Top Philadelphia Museums

Culture hounds, rejoice: these are Philadelphia's top museums.

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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.
1. Philadelphia Museum of Art


Photo by: Getty Images

Getty Images

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!
2. The Barnes Foundation

Photo by: © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

© 2012 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.
3. Mütter Museum

Mutter Museum Philadelphia

Photo by: George Widman Photography LLC

George Widman Photography LLC

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.
4. The Franklin Institute
The Franklin Institute takes visitors on an imaginative journey through the world of science. Named after America's favorite innovator, Benjamin Franklin and currently ranked as Pennsylvania's most-visited museum, the Institute translates the world of science into all manner of relatable topics, like sports, weather and space. The Institute opened in 1894 to honor Franklin's inventiveness, and today includes North America's second oldest planetarium and IMAX theater. Teeming with hundreds of interactive, hands-on exhibits, the museum will entertain folks of all ages. Highlights include a massive, walk-through reproduction of the human heart which has been thrilling Philadelphians for decades -- it's easily the Institute's most-loved display. Be dazzled by the Rube Goldberg contraptions on the third floor's energy showcase, and experience life as an astronaut at the Space Command, which features real space suits and allows visitors to track their houses via satellite. Allow at least 2 to 3 hours to properly explore the Franklin Institute's wealth of exhibits.
5. Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA)

Photo by: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Founded in 1805 as the nation's first art school and museum, today the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts has become an iconic institution in the City of Brotherly Love. Tucked into a Victorian Gothic building that is, in itself, a work of magnificent art, the museum houses an extraordinary collection of American art and items from national and local figures such as Charles Willson Peale (founder of the Academy), Thomas Eakins, Andrew Wyeth, John Singer Sargent and Edward Hopper. While the museum contains numerous treasures, perhaps its crown jewel is Thomas Eakins masterpiece, the Portrait of Dr. Samuel M. Gross (The Gross Clinic), widely considered by art luminaries as one of the greatest American paintings. In addition to the museum's collection, pay special attention to the PAFA building. Designed by the famed architects Frank Furness and George W. Hewitt, the structure -- and its columns, friezes and Moorish influences -- is considered one of the finest surviving examples of Gothic architecture in the nation and is a national Historic Landmark Building.

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