History comes alive at the Fort Pitt Museum in Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of the Heinz History Center
History comes alive at the Fort Pitt Museum in Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of the Heinz History Center

10 Great Winter Getaway Ideas for Philly Families

The cold, blustery days of winter offer an ideal time for a family getaway. Whether you enjoy skiing, amusements, or seeing historic sites, there are plenty of winter activities to do near Philadelphia. Families living in area are fortunate that Philly is located close to so many options for a winter weekend road trip.

We've rounded up some of our favorite spots to explore and included the most up-to-date information for out-of-state travel during these unusual times. Current recommendations from the state Department of Health require travelers older than 11 to produce a negative COVID test or quarantine for 10 days upon returning from out-of-state travel. This does not apply to those who return from traveling outside the state within 24 hours. Be sure to check for COVID-19 travelers information updates before you travel.

For additional ideas on how to spend these winter months, browse our Winter Fun Guide for Philadelphia Families, which features posts about outdoor ice skatingtubing, and boredom busters for snow days.

While we try to promote safe activities that occur outdoors or with social distancing guidelines in place, keep your family and others safe by wearing a mask and maintaining appropriate distance. If you arrive at a spot that appears too crowded, try using the “nearby” search feature on our event calendar to find something else to do.

fish tanks jellyfish National Aquarium
Kids will delight in the mysteries of the underwater world at the National Aquarium. Photo courtesy of the aquarium

Great Winter Getaways for Philly Families 

National Aquarium in Baltimore

2020 Update: The National Aquarium is open. Timed tickets are required for guests to help maintain social distancing Temperature checks are taken prior to entry and masks must be worn.
Located about two hours south of Philadelphia, the National Aquarium in Baltimore is recognized as one of the best in the country. Perfect for a day trip, there’s plenty to do at the Inner Harbor as well. Experiences include the Shark Catwalk Tour. Kids must be at least 8 years of age. You can visit the food prep area to learn about shark diets, and walk the catwalk above Shark Alley. For younger kids, check out Shark: A 4D Experience.

Winter at the Jersey Shore

2020 Update: Holiday tours and events such as holiday trolley light rides are happening through January 1, 2021.
A drive to the beach probably is not the first thing that comes to mind when picturing a pleasant winter sojourn. However, the Jersey Shore has plenty to offer in its quiet season—and that starts with the quiet, which is not to be underrated. In addition to tranquil beaches and prime birdwatching, winter in Cape May, for example, offers plenty of fun for the whole family. The town's quaint shopping district and popular restaurants will be, well, a lot less populated. Not every business is open, but kids have easy access to all the popcorn and fudge you will allow them to eat. With no long lines to wait in, you should have plenty of time to visit the historic Cape May Lighthouse, built in 1859. The beach adjoins Cape May Point, where there are excellent walking trails and a particularly fine beach to stroll.

RELATED: Our Guide to Skiing and Snowboarding in the Philly Area  

 
Inspire your budding historian with a trip to Gettysburg. Photo courtesy of Destination Gettysburg

Gettysburg National Military Park

2020 Update: Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center is open with COVID protocols in place. There are a few spots that are closed such as the David Wills House and Eisenhower Home. The Eisenhower National Historic Site grounds are open.
This seems like a nontraditional winter getaway, but Gettysburg is a great opportunity to take in history. Located about three hours from Philadelphia, Gettysburg is rich with museums. Often called "The Gateway to the Battlefield," Gettysburg National Military Park Museum is a must-see. The museum has 11 galleries, filled with amazing artifacts from the pivotal Civil War battle. Also, check out the Lincoln Railroad Station, the place of greeting for President Lincoln when he came to deliver his Gettysburg Address. After you’ve filled your day with education, check out Liberty Mountain Resort. Located in nearby Carroll Valley, there are slopes, lessons, and a new ice skating rink.

The Poconos

2020 Update: Resorts in the Poconos are open and advance reservations are required for most. 
Get your ski and snow tube on as you hit the slopes in The Poconos. It’s the perfect winter getaway for the whole family. Big Boulder, Blue Mountain, and Jack Frost are just a few places for some classic winter fun. Why not take a ride in a horse-drawn sleigh at Daisy Field Farm? Wrap up with a blanket and enjoy the winter wonderland. It’s not all snow, though. Check out Kalahari Resorts to warm up in the 84-degree indoor water park.

Strasburg, Pennsylvania

2020 Update: Strasburg Rail Road is open through December. Guests must purchase tickets in advance. Currently, the Railroad Museum of Philadelphia is closed.
There is never a bad time to visit the fabulous Railroad Museum of Philadelphia.  It's a must-see for train enthusiasts, boasting a world-class collection of old steam engines and railway artifacts. Stewart Junction, the museum's education center, offers plenty of hands-on and interactive exhibits, including model trains and a Lego Building Zone. You can also head to historic Strasburg and take a candlelit ghost tour.

RELATED: Outdoor Ice Skating Rinks in the Philly Area 

 
What child doesn't love a train trip? Photo courtesy of Strasburg Rail Road Company

New York City

2020 Update: Travelers arriving in New York must quarantine for 3 days as well as take COVID tests before and after arriving.
That big tree at Rockefeller Center comes down in early January. Still, you can grab a pair of ice skates and enjoy the time-honored rink. Even without the Christmas fanfare, there is plenty to do in Midtown.  Billing itself as the largest toy store In New York City, the new FAO Schwartz might actually be more fun to visit than the iconic store it replaced. It's a short walk to Central Park, where the small but lovely zoo is open daily. If it's not too cold, catch a ride on the Central Park Carousel as well. Typically, the carousel is closed when the temperature dips below 40 degrees, so call ahead to check.  

Hershey, Pennsylvania

2020 Update: Hersheypark is open through January 2 and Zoo America is open through January. The Hershey Story Museum is temporarily closed.
Yes, Hersheypark is fun in the summer, but it is well worth visit in the winter as well. Make sure to check out The Hershey Story Museum. Offered most weekends, the 45-minute Chocolate Lab experience is a great way to learn about chocolate, and to make your own. Besides the retail store, you can create your own candy bar, and enjoy the famous Great American Chocolate Tour ride.

National Harbor, Maryland

2020 Update: National Harbor is open. ICE! at the Gaylord has been postponed until 2021.
Located just outside of our nation's capital, the National Harbor offers shops, attractions, restaurants, and hotels. There is a breathtaking tree in the Water District to see, a Ferris wheel called The Capital Wheel to ride, and outlets to shop. Many visit this spot for the ICE! experience. Guests put on thick parkas to walk through a spectacular ice-carved display. There is even an ice slide to zip down. ICE! will not be offered this year, but plans to be back for the 2021 season.

American Dream, East Rutherford, NJ 

2020 Update: American Dream is open and guests should make advance registrations to visit.
There is so much to do at American Dream, located in northern New Jersey. Kids can enjoy a Dream Works-themed water park, Nickelodeon-themed amusement park, miniature golf, an NHL-size ice skating rink, an indoor ski facility, shops, restaurants, and more. It's hard to image but this is just the start. There are several additional attractions coming to this massive spot.

Pittsburgh

2020 Update: Carnegie Science Center and the Senator John Heinz History Center are open. Guests should purchase timed tickets in advance. The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh is currently closed.
About five hours from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh has many things to do for families. Kids can learn at some of the museums found throughout the city, including the Carnegie Science Center. Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, and the Senator John Heinz History Center, which currently has a special gallery of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood on display.

This post, originally published in 2017, was updated in December 2020.

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