Philadelphia is one of America's favorite cities. It’s a hub for our country’s founding history and a cultural center for art. Not to mention the beloved food, including the famous Philly Cheesesteak. I for one love all that this exceptional city has to offer. Well, excluding their sports teams, but that’s just the New Yorker in me. There’s so much to see and do, and in this post, I’ll show you how to spend a unique day trip to Philadelphia.
When most people think of visiting Philadelphia, they picture Independence Hall or the Liberty Bell. Perhaps even taking a trip to one of the famous art museums and sampling the food at the Reading Terminal Market. While all of those are amazing must-see visits, there are so many lesser-known unique things to do in Philly!
This one-day itinerary explores a different side of Philadelphia. In fact, there are so many unique and fun things to do in Philadelphia that it’s impossible to fit them all into one day. So this day trip is based on what I did, but I also include other unique suggestions you can add on or switch up! The best part of Philly is that there’s no wrong way to spend a day here.
First Stop: Chapterhouse Cafe & Gallery
This is a long one-day itinerary, so the best way to start things off is with a great cup of coffee and some baked goods. You’ll need the energy! The Chapterhouse Cafe & Gallery has a vast selection of coffees, hot chocolates, and teas to meet any particular taste. The cafe is no ordinary coffee shop though, it’s also part art gallery. While enjoying a delicious latte or one of their many tea options, peruse the walls lined with countless interesting artworks. Also, don’t forget to try one of their breakfast treats, I’m particularly fond of the blueberry coffee cake!
Second Stop: Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
Located a five-minute walk away from the coffee shop, is one of Philly’s most unique and treasured attractions, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. They’re also time and time again my favorite spot in the city. Created by Isaiah Zagar, PMG is an immersive art gallery and sculpture garden with exhibits both inside and outdoors. The Magic Gardens are a mosaic wonderland, spanning nearly half a city block of art brilliantly covering every square inch.
Upon first stepping into the Magic Gardens, you’re immediately immersed in the colorfully tiled wide open space. The mosaics are created with a myriad of handmade tiles, mirrors, bottles, bicycle wheels, and assorted baubles and sculptures. At every turn, something is glittering to catch your eye, a piece of art to glimpse from a different perspective, and a new passageway to discover.
There are endless photo opportunities to enjoy here as every angle inspires a uniquely stunning background. Of course, the outside mosaics are a large part of the draw to this magical place, but the inside galleries filled with extraordinary folk art are also not to be missed. I would estimate spending approximately an hour at PMG to experience all it has to offer.
Need to know:
- Philadelphia's Magic Gardens tickets must be booked in advance online.
- Tickets are $15 for adults. $12 for students, military, and seniors. $8 for children between 6 - 12 and free for children under 5.
- The gardens are open from 11 am - 6 pm on Wednesdays - Mondays and closed on Tuesdays.
Third Stop: The Franklin Institute
The Franklin Institute often isn’t listed under unique things to do in Philadelphia as a science museum, especially compared to other museums in the city, like the Museum of Illusions and The Mütter Museum (I’ll talk about those later.) However, I choose The Franklin Institute as part of this day trip because it hosts special exhibitions every year. These are some of the coolest exhibitions that travel the country and world, and I’ve found them in Philly even before they ever come to New York.
When I visited in the spring of 2022, I experienced Harry Potter: The Exhibition after years of hoping to see it. Another year they had a Marvel exhibition that I, unfortunately, missed out on. For 2023, they’re presenting Disney100: The Exhibition. Which includes themed galleries, peeks of the company behind the scene, and rarely-seen artwork and props.
It’s not a very large museum, so expect to spend approximately two hours here. Additionally, there are ongoing exhibits suitable for the whole family that are space and science-themed. It’s a unique museum that’s great for a fun day in Philadelphia.
Need to know:
- Ticket prices are $25 for adults and $21 for children ages 3 - 11. Tickets can be purchased online beforehand as well as on-site.
- There’s limited on-site parking, but lots are available in the area.
- A small cafe and an eatery are open in the museum for a quick lunch or snack.
- The Institute is open daily from 9:30 am - 5 pm.
Fourth Stop: Eastern State Penitentiary
Regarded as one of the most famous prisons in the world, and by many as a haunted site. Between the well-known inmates that once inhabited its cells, the grand and hauntingly beautiful gothic architecture of the prison, and its radical experiment to isolate prisoners, it’s no wonder Eastern State Penitentiary remains famous.
Eastern State opened in 1829 and was the most expensive prison built at that time. It’s considered the world's first penitentiary, with its at the time revolutionary ideas to have prisoners be isolated in their incarceration and believing in reform opposed to punishment. Some of the penitentiary’s former notorious inmates include Al Capone and bank robber Willie Sutton also known as “Slick Willie.” After closing its doors in 1971, it’s now open to the public for tours and is a unique experience for anyone visiting Philadelphia for a day trip.
An audio tour is included with the price of admission, and you’ll receive an mp3 player and headphones after you arrive. The tour is approximately 40 minutes, but I would plan to spend at least two hours here to explore and see all the different areas and exhibits. On the tour, you have the opportunity to walk through the cellblocks, step inside the solitary confinement cells, visit the medical wing, see Al Capone’s cell, and view Death Row.
For a true spooky adventure, around Halloween time, Eastern State Penitentiary transforms at night into an immersive haunted experience. Their Halloween Nights event incorporates haunted houses, themed bars, and live entertainment. I’ve never been but as a lover of all things spooky and horror related, I hope to go next Halloween!
