Philadelphia’s world-class museums feature an exciting calendar of travelling and special exhibitions, but be sure not to miss their stunning permanent collections.
Below are some of the highlights of PHL’s enduring cultural and creative spirit.
The Franklin Institute
The Franklin Institute is a leading museum in science and innovation, and its Giant Heart, a two-story high model that visitors can walk through, has been an icon in Philadelphia since its opening in 1954. A 5,000 square foot exhibit surrounds the Heart as it pulses with interactive areas, which focus on heart anatomy and physiology, health and wellness, blood, and diagnosis and treatment. Other permanent interactive exhibits at the Franklin Institute include Space Command, Sir Isaac's Loft: Where Art Physics Collide and The Franklin Air Show.
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
The Academy of Natural Sciences, the oldest natural sciences institution in the Western Hemisphere, features many exciting permanent exhibits. As visitors enter the museum, they are greeted by Tyrannosaurus rex, one of the largest predators to ever walk the Earth. This impressive animal is one of many dinosaurs and other Mesozoic creatures visitors will encounter in Dinosaur Hall. More than 30 species are represented, about half of which are full skeletal mounts.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Philadelphia Museum of Art features a stunning display of American, East Asian, Indian and Himalayan, European, Modern and Contemporary art, as well as collections of Costumes & Textiles, as well as Prints, Drawings and Photographs. Spanning from c. 6000 BCE to the present day, the artifacts of the East Asian Art collection include some of the Museum’s earliest purchases. Remarkable architectural settings--a bamboo-edged Japanese teahouse and temple, a reception hall from a 17th-century Chinese palace, and a scholar’s study from Beijing--are especially popular with visitors. At the top of the Great Stair Hall, visitors can also view the Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Collection, one of the finest collections of arms and armor in this hemisphere.
America's finest museum of medical history, the Mütter displays its beautifully preserved collections of anatomical specimens, models and medical instruments in a 19th century "cabinet museum" setting. Some of the highlights of the museum include the Hyrtl Skull Collection, a full wall display of 139 skulls, and the “Soap Lady,” whose corpse turned itself into a soapy substance called adipocere, better known as grave wax. The Mütter Museum is actively involved in ongoing research using 21st century technology to solve this 19th century mystery.
African American Museum in Philadelphia
Founded in 1976 in celebration of the nation's Bicentennial, the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) is the first institution funded and built by a major municipality to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage of African Americans. The museum’s core exhibit, Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia 1776 - 1876, presented by PECO, recounts the stories of and contributions made by people of African descent in Philadelphia. Through this exhibit visitors will learn who the people were, how they lived and worked, and their unheralded impact on our nation.
The Barnes Foundation
Assembled by Dr. Albert C. Barnes between 1912 and 1951, the Barnes collection is renowned as one of the finest holdings of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modern paintings in the world. The collection also includes important examples of African sculpture, Pennsylvania German decorative arts, Native American ceramics, old master paintings, as well as jewelry, textiles, and antiquities. Among its major holdings, the Barnes contains 181 works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (the largest single group of the artist’s paintings), 69 works by Paul Cézanne, including The Card Players and The Large Bathers, 59 works by Henri Matisse, including The Dance and The Joy of Life, as well as numerous works by Vincent Van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso and Henri Rousseau.
National Constitution Center
The National Constitution Center dramatically tells the story of the Constitution from Revolutionary times to the present through more than 100 interactive, multimedia exhibits, film, photographs, text and artifacts. One of the Center’s most popular and iconic attractions, Signers’ Hall invites visitors to sign the Constitution alongside 42 life-size, bronze statues of the Founding Fathers present at the signing on September 17, 1787.
National Museum of American Jewish History
The only major National Museum dedicated to telling the story of the Jews in America from 1654 to present, the National Museum of American Jewish History explores the promise and challenges of liberty, as seen through an American Jewish lens. Explore the Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame, which celebrates the lives and achievements of eighteen Jewish Americans who exemplify a central theme of the Museum—that America has provided individuals with extraordinary opportunities.
Please Touch Museum
In addition to its delightful, hands-on experiences for kids of any age, the Please Touch Museum also helps make history come alive. As one of the last remaining pieces of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Memorial Hall is a historical and architectural wonder. Don’t miss the highlight of Centennial Exploration, a 20 ft X 30 ft model of the 1876 Exhibition grounds, which was a gift to the city in 1889. The model offers a miniature view of the 200 buildings built for the World’s Fair, where the banana was first introduced to the US. Families will love this living history lesson as they stroll back in time.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is the nation’s first art school, and is also home to a stunning collection of artwork. The Washington Foyer houses PAFA's earliest masterworks, such as Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington (The Lansdowne Portrait) (1796), Charles Willson Peale’s The Artist in His Museum (1822) and two enormous canvases by Benjamin West. The main galleries house works by distinguished alumni, including Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, Cecilia Beaux, Maxfield Parrish, Robert Henri, Charles Sheeler, John Sloan and Arthur B. Carles, affirming PAFA's critical role in training and promoting some of the most renowned artists in America.
Eastern State Penitentiary
America’s most historic prison, Eastern State was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. It stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Be sure to visit the cell of notorious criminal and gangster Al Capone, who spent his time in relative luxury on Eastern State's "Park Avenue." His cell had oriental rugs, fine furniture, and a cabinet radio.
Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens on South Street
Philadelphia's Magic Gardens is a mosaicked visionary art environment, gallery, and community arts center that preserves, interprets and provides access to Isaiah Zagar's unique mosaic art environment and his public murals. The Magic Gardens site, Zagar's largest artwork, includes a fully tiled indoor space and a massive outdoor mosaic sculpture garden that spans half a block on Philadelphia's famous South Street.
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology & Archaeology
The world-renowned Penn Museum features materials from ancient Egypt, including mummies and a 12 ton sphinx, and artifacts from Asia, the Americas, Africa, Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean world. The museum’s finest examples of Egyptian sculpture are exhibited in the Upper Egyptian Gallery. The material on display, including carved relief, stone coffins, and exquisite three-dimensional sculpture, testifies to the superb craftsmanship of Egyptian artists and sculptors throughout its long history.