Philly is full of world class art museums and great public art (Public Art & Philly’s Magic Gardens), but it also has a bunch of free (or pay-what-you-wish) museums.  None of these museums have permanent exhibits, so check the websites to see what’s on. Some of the most notable:

The Fabric Workshop PhiladelphiaThe Fabric Workshop (1214 Arch Street, near Chinatown): The name is a bit misleading.  Although it’s called The Fabric Workshop, it houses a large museum (exhibit space is on several floors) that exhibit artists in a variety of media – including painting, sculpture, and video.  In 2017 they had an extensive exhibit on Philly-based architect Louis Kahn with videos, sketches, models, etc. – all showcasing Kahn’s work both in Philadelphia (Richards Medical Research Laboratories @ University of Pennsylvania) and elsewhere. The museum hosts a variety of events for all ages and has fun field trip opportunities (Tobey and Erick designed and creatied a large silkscreen). Since it’s right up the street from Chinatown, the museum is a great stop for a little culture before or after lunch. Free/Pay-what-you-wish 


The Galleries at Moore College of Art & Design (1916 Race Street – Center City): Moore College was founded in 1848 as the first women’s art college in the United States. Located right in the heart of the museum district, it makes a great stop if you have some extra time and want a free activity.  The exhibits (which focus mostly on contemporary works of all types) rotate, so there is always something new to see. Free (just sign-in and show ID at the door)


Arthur Ross Gallery (220 South 34th Street- University of Pennsylvania): This museum is housed in the gorgeous Fisher Fine Arts Library Building (a Victorian gem designed by Philadelphia architect, Frank Furness) in the heart of the University of Pennsylvania campus.  The museum has rotating exhibits, displaying art from a wide range of media, periods, cultures, and traditions. During our visit, we saw “A View of One’s Own” – photographs of Rome by 3 women photographers from the 1910’s, 1950’s and 2000’s. Free.


Institute of Contemporary Art (118 S. 36th Street – University of Pennsylvania) Also on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, this is one of the premier showcases for contemporary art in the country (they held Andy Warhol’s first solo show back in 1965). Exhibits are rotating and cover a variety of media, often displaying controversial works and topics. Free.

The Clay Studio (137-139 North 2nd Street – Old City) Philadelphia’s Dynamic Clay Studio

City Hall: In addition to artwork displayed throughout the building, room 116 on the ground floor is devoted to temporary installations put on by the city’s Office of Art’s and Culture.  Always free, it’s worth popping in if you are passing through City Hall to admire the architecture (or use the free bathrooms, very convenient in this part of the city). City Hall also offers paid building and tower tours (A View of Philadelphia From the Biggest Municipal Building in the US).  Note: City Hall is closed on weekends.

Other opportunities for free art in the city:

While you have to pay for admission to the Rodin Museum (either separately, or as part of your Philadelphia Museum of Art ticket), the grounds are free.  Several of Rodin’s most famous sculptures are on view in the gardens, including “The Thinker” and “The Burghers of Calais,” and “The Gates of Hell.”  “The Thinker” is on view anytime while the rest of the art (and the beautiful French-style gardens) are on view whenever the museum is open. The Rodin Museum – A Bit Of Paris In PhiladelphiaRodin PhiladlephiaSpeaking of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, every Wednesday night is pay-what-you-wish admission. The Philadelpia Museum of Art – For Everything BUT the Art

Old City hosts First Friday events all year round (although they are especially vibrant during the warmer months).  During First Friday, galleries typically have their new exhibit openings (sometimes with wine and snacks, if you are lucky).  Sometimes area museums have events, too, so check websites for: The Science History Museum, The American Philosophical Society, The Museum of the American Revolution, The Clay Studio, and Christ Church. Most of the action takes place between Front & Third Streets and Market & Vine Streets.