6 Unmissable Philadelphia Destinations
One of the oldest and largest cities in the United States, Philadelphia is home to a range of attractions perfect for fans of history and culture. From art and science museums to institutions celebrating the area's diverse communities, there's no shortage of destinations to visit to satisfy the eager learner. In no particular order, here are some places one shouldn't miss when in the City of Brotherly Love.
For #1 we have the Fairmount Water Works. Situated on the east bank of the Schuylkill River between Boathouse Row and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, this National Historic Landmark opened its doors in 1815 as the sole water pumping station for the City of Philadelphia. It was decommissioned in 1909, and in 2003 opened as a museum and environmental center. Today, the FWW works to educate citizens about the city's urban watershed, and foster stewardship of its shared resources.
The FWW houses many educational exhibits, including a water lab, a mussel hatchery, and a display of a nine-foot Jonval turbine that has been there since 1851. Visitors can take on-site and off-site tours that explore Philadelphia's waterways and our connection to them. Further learning opportunities are available through special programs for families, schools, teachers, and students, including hands-on STEAM education, themed lessons, and lectures.
Showing up at #2 is the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. A non-collecting museum, it was founded in 1963 by the dean of the school of architecture, Holmes Perkins, who wanted to expose students to what was going on in art and culture at the time. A couple years later, the Institute organized Andy Warhol's first ever solo museum show, helping propel him to superstardom. I.C.A. exhibitions continue to uphold this tradition, bringing under-recognized creators to the attention of the broader world.
In the past, I.C.A. has presented early shows of such renowned artists as Laurie Anderson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Agnes Martin, Tavares Strachan, and Cy Twombly. The organization remains committed to both accessibility and risk-taking, offering free exhibitions throughout the year that showcase works in a range of media. Helping advance accessibility is the I.C.A. Student Board, which is comprised of Penn undergraduates who develop student-centered events and produce an annual arts publication.
For #3 we find the Science History Institute, which strives to preserve and celebrate our scientific and technological culture, and to make it accessible for investigation and knowledge creation. Focused on the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and the life sciences, the Institute's museum and Othmer Library house ever-expanding collections, archives, and related historical materials. These are available for scholarly research, and are accessible to the public via exhibitions, programming, and online access.
At the museum, visitors can explore the successes, failures, and strange surprises behind the scientific discoveries that have changed our world. Making Modernity, a permanent exhibition, features scientific instruments, rare books, fine art, and the personal papers of prominent scientists. Its centerpiece is Object Explorer, a multimedia installation comprising a two-story-high video column and a pair of interactive tables that can be used to explore the history and science of everyday objects.
Next up at #4 is Taller Puertorriqueno, a community-based nonprofit that preserves, develops, and promotes Puerto Rican arts and culture, building bridges to the Greater Philadelphia region. Since its inception in 1974, the organization has been carrying out this mission through diverse programs, including exhibitions, book readings, and other events. With its over 24,000-square-foot El Corazon Cultural Center, Taller stands as Pennsylvania's largest Latino arts organization.
Through its Exhibitions Program at the Lorenzo Homar Gallery, Taller showcases various Puerto Rican and Latino works, highlighting contemporary creators from Philadelphia and beyond. There are also after-school programs for children and teens, which provide opportunities for creative expression under the guidance of experienced teaching artists and educators. Other activities include guided neighborhood tours, gallery tours, hands-on art workshops, and themed lectures for school and community groups.
For #5 we come to Philadelphia Zoo. Opened in 1874 as the first zoo in the United States, it's home to around 1,300 animals, many of them rare and endangered. Each year, this institution educates more than 1.2 million visitors about animal and environmental conservation through a historic travel trail system, as well as through the child-focused educational center KidZooU.
Philadelphia Zoo's 42-acre campus is filled with a variety of exhibits, each designed to provide visitors with up close and personal experiences. Exhibits include African Plains, Bear Country, Big Cat Falls, and Bird Valley. The McNeil Avian Center features over 100 exotic birds, while the Rare Animal Conservation Center houses some of the world's most endangered species. Zoo360, a campus-wide network of see-through mesh tunnels, affords opportunities for animals to roam around and above the grounds.
Finally, landing at #6 is the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Founded in 1976 in celebration of the nation's Bicentennial, the AAMP is the first institution funded and built by a major municipality to preserve, interpret, and exhibit the heritage of African Americans. Combining art, culture, and historical witness, it strives to bring diverse communities together in greater appreciation of the Black experience.
As of 2020, the AAMP houses an auditorium and four galleries, each of which offers exhibitions anchored by one of three dominant themes: the African Diaspora, the Philadelphia Story, and the Contemporary Narrative. The Museum's diverse collections of artifacts cover subjects such as civil rights organizations and activities, Negro baseball league memorabilia, and the performing and visual arts. Visitors can also partake in a variety of programs and learning opportunities, including guided tours, film screenings, and workshops.