Best Science Museums and Places to Explore Science in Philly

You can't miss Dino Hall at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Photo courtesy of the Academy
You can't miss Dino Hall at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Photo courtesy of the Academy
9/20/22 - By Hillary Moses Mohaupt

Philadelphia might be known as a city steeped in history, but it’s also home to plenty of places for kids and families to learn more about the science of how the world works. From indoor museums like the Franklin Institute to outdoor nature centers, Philly boasts lots of opportunities for children of all ages to explore science and nature.

Read on to learn more – and get ready to be inspired to conduct your own science experiments at home! For more of our favorite local museums, visit our Guide to Philly Museums for Kids.


1. Academy of Natural Sciences—Center City

At the oldest natural history museum in the United States, visitors can learn about the Delaware River, food chains, archeology, and more, plus get a peek behind the scenes at the science being conducted at the Academy. No visit is complete without a trip to Outside In, a hands-on opportunity for kids to meet animals and use their imaginations to pretend they are birds or the scientists who study them. And it’s impossible to miss the skeletons in Dinosaur Hall, where visitors can learn about more than 30 species of these extinct wonders.

Bartram's Garden.
Get outdoors as a family and wander through Bartram's Garden. Photo courtesy of the garden

2. Bartram’s Garden—Southwest Philadelphia

Bartram’s is more than just a garden – it’s home to a community farm, walking trails, boat rentals, and more. Family programs include Little Explorers for kids ages 2-4, encouraging young children to learn more about the gardens. On relaxed visits, families can learn about the plants that make their home in the oldest surviving botanic garden in North America.

3. Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center—Fairmount

The Water Works used to be the city’s only water pump, making fresh drinking water possible. Now the free interpretive center tells the story of the science and engineering that makes possible our water and sewage system, and features interactive exhibits about water turbines, mussels, and other wildlife that make their home in the Schuylkill River. While some in-person programming is currently limited, there are lots online resources suitable for older children.

Hike through the historic heart at the Franklin Institute. Photo by Liz Baill @creativishmom

4. Franklin Institute—Center City

This must-visit science museum in the heart of the city features something for everyone, including a giant heart, planetarium and other live science shows, and exhibits about electricity, trains and other machines, and sustainability—not to mention big blockbuster exhibitions, most recently Harry Potter, with Disney100 on deck for 2023. It can be overwhelming for some visitors, which is why the museum offers sensory alert maps and other support for visitors with sensory differences.

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum
Join a family-friendly nature walk at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. Photo courtesy of the refuge

5. John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum—Southwest Philadelphia

It’s hard to believe this refuge is still within the city limits, and just a few miles from the airport. The site features 10 miles of walking trails and observation decks for watching birds, turtles, and other wildlife. The Big Boardwalk loop is wheelchair and stroller friendly, and as a 1-mile loop it’s suitable for very young children. The visitor center includes interactive exhibits about the plants and animals that make their home in the refuge.

Museum of Illusions.
Visit the mesmerizing Museum of Illusions for an interactive lesson in the science of illusion and optics. Photo by Liz Baill @creativishmom

6. Museum of Illusions —Old City

Fool your eyes and bend your brain at this interactive museum devoted to the science of optics. From playing with depth perception in the Ames Room, to snapping a hilarious photo in the Beuchet Chair, each engaging exhibit offers educational information about how our minds and visual systems work together--and how the illusions mess with them!

7. The Mutter Museum—Center City

Most suitable for older children (strollers are not permitted, and the exhibits include preserved human organs), the Mutter offers a fascinating look at the history of medicine and biology, including a special exhibition about the 1918 flu pandemic and its effect on Philadelphians.

Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion
Bug out at the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion. Photo courtesy of the pavilion

8. Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion—Northeast Philadelphia

This two-story celebration of bugs will charm kids and parents alike. Learn about metamorphosis, hang out with butterflies in the Butterfly Pavilion, and get the buzz on bees thanks to the see-through hive. 

9. Science History Institute—Old City

This museum in the heart of Old City is always free to the public. Home to the interactive Object Explorer that lets visitors learn the science behind lots of everyday objects, the Science History Institute bridges present-day science and the past. The permanent exhibition spans fashion, art, plastic, and more, while temporary exhibitions like the current Downstream exhibition include more interactive elements. Don't miss the monthly Family Days for special storytimes, water activities, and more.  

Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.
Go for a hike or check out the discovery center at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. Photo courtesy of the center

10. Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education—Northwest Philadelphia

The visitor center features a rain yard, discovery center, and a nature playscape, all to help young children learn more about the birds, bugs, and plants they’ll encounter on the hiking trails that wind through 340 acres. Visit on a Saturday for special self-guided family nature explorations.

11. Wagner Free Science Institute—North Philadelphia

Steps from Temple University’s campus, the Wagner has been providing free science education programs to the public for more than a century. Minerals, fossils, and more (including the first American saber-toothed tiger!) are displayed in a 19th-century style, while programming and special events bring the museum’s collection into the present-day, sure to inspire the desire to explore into the future.

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