At 9,200 acres, Fairmount Park is one of the largest city parks in the United States. It is located on the west side of Philadelphia, straddling the Schuylkill River.
This huge park encompasses some of the city’s most popular attractions, including: Boat House Row, The Water Works, Memorial Hall (home of Please Touch Museum), the Schuylkill River Trail, Belmount Plateau, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Centennial Arboretum, the Philadelphia Zoo, and much more.
Depending on the weather, the age of your kids, and the time you have, you could spend anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days enjoying this area of the City.
Our family has visited Fairmount Park several times – below is a list of favorite things to see & do:
Schuylkill River Trail / Boat House Row:
The Schuylkill River Trail is over 100 miles long and still growing. It links several other trails, such as the Perkiomen and Horseshoe Trails. The most popular section is an 8.4 mile loop that hugs the River near the Art Museum and Boat House Row. You can park at Lloyd Hall (1 Boathouse Row, Philadelphia, PA 19130); and bike, walk, or run north along Kelly Drive (east side of river); cross Center Bridge; head south along Martin Luther King Drive (west side of river); get a great view of Boat House Row, come across the front of the Art Museum; and finish back at Llyod Hall. There is a lot of green space and picnic tables to enjoy a lunch or snack along the river. This is a very scenic area that you won’t want to miss!
Water Works Museum:
I am embarrassed to say that I lived in the Philadelphia area for over 20 years and it took a cub scout outing to introduce me to this hidden gem. The Water Works is on the national Historic Register and is the location of Philadelphia’s drinking water system from 1822 to 1909. What makes this site so unique is that it pioneered the use of steam engines as water pumps and was a key innovation of its time. The steam engines pumped water from the east banks of the Schuylkill River up to Faire Mount (what is now the Art Museum) at the top of the hill. The museum has preserved the water works facility and has made it very interactive for the kids (i.e. They will have fun). You can easily walk to the Water Works from the John Lloyd Hall parking area, should the small parking lot at the Water Works be full. Check out the Water Works website for visitor information.
The Art Museum is one of Philadelphia’s iconic buildings. Perched atop the hill at the base of the Ben Franklin Parkway it looks like the Greek Parthenon. It’s the location of the famous running up the steps from Rocky, and you’ll see many tourists having the same fum and getting their picture taken with the statue. The museum, itself, is phenomenal as it includes over 200,000 works of art and 200 exhibits. It is often the host to famous exhibits that tour the world, so be sure to check their schedule.
Memorial Hall – Please Touch Museum:
Built in 1876 for the Centennial Exposition of art, this building is on the west side of Fairmount Park and now houses the Please Touch Museum. Growing up, our boys had a great time here, as the museum includes a lots of stuff to explore and do: a working supermarket, a dump truck with foam blocks to stack, a SEPTA bus, a car, a giant floor piano (Remember the movie, BIG?), a carousel, and much, much more. Check out the Please Touch Museum website for hours and visitor information.
The Philadelphia Zoo is a family favorite for our crew. We’ve been members for several years and enjoy walking through their 40+ acres of gardens and exotic wildlife. They have more than 1,300 species of animals and birds. Our favorite places to see are the primate preserve and the avian center. If you’re visiting on a clear day, the Zoo Balloon will give you a great view of Fairmount Park, the Schuylkill River, and the city skyline.
The Belmont Plateau area of Fairmount Park is a grassy oasis with several sports fields, biking trails, and a view of the city skyline that’s unbeatable. Belmont Plateau is also one of the premier Cross Country courses in the country and is host to several weekend meets and running invitationals. There are trails that go into the woods from the plateau and are ideal for horseback riding and mountain biking. There are picnic tables and barbecue grills near the ball fields and lots of parking (free). The Mann Music Center is just a short 10-minute walk from Belmont Plateau.
The Fairmount Park area has lots of activities for you and your family. There is lots of green space for sports, picnics, and other outdoor fun. Enjoy!