Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Free or Almost Free Family Vacation Fun.
Some of Philadelphia's best kept secrets are free. From monthly presentations at the West Chester University Planetarium and one of the oldest residential streets in the nation to a museum about American military history and free museum days, everyone can use a free day once in a while and on vacation what could be better?
Free days mean it is not about spending money to have fun but spending time together making one-of-a-kind discoveries and doing things on your vacation that are often only enjoyed by locals. Visit Elfreth’s Alley.
Elfreth’s Alley is America's oldest residential street, built in 1702 and now designated a National Historic Landmark. Situated in the heart of Old City Philadelphia, the thirty-two buildings along historic Elfreth’s Alley were all built between the 1720s and 1830s. Today two of the houses along the street house the Elfreth’s Alley Museum, where visitors can take part in guided tours that tell the stories of the people who lived on Elfreth’s Alley and how America’s tumultuous early history affected the residents of the area. Guided house tours are available for $12 per family, and children under 6 are welcome on any tour for free. Bonus Point:
Free cellphone tours which tell the house-by-house story of some of Elfreth’s earliest residence are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Discovery:
Although only two of the houses are officially open to visitors, Alley residents open some of their homes every year as part of Fete Day and Deck the Alley celebrations. (2nd Street, between Race and Arch Philadelphia, PA 19106. 1(215) 574-0560 or www.elfrethsalley.org
March to the beat.
The New Hall Military Museum highlights the founding of the United States Marine Corps and the Army and Navy Departments from the American Revolution through the final decades of the 18th century. The building which houses the museum is a reconstruction of one constructed in 1791 by the Carpenters’ Company to house the office of the first Secretary of War, Henry Knox, and his staff. Discovery:
“Try Your Hand” is an interactive exhibit in which visitors get the chance to try to control a galleon in the midst of a sea battle. Right outside of the museum, visitors can check out one of the original “watch boxes” of old Philadelphia, where the “watch” was station – the individual responsible for the report “It's six o'clock and all's well," and kept an eye out for fires, thefts, attack by the enemy and any untoward events during the night. (New Hall Military Museum. Carpenters’ Court, Chestnut Street, between 3rd and 4th, Philadelphia. www.nps.gov/inde/new-hall.htm
Feel the music.
The Settlement Music School, the largest community school of the arts in the United States, has a great calendar of free music concerts. The school, along with its six satellite locations across the city, serves more than 15,000 students each year, offering a wide range of programs for preschool, school age children, adults and seniors regardless of age, race or financial circumstances, and awards more than $2 million annually in financial aid and scholarships. A list of Settlement Music House events can be found at their site, including indications as to which events are free of charge. (The Settlement Music House. 416 Queen Street, Philadelphia 19147. www.smsmusic.org
) Watch the sky.
The planetarium at the West Chester University Of Pennsylvania is operated by the Department of Geology and Astronomy, and is used for astronomy class lectures as well as school and public programs. Public programs are hosted on the second Friday of each month, and are free of charge, although reservations are recommended. Each show consists of an overview of what can be seen in the night sky at that time of year, in addition, each show includes a presentation focused on some aspect of astronomy. Discovery:
Some future presentation topics include: Pluto Demoted, Raining Stars, The Final Frontier, Black Holes Don’t Suck and Fire and in the Sky. (The main entrance to the Schmucker Science Center is on Church St. between University Ave. and Rosedale Ave. Merion Science Center 207, West Chester, PA 19383. 1(610) 436-2727 or geology.wcupa.edu/planetarium
Explore your artistic side.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is home to 200 captivating art galleries, full of works of Renaissance masters, historical period rooms, exhibitions of architectural settings from around the world and elaborately carved stone altarpieces. The museum is also home to a beautiful collection of revolutionary-period furniture and paintings, as well as striking examples of French Impressionism. Across the street from the museum’s main building is the Perelman Building, with an exquisitely preserved Art Deco façade, which houses additional exhibitions, some of which have never been displayed in the museum before. Bonus points:
The first Sunday of every month is “pay what you wish” day for both the main building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Perelman Building. Children ages 12 and younger are always admitted free. Discovery:
The museum hosts an on-going series of lectures, films and performances throughout the year. (26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19130. 1(215) 763-8100, firstname.lastname@example.org
) Information compiled by Travel Communications, Inc. Photos courtesy of G. Widman and T. Leonardi for GPTMC. Copyright 2010.