Spooky cellblocks, new exhibits, zany art installations, fall fests, virtual performances, pop-up markets and more fill Philadelphia’s autumn calendar, as highlighted below. For more fall inspiration, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
Explore Eastern State Penitentiary… in the dark
Though the popular Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary – regarded as one of the nation’s top haunted attractions – is canceled for the 2020 season, the historic prison is introducing a brand new way for visitors to explore the crumbling cellblocks in the evenings this fall. Launching September 18, Night Tours will allow visitors to experience the once-abandoned prison like never before, as the moonlight shines through the skylights above cellblocks and films made by currently incarcerated prisoners are projected onto the 30-foot-tall walls that wrap around the perimeter. Click here to learn more and reserve tickets.
Virtually enjoy the city’s performing arts scene
Traditionally, fall marks the beginning of new seasons in the performing arts community, with actors, dancers, musicians, and other performers filling the stages of the Kimmel Center, Academy of Music, and other venues throughout the city. This year, those performances are moving to a digital stage for the Philadelphia Orchestra, Opera Philadelphia, and the yearly Fringe Festival.
Beginning September 30 with an Opening Night Celebration Concert (featuring special guests Lang Lang, Steve Martin, Billie Jean King, and others), the Philadelphia Orchestra will present an abbreviated season, consisting of 12 programs through the end of the year. The season will include several world premiere performances by the Orchestra, who will be playing together in-person and recording performances at a crowd-less Mann Center and Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center. On October 23, Opera Philadelphia will launch their Netflix-like Opera Philadelphia Channel, which will allow subscribers to enjoy never-before-seen and never-before-streamed performances on demand as part of their 2020-21 season, accessed via phones, computers, and devices such as AppleTV, Android TV, Roku, and Amazon FireTV. The channel will include new presentations of David T. Little’s Soldier Songs and Hans Werner Henze’s El Cimarrón, among other operas.
Also presented in a predominantly virtual format this year is the annual Fringe Festival, which runs from September 10 through October 4 and features nearly 120 works that span several different genres and platforms. A few of these performances will take place outdoors for the public to enjoy in-person at an appropriate distance.
Shop locally made goods at a fall pop-up market
The Made in Philadelphia Fall Market sets up shop to the west of City Hall in Dilworth Park beginning September 10, featuring a rotating selection of local artisans each selling their own unique wares on Thursdays and Friday until October 2. Then, from October 9-11, the park will host Harvest Weekend, bringing festive fall decorations, a beer garden with a wide variety of drink options for adults (with cocktails to-go), pumpkin painting activities for kids, a menu filled with fall food, and even more local vendors to the Center City park for three days. Masks will be required when not eating or drinking and social distancing is encouraged for all guests.
Survey a pop-up art installation in a historic shipyard
Group X — the anonymous collective of curators behind captivating temporary installations such as 2018’s See Monsters HERE and 2019’s Tape Philadelphia: Enter the Cocoon — is back again with a new series of artworks in the South Philadelphia Navy Yard complex. Code named M.I.M.O.S.A. (short for Mystery Island and the Marvelous Occurrence of Spontaneous Art), the installation consists of six artworks from local and international artists, each found at a different location in the Navy Yard, encouraging visitors to walk, run, or bike their way around to experience each one. Don’t miss the piñata-like Thunderbird lowrider by artist Justin Favela, or the floral cross-stitch piece by Spanish artist Raquel Rodrigo. Act fast… this temporary display is only on view through November 2. Click here to learn more.
Walk through Philadelphia’s neighborhoods
Philadelphia is consistently heralded as one of the nation’s most walkable cities and the fall season offers even more reasons to explore the city by foot. Embrace the cooler temperatures and navigate your way through tree-filled neighborhoods such as Rittenhouse Square, Washington Square West, and Old City. TIP: Use our Instagram guide to help in capturing those perfect fall photos.
