The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, modeled after the Champs Elysees in Paris, stretches from City Hall to the north-west terminating at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Some of the city’s most famous and important museums are located on along the way including the Barnes Foundation, The Franklin Institute, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and the Rodin Museum. A number of parks and green spaces follow along providing a variety of both indoor and outdoor activities.
This 2.2 mile long walk starts at City Hall and visits the various museums, and other cultural institutions along the parkway until our walk ends at the Schukyill River and the Philadelphia Water Works. We will visit Philadelphia City Hall, Dilworth Park, Love Park, Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Logan Square, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, The Franklin Institute & the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, Parkway Central Library, The Barnes Foundation, Rodin Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art & the Rocky Steps and ending at the Fairmount Water Works & Fairmount Dam.
If walked directly point to point this walking tour would take about 40 minutes over a 2.2 mile path.
Stop 1. Philadelphia City Hall
(1400 John F Kennedy Blvd,)
City Hall Visitor Center
(1 S. Penn Square, Room 121, https://www.phlvisitorcenter.com/CityHall)
The building was designed by Scottish-born architect John McArthur Jr. and Thomas Ustick Walter in the Second Empire style, and was constructed from 1871 to 1901: it’s tower was completed by 1894. While it was designed to be the world's tallest building, during it’s construction it was surpassed by both the Washington Monument and the Eiffel Tower. When the tower was completed in 1894 the building became the world's tallest habitable building (and stayed that until 1908). With almost 700 rooms, City Hall is the largest municipal building in the United States. City Hall is a masonry building (a building that doesn’t have a steel frame) whose weight is borne by granite and brick walls up to 22 ft thick rather than.
The tower features a clock face on each side that is 26 ft in diameter which is larger than Big Ben’s and is topped by a bronze statue of city founder William Penn, one of 250 sculptures created by Alexander Milne Calder that adorn the building inside and out. The 37 foot, 53,348 lb statue, is the tallest statue atop any building in the world. The statue is hollow and has a narrow access tunnel which leads to a hatch atop Penn’s hat. The statue faces northeast, towards Penn Treaty Park in the Fishtown section of the city, which commemorates the site where Penn signed a treaty with the local Native American tribe.
Below the base of the statue is the City Hall observation deck which can be reached in a 6-person elevator whose glass panels allow visitors to see the interior of the iron superstructure that caps the tower and supports the statuary and clocks.
City Hall houses three branches of government: the city's executive branch (the Mayor's Office), its legislature (the Philadelphia City Council), and much of the city’s judicial offices. There are two different tours available -- the Tower Tour to the observation deck which is run every 15 minutes, requiring a timed ticket, and gives a panoramic view of the city, and --- the City Hall Interior tour which is a 1 ½-2 hour guided tour, once per day, of the building and includes a visit to the observation deck, weather permitting.
Stop 2. Dilworth Park
Located at the foot of City Hall on its western side, Dilworth Park hosts community events throughout the year, including fitness classes, movie screenings and musical performances that are free and open to the public.
Every winter, the park transforms into a welcoming wonderland complete with an ice-skating rink, a seasonal garden, a holiday market and the Deck the Hall light show, which is projected onto the facade of City Hall.
Stop 3. Love Park, John F Kennedy Plaza
The John F Kennedy Plaza is located at the terminus of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and is across from City Hall. The plaza was nicknamed LOVE Park for its reproduction of Robert Indiana's LOVE sculpture (the statue is rather small) which has almost continuously been located in the park since 1976 where it was part of the United States Bicentennial celebration.
The plaza contains a great lawn and two gardens with native plantings around a fountain that features a monumental jet and a basket-weave of jets with programmable up-lighting for a stunning visual display. On weekdays, a variety of food trucks arrive for lunch and during the holidays the plaza is the location of Philadelphia’s annual Christmas Village, an open-air market of vendors selling gifts, handmade crafts and food.
Stop 4. Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
(18th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, https://cathedralphila.org/)
The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is the head church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It was designed by Napoleon LeBrun and built between 1846 and 1864 while the dome and Palladian facade, designed by John Notman, were added after 1850. The cathedral is modeled after the Lombard Church of St. Charles (San Carlo al Corso) in Rome and is the largest brownstone structure in Philadelphia.
The interior of the cathedral is stunning. Constantino Brumidi painted the ceiling mural in the dome – The Assumption of the Virgin into Heaven (1868) – and the round portraits of St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John on its pendentives. It houses the shrine of the American Saint Katharine Drexel, which was relocated to the cathedral in 2017 after its former home, St. Elizabeth's Convent, was closed. St Drexel was the second person born in the USA to be canonized as a saint and the first one born a U.S. citizen.
Guided tours of the Basilica are typically offered after the 11:00 AM Sunday Mass and private tours can be arranged. There are brochures by the entrance for a self-guided tour and an audio tour can be downloaded from the church’s web site. There is no cost to enter the church.
