Family-friendly Philadelphia Tourism: Philadelphia's attractions include lots of history, environmental exhibits, ethnic neighborhoods, cobblestone streets and food.

September 04, 1997|By Diane Stoneback | Diane Stoneback,ALLENTOWN MORNING CALL

PHILADELPHIA - Taking the time to discover the family side of Philadelphia leads visitors to travel the cobblestone streets in a horse-drawn carriage, touring the city's 200 years of history.

Walking through the city's ethnic neighborhoods, such as the Italian Market or Chinatown, provides an interesting exercise in people-watching, and touching the backs of swimming baby sharks and stingrays at the New Jersey State Aquarium in Camden makes a memorable hands-on experience.

In addition to its famous dinosaur dig, the Academy of Natural Sciences offers tropical butterflies flying free in the rain forest exhibit, animals at the Live Animal Center, and a hunt for fossils at The Dig.

The children's ride on the two-person Sky Bike balanced on a bar 18 feet above the ground at the CoreStates Science Park (a summer-only and lesser-known attraction linked with the Franklin Institute and the Please Touch Museum) was a fascinating way to learn how lowering the center of gravity makes it impossible to fall off the bike.

Climbing into the interior of the World-War II-vintage submarine USS Becuna at the Independence Seaport Museum made watching the video "Down Periscope" all the more fun a few weeks later.

Root beer floats piled high with vanilla ice cream that made them bubble and overflow will never taste better than they did at the Phantom Fountain, a restored 1950s-era soda fountain and pharmacy in a quiet city neighborhood. Philadelphia is alive with events and people that will excite and captivate children, including Ben Franklin, George Washington and Abigail Adams (all in Colonial costumes and portrayed by professional actors from Historic Philadelphia Inc.).

Getting around

The city center is easy to navigate.

Stay for a weekend or more at a hotel near the section of the city you want to see. The Sheraton Society Hill is ideal for Penn's Landing and the Independence Seaport Museum as well as the historic area.

Holiday Inn Independence Mall, although in need of some redecoration, is perfectly located for touring Independence National Historical Park as well as the United States Mint and Fireman's Hall, National Fire House and Museum of Philadelphia. Both hotels have swimming pools so children can splash off any energy left after sightseeing.

Philly Phlash buses, transportation at $3 for an all-day pass (215-4-PHLASH), and Philadelphia Trolley Works trolleys (narrated sightseeing tours, $14 for adults and $5 for children; 215-925-TOUR), make the rounds of tourist attractions daily. Hop on and off at will.

Don't just walk through Independence National Historical Park. Strike a deal with a carriage driver from the '76 Carriage Co. (215-925-TOUR). Expect to pay about $15 for a 20-minute ride for four people.

Early Sunday morning, visitors can a little longer ride for the money and the driver might allow the children to take turns sitting with him. Be prepared, however, for questions such as, "Mom, were the roads all this rough when you were a child?"

For the cross-river trip to Camden's New Jersey State Aquarium, zTC use the RiverLink Ferry (215-925-LINK), which turns what could be a seven-minute car ride into a 20-minute mini-tour of the city's waterfront. (Package deals for the ferry ride plus admissions to the aquarium and the Independence Seaport Museum price the day's sightseeing reasonably.)

By planning wisely, you can sightsee happily on a limited budget. Practically all Independence National Historical Park attractions, including the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Visitor's Center with a 30-minute John Huston film "Independence," Carpenter's Hall, Congress Hall and Franklin Court, are free.

Have the children read "The Gold Bug," "The Telltale Heart" or "The Black Cat," and then take them to the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site for a free tour of the house Poe occupied in 1843-1844.

The Betsy Ross House, home of the Colonial seamstress credited with sewing the first American flag, is open and can be toured for a donation.

Sharing William Penn's birds-eye view of the city he planned from atop city hall is free by riding the antique elevator to the base of his statue.

There's no charge for the children to board a restored 1947 trolley at the Transit Museum in SEPTA headquarters.

Penn's Landing Corp., in charge of developing the city's waterfront (215-922-2FUN), offers free Children's Special Sundays in the International Sculpture Garden. From 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., children can experiment with crafts, see musical and puppet performances and magic or juggling shows.

Admission is free to Fireman's Hall, which is full of historic firefighting apparatus.

A visit to the U.S. Mint

Seeing more coins being made than most people will ever spend won't cost even a nickel at the United States Mint. The mint's floor, where workers were turning metal blanks into money, amazed the children, who fantasized about getting a forklift-load of quarters for their allowances.

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