High on a hill in Bryn Athyn, a vision of old Europe towers over the surrounding greenery. Built as a private residence between 1928 and 1939, the 20th-century castle was constructed in the medieval style, using symbolism that reflects the faith of the community's earliest inhabitants. The building now serves as a museum that houses religious art and relics dating from Babylonian times up to the present. The museum's permanent and temporary exhibits range from a medieval collection of stained glass that spans the years 1100–1300 to an Egyptian collection that includes an ornate granite libation bowl, which Egyptian priests are said to have used to dump Gatorade on their football coach.
The curator at Woodmere Art Museum hangs gallery walls with pieces from the museum's collection of works of Philadelphia art. Museum founder Charles Knox Smith narrates local stories to accompany the pieces in his collection of artwork from the 19th and 20th centuries, which includes Sarah Fisher Ame's bust of Abraham Lincoln. Future exhibitions such as Force of Nature will give patrons a glimpse of Elaine Kurtz's abstracted perceptions of natural forces and austere, minimalist portrayals of Mother Nature's perfectly sorted recycling bin. Woodmere's nine galleries and salons provide ample space for the Special Exhibitions, which rotate throughout the year.
As America’s first zoo and current home to more than 1,300 creatures, the Philadelphia Zoo hosts a cavalcade of winged avians, furry friends, aquatic characters, and slithering showboats on 42 sprawling acres. Gauge the ferocity of your roar at the Big Cat Falls, or visit the snow-strewn habitats of polar bears, snow leopards, penguins, and the Cheetos-dusted Amur tigers. Exercise your bipedality over to the primate reserve and speak firsthand with the trainers and conservationists working to save and protect endangered primates worldwide from the violence of video games and reckless taxis. The Philadelphia Zoo also features rides and attractions (at additional costs), allowing revelers to twirl about the Amazon rainforest carousel, paddle the swan boats, or take a ride in the iconic Zooballoon, where, from the comfort of the skies, the bearded pig's questionable facial hair is only turning children’s tears into raindrops.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses more than 225,000 objects spanning a jaw-whopping 5,000 years of human history. An extensive permanent collection of both Eastern and Western art includes highlights such as Temple Hall, a full-size, immaculately carved sixteenth-century Hindu temple. Grapple with the challenges of modernity amid the display of twentieth-century New York Dada art, featuring several pieces constructed entirely out of apple-satellite-violet-blargh. Chandelier and chandelier-swinging enthusiasts will enjoy Hanging Around: Modern and Contemporary Lighting from the Permanent Collection, which explores how electricity turned function into fashion (the exhibit ends October 10).
By most people’s standards, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is old — founded in 1812, it’s the oldest natural sciences institution in the Western Hemisphere. But the Academy is a baby compared to the specimens it houses, some of which date back more than 350 million years.
Explorers Stephen Long and Ferdinand Hayden’s series of western wilderness expeditions formed the foundation of the Academy's 18-million-item collection, which it began displaying to the public in 1828. Over the subsequent 60 years, the Academy grew to three times its original size through donations, museum purchases, and daily doses of multivitamins. Now situated at 19th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Academy houses more than 35 dioramas of plants and animals collected during global wildlife expeditions, a live animal center with ceiling-to-floor observation windows, and nearly a hundred mollusk specimens. A tropical garden hosts live butterflies from around the world, while Dinosaur Hall contains skeletal mounts of more than 30 Mesozoic species, including a 42-foot-long T. rex.
Beneath a towering marble dome sits the 20-foot-high marble statue of Benjamin Franklin. All is quiet—until the multimedia presentation springs to life. Not content with a silent symbol, The Franklin Institute brings its namesake’s story to life with his National Memorial, complete with audio effects and dramatic lighting. Spanning three floors, the Institute gives a voice to human ingenuity—past and future—with hundreds of interactive exhibits, live science shows, a 3D flight simulator, and 4.5-story IMAX theater. Though now filled with a range of space-age attractions, the Institute began with single purpose.
Samuel Vaughan Merrick and William H. Keating established The Franklin Institute in 1824, to honor the life and achievements of Benjamin Franklin. In the following decades, the Institute hosted forward thinkers such as Nikola Tesla, who gave a demonstration on wireless telegraphy in 1893. In 1930, the board decided to expand the space into a new science museum—and raised the funds in 12 days. The museum opened to the public in 1934—and in the same year hosted the first public demonstration of an all-electronic TV system.
The Franklin Institute’s permanent exhibits now include Space Command, which invites visitors to recover an unmanned space probe and examine real astronaut equipment. At Changing Earth, visitors create their own weather patterns, play with steams of water, and build structures that can stand up to earthquakes or all-elephant 5Ks.
At various daily showtimes, the Franklin Theater’s high-contrast screen displays 3D films on animals, earth ecosystems, and human history. In the recently renovated Fels Planetarium audiences witness projections of weather and space spread across a 60-foot seamless aluminum dome.
Visitors to Elfreth's Alley Museum walk the same floors that two dressmakers once did in the 1790s. Today, the museum space’s restored rooms fill two of Elfreth's Alley's 32 historic homes; many of the others are still occupied by families. Staffers relate these houses' history from their construction in 1755 to the roles they’ve since played in a locale known for its connection to the arts and industry. During regular tours, guides share insight into why alleys and side streets were built, how middle-class people lived and worked in the 18th century, and why alleys were never known as roadlets. Visitors can take in exhibits including Fashioning Philadelphia, which recounts the lives of the area’s dressmakers, shoemakers, and tailors through the centuries, and The Irish and Elfreth's Alley in 1900, which tells the story of immigrant family life during the 19th and 20th centuries.