Need to know:
- The penitentiary is open daily from 10 am - 5 pm.
- Tickets can be purchased online or on-site. Prices are lower if purchased online.
- The cost of tickets online is $21 for adults, $19 for seniors, and $17 for students and children ages 7 - 12. The costs onsite are $23, $21, and $19.
- The penitentiary is not recommended for children under the age of 7.
Fifth Stop: Edgar Allan Pоe National Historic Site
In terms of time, there may not be enough for this stop. However, in case there is, or if you decide to cut the Franklin from the day, I highly recommend at least a quick visit to the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. Especially if you’re a fellow fan of his writing, and even if you’re not, it’s a fascinating place to see.
The works of Poe require no introduction, but his eerie, frightening, and brilliant poems and stories have solidified him as one of the greatest writers in history. Poe’s enchanting prose and masterfully woven storytelling have captivated readers for centuries. He spent six years of his life in Philadelphia, where he wrote the revered classics of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
Edgar Allen Poe lived at the site for a year, and you’re able to see the original unfurnished home. Additionally, there’s an adjoined home that showcases various exhibits related to his life and work. The visit will take no more than an hour, including the tour.
Need to know:
- The site is only open from Friday - Sunday from 9 am -12 pm and 1 pm - 5 pm.
- Reservations are not required, and tickets can't be purchased in advance.
- Admission to the site is free.
Sixth and Last Stop: Silk City Diner
No matter what city I visit, I love finding quirky restaurants to try. One of my favorite ways to discover these fun gems is through Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Triple D respectively.) Silk City Diner had been featured on an episode, and I knew I had to make a stop there. It’s a funky diner with an outdoor beer garden, and they often have live music. Plus they have killer food. What’s not to love?
The inside resembles a retro diner you might expect to have found in decades past, but the menu has a spin on traditional diner favorites. And to me, there’s nothing better than a good diner. Try the cheese steak egg rolls for a twist on the classic Philly cheesesteak. And the bacon-wrapped meatloaf is phenomenal. The beer garden also hosts different events. Make sure to check out the website to see what’s happening when you're in Philly.
Other Unique Places to Visit in Philly:
The Mütter Museum
The Mütter Museum is probably the most unique Philadelphia experience in this post. The only reason I choose the Franklin Institute over it is that I love their ever-changing special exhibits. As part of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, The Mütter Museum is a medical history museum that displays over 25,000 artifacts, such as anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments. Some of the famous exhibits include slide samples of Albert Einstein’s brain, Marie Curie’s electrometer, and the death cast of the original “Siamese Twins,” Chang and Eng. This macabre museum also showcases a staggering collection of 139 human skulls, and be sure not to miss the infamous “Soap Lady.” If you’re in Philadelphia for a day and looking for something unique to do, The Mütter Museum should be on your list.
Need to know:
- The museum is open daily, except for Tuesdays from 10 am - 5 pm.
- Reservations are required. Book tickets online beforehand.
- Ticket prices are $20 for adults. $18 for seniors and the military. $15 for students and youth. Children under 5 are free.
- Because some of the museum's collection includes human remains, there's no photography or video allowed in the main museum.
Cave of Kelpius
Widely regarded as America's first Doomsday cult, the Cave of Kelpius held a group of 40 monks who awaited the apocalypse here in 1694. The cave is buried deep within Fairmount Park and takes a bit of effort to get to. However, it is a truly unique site and part of America's history.
Need to know:
- Getting here can be somewhat tricky, so the best bet is the park on Hermit Lane near the cave. It’s not too far from there, and it’s easy to track on Google maps with Cave of Kelpius.
Mount Moriah Cemetery
This historic cemetery was built in 1855 and is a beautiful green space with gothic architecture. It’s a resting place for those from all walks of life in Philadelphia, including war heroes. What makes the cemetery unique besides its eye-catching Romanesque architecture is that its owners abandoned it in 2011. To this day, it is still not under any ownership, but the non-profit Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery has helped restore most of the cemetery. It is a beautiful piece of Philadelphia history to visit.
Need to know:
- There are two sides to the cemetery. The Philadelphia side is the Kingsessing Ave. gate.
- The Kingsessing Ave. gate is open Friday - Monday from the hours of 10:30 am - 4 pm. The Yeadon gate is only open Saturdays and Sundays during the same hours.
- Parking is available inside the cemetery, and there are also bike racks.
Museum of Illusions
You won’t believe what you see at the Museum of Illusions, but you will enjoy the unusual and fascinating experience. There are over 60 exhibits to discover, with optical illusions and immersive rooms created to trick your mind in the best way possible. Think antigravity rooms, vortex tunnels, and kaleidoscopes. There are Museums of Illusions all over the country and world in various cities, so this unique activity isn’t limited to Philadelphia alone. However, if you’re in Philly, and looking for something fun and different to add to your day trip, then this is a great option.
Need to know:
- Tickets are $24 online for adults and $26 at the door. $19 online and $21 at the door per child. And $22 online and $24 at the door for seniors and the military.
- The museum is open on weekdays from 10 am - 8 pm, and Fridays close at 10 pm. Saturday hours are 9 am - 10 pm, and Sundays are 9 am - 8 pm.
- There is a coat room to store jackets and belongings while in the museum.
Philadelphia is a bustling and historic city with plenty of options for amazing experiences. There are endless ways to spend your time here. Plus, with no shortage of quirky museums and unusual destinations, it’s easy to go off the beaten path. Taking a unique day trip to Philadelphia is a great way to see the city.