United States

Top Philadelphia Museums

It's no great secret that Philadelphia is home to historic sites like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, as well as gut-busting gems like the inimitable cheesesteak. But some visitors may not realize the city also houses some of the finest art collections and museums in the nation. Indeed, the City of Brotherly Love is an art aficionado's paradise, where it's possible to lose oneself amidst the Philadelphia Museum of Art's 227,000 works, or gaze in awe at the 1,000-plus pieces at the Barnes Foundation, one of the world's most esteemed and important collections of art. Science lovers can test their mettle among the Mütter Museum's medical oddities or walk through a gigantic human heart at the Franklin Institute. Culture hounds, rejoice: these are Philadelphia's top museums.

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1. Philadelphia Museum of Art

America's third largest art museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, is not only one of the nation's finest, it's also one of Philadelphia's most iconic sights. Set majestically atop a hill at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Greco-Roman-style building holds an impressive collection of more than 227,000 pieces of Renaissance, American, Impressionist and Modern art. Founded in 1876 in a much smaller building, today the museum is comprised of 3 connected structures designed in the manner of Greek temples. Museum highlights include Rogier van der Weyden's diptych Virgin and Saint John and Christ on the Cross; the John G. Johnson Collection, a Renaissance treasure-trove; a large Bathers by Cezanne; and more than 80 period rooms, including a medieval cloister and an Indian temple. Perhaps most tourists will recognize the vast, wide staircase leading up to the museum's entrance from its iconic role in the movie, Rocky. Tap into your inner Sylvester Stallone and jog up the steps, fists pumping in the air -- trust us, you won't be the only one!

2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130

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Phone: (215) 763-8100

© 2012 The Barnes Foundation

2. The Barnes Foundation

One of the world's most important collections of art, The Barnes Foundation is comprised of the private collector Albert Barnes's 1,000-plus works of art. The collection's extraordinary pieces include 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 46 Picassos, 59 Matisses, and nearly every important European artist is represented, such as Manet, Degas, Seurat, Bosch, Tintoretto and Delacroix. Visitors can also admire works by numerous Impressionists and post-Impressionists, as well as more unusual items such as African tribal masks; Amish hope chests; antique door latches.  Plan your visit on a Friday evening, when the foundation extends its hours to 10 p.m. and features special events and live music, or if the timing works, head there the first Sunday of the month, when admission is free.

2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130

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Phone: (215) 278-7200

3. Mütter Museum

Philadelphia's ode to anatomical oddities, the Mütter Museum has been freaking out visitors (in the best possible way!) since it opened in 1863. Housed in an appropriately creepy 19thcentury building, the museum displays awe-inspiringly horrific anomalies, such as plaster casts of conjoined twins, the skeleton of a 7'6" man, diseased organs, a giant 9-foot-long human colon (once filled with 40 lbs. of fecal matter) and lots and lots of massive goiters. The museum originated as the personal collection of Philadelphia physician Thomas Mütter, who had curated 1,700 items including bones, plaster casts, medical illustrations and other pathological artifacts. Mütter donated these as well as $30,000 to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which added to the collection and turned it into a museum. Oddities to keep an eye out for: part of Abraham Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth's thorax, slides of Albert Einstein's brain tissue and a malignant tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland's hard palate.

19 S 22nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19103

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Phone: (215) 563-3737

About the Author

Valerie Conners is a freelance writer, editor and producer who has worked with the Travel Channel for more than 14 years, specializing in travel topics including the world's best beaches, outdoor travel and romantic getaways. Her work also appears in many online and print publications including, Aol Travel, Discovery Channel, World Hum, Frommer's Travel Guides, the Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer. She's happiest when eating spicy Thai food, snorkeling with sea turtles in Indonesia and bargaining for bangles in Indian markets. She blogs about her travels at PassengerConners.com.

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