Construction of the Cathedral began less than 2 years after the Philadelphia Nativist Riots of 1844 and the lack of street level windows was likely influenced by this. At the time a large number of Catholic immigrants from Ireland were arriving in Philadelphia leading to tensions with the city’s Protestants. A disagreement regarding religious education in public schools lead to the burning of multiple Catholic structures including Saint Michael’s Church, Saint Augustine’s Church and the convent of the Sisters of Charity. Tensions finally subsided after the Governor brought in 5,000 troops to maintain the peace.
Stop 5. Logan Square
Logan Square is one of the five parks from William Penn’s design for the layout of the city of Philadelphia. At the center of the square is the Swan Memorial Fountain (memorializing Dr Wilson Swan the head of the Philadelphia Fountain Society), a 1924 art deco fountain with three large Native American figures that symbolize the area's major rivers -- the Delaware, the Schuylkill, and the Wissahickon. During the summer months many children can be found splashing and cooling off in the fountain and its 50 foot geyser.
The eastern side of the square contains Sister City Park which includes the Children’s Discovery Garden which has winding pathways, scalable rocks and meandering stream for children’s play and a play fountain embedded into the concrete which is active in the summer months. At the southeastern edge of Sister City Park is Robert Indiana’s six foot tall AMOR statue.
Stop 6. Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
(1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, https://ansp.org/)
The Academy of Natural Sciences is the oldest natural science research institution and museum in the Americas, founded in 1812, and had the world’s first mounted dinosaur skeleton in 1868. It has sponsored expeditions, conducted original environmental and systematics research, and amassed natural history collections containing more than 17 million specimens. In 2011 the Academy became affiliated with nearby Drexel University and changed its name to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
Some of its most popular exhibits include Dinosaur Hall (reconstructed skeletons of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and more than 30 other dinosaurs), 37 dioramas of animals in their natural habitat from around the world (most of which were created between the 1930’s and 50s), walking through an indoor tropical garden display of 60-160 live butterflies, a hands-on discovery center for children and “The Big Dig” where children can search for fossils.
Admission is $22 for adults (age 13+), $18 for children. Reduced admission after 3pm (and the museum is typically more quiet after 2pm). Special Exhibits may be extra.
Stop 7. The Franklin Institute
(222 N. 20th Street, https://www.fi.edu/)
The Franklin Institute is one of the oldest centers of science education and development in the US, named in honor of Benjamin Franklin. Founded in 1824 for the promotion of Mechanic Arts in order to professionalize American science and technology it began with a focus on the then new technology of steam engines and water power. It opened in Independence Hall but as its focus on research grew into also educating the general public in 1934 it built its current building as a public museum with a focus on hands-on learning.
Notable exhibits include: Electricity (offers various experiments with electricity and showcases Benjamin Franklin’s famous lighting rods), the Giant Heart (walk through the world’s largest artificial heart), SportsZone (focuses on the scientific aspects of sports while testing your skills at pitching, jumping, surfing, and running), The Train Factory (has a 350 ton real full-size steam locomotive), the Franklin Airshow (includes one of the Wright Brothers Model B airplanes and a US Air Force jet trainer), films on the Tuttleman IMAX Theater’s 79-foot domed screen, and explore the planets and space at the Fels Planetarium.
Admission $23 for adults, $19 for children (3-11). Special Exhibits may be extra.
Benjamin Franklin National Memorial
(entrance lobby of the Franklin Institute)
In the entrance lobby of the Franklin Institute is a memorial dedicated to Benjamin Franklin which includes a 20-foot tall 30 ton sculpture by James Earle Fraser completed in 1911. The rotunda is modeled after the Roman Pantheon and there is a 3½-minute multimedia show about Benjamin Franklin’s impact on the world. Admission to the memorial is free.
Stop 8. Parkway Central Library, Free Library of Philadelphia
(1901 Vine Street, https://libwww.freelibrary.org/locations/parkway-central-library)
The Parkway Central Library is the largest library and only research library of the 54 library branches in the Philadelphia Free Library system. The Beaux-Arts building designed by Julian Abele opened in 1927. The Free library system is the 13th largest public library system in the US. It was chartered in 1891 by William Pepper as a general library, free to all. Its first location was three cramped rooms in City Hall, in 1895 it moved to the old Concert Hall at 1217-1221 Chestnut Street, in 1910 to the northeast corner of 13th and Locust Streets and to its current location in 1927.
The building houses a notable rare book department including a collection of Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, original artwork of Beatrix Potter, illuminated medieval manuscripts etc. And Grip, the raven owned by Charles Dickens that may have been Pose’s inspiration. There are weekday tours of this department at 11am.
The library also contains: the Map Collection (more than 130,000 current and historical maps), the Children's Literature Research Collection (research collection of children's literature published after 1836), Culinary Literacy Center (a commercial-grade kitchen used as a classroom) and one of the largest sheet music collections (numbering 350,000) in the country.
Stop 9. The Barnes Foundation
(2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, https://www.barnesfoundation.org/)
One of the world’s foremost collections of French impressionist and post-impressionist paintings that features 181 Renoirs (more than any other collection), 69 Cézannes (more than in all of France) and 46 Picassos. And also 7 Van Goghs along with works by Manet, Degas, Seurat, Prendergrast, Titian and an important collection of African sculpture.
