Quick. Think of Philadelphia. What are some of the first (and best) Philadelphia museums that come to your mind? Probably the Philadelphia Museum of Art? Maybe the Franklin Institute? For out of town visitors looking to get the most out of a trip to the city, there are lots of things to see that might ordinarily be easy to overlook. For locals, there are places that you might have heard about but never made time to go visit. Regardless of the reason, there are plenty of museums to inspire, entertain, and pique your curiosity.
Here are 5 of the best Philadelphia museums off the beaten path that you shouldn’t miss!
Philly is a city that is rich in art but there is a lot of competition for your eyes (and wallets) among Philadelphia museums. But sandwiched between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation, the Rodin Museum is easy to overlook and often is. The museum houses the largest collection of sculptor Auguste Rodin’s work outside of Paris, France.
It was recently renovated in 2012 after originally opening in 1929. It is set in a building with wonderful natural light and beautifully landscaped gardens surround it. However, the small collection is easily worth the time making it one of the best museums in Philadelphia off the beaten path.
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In West Fairmount Park, not far from the baseball diamonds and athletic fields, it may surprise you to know that there is a 17th century-style Japanese house and garden hidden away. One of the best museums in Philadelphia is seemingly a well-kept secret.
The house is a gift from Japan. It was built in 1953 in New York. However, the building moved to the City of Brotherly Love in 1958. Visitors can wander through the house (sans shoes). Or, you can sit and admire the traditionally manicured garden and koi-filled pond. Shofuso holds special events throughout the year such as tea ceremonies. The city’s cherry blossom festival takes place in the section of the park surrounding Shofuso. It’s a time to see the house in all its glory.
Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum
If you want to explore Philadelphia off the beaten path, you should head to Southwest Philadelphia. Gearheads take note: Philadelphia has an impressive auto museum. The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum houses over 65 racing cars collected over the decades by Dr. Frederick Simeone.
But these aren’t all mint condition automobiles that you just stare out, like in some old and out of date museum. Oh no! These cars all have a history of road racing and, rather notably, have their original components. Twice a month, the museum holds demonstration days when they take some of these impressive automobiles out for a spin in their parking lot. The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum is one of the most special and best Philadelphia museums off the beaten path!
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University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (aka the Penn Museum) is an impressive and notable museum on the campus of the Ivy League university. Despite its association with the university, the museum is a must for those wanting to see Philadelphia off the beaten path.
The museum was founded in 1887 by the then-provost, William Pepper. Since then, the museum has been showing off a large collection with artifacts from around the world as well as special exhibitions. Visitors can marvel at exhibits such as a 15-ton granite sphinx, a rotunda full of large-scale Chinese art, or African objects. It is simply a must-see among Philadelphia museums.
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Admittedly, the secret is kind of out about the Mütter Museum. But the museum hasn’t gone completely mainstream just yet even if it is among the best museums in Philadelphia. Part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the museum houses a collection of preserved “anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments.”
The artifacts on display include all sorts of items from organs preserved in jars to a collection of 139 human skulls. Ever wanted to see pieces of Albert Einstein’s brain? This is one of only two places in the world where you can! The most famous artifact, arguably, is the death cast of “Siamese Twins” Chang and Eng Bunker. However, those with weak stomachs take note: you might want to skip the Mütter Museum.
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Photos of Rodin Museum, Shofuso, Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, and University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology are my own. Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia photo (Death cast of “Siamese Twins” Chang and Eng Bunker) by George Widman, 2009. This post contains affiliate links.