Washington: Philadelphia might hold the title of being the fifth largest city in the United States, but it’s an intimate city despite its size. Most of its biggest draws, from The Liberty Bell to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (home to the Rocky steps), to the Italian Market, can be explored on foot.
There are world-class art collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at the Barnes, rare books at The Rosenbach in Rittenhouse, sequined revelry at the Mummers Museum, and an inside look into the macabre world of medicine at The Mütter.
Below are the 11 best museums in Philadelphia which you must visit if you are ever there:
-National Museum of American Jewish History: Founded in 1976 by members of the Mikveh Israel congregation, this museum is known as the “synagogue of the American Revolution;” its location on Independence Mall serves as an important reminder that American independence included religious freedom as one of its most valuable tenets.
The Hall of Fame, whose inductees include Albert Einstein and Leonard Bernstein, among others, is of particular interest.
-Museum of the American Revolution: Standing sentry on a prime corner lot, across from Independence Park, the Robert A.M. Stern-designed Museum of the American Revolution is a must-visit after wandering the historic halls across the street.
-Science History Institute: The Franklin Institute might be Philadelphia’s best-known science museum, but the Science History Institute (formerly the Chemical Heritage Foundation) is an insider-favourite. The museum pays homage to the actual practice of science and its life-changing discoveries. Despite its small size, it completely delivers with a fascinating collection of items, all of which serve to elucidate the mysteries of everyday life—how crayons get their colours or how plastics are made.
-Mummers Museum: As symbolic as cheesesteaks and pretzels, the mummers are a Philadelphia institution. These costumed performers celebrate in all their finery just once a year on New Year’s Day, with the first official, city-sponsored parade taking place in 1901.
Established in 1976, the Mummers Museum chronicles the history, meaning, and most of all, the costumes, of this annual folk festival.
-Independence National Historic Park: Philadelphia is the only UNESCO World Heritage City in the United States precisely because of what transpired right here, and it’s not just one museum or historic landmark: Rather, it’s a collection of buildings that played host to events that shaped American independence, or honour that hard-fought heritage.
Visitors can begin their day at the Independence Hall, and then stop by the Liberty Bell Center for a look at ostensibly the most famous broken item in the world. Afterwards, wander the park’s other historic buildings, including Carpenters Hall, the meeting site of the first Continental Congress, then make your way to the Benjamin Franklin Museum for a look at the historical figure’s many accomplishments.
-Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia: The Mütter Museum, housed within a portion of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, can trace its origins back to 1858, when Dr. Thomas Mütter donated his collection of medical models and specimens in an effort to honour medicine’s heritage and celebrate its advancements.
The museum’s 25,000-item collection, spread between two floors, includes everything from medical instruments and wax models, to bones and anatomical, or “wet,” specimens, all ranging from the fascinating, to the disturbing, to the downright disgusting.
-Philadelphia Museum of Art: Founded in 1876 as part of the Centennial Exposition, the Philadelphia Museum of Art moved to its current home atop Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 1928. The museum is a Philadelphia icon, immortalized in pop culture thanks to Rocky and his famous run up the stairs.
The Museum is home to a comprehensive 225,000-work-strong collection of everything from a Japanese teahouse and Chinese palace hall to Renaissance masterpieces, plus works by Manet, Monet, and Degas.
Van Gogh’s famed Sunflowers is on display here, as is Cézanne’s The Large Bathers.
-Barnes Foundation: The Barnes Foundation is home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Early Modernist paintings.
Barnes wasn’t only a collector, he was an innovator who often flouted convention. He displayed the works in ensembles, pairing pieces in arrangements that encouraged viewers to look at the works in an entirely new way.
-The Rosenbach: The Rosenbach is a house museum and rare book library with an awe-inspiring collection of British and American literature.
The museum was once the private home of the Rosenbach brothers, rare book dealers who curated the libraries of some of America’s most influential families, including the Folgers and Huntingtons. The collection of some 400,000 items, ranges from rare books and manuscripts, to pieces of art, decorative objects, and furnishings, is widely considered one of the finest in the country.
-Rodin Museum: Founded in 1929 by philanthropist Jules Mastbaum, the Rodin Museum is home to the largest collection of works by the renowned sculptor outside of France. There are 150 bronzes, marbles, and plasters on display both indoors and out.
It includes original casts of some of Rodin’s most acclaimed works, including perhaps his best-known, The Thinker.
A cast of Rodin’s famed “Gates of Hell” has graced the portico since 1929 and coupled with the beautiful setting makes a popular site for wedding photos.
-Powel House: Philadelphia is a city full of historic landmark buildings, so what makes The Powel House a must-see? Well, for starters, the Society Hill home, which dates back to 1765, is one of the best preserved examples of Colonial Revival architecture in the U.S.
Home to Elizabeth Willing Powel and her husband, Samuel, the Powel House played host to a number of Independence era influencers, including Benjamin Franklin, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George and Martha Washington. Visitors to the home can view museum-quality clocks, artwork, and furnishings.