Hit the trails of Fairmount Park
Covering over 2,000 acres to the east and west of the Schuylkill River, Fairmount Park is home to miles and miles of recreational trails perfect for hiking, running, or biking on autumn afternoons. Don’t miss the 18th and 19th century historic houses scattered throughout the park. One house, Woodford Mansion, has reopened for tours (advance reservations recommended) while the other homes can be admired from outside. Be sure to also visit the historic Shofuso Japanese House and the neighboring Horiticulture Center in West Fairmount Park, as well as the other sites such as Boathouse Row and Fairmount Water Works, as highlighted here.
Savor the fall flavors of Philadelphia’s local restaurant scene
Philadelphia’s acclaimed restaurant community is open and ready to serve you safely, whether it be inside following local guidelines, at one of the thousands of seats available outside in “streeteries” and sidewalk dining rooms, or via take-out to be enjoyed in one of the city’s parks. Dozens of restaurants will participate in Center City’s Restaurant Week from September 13-25, presenting special prix fixe menus that can be enjoyed on-site or taken to-go. The refreshing fall weather is perfect for spending time at a beer garden, such as Parks on Tap (at FDR Park and Fairmount Water Works), at Independence Beer Garden near Independence Hall, or at one of two PHS Pop-Up Gardens; one along South Street and another, new option, in Manayunk.
Watch a sporting event at a local restaurant, brewery or bar
Though the excitement of enjoying a live sporting event in Philadelphia’s stadiums is currently on hold, fans can still cheer on their teams by reserving tables at one of the city’s restaurants, bars, and beer gardens. Xfinity Live! in South Philadelphia is allowing fans to reserve socially distant tables in advance – indoors or outside – for Eagles games all season long. Reservations can also be made for tables during other sporting events throughout the week. Similarly, Yards Brewing Company is offering outside Game Day Tables at its Spring Garden Street brewery, complete with food and an open bar for the duration of the game. The city’s oldest pub, McGillin’s, is also presenting game day experiences for each Eagles game (first-come, first-served seating, indoors and outside).
For more insights into how Philadelphia’s restaurants, breweries and bars are upholding health and safety standards, click here.
Embrace the spookier side of the historic district
Beginning October 1 (and running through Halloween), the usually charming miniature golf course at Franklin Square — which features smaller versions of iconic city landmarks — will receive an eerie makeover, decked out in spider webs, large spiders, creepy lighting, and other seasonal decorations, inviting those brave enough to putt their way through the 18-hole course each evening from 6-9 p.m. Nearby, the Betsy Ross House is also joining in on the ghostly good times by offering Spooky Twilight Tours each Saturday in October from 6-8 p.m. Visitors can navigate the 18th-century former home of the patriotic seamstress while also learning more about Philadelphia’s macabre history. Those wishing to enjoy both chilling activities can purchase a combo ticket, $19 for adults and $17 for children.
Discover the eerie past of Philadelphia’s most historic sites
Spend the cool autumn evenings learning more about Philadelphia’s haunted history on one of Ghost Tour of Philadelphia’s candlelit walking tours. A costumed guide will lead you through historic streets at night as they chronicle true ghost stories, real haunted houses, and other macabre tales from Philadelphia’s past. Stops along the tour include Independence Hall, City Tavern, the Powel House and Washington Square West, among others. Masks are required for all guests and physical distancing throughout the entire tour is encouraged. To learn more and book a tour, click here. For more tour experiences that have recently relaunched with new health and safety guidelines, click here.
Sip on cider, carve pumpkins and more along the Delaware River
Fall Fest at Morgan’s Pier returns in 2020 for its longest season yet, running from September 23 through November 1. The riverside restaurant and bar, which rests atop a deck overlooking the Delaware River with unbeatable views of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge as it soars overhead, will be festively decorated and will be offering a new lineup of fall menu items, seasonal beers from local breweries, and a collection of autumnal activities for guests to enjoy, all while practicing safe social distancing and following health and safety guidelines. Pumpkin carving (with pumpkins sourced from the convenient Morgan’s Pier Pumpkin Patch) is available on weekends from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Football fans can reserve tables at the pier for each Eagles game, granting their party a prime view of the TV, an open bar, wings, and more.
