There is never any shortage of things to do in Philadelphia, and that includes during the colder times of the year. If you aren’t afraid of bundling up, crowds are less at historic sites within the City of Brotherly Love. Add to that some of the city’s biggest and most popular events and festivals. Needless to say, winter isn’t much of an “off-season” in Philadelphia. Here are what you can expect and the best things to do in Philadelphia in winter!
Philadelphia’s Winter Weather
Winter in Philadelphia feels long and neverending, at least when you’re living it on a day to day basis. Temperatures average highs of 45F for December, 40F for January, 44F for February, and 53F for March. The lows are 30F for December, 26F for January, 28F for February, and 34F for March. Throughout the season, though, you can expect blasts of extremely frigid below-freezing temperatures and gusty winds that will make being outside simply miserable.
And then there is the snow and ice. Philly averages 23-inches of snow a year. On average that’s 3-inches in December, 7-inches in January, 9-inches in February, and 3-inches in March. And while snowstorms may not last too long, they leave behind ice and piles of snow that make living in and navigating the city more challenging than normal.
Things to Do In Philadelphia in Winter
The benefit for travelers who don’t mind the cold means you often have attractions all to yourself. This is especially true with the Colonial Philadelphia sites. The line for the Liberty Bell, for example, is generally much shorter (if there is a line at all!).
Many of the city’s historic sites in Old City do alter their hours during the winter, but they’re only small tweaks. Let’s continue to use the example of the Liberty Bell. During the winter, it’s open from 9 am to 5 pm; during the summer it’s usually open a few hours later.
Despite slightly shorter hours, there are benefits. Independence Hall requires a ticket from March through December but not during January and February. Similarly, Congress Hall only has self-guided tours in January and February.
In general, the most popular sites are safe bets to be open. For less popular historic attractions and National Park Service sites, do yourself a favor and doublecheck the days and hours they’re open. Elsewhere, the city’s fantastic museums are open and waiting for your visit!
The cold temperatures also make for the perfect excuse to explore some of the city’s coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants. You could easily spend an afternoon sitting at one of the large windows at Parc, with a delicious French meal and a view of Rittenhouse Square. Or, you could warm up with a cup of your favorite hot beverage at La Colombe’s flagship store in Fishtown. If you want to be indoors but still on your feet, try a visit to Reading Terminal Market to wander the aisles and discover some tasty treats!
Winter Events in Philadelphia
As winter kicks off, Philadelphia’s celebrations for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza are already well underway. The city’s German-style Christmas market takes over LOVE Park each year while nearby Dilworth Plaza, surrounding City Hall, transforms into a Made in Philly market in addition to offering ice skating and some small carnival rides. Speaking of ice skating, through the winter you can head down to the Delaware River waterfront for ice skating and winter fun.
The city kicks off the New Year with the Mummers Parade, an annual tradition that’s as wild as it is bright.
But it’s the annual Philadelphia Flower Show that teases visitors with a taste of spring. (Although, ironically, it seems to always be frigid and snowy during the event!) The Flower Show is extremely popular and attracts huge numbers of spectators. To avoid the crowds, try visiting later in the day or in the evening.
Winter holidays clearly affect the city. You’re likely to find spots a little busier during Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Presidents Day as many sites that are ordinarily closed open their doors on the holidays. But you’ll see more closures for Christmas and New Year’s.
There are also other less official holidays and events. January sees Restaurant Week where some Center City eateries offer special lunch and dinner prix fixe menus. While February offers, of course, Valentine’s Day and will, no doubt, require reservations at any discerning restaurant for you and your sweetie.
Tips for Visiting Philly in Winter
- Snowfall can make finding parking a difficult task. Parking in a garage (with a covering) may be a better, safer bet.
- Keep an eye on weather forecasts! While winter is usually quite cold, you can find short spurts of mild weather that will feel positively springlike.
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All photos, as well as all opinions, are my own.