  My son liked it so much, he went through twice, and he loved the part of the exhibit where you listen to the heart beat of various animals and find out how much blood our bodies need.

There’s a lot more for kids in the museum, and it’s impossible to see it all in one day.  KidScience features a storybook attraction that takes children ages five to eight on a journey across The Island of the Elements. Or the out-of-this-world Space Command where kids can locate their houses using a satellite home-tracking device. Other big attractions include the SkyBike, balanced on a one-inch cable, 28 feet above the Atrium floor (tickets for a SkyBike ride available separate from museum admission: $5 non-members, and members ride for free), the Fels Planetarium (the second planetarium constructed in the US), and the IMAX films in the Tuttleman Theater (buy timed tickets when entering the museum or via the website).

My son’s favorite section of the museum was the Sports Challenge.   This section uses virtual-reality technology to illustrate the physics of sports, and my son tried it all, from soccer to race car driving to surfing.

We were also lucky to be at the museum to witness their latest special exhibit, Mummies of the World.  It’s an impressive collection of 150 objects, including real human and animalMummies of the World mummies and related artifacts from South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Ancient Egypt.  It’s quite a unique exhibit, and one that my husband and I enjoyed, but I have to say for my kids, ages 6 and 8, it was quite appropriate viewing and I can’t really recommend it for children their ages or younger.  My daughter is prone to nightmares after movies with any scary parts, and I could tell that gazing at mummies for an hour was not her cup of tea and so we had to walk through the exhibit rather quickly.


If you’re planning to head to the museum soon, here are a few quick tips:

– As mentioned above, before you shell out money for parking, check out street parking which is far cheaper than paying to park on the premises.

-If you live in Philly and plan on visiting often, consider becoming a member.  A basic family membership is $99.

The Franklin Institute is a participant in CityPass. Tickets are combined in an easy booklet for one low price, with no waiting in ticket lines.

– Pick up a schedule of free daily activities and a copy of the self-tour guide and map.  Plan out any planetarium viewings that you wish to see.

– The museum is really large; choose what you want to see and plan on heading back another time.  You can’t do it all in a day.

-The cafe’ isn’t bad, food and beverages are relatively cheap but not very healthy.  You could easily pack lunch or snacks, bring them with you and pick up other items in the cafe when you have your break.  If you’re with young kids, consider one or several breaks to ensure that the kids can sustain a longer visit.

-Wear comfortable shoes.  My daughter’s sandals actually snapped (her $40 shoes which lasted a month!), and I headed right to the gift shop.  How lucky was I to find a pair of sandals her size for $7?  I was psyched.

-If you’re hungry after the museum, ChinaTown is a mere 5 minutes away (recommendation to come in a future post).


Here are some other photos from the day.  You’ll see two very happy kids.

The museum is located at 20th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Parking is available in the museum’s garage, but we were able to get parking easily right across from the museum at a pay & display meter ($6 for 3 hours, even on a Sunday).  Tickets for the museum are $15.50 adults general admission, kids age 4-11 $12.00.  Seniors are $14.50.  All special exhibitions, IMAX, 3 D Theater cost extra.

Disclosure: The museum did provide complimentary tickets to my family to enter and experience the museum, but all opinions expressed are my own.

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  1. Linda Rosen says

    After reading about the Frankin Institute, I plan on making it one of the
    first things I do on my next trip to Phila, which should be in October.
    I can remember the School taking us to an Exibit in Center city when I was a
    young girl and showing us what Philadelphia would look like in 50 years. And
    and now it does.
    Since I am the Grandmom of the two children on this visit, I must tell you that
    I remember loving this experience as a child growing up in Philadelphia and I
    treasure the memories of taking my children along with my cousins, while they
    were growing up and visiting Phila. History now repeats again.
    We spent alot of time in Phila and I took my children to all the Historical sites.
    I especially always loved the Betsy Ross House on Arch Street. Thinking about it brings that song to my head.
    When the Cultural Mom became a Teen, she loved South Street and now her
    Sister lives one block away.

    My children loved the Main Library in Center City. We loved Christmas in Philadelphia. The Lights, excitement, Diners, China Town, The Restaruants in the
    Department Stores with all the Christmas Trees. The more lights, the happier.

    Of course Hanukah was the celebration for us, but we loved the city lights.
    The Streets all lit up put smiles on our faces and we would say (oh, oh, oh)
    Today I love driving around New York with Olivia and Max Christmas time and
    seeing the lights. We still say (oh, oh, oh)

    Many years ago a visit to Town ended with The Harvey House. Does anyone
    remember the Harvey House and The Texas Tommy?

    • I lived in South Jersey as a kid and my grandparents lived in Phila. I insisted we go to the Harvey House for Texas Tommies almost every trip. My grandfather’s Hat Store was right around the corner on South Street.

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