Philadelphia Vacation on a Budget

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Philadelphia on a Budget

Ask anyone who knows me what my favorite place in the world is and they will tell you: Philadelphia. From the moment I stepped foot in the City of Brotherly Love, I felt like I belonged there. It felt like home. I had the privilege of living there for two years (though I wish it was longer) and it was some of the best years of my life. When I moved to Chicago, I came back to visit every three months or so. But now, with the busyness of life and various expenses eating up our income, it’s been hard to go back. But, finally, I am going back this weekend and am so excited to take my husband for his very first time in the city. Even more exciting? We are doing it for cheap! In fact, there is only one attraction we are going to that isn’t free – and that will only cost us $8 each. How did we do it? I’m sharing all the best stops to fall in love with Philadelphia, while staying on a budget.

Philadelphia has numerous neighborhoods within the city, including Center City, Rittenhouse Square, West Philly, University City, Bella Vista, Queens Village, Italian Market, etc. etc. Each offers a different culture, vibe, and experience. To make the best use of our time, I broke our days down into various neighborhoods of the city. This list will kind of follow that order. 

First off, travel – About $60 for gas and snacks

We are coming from Michigan, so for us, it is only a 10-hour drive to Philadelphia. That’s only about $60 worth of gas. So, we’re driving. For those who cannot drive and must fly, I recommend flying into Atlantic City and taking a bus (only an hour or so drive) to Philadelphia. Typically, flying into Atlantic City is much cheaper and you’ll find many more budget airlines have a route to Atlantic City. Bus tickets from Jersey to Philly are only about $15.

Our stay – $217 with AirBNB

Here is the secret about Philadelphia; many residents go to the Jersey Shore on the weekends. That means they are leaving their homes vacant. So, many of them will do AirBNB to make a few bucks while enjoying their weekend getaway. And because basically everyone leaves the city to go down the shore, you usually have a ton to choose from. For the most part, AirBNB offers a cheaper option than hotels – especially if you want to stay downtown. (If you are new to AirBNB and use my link, we’ll both get a $25 travel credit!) AirBNB is when you rent out someone’s house, apartment, or even room (cheapest option, but the person you’re renting from will most likely be there too). What is great about it is you usually have a kitchen, so you can make your own food if you want to save even more money. Mike and I are staying at an AirBNB in a really nice part of Philadelphia for only $217 for the entire weekend. That is especially cheap for this weekend, since it is 4th of July in probably the most patriotic city in the country. All of the hotels we looked at were going to be $500-$600, so we are saving big with AirBNB.

Free/Cheap Attractions and Events: $16

Rittenhouse Square: Free

An adorable park located right downtown. You can lounge on the green grass and people watch surrounded by beautiful buildings.

Reading Terminal Market: Free

A huge indoor market featuring tons of grocery items, boutique merchandise, and food stands. You can find scrapple there, turtle soup, and the original Bassetts Ice Cream stand – America’s oldest ice cream company.

Liberty Bell: Free

An American icon, free for viewing and perfect for Fourth of July weekend. This spot is always crowded.

Independence Hall: Free

Tour the spot of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Tickets are free at the window. I recommend buying advance online for $1.50 – especially around 4th of July. They are already sold out this weekend.

First Fridays: Free

Every first Friday of the month spring through summer, Old City art galleries open their doors for free viewing. Many will also set out free wine, beer, and snacks.

Delaware River Front: Free

There will be Fourth of July fireworks shows abound, but this free fireworks show on the Delaware River also includes a free performance from the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Italian Market: Free (unless we buy something)

Famous outdoor market in Italian Village featuring blocks of food stands, cheese shops, butcheries, and more.

South Street: Free (unless we buy something)

Infamous street lined with restaurants, bars, and unique and eclectic shops.

Magic Gardens: $8 per ticket

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” rings true at this attraction on South Street. One of my favorite places in Philly, the Magic Gardens is a mosaic garden made from glass bottles and other pretty junk.

Spruce Street Harbor: Free

Built after I moved, this vibrant park features 50 colorful, handmade hammocks, street tacos, live music, floating gardens, and a floating barge serving cocktails.

Love Park, City Hall, and Municipal Services Building: Free

All of these parks are within the same block of each other. Love Park has the cherished red LOVE sign and fountain. The Municipal Services Building Plaza features a number of sculpted game pieces (great picture op) and City Hall is the breathtaking building topped with a statue of William Penn and intersected by the city’s two main streets.

Art Museum and Rocky Steps: Free

Running up the steps to the Art Museum is a must for any fan of Rocky Balboa, who famously ran up the steps in the classic American movie. If you go on the right day, entrance into the museum is by donation only, meaning you could technically go for free – or for a few bucks if you’re feeling generous.

Other Tips

There are so many more ways to make your trip to Philadelphia cheap. You can enjoy an abundance of murals on buildings just by walking through the city. If you want to take a look at Philadelphia’s Love Letters (written on the side of buildings) for cheap, take the Market Frankfort Line west and gaze out the window. Check out the gorgeous sites along the Schuylkill River along the boardwalk. At night, the lights on Boathouse Row reflect off the water for a gorgeous scene. The city has a number of parks that are always free, and historical buildings such as the U.S. Mint, President’s House, and Carpenter’s Hall are free as well.

What’s the cheapest vacation you ever took?

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