Philadelphia doesn’t mess around when it comes to celebrating the Fourth of July, as the whole week leading up to Independence Day is packed with block parties, fireworks, live music and the chance to check out some of our best museums and attractions on the cheap.
Wawa Welcome America (June 28 – July 4) features an eclectic lineup of more than 50 free to-dos, but culture hounds (and seekers of climate-controlled spaces) should take note that more museums than ever before — 17 to be exact — offer free or pay-what-you-wish admission on select days of the fest.
FREE MUSEUM DAYS FAST FACTS
- Wawa Welcome America runs June 28-July 4, with events happening all around the city.
- The celebration includes 18 free or pay-what-you-wish admission events at Philly museums and attractions.
- Participating venues include the Penn Museum, Eastern State Penitentiary and more.
- Explore must-see special exhibitions at Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation.
That means everyone can ogle world-class paintings lining the walls of the Barnes Foundation and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, puzzle over the medical oddities at the Mütter Museum and climb 57 stories above the city to score staggering bird’s-eye views of Philadelphia from One Liberty Observation Deck — all for the price of zilch.
THURSDAY, JUNE 28
Free Museum Day at the National Constitution Center
History nuts can learn all there is to know about the U.S. Constitution at the National Constitution Center, which is free to all on June 28. The revered document comes to life through interactive exhibits, historic artifacts and a particularly cool display featuring life-size sculptures of all 42 Constitution signers. As an added bonus, your free admission also grants you access to the museum’s special exhibits. Don’t miss Hamilton: The Constitutional Clashes That Shaped a Nation, which details constructive feuds between Alexander Hamilton and fellow Founding Fathers like Madison, Jefferson, Adams and Burr.
FRIDAY, JUNE 29
Free Museum Day at the Penn Museum
This is an excellent time to visit the Penn Museum, which just unveiled its newly renovated Middle East Galleries. The new 44,000-square-foot space houses thousands of rare artifacts from the Middle East, such as jewels worn by a Sumerian queen 4,500 years ago and a gilded “Ram in the Thicket” statuette. That only scratches the surface of what else you’ll find in the 130-year-old museum, a veritable treasure trove of ancient relics from all around the world, including the prized 15-ton red granite sphinx in the Egypt Gallery.
Free Museum Night at Eastern State Penitentiary
Head to Eastern State Penitentiary, where you can score free admission from 5 to 7 p.m. on the night of June 29. Your gratis ticket includes the Steve Buscemi-narrated “The Voices of Eastern State” audio tour, interactive experiences courtesy of Hands-On History and the chance to browse some of the institution’s thought-provoking artist installations. Spaces are limited, so you must reserve in advance to snag free entry. Do that by going here.
SATURDAY, JUNE 30
Free Museum Day at the First Bank of the United States
Stop by the First Bank of the United States, where, for the first time in more than 30 years, the public can take tours of the building’s interior from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Spearheaded by Alexander Hamilton, the structure was considered an architectural masterpiece when it was completed in 1797, and is indeed a stunner even today. Don’t miss this rare chance to experience it from the inside.
Free Museum Day at the Philadelphia History Museum
The Philadelphia History Museum chronicles local history from William Penn to today and features the world’s largest map of Philadelphia, which stretches across an entire gallery floor. Admission to the museum is free on Saturday, June 30, with free tours happening between 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Check out this Philly institution while you can, as the museum is closing for an undetermined period of time beginning Monday, July 2.
Free Museum Day at the Free Library of Philadelphia Rare Book Department
The Rare Book Department at the Free Library of Philadelphia houses 100,000 rare reads and manuscripts along with a stuffed bird once owned by Charles Dickens that is reported to have inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. The Free Library recommends that visitors reserve tickets for the free tours happening between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. You can do that here.
Free Museum Day at The Rosenbach
Situated in two stately 19th-century townhomes in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, The Rosenbach is where you’ll find Lewis Carroll’s personal copy of Alice in Wonderland and, perhaps most famously, the original manuscript of James Joyce’s epic head-scratcher Ulysses. Head here to reserve a mandatory timed ticket between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Free Museum Day at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
In the mood for art? Head to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, June to explore — for free! — an extraordinary collection of 19th and 20th century American art from the hands of greats such as Mary Cassatt, Charles Willson Peale, Thomas Eakins and Violet Oakley. Visitors can also check out PAFA’s two special exhibits currently on view: Swarm and Infinite Spaces.
