Explore Philadelphia

7 Things You Must Do on Philadelphia's Riverfront This Summer

From a pop-up boardwalk to moonlight movie screenings, these riverside respites offer plenty of opportunities to soak in the summer season.

What better place to brave the summer's heat than on the breezy shores of the Delaware River Waterfront? From a pop-up boardwalk to moonlight movie screenings, both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey riverbanks offer plenty of fun-filled opportunities to soak in the season, many of which are free and open to the public.

In a special offering, just for 2015, America’s largest sailing event comes to town. For Tall Ships Philadelphia-Camden June 25-28, more than a dozen massive boats descend upon the Delaware River for the highly anticipated Tall Ships Festival. The impressive fleet docks on both sides of the river, where guests will have the chance to marvel at—and even tour—these majestic ships. Nautical nuts can board legendary vessels like L’Hermione (pictured), a replica of the French ship famous for bringing General Lafayette to America in 1780; El Galeon Andalucia, which is modeled after 16th-century merchant and war ships; and Gazela, Philadelphia’s official Tall Ship, originally built in 1901. Tickets range from $7 to $150.

There’s no need to head all the way down the Jersey Shore this summer to enjoy the sun, sand and boardwalk. Transforming the Delaware River Waterfront, Spruce Street Harbor Park is a mega pop-up summertime village at Penn’s Landing, featuring a boardwalk, urban beach, floating barge with onsite restaurant and bar, mist walk and water gardens. On shore, look out for shuffleboard, corn hole, ping pong and oversized chess piece lawn games, or bite into seaside treat favorites, like hot dogs, curly fries and ice cream, at concession stands housed in bright shipping containers. At the Columbus Monument, find snag a hammock under the canopy of hanging lights or warm up at one of the fire pits on cool summer nights. The centerpiece of the park is the “The Oasis,” a floating barge that houses The Blue Anchor—Jose Garces’ onsite restaurant and bar—net lounges and water gardens.

Spruce Street Harbor Park
Grab a burger and some beers from Jose Garces' The Blue Anchor at Spruce Street Harbor Park. (©Matt Stanley)

Mix it up on land and sea with the ever-popular Ride the Ducks Philadelphia (leaves from Sixth and Chestnut streets, 877.887.8225). Aboard an amphibious vehicle, participants not only tour more than 100 land-locked attractions like the Independence Hall and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, they then take to the Delaware River to view sites including the historic Battleship New Jersey.

In addition to its rotating roster of nautical-themed exhibits like "Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River" and "SS United States: Chartering a Course for America's Flagship," this year the Independence Seaport Museum (211 S. Columbus Blvd., 215.413.8655) added new features to its tour of the historic naval ship Olympia. In-depth interpretive panels now offer first-hand accounts and images that allow visitors to appreciate what it means to live the sailor's life. Afterwards, rent a kayak or row boat to take to the water.

Independence Seaport Museum
Take a behind-the-scenes tour of historic cruiser Olympia and submarine Becuna at the Independence Seaport Museum.

On Thursday nights at Penn's Landing (101 Columbus Blvd.), the show begins when the sun goes down. Screenings Under the Stars is back this summer with recent hit movies like "Frozen" and classic blockbusters like "Jaws." Guests are encouraged to settle into the Great Plaza with picnics and blankets and enjoy a free evening of Hollywood-style entertainment.

Screenings Under The Stars
The Screenings Under The Stars summer movie series features free movie screenings at Penn's Landing. (©G. Widman/Visit Philadelphia)

For visitors who aren't afraid to get a little bit wet, this year marks the sixth season for Paddle Penn's Landing. Boaters can rent single kayaks, tandem kayaks, and foot-pedal swan boats for half an hour at a time from the Penn's Landing Marina (201 S. Columbus Blvd. at Dock Street).

Paddle Penn's Landing
Take in waterfront views from a foot-pedal swan boat at the Penn's Landing Marina. (©Neal Santos)

Across the Delaware in Camden, NJ, Adventure Aquarium (1 Riverside Drive, 856.365.3300) houses more than 8,500 species of water dwellers, including penguins, sharks and stingrays. Hippo Haven includes a 60,000-gallon pool and a theatrical light and sound element that immerses guests in a virtual African river habitat. Before heading home, inspired patrons can even "adopt" one of these massive beasts through the Turgew Hippo Trust in Zimbabwe.