Take a spooktacular stroll around the nation’s first zoo
The Philadelphia Zoo’s annual Boo at the Zoo event returns in October for three weekends of slightly spooky fun (October 16-18, October 23-25 and October 30-November 1). The family-friendly event allows costumed visitors of all ages to explore the zoo’s grounds while admiring the colorful fall foliage and learning about the many animals inside. Once they grab a pre-filled treat bag, visitors can also enjoy a socially distanced parade, a graveyard showcasing extinct species (and those trying to be saved from extinction), dozens of photo-worthy moments, and plenty of festive fall decor throughout the zoo. Timed tickets are required and can be reserved in advance beginning October 1 by clicking here.
Journey to the Countryside for flowers, foliage, and fountains at Longwood Gardens
A botanical garden spanning over 1,000 acres in nearby Kennett Square, Longwood Gardens offers numerous ways to enjoy the outdoors during the fall season, including fountain shows, a sprawling meadow, cozy treehouses, and plenty of colorful fall leaves. Don’t miss the colorful Chrysanthemum Festival inside the massive conservatory, on view from October 22 through November 14. TIP: Visit in the evenings to enjoy the spectacular illuminated fountain shows, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:15 p.m. in September and October.
Admire the foliage at Morris Arboretum’s nearly 100-acre property
Home to some of the city’s oldest and rarest trees (and one of the best locations in the region for bird watching), Morris Arboretum in northwest Philadelphia also features sculptures and themed gardens lining its winding pathways. Visit during the fall to marvel at the fall colors of maples, dogwoods, oaks, and other species. The Arboretum’s Scarecrow Walk returns October 3-November 1, featuring dozens of custom scarecrows disguised as characters from fairy tales. TIP: Visit from 5-8 p.m. on October 30 and October 31 for the Ghostly Gathering at Morris ArBOOretum, Morris Arboretum’s first ever Halloween evening event. The property will be just the appropriate amount of spooky and silly as costumed visitors trick-or-treat around, playing games and admiring the scarecrows illuminated at night.
Venture to Bucks County and explore the grounds of a historic riverfront estate
Found just a short drive north from Philadelphia in nearby Bucks County, the Andalusia Historic House, Gardens, and Arboretum is the ancestral home of the Biddle family, a National Historic Landmark, and a picturesque destination in the fall months as autumn leaves fill the over 800 trees on the 100-acre property. Though the elegant mansion — considered one of the finest and earliest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the nation — is closed for tours due to COVID-19, visitors can still take part in self-guided tours of the 50 acres of gardens on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays through October. The estate will also be offering three “Open Saturdays” in the fall (September 19, October 24, and November 7), allowing the public to enjoy self-guided tours of the grounds on the weekends. To learn more about Andalusia’s health and safety measures and to plan your visit, click here.
Enjoy dining, shopping, murder mysteries, and plenty of scarecrows at Peddler’s Village
Also found in Bucks County, Peddler’s Village is home to a collection of local vendors and restaurants, and is a beautiful destination to visit in the fall — partially for admiring the beautiful foliage as you travel from one shop or restaurant to another outdoors, and also for its annual Scarecrows in the Village event (September 9-October 31). A 41-year fall tradition, the Village displays a collection of over 100 creatively-designed scarecrows assembled by locals, with new categories and themes each year. Visitors can vote on their favorite designs, or even take part in Scarecrow Making Workshops on select days in September. Amateur detectives can hang around until the evening to take part in one of the Village’s Murder Mystery Walking Tours that task participants with scouring the grounds for clues to solving centuries-old crimes, with ghostly versions available Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in October and November.
Head indoors and enjoy new exhibits at area museums
New exhibits are opening this season at Philadelphia’s recently reopened museums, including a series of exhibits commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. New and upcoming exhibits include 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote at the National Constitution Center, When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story, 1776 – 1807 at the Museum of the American Revolution (October 2-April 25), Elijah Pierce’s America at the Barnes Foundation (September 27-January 10), and Places for the People: WPA Travel Posters at Carpenters’ Hall (November 6-December 20). TIP: You can still engage with many museums from afar thanks to their virtual tours and digital resources, as highlighted in our Philadelphia From Home guide.