For guests arriving before the convention gets underway, the City of Brotherly Love has endless attractions to explore. In the summer the city comes alive. Of course, many visitors will be checking out the robust foodie scene, hopping from beer gardens to beer garden, and exploring historical landmarks, but Philadelphia is also home to dozens of museums, performing art venues, and other quirky attractions. Below are recommendations for exhibits and events that should be on any traveler’s bucket list.
[An Amur Tiger peering down at Zoo visitors. Photo courtesy of The Philadelphia Zoo].
First and Foremost: Zoo360 at The Philadelphia Zoo
Location: Fairmount Park; 3400 West Girard Avenue
It’s not a trip to Philadelphia without making a stop at America’s First Zoo. The 42-acre garden is home to more than 1,300 animals, most of which are rare and endangered, and is Philly’s leading attraction with over 1.35 million visitors each year. Zoo360, the first of its kind, creates an unforgettable zoo experience with a network of mesh trails that allow animals to roam around and above Zoo grounds. The latest segment of Zoo360 is the Meerkate Maze which joins the Gorilla Treeway, Treetop Trail, Great Ape Trail and Big Cat Crossing to creating a campus of trails.
Appreciating Art: Nari Ward’s Exhibit at The Barnes Foundation
Location: Center City; 19 S 22nd St
The Museum District’s most recent addition, the Barnes Foundation is famously known for its magnificent collection of post-impressionist and early modern paintings including works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, among many others. The Barnes Foundation’s home is a 93,000-square-foot sustainable structure with a limestone exterior, glass canopy, and beautifully maintained garden. Nari Ward’s Sun Splashed exhibit, which opened in June, is a must see for contemporary art enthusiasts. Ward’s exhibit is composed of massive, contemporary art installations speaking to a broad range of subjects including black history and culture, the dynamics of power and politics, and Caribbean diaspora identity.
Get your Geek on: Lord of the Rings at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts
Location: Fairmount Park, 5201 Parkside Avenue
Date: Saturday, July 23 @ 7:30 p.m.
Nestled on a hill in Fairmount Park, the Mann is the City’s leading outdoor music venue, showcasing unmatched views of the city skyline. On Saturday, July 23 the Mann will transform the movie going experience a presentation of the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers accompanied by The Philadelphia Orchestra and two full choirs. Fans will enjoy the full-length film on the Mann’s giant screens as The Philadelphia Orchestra plays Howard Shore’s epic score live. The Mann’s acoustically sound, outdoor pavilion, paired with its Great Lawn where guests can bring a picnic, creates a concert experience unlike any other!
[City skyline view from the Mann’s Great Lawn. Photo courtesy of the Mann Center for the Performing Arts].
Medically Mad: Perfect Vessels at the The Mütter Museum
Location: Center City; 19 South 22nd Street
The Mütter Museum is home to an impressive collection of medical oddities including the conjoined liver from famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, a malignant tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland’s hard palate, a section of the brain of Charles J. Guiteau, and a 7’6” tall skeleton of the Mütter American Giant. The museum’s brand new exhibit, Perfect Vessels, is inspired by the Mütter Museum’s Hyrtl Skull Collection which was designed to showcase the diversity of cranial anatomy in Europeans. The exhibit is curated by LA-based artist and photographer David Orr who used symmetry to develop perfectly balanced images of the human skull. For visitors fascinated by medicine or unique anatomical specimens, this museum is a must!
Mosaic Masterpiece: Twilight in the Gardens at the Philadelphia Magic Gardens
Location: Washington Square West; 1020 South Street
Date: Friday, July 22 @ 7 p.m.
Philadelphia Magic Gardens (PMG) is an indoor-outdoor, three-dimensional art installation and gallery space created by famous mosaic muralist, Isaiah Zagar. Although PMG is the largest venue for Zagar’s mosaics, his other colorful mosaic designs can be spotted around the South Street area and make great backdrops for Instagram photos. During PMG’s Twilight in the Gardens series, visitors are invited to BYOBBS (Bring Your Own Booz, Blanket, and Snacks). For this special evening on July 22, there will be a performance by Circadian Rhythms, a circus, indie-pop band; art activity stations with illustrator and patch-making extraordinaire, Lauren Wrightson; and guided tours of PMG’s rarely-seen mosaicked basement.
Imprison your Imagination: Hands-On History at Eastern State Penitentiary
Location: Fairmount; 2027 Fairmount Avenue
Eastern State Penitentiary opened its doors in 1829 and was then the largest and most expensive public structure ever created. In efforts to reform criminals through strict isolation, Eastern State became a model for prisons world-wide. Today, the penitentiary is a U.S. National Historic Landmark visited by tens of thousands of people per year, although many believe it to be haunted. During Eastern State’s Hands-On History interactive exhibit, visitors partake in short, physical demonstrations throughout the penitentiary. Participants will unlock a cells, play bocce ball, explore the underground punishment cells and much more to learn the ins and outs of the historic, semi-ruined prison.
From coming face-to-face with an Amur tiger to unlocking prison cells, there are many exciting places to discover in Philadelphia if you arrive early for the Convention. Check out each of the organization’s websites for more information, summer event schedules, and hours.
As active residents of Center City Philadelphia, Brianna Taylor and Cassie McAllister stay up to date on all that Philly has to offer. Brianna and Cassie work at Devine + Partners, a independent communications firm headquartered in Philadelphia specializing in research-based public relations, message development, issues management, digital communications and social media.