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Free Things to Do in Philadelphia
Many of Philadelphia's most historic and best-known attractions are free—or suggest a small donation for admission—every day. This lengthy list includes Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Carpenter's Hall, Franklin Court, and the other buildings and sites of Independence National Historic Park. But thanks in part to a lively student population and arts scene, there are plenty of other free and cheap activities to discover in the city.
Music and Theater
Check the Curtis Institute of Music's (www.curtis.edu) calendar to catch one of the frequent free concerts by a rising star. The Philadelphia Orchestra (www.philorch.org) also gives free neighborhood concerts. Visit Macy's across from City Hall; the former Wanamaker's boasts the largest pipe organ in the world, and there are daily free concerts. The Christmas show around the holidays is a definite fan favorite. Check out a dress rehearsal at the Arden Theater —they're open to the public and accept donations for admission. Local independent radio station WXPN offers free concerts every Friday at noon at its home base, World Café Live (www.xpn.org).
Outdoor Fun and Festivals
Take your pick of activities in Fairmount Park : hike the trails of the Wissahickon (www.fow.org), bring a picnic to Belmont Plateau and enjoy the view; or meander around the Horticultural Center, and look for the scattered pieces of public art. All summer long, multicultural festivals at Penn's Landing feature live music and dance instruction.
Architecture, Art, and Literature
Take a tour of City Hall. Visit Chinatown's Friendship Gate, the four-story gift to Philadelphia from its sister city in China, Tianjin. See Maurice Sendak's original illustrations and James Joyce's Ulysses manuscript among other treasures at the Rosenbach Museum and Library. Visit the lobby of the Curtis Center to gawk at the giant Dream Garden by Maxfield Parrish. Tour the Masonic Temple, a masterpiece inside and out, that's also historically significant as the birthplace of freemasonry in America. Visit the Galleries at the Moore College of Art & Design, the first and only women's visual arts college in the United States.
It's always fun to stroll the galleries in Old City, but it's especially fun on "First Fridays" —the first Friday of every month is celebrated with wine receptions, and galleries keeping later hours. Visit the African American Museum (free from 5 to 7). The first Sunday of each month is "pay what you wish" all day at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania is free all the time. You can check out contemporary art at any time by taking a free tour of the city's many vibrant murals (www.muralarts.org).
Take yourself on a walk by downloading and printing the self-guided Constitutional Walking Tour of more than 30 sites around historic Philadelphia from www.theconstitutional.com. Take cell-phone tours of Elfreth's Alley (585/627-4152) and of Valley Forge National Historical Park (484/396-1018). In the summer, look for the storytellers with Once Upon a Nation who set up camp at 13 benches throughout Philadelphia's historic area. Hop from bench to bench for a free, interactive tour, during which stories of Colonial Philadelphia are related by actors in character.
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