On Monday, I decided to be spontaneous, and take the kids for a daytrip into Philadelphia. Typically, we’d drive in, but, because I’d be talking with the children recently about the train, I thought it would be a fun addition to an already fun trip to ride the Patco into the city.
Children under 5 years are free, so this makes traveling into the city by train with young children very affordable. No gas, no tolls, no parking, no emissions = eco-friendly and wallet-friendly win! Plus, it’s a train ride – which is an adventure in itself!
We took the train to 8th & Market streets – right across the street from the Gallery mall. There’s a huge food court there – if mall food is your thing – but we decided instead to walk a few blocks over to Reading Terminal Market at 11th & Filbert.
If you’re ever in Philadelphia – with children, or without – you really must stop by this market. It’s been around as long as I remember – which, granted, is only thirty something years. But, their website says they’ve been there since 1893! It’s a fascinating place for children (I remember loving it myself as a child). I would avoid peak times – like lunch hour, because it can get VERY crowded. You can find fresh produce & meats, handmade soaps & jewelry, flowers, chocolates, and every type of food you can imagine. Wednesday – Saturday, the “Pennsylvania Dutch” (Amish/Mennonite) merchants are also open, which is an interesting cultural window for children. I highly recommend the apple dumplings (with fresh cream) from Dutch Eating Place. People stand in line for these for good reason. Wow. You’ll dream about them. Unfortunately, we arrived on a Monday, so they weren’t open. Instead, we decided on falafel sandwiches with fresh juice. Which turned out to be absolutely wonderful!
After good food & drink, we walked around the market for a while, checking out all the offerings. The children were particularly interested in the “honey shop” a.k.a. Bee Natural, where they were able to watch bees buzzing around busily in a real honey comb.
We also stopped by the candy shop for some treats before heading out on our walk around the city. They had some of the most original-shaped chocolates I’ve ever seen.
After leaving the market, we headed down Arch street, through Chinatown. It’s an interesting walk for the kids with all the bright colors, different smells, dragons at every turn, and my 6 year old in particular was interested in the Chinese writing on all the signs.
We were on our way to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia to see the “Money In Motion” exhibit, located at 6th and Arch streets. After a thorough security scanning (think airport), in we went! We learned (as much as a 3 year old’s attention span would allow) about counterfeit bills, the latest security features on new money, the future of credit cards, the history of US currency, and other fascinating stuff – all about money! I will say the highlight of the trip was a money exchange machine that would give you a shiny new Yosemite quarter for your old quarter (or, for your newly acquired Yosemite quarter – over and over and over again).
Once we'd had our fill of the FRB, we walked one block down to Franklin Square park. It is located at 6th and Race streets, right across from the lightning bolt sculpture and the Ben Franklin Bridge. It is an open green park with lovely flowers (on which we happened to spy a swallowtail AND a monarch butterfly), a beautiful restored waterfountain right at the center (which is surrounded with wrought-iron fencing, so wading is prohibited – darn!), miniature golf, a multi-age playground, and a super-cool carousel. The carousel features lots of interesting animals – both fantasy and real, and costs $2 for kids, and $3 for adults. It was well worth the expense. The kids loved it!
After an hour at the park, we walked up 6th, past the National Constitution Center to Arch Street and headed down past the U.S. Mint to the Quaker Meeting House on 4th Street. Along 4th, we stopped at Benjamin Franklin’s grave, and tossed a few pennies for luck.
We continued up 4th to Market, and tucked in between 4th & 3rd street, nearly hidden, is the entry way to Franklin Court. I had fond memories of this place as a child. It’s a tiny park set in the center of big buildings. It features giant metal “outlines” of Ben Franklin’s house & bookbindery.
There are several “portals” that you can look down, below the street, to the still-existing foundation. The remaining “privy pits” (you know, toilets) were the biggest hit with the kids. Also there is a free underground (literally) museum featuring artwork, artifacts, a glass harmonica (which we’ve seen in use on previous visits – unfortunately, we arrived very close to closing time, and no one was there to demonstrate it), a phone bank where you can call historical figures who will tell you about Ben Franklin (the kids LOVED this), and a few other more adult-oriented activities (like a film). The main drawback to this museum this time around was that the “electric” light show was turned off (due to “attracting the homeless who would come & trip out” said the attendant at the front), and there was an overall look & feel of disrepair to the museum. I was a little bummed out, truth be told, because this place held a spot dear in my heart – and the reality just didn’t live up to my childhood memories. My children had a grand time though, so I wouldn’t pass it up in the future. Maybe just come a bit earlier than closing time. There are several historical buildings surrounding the museum with exhibits and demonstrations all for free – the US Postal Service Museum, an old printing press/bookbindery, and the old office of Ben Franklin’s grandson’s newspaper – all of which were closed before we got there, but there is still plenty to see & read without going inside the buildings.
After checking out all the signs and benches and more privy pits, the kids were wearing down, so we decided to make our way back towards Chinatown for dinner. Along the way, we discovered the (old) National Museum of American Jewish History– which is currently closed for relocation – and planning to reopen in a brand-new building in November 2010.
The kids explored the sculptures out front for a while before we continued on our walk. After reading about the museum, we’ll definitely plan a return visit once the new building is open (though likely without the children).
As we made our way back to Chinatown, my 3 year old finally asked to be carried. What a trip for a little one! I will interject here that while I decided against bringing the umbrella stroller so I didn’t have to carry it on the train, about 6 blocks into carrying him (it was in the upper 90s outside as well), I was questioning my wisdom.
A few more blocks walk, and we arrived at the vegetarian haven which is New Harmony.
Their menu is amazing – larger than the typical Chinese restaurant – and everything on it is vegetarian (vegan and kosher too!). Every last thing. The food is delicious, the staff is helpful, and the atmosphere is casual and kid-friendly. Highly recommended!
After a fantastic meal, we headed back to the train station and travelled home. In all, it was a FABULOUS day – can’t wait to go back again! We did a lot of walking, looking around, discovering new places, visiting old ones, and just having a good time. There’s SO much to do & see in Philadelphia for kids.
Have you ever been to Philly with your children? Tell me about it. What did we miss?