SUNDAY, JULY 1
Free Museum Morning at One Liberty Observation Deck
Get July started right with a jaw-dropping 360-degree view of Philadelphia from One Liberty Observation Deck, which is free on July 1 from 8 a.m. to noon. The venue is located 57 floors above the city and features fun interactive displays that let you zoom in and learn more about various landmarks around the city.
Pay-What-You-Wish Admission at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Philadelphia Museum of Art holds everything from Medieval relics and an impressive armory collection to works by contemporary creatives like Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Picasso and Brâncuși. Pay what you wish for admission, and don’t miss the museum’s special exhibit, Modern Times: American Art 1910-1950, which boasts 160 influential modern works — many of which are on display for the first time — by Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, May Ray and more.
PECO Free First Sunday Family Day at the Barnes Foundation
Visitors will find no shortage of masterpieces at the Barnes Foundation, which counts 181 Renoirs and 69 Cézannes among its magnificent collection of French impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. Speaking of Renoir, the Barnes’ current special exhibit, Renoir: Father and Son/Painting and Cinema, focuses on the relationship between the famed painter and his filmmaker son Jean, and features a variety of artworks by each, from paintings and film clips to costumes and classic movie posters. With a usual ticket price of $30, this free day on July 1 at the Barnes may be the best bang for your buck all week.
Free Museum Day at the African American Museum in Philadelphia
Also free on July 1, the African American Museum in Philadelphia pays homage to the important contributions that Black people have made to the United States via enlightening multimedia displays, historic artifacts and engaging short films. The museum’s current special exhibition, Collective Conscious: The Art of Social Change, will get visitors’ wheels turning with works by local artists that speak to the modern and constantly evolving socio-political and cultural landscapes.
Free Museum Day at Fort Mifflin
For something a little different, head to the Delaware River waterfront near the Philadelphia International Airport to tour Fort Mifflin, a structure most famous for withstanding the greatest bombardment of the Revolutionary War. Besides free toursfrom 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the site hosts the Freedom Blast festival on July 1, where visitors can catch a flag raising, rub shoulders with Revolutionary War soldiers and busy their hands in a variety of workshops, including quill-pen writing, woodworking and blacksmithing.
MONDAY, JULY 2
Pay-What-You-Wish Admission at the Mutter Museum
Enjoy full access to the Mütter Museum, truly one of Philadelphia’s most interesting (and eerie!) cultural experiences, on July 2 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The venue overflows with medical oddities, including President Grover Cleveland’s preserved jaw tumor, sections of Albert Einstein’s brain and the death cast of original “Siamese Twins,” Chang and Eng. The Mütter’s current special exhibit, Woven Strands: The Art of Human Hair Work, features a variety of artworks made from human hair, with some plucked from the heads of dead folks).
Pay-What-You-Wish Admission at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
The vast collections of art from across the globe and through the ages — including Renaissance, American, Asian, impressionist and contemporary masterpieces — make the Philadelphia Museum of Art one of the country’s most important art museums. See its impressive holdings, exhibitions, special programs and more for pay-what-you-wish admission on Monday, July 2.
TUESDAY, JULY 3
Free Museum Day at the Rodin Museum
Sandwiched between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Rodin Museum is the largest assemblage of Auguste Rodin works outside Paris. The collection walks visitors through the French sculptor’s entire career via more than 120 casts made of bronze, marble and plaster, including some of his most famous creations, such as Eternal Springtime, The Gates of Hell and required Instagram fodder The Thinker. Take it all in for free on July 3 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Free Museum Day at The National Liberty Museum
Get your daily dose of inspiration at the National Liberty Museum, which is free on July 3 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The eight-room venue tells the stories of more than 2,000 men and women from around the globe who did their part to promote equal rights for all, such as Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai, and American heroes Jackie Robinson and Jim Henson. Visitors will also find an exact replica of the Liberty Bell and a 21-foot glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly aptly named Flame of Liberty.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 4
Free Musuem Day at the National Museum of American Jewish History
The National Museum of American Jewish History offers free admission on July 4, the final day of Wawa Welcome America. Stop by before heading to the festival, concert and fireworks on the Parkway to explore more than 20,000 artifacts that tell the story of the Jewish American experience. While some objects date as far back as 300 years, pop culture enthusiasts will enjoy some of the more contemporary pieces on display, including one of Barbra Streisand’s costumes from the film Yentl, Irving Berlin’s piano and Steven Spielberg’s first camera. Families can also visit that day for Fourth of July-themed arts and crafts projects, special storytimes and more special activities.