23 Free (or Basically Free) Things to Do With The Kids in Philly This Winter

From indoor playgrounds to gardening workshops, how to keep 'em busy on the cheap.



Who among us isn’t always looking for more ideas of things to do with the kids? Ones that won’t break the bank? Especially at times like this, when it’s incredibly cold out, and the usual things like the playground and walking around the city are exercises in torture? Here, a list of ideas for things to do with your kids any given (snowy, frigid, wintery mix) day that don’t require a) making reservations b) spending a fortune or c) freezing your face off.

Ikea. The mega-store in South Philly boasts a supervised play space for kids who are between 37 and 52 inches tall (and potty-trained) — and it comes with the bonus of letting you get a little uninterrupted “me-time” with the Malm and Fjellse. (Note: the playspace inside the Chick-fil-A, which is located in the same shopping center as Ikea, is also clean and usually not over-crowded.)

Fireman’s Hall. The great little Old City museum housed in a former firehouse has historic tools, uniforms, a bunch of carriages and trucks, and a fun interactive spot for kids upstairs. (Bonus: It’s staffed by current and past firefighters, which is just cool.) Admission is free, though donations are suggested. One tip here: Hours can be erratic, so you might want to call before you go.

Smith Memorial Playground. Kids won’t even miss the potato-sack slide (which is closed for the winter) after they realize they have the run of this three-floor playhouse. You might think the toys could use a little TLC, but your child won’t bat an eye. Make sure to head downstairs, where there are trikes and scooters to ride around a track, and to the art rooms, where staffers lead activities. It’s free, but donations are encouraged.

Storytimes. Not only do storytimes make for great, no-fuss outings, but there are SO MANY great free ones around town. Some of our favorites: Momo’s Treehouse has them Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m.; Barnes and Noble in Rittenhouse has them Wednesdays at 4 p.m. and sometimes Saturdays at 11 a.m.; Smith Playground has them at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesdays for kids 5 and under; and Head House Books has storytimes for littles Fridays at 11:15 a.m; and The Barnes has arty storytimes that are free every Thursday, twice a day. (Days and times can change, so call before you go. Please!)

Libraries. If you haven’t been to a library in a while, you should go. No longer the temples of silence you remember from your childhood, Philly’s Free Libraries are making room for kids to be kids by opening play areas with toys, tiny tables, beanbag chairs, books to flip through, puzzles and computers with preloaded games. Almost all branches do excellent storytimes, as well as additional quality programming, like Lego clubs, preschool yoga, cooking classes and family playgroups—some of which are on the weekends. We especially adore the children’s area at the Santore Branch in Bella Vista and the programming at the Parkway location and Walnut Street West.

The Big Museums. PAFA, the PMA and the Barnes all offer free (or pay-what-you-wish, in the case of the PMA) admission and/or activities — PAFA even offers free art workshops and activities geared toward families twice a month. It’s all about timing: Everything from crafts to storytimes to tours are gratis (or at least, up to you, in terms of price) at select times during the month.

Please Touch Museum. Speaking of museum deals: The beloved PTM offers $2 admission (a steep discount from the usual $17!) on the the first Wednesday of every month from 4 to 7 p.m.

Dilworth Park and Winterfest. The Wintergarden pop-up at Dilworth and the Winterfest pop-up at RiverRink are family magnets for a reason: Both have free admission; both have inexpensive ice skating ($3 admission for kids and adults at RiverRink; $3 for kids and $5 for adults at Dilworth; and $10 skate rental at both places); and both have no small amount of wintry magic happening. Dilworth’s “America’s Garden Capital Maze” is a delight to wander around, all twinkle lights and topiaries and gazebos, and just next to it is the ice rink and a cozy warmed “cabin” (tent) with drinks and snacks (not free, but hot cocoa for $3.50). There’s and even a couple free, family-friendly how-to gardening workshops throughout the season. The rink, cabin and garden will be there through February 26. Meantime, across town, the Blue Cross Riverrink Winterfest has a ton of places to perch — cozy cabins, chairs gathered around fires, marshmallows for roasting at $1.50 a pop, a cabin with arcade games (the games are not free, but good for a few bucks worth of fun if you feel like springing for it). That’s there through March 5. (And both places, you’re welcome to bring your own snacks and skates, which would mean almost entirely free fun.)

Wagner Free Institute of Science. “Free” is such an important part of this historic museum’s mission that it’s in the name. Almost untouched from when it was founded in the 19th century, this quirky and odd place near Temple University has a ton for your kids to gawk at, from animal fossils to weird things in jars.

The Malls. There’s nothing wrong with making a day out of a mall visit on a crummy day. Head to the King of Prussia’s new addition for your choice of amazing lunch or dinner options — The Fat Ham, Pizzeria Vetri, Shake Shack — then stroller over to one of the sizable free, playzones, which have tunnels, slides and foam structures built for climbing, plus interactive toys that encourage kids to pretend to be doctors and nurses (likely because CHOP is a sponsor). You’ll find one at the Court (near the food court) and one in the Plaza (outside of J.C. Penny). At the Moorestown Mall, grab nachos and margs at Distrito, then hit up the garden-themed play area (kids under three will have the most fun here). It’s just outside of Macy’s.

STAMP Pass. More parents should know about this amazing program. Philly teens aged 14 to 19 can visit most of the city’s best institutions (The Barnes, Franklin Institute, PMA, the Zoo, Constitution Center, and more) for absolutely free, with no time/date restrictions, with one of these passes. You just need to request one online.

A Kid-Focused Park. Because not every day will be sub-zero. At Sister Cities Park on the Parkway, kids can climb on the rocks and the “mountain” that surrounds the boat pond area (drained for the winter) and enjoy the foam building blocks at the Imagination Playground. At the Logan Square Cafe, you can grab a hot cocoa (and other snacks) for a few bucks and read books from the mobile library.


Be Well Family is a collaboration with Wee Wander, a site dedicated to helping Philadelphia parents navigate their city. See more in this series here, or keep up with all of  Wee Wander’s tips, guides and Philly related parenting help on Facebook

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