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Taking the Kids: Three Days in Philadelphia

Day Two
Make your way to Penn's Landing, a waterfront park that supposedly marks the spot where William Penn, the city's founder, arrived in 1682. (He actually landed in nearby Chester, Pennsylvania.) From here you can catch the RiverLink Ferry for a quick ride across the Delaware River to Camden, New Jersey. Even before you get off the ferry you'll see the huge, WWII-era Battleship New Jersey off to the right. Now a floating museum, this is America's most decorated battleship. We recommend taking the self-guided tour so kids can go at their own pace down the narrow corridors and over the decks. They can see where officers and crew slept and ate, and check out the view from the bridge. (Note: Ladders between the decks are quite steep; this may not be appropriate for very young children or families traveling with strollers.)

Younger children will enjoy the Camden Children's Garden, located next to the Adventure Aquarium near the RiverLink Ferry dock. The property spans four acres of whimsical horticultural exhibits, including the Storybook Gardens, featuring Alice in Wonderland and other tales, and the Dinosaur Garden, complete with a model Apatosaurus.

For most kids, the highlight of the Camden Waterfront will be the recently renovated Adventure Aquarium. In the North Building you'll find the Shark Realm, where kids (and adults!) stand transfixed in a glass tunnel while sharks swim by on all sides. For older and bolder kids, there's even an opportunity to swim with the sharks (reservations for this highly popular activity are limited, so call ahead; note that the minimum age is 12). This is also the only aquarium in the country where you can see hippos, which are found in the new West African River Experience. Outdoor crowd-pleasers include penguins and seals. Whenever you get hungry, grab lunch in the Aquarium's cafe and enjoy a view of the Philadelphia skyline from across the river.

Hop on the ferry back to Philly and you'll find yourselves just steps from the Independence Seaport Museum, your next stop. Here you can learn all about the history of Philadelphia's waterfront, how ships are built and why boats float. This is also the place to tour historic ships and take a peek into a workshop where wooden boats are built.

Spend the rest of the afternoon at Penn's Landing, where there are often free concerts and events going on, before heading back to Old City for dinner at Campo's Deli. Cheese steaks and hoagies (known to non-Philadelphians as subs) top the menu.

Day Three
You'll spend your last day in Philadelphia's museum district, located on and around Benjamin Franklin Parkway. There are more fascinating places to visit than you can see in a day, so pick and choose based on your kids' ages and interests. With the exception of the Please Touch Museum, the following attractions are within easy walking distance of each other.

The Franklin Institute is a science museum that's great for all ages. Kids can clamber through the museum's famous giant heart, following the path of blood through its atria and ventricles, or take the "Sports Challenge" -- skiing down a virtual slope, bouncing a basketball on different surfaces and squaring off against life-size football linemen.

Can't get enough science? Check out the Academy of Natural Sciences, located just steps from the Franklin Institute. The most popular exhibit here is the Dinosaur Hall, where kids can marvel at a full Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton and learn about other dinos large and small. There's also a children's nature center called Outside In, home to a number of animals including a rabbit, a tortoise, a guinea pig and more -- if you're lucky, you might even get to touch some of them! Among the many other attractions here are a live butterfly exhibit and a showcase of Egyptian mummies.

At the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the neo-Classical Philadelphia Museum of Art, complete with its famous steps -- make like Rocky and see how fast you can run up to the entrance! The Museum offers family programs on Sundays in the summer (many of them free with museum admission), including a drop-in studio where kids can paint their own artistic masterpieces, as well as tours geared toward different age groups.

One of Philadelphia's most popular museums for kids is no longer located near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, but it's well worth a visit if you have younger children. The Please Touch Museum, now in a new home in Fairmount Park, is a place where kids can climb and play to their hearts' content among a slew of fun (and educational) interactive exhibits. They can go shopping in the popular "Supermarket" exhibit, or get behind the wheel of a SEPTA city bus in "Roadside Attractions." There are several exhibits specially designed for age 3 and under. The easiest way to get to the museum is to drive, but if you don't have a car you can take the city's tourist-friendly Phlash buses, which operate most of the year and stop right in front of the museum.

While the museum district is rich in educational opportunities, there aren't a lot of restaurants on the Parkway -- so we suggest grabbing lunch in one of the museums. If the kids need a break, take a seat outside near the huge fountain at Logan Square -- on hot summer days, folks sit on the edge and dangle their feet in the water, and kids splash around among the bronze statues in the center of the fountain. If you're further up the Parkway near the Art Museum, you can go around to the west side of the museum and down the hill into Fairmount Park, the world's largest landscaped urban park with over 8,500 acres. At this corner of it you can look out across the Schuylkill River toward Boathouse Row (if you're lucky you'll see some folks out on the water practicing their rowing!) or take a short rest in the Azalea Garden.

If the Phillies are in town, head out to their new stadium for a night of America's favorite pastime. Get there early to grab dinner and explore the stadium. Besides the game itself, Citizens Bank Park offers a number of family-friendly facilities, including several "phood" stands with kid-sized portions and the Phanatic Phun Zone, where younger kids can climb and play. Note: Most folks drive to the stadium; public transportation is available, but may not be the safest option after dark. If you don't have a car, you may want to call ahead and arrange for an appropriately sized taxi to pick you up after the game.

If the Phillies are away or you're looking to make an earlier night of it, enjoy a laid-back dinner at T.G.I. Friday's, just a few blocks from Logan Square.

Visit our sister site, Family Vacation Critic, for more information about Philadelphia family vacations.

--written by Sarah Schlichter

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