Visiting Philly's Museum of Illusions with Kids: Fool Your Eyes, Bend your Brain, and Strike a Pose

By now you've probably seen photos popping up all over your social media feed of friends defying gravity in a diner, playing cards with several versions of themselves, chilling with their heads on a platter, or sauntering down a spinning light tunnel while trying to keep their lunch down. Welcome to the Museum of Illusions, Philly's hottest selfie spot that also manages to strike that elusive note of being both genuinely entertaining and educational.

Here's what you need to know for Philly's most mind-bending museum, including all the best highlights to fool your eyes, challenge your brain, and seriously up your selfie game. For more stories like this sent straight to your inbox, sign up for our newsletters, and browse our Guide to Philly Museums for Kids for more of the city's most kid-friendly museums.

The mesmerizing museum chain first popped up in 2015 in Croatia and has since expanded globally to 35 cities, with Philly's dizzying doors opening in the spring of 2022 with some signature Philly flair. Ben Franklin greets you with a slightly gritty grimace as his gaze slowly follows your every move, while a Rocky poster adds some PHL pride to that upside-down diner just before you depart. In between are tons of deceptive displays that will have you doing it for the 'gram ... even if you're not on Instagram. 

Highlights from Philadelphia's Museum of Illusions

Visiting Philly's Museum of Illusions with Kids:Towering Toddlers

Watch your toddler tower over you as you cower in a corner in the Ames Room.

Ames Room

Mess with your depth perception in the Ames Room, an especially hilarious environment when you have small kids. Our boys appeared to grow before our very eyes like the big baby in Honey I Blew Up the Kids, which cracked us up despite our toddler's deep confusion. An Ames room is a classic optical trick where you appear to grow or shrink as you move across the angled room (there's one in the Alice in Wonderland exhibition at the Please Touch Museum, too). The room at Museum of Illusions Philly has a monitor in the corner so you can see your size change for yourself.

Visiting Philly's Museum of Illusions with Kids: The Dizzying Vortex Tunnel

I suggest an empty stomach before entering the delightfully dizzying Vortex Tunnel.

The Vortex Tunnel

At first glance, our kids were terrified of this tunnel, but by the end we had gone through it so many times I was walking sideways. Though definitely not for the vertigo-inclined, or for anyone with balance issues or light sensitivity, the Vortex Tunnel was ultimately our family's favorite. It's a stationary walkway surrounded by a tunnel of llights that rotate around you as you walk, making your mind think the ground is moving and giving your vestibular system a run for its money. 

RELATED: Top Attractions in Philadelphia: Best Things to See and Do with Kids

Visiting Philly's Museum of Illusions with Kids: The Tiny Chair

There's no better photo op than a tiny person in a (seemingly) massive chair.

The Beuchet Chair Illusion

We were super confused when we stumbled upon this one which didn't look like much in person—a vinyl square on the floor and some randomly placed blue posts. It wasn't until we stood at the correct angle, indicated by a sticker on the floor, that the illusion snapped into place. This one really relies on that photo op, so our kids had no clue why we were positioning them in such an awkward way (it's a miracle they stayed still) until they saw the photo, blowing their little minds. 

Visiting Philly's Museum of Illusions with Kids: The Rotated Room

Flip it and reverse it in the Rotated Room, which pays Philly homage to hometown movies Rocky and The Philadelphia Story.

Rotated Room

I'm not entirely convinced we did this one correctly, but the pictures look pretty cool. Each exhibit has a label explaining the science behind the illusion, plus some (very helpful) example photos of people activating the space demonstrating how to perform the trickery. With two little kids in tow, we rarely had time to read the full background or instructions, so we made this one up as we went. In reality, the cafe is displayed on the ceiling, which was silly and entertaining enough for our kids, but take a photo and flip it upside down for some gratifying gravity defiance.

Visiting Philly's Museum of Illusions with Kids: Climb the Wall

Your kids' Spiderman dreams come true as they ascend this Elfreth's Alley building facade.

Building Illusion

This was one of our favorites, but another that we couldn't quite take the time to execute to perfection. (Note the mismatches in the photo which clearly mess up the illusion. Mom fail.) This exhibit featured a massive image of an Elfreth's Alley building facade on the floor, with mirrors angled above it at 45 degrees. My kids would have crawled around for hours glancing up at themselves in the mirror, but the line for this one grew long so we didn't spend too much time getting the angles right and mostly let them have at it as they essentially mopped the floor with their bodies (you're welcome, Museum of Illusions!).

Visiting Philly's Museum of Illusions with Kids: Kaleidoscope

Watch yourself multiply in the many mesmerizing mirrors at the Museum of Illusions Philly.

Kaleidoscope

The kaleidoscope was one of the first interactives we encountered, and while it's not a full environment like many of the others, our kids loved looking at each other, making faces, and seeing themselves a zillion times in its magical mirrors.

RELATED: Guide to Philly Museums for Kids

Visiting Philly's Museum of Illusions with Kids: Puzzles and Games

Change the pace and challenge your brain with puzzles, games, and brain teasers in the Smart Playroom.

Smart Playroom

In the middle of all that selfie and photo op action is the Smart Playroom, a welcome change of pace where visitors can play with all kinds of puzzles and games (many of which are strategically available for sale in the gift shop, so beware, as my kids wanted them all!). The museum calls it a "fitness center for your brain," featuring small-scale brain teasers at a bar along the wall near some larger collaborative games, surrounded by 2-D optical illusions with loads of information about how the visual system and mind work together. I was shocked by how much time our kids wanted to spend in this part of the museum, which slowed us down in the best of ways.

Visiting Philly's Museum of Illusions with Kids: The Color Room

Strike a pose and cast a shadow in the magical Color Room.

Know Before You Go

Tickets: $23.49 ages 13 and up; $17.49 ages 5-12; free for ages 4 and under; $20.49 for military and seniors ages 60 and up; discounted rates apply for groups or a family pack of 4 or more tickets

Hours: Open daily, Sunday-Thursday, 9am - 9pm; Friday - Saturday, 9am -10pm

Location: The Museum of Illusions is located in Old City Philadelphia at 401 Market Street.

Tips: Prepare to spend about an hour in the museum. There are no food or drinks for sale, so snack ahead of time.  And make sure your phone is charged and ready to capture the action!  

Photos by the author, Liz Baill @creativishmom

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