The Barnes Foundation was created in 1922 by Dr. Albert Barnes who had been collecting modern art and wanted to create a educational institution that offered free art appreciation classes that emphasized close looking, critical thinking, and prolonged engagement with original works of art. The gallery was created on a 12-acre estate in Merion, PA. Barnes dies in 1951 but his will required that his collection continue to be displayed as he had intended and even after the collection moved to its current location in Philadelphia in 2012, the collection still preserves the scale, proportion and configuration of its original location in Merion.
Admission: $25 adults, $5 youth (age 13-18), children 12 & under are free. Admission is free on the first Sunday of every month and includes special family-friendly entertainment, informative talks, performances and hands-on activities. Unwind at the Barnes every first Friday evening of the month, when visitors relax with cocktails, live music, inspiring talks and after-hours access to the world-famous collection and special exhibitions.
Stop 10. Rodin Museum
(2151 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, https://www.rodinmuseum.org/)
The Museum houses one of the largest public collections of works by sculptor Auguste Rodin outside of Paris containing more than 120 of his sculptures, as well as a collection of drawings and paintings. Many of his most famous sculptures can be seen including Eternal Springtime, The Gates of Hell, The Burghers of Calais and The Thinker. Quite a few of his most famous are displayed outside in the formal gardens of the museum or near the reflecting pool.
Jules Mastbaum, an early film exhibitor in Philadelphia, began acquiring Rodin’s pieces in 1913 and after accumulating a large number decided to share them with the public. He convinced the city to let him build a museum for these sculptures along the newly built Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Mastbaum hired Jacques Greber, the French landscape architect responsible for the layout of the Parkway, and his collaborator architect Paul Philippe Cret, to design the elegant gardens and the Beaux-Arts building which was eventually opened to the public in 1929.
Admission is pay as you wish. Recommended adults $12, 18&under free. The garden is free. Free wifi.
Stop 11. Rocky Steps
After an initial role in the first Rocky movie and then in 6 of the 7 sequels, the east entrance stairs leading from the Parkway up to the Museum have been a part of Rocky Balboa’s (played by Sylvester Stallone) run throughout the city of Philadelphia. These stairs have been called one of the most famous movie locations. A 8.5 ft bronze statue of Rocky stands on the north side of the base of the stairs. On weekends and especially when the weather is nice there may be a line waiting to take pictures in front of the statue.
Stop 12. Philadelphia Museum of Art
(2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway,)
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is an art museum originally chartered in 1876 for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and has been in its current location since 1928. The museum administers collections containing over 240,000 objects including major holdings of European, American and Asian origin which includes sculpture, paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, armor, and decorative arts. Some of its most famous pieces include: the Kienbusch Collection of Arms and Armor, Reuben’s Prometheus Bound, van Gogh's Sunflowers, Cezanne’s The Large Bathers, Picasso’s Three Musicians, the world’s largest Marcel Duchamp collection.
During the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia the city planned to setup an art gallery that at the Exposition’s end would become a permanent art museum. After the Exposition closed in 1877, the art gallery became the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art which remained in Memorial Hall. The museum focused on applied art and science, and provided a school to train craftsmen in drawing, painting, modeling, and designing. The museum's collection began with objects from the Exposition and gifts from the public impressed with the Exposition's ideals of good design and craftsmanship. European and Japanese fine and decorative art objects and books for the museum's library were among the first donations.
A new building was designed located closer to the city on Fairmount, a rocky hill topped by the city's main reservoir. The Fairmount Parkway (renamed Benjamin Franklin Parkway) was created as a grand boulevard that cut diagonally across the grid of city streets and terminated the foot of the hill. The museum finally opened to the public in 1928.
The Café and the Restaurant Stir were designed by Frank Gehry. Access requires museum admission.
Admission: $25 adults, $14 students, 18-under free. Free wifi. Friday evenings between 5-8:45pm and the 1st Sunday of every month pay what you wish.
Stop 13. Fairmount Water Works
Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Education Center
(640 Waterworks Drive, https://fairmountwaterworks.org/)
Admission: Free (free two-hour parking is available along Water Works Drive)
The Water Works opened in 1815 as the sole water pumping station for the city of Philadelphia and was the nation's first water supply to use paddle wheels to move water. Frederick Graff designed the system which included building a 3 million gallon earthen reservoir atop Faire Mount (now the site of the Philadelphia Museum of Art). A Classical Revival exterior helped to disguise the industrial nature of the site to the extent that the location became a tourist attraction for its beauty and its location on the riverside.
The Water Works closed in 1909 as the city built a more advanced water system but the building was converted into the Philadelphia Aquarium between 1911 and 1962 (by 1929 it was the world’s 4th largest aquarium). A part of the Aquarium became an indoor swimming pool, the Kelly Natorium, in 1961 but that eventually closed in 1973.
Currently the building is an interpretive center that explains the waterworks' purpose and local watershed history.
Completed in 1822, the Fairmount Dam cuts diagonally across the Schuylkill River to channel water into the Fairmount Water Works, and acted as a spillway. The Schuylkill is a tidal river so the dam also prevents brackish water in the Delaware River from mixing with upriver fresh water.