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How to visit Philadelphia's best museums for free

A guide to recurring free days, one-off free events and big discounts.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of several museums in the city that you can visit for free if you time your trip right. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock / Monica Wells

Philadelphia, just two hours' drive from Manhattan, makes a great weekend getaway, with an abundance of good restaurants, family entertainments and world-class museums. Many of the city's cultural institutions are free year-round; and others will provide free admission to all on Saturday, Sept. 22, for Smithsonian Museum Day. But that isn't the only time you can experience Philly's museums at no charge. Here is a guide to recurring free days, one-off free events, and big discounts where you would normally have to shell out. Plan your getaway accordingly.

PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART

When it's (almost) free: Admission to the world-renowned collection is pay-what-you-wish 10 a.m.-5 p.m. the first Sunday of every month and 5 p.m.-8:45 p.m. every Wednesday. And, no, you cannot pay nothing, a museum representative explained — so technically the minimum admission fee is one cent on pay-what-you-wish days.

Kids' admissions: Free at all times for children younger than 13.

Pro tip: Different days attract different crowds. Sundays draw more families and younger children, while Wednesdays bring in a young-adult crowd. Although Wednesdays do not include the Perelman Building like Sundays do, they are far less crowded. If you choose to visit for a first Sunday, be sure to avoid the midday lunch rush from around 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., when lines are longest. 

Info: 215-763-8100, philamuseum.org

RODIN MUSEUM

When it's (almost) free: This museum, home to the largest collection of Rodin's work outside of France, is affiliated with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and admission is pay-what-you-wish at all times, with the same caveat that you must pay at least 1 cent. (Its garden and courtyard are free year-round.)

Kids' admissions: Free at all times for children younger than 13.

Pro tip: Although the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Perelman Building closed on Mondays, the Rodin is open, and is closed on Tuesdays instead. According to a representative, mornings (10 to noon) and the end of the day (4 to 5 p.m.) are quiet times to visit, although this smaller museum rarely gets too crowded, and visits are estimated to take only 30 minutes to an hour.

Info: 215-763-8100, www.rodinmuseum.org 

THE BARNES FOUNDATION

When it's free: The Barnes offers free admission on first Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to the entire collection, as well as family activities and performances. Stop by on Oct. 7 for the free Barnes on the Block party, which will include a beer garden, a DJ and food trucks.

Kids' admissions: Free at all times for children younger than 13.

Student free ride: Free for students on weekdays. College night is a free party for college students at the Barnes on the evening of Nov. 9 and will include "light bites." The museum also offers free student admission to lectures and symposiums. Students also have a $10 discounted ticket to First Fridays.

Pro tip: Kathleen Ogilvie Greene, curator of public programs, advises visiting on Fridays, because the programming lures crowds out of the collection, making it much less crowded. 

Info: 215-278-7000, barnesfoundation.org

THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE

When it's free: This enormous, family-friendly science museum's monthly community nights have free admission. They are on Tuesdays — Sept. 18, Oct. 16, and Nov. 20 — starting at 5 p.m.

Kids' admissions: Children younger than 3 are admitted free, children younger than 13 pay $19.

Pro tip: Come early on community nights to avoid a crowd and don't forget that on-site registration is required. A representative for the museum recommends visiting in the early afternoon and purchasing tickets in advance if visiting on a full-priced admission day.

Info: 215-448-1200, fi.edu

THE AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM

When it's free: Macy's Family Fun Day is every second Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., free for the first 250 visitors. ArtBreak is every third Thursday, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., free with RSVP, and is a curator- and artist-led lunchtime tour of the museum's special exhibition galleries. 

Kids' admissions: Children younger than 4 are admitted free, children younger than 13 have a reduced fare of $10.

Pro tip: For Family Fun Days, it is best to come early to ensure free entry, as only the first 250 get in free. The museum opens at 10 a.m., and programming goes from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Info: 215-574-0380, aampmuseum.org

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