Family Fun on the Philadelphia Waterfront

Discover Philly's waterfront activities, starting with Spruce Street Harbor Park

Sway in a hammock, spin around a roller rink, savor an ice cream sundae: All summertime favorites can be found side-by-side in Philly.Whether your crew likes history, games, adventure or relaxation there’s something every member of the family will enjoy along the Delaware River—and most of it is free. While compact enough to tour in a day, there’s plenty happening to fill your entire summer. Here, we share new additions and local favorites on the Waterfront.

To orient yourself better, use the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. On the Pennsylvania side, Spruce Street Harbor Park, Independence Seaport Museum, the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing, Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest, and Race Street Pier are located south of the bridge along Columbus Boulevard. A short ferry ride brings you across the river to New Jersey, where Battleship New Jersey and Adventure Aquarium await. 

Race Street Pier

Magic On the Water: Spruce Street Harbor Park

Originally intended as a one-time pop-up, Spruce Street Harbor Park’s floating food and beer gardens, lily pond and hammock forest became so popular, it’s now a regular attraction returning for a third summer. Swing in hammocks strung amongst the trees or set up a family match of ping pong, bocce ball or shuffle board along the quay (all free). Then follow your nose to the food kiosks set up in converted shipping containers. 

At night SSHP turns truly magical as string lights glow in hues of violet, blue, pink and gold, making the Harbor shimmer like a fairytale. For a chill thrill, seek out the cantilevered nets at the edge of the floating Oasis. Slung over the water, they offer uninterrupted views of the river, city skyline and dramatically lit bridge.

Spruce Street Harbor Park presented by Univest/Valley Green Bank is open May 6–Sept. 25. S. Columbus Blvd. at Spruce St.

Spruce Street Harbor Park

Sailing, History and Ice Cream: Spruce Street Franklin Fountain & Independence Seaport Museum

Along the quayside seek out Spruce Street Franklin Fountain, an outpost of Philly’s renowned old-time ice cream shop, and order their “Warship Olympia,” a giant treat of vanilla ice cream sandwiched between hot waffles made fresh to order. 

Docked nearby is the dessert’s namesake: the historic 1892 Cruiser Olympia, the oldest steel warship afloat in the world. Tour the ship and neighboring Becuna, a 307-foot World War II and Cold War submarine, to get a real taste of naval life and history. Then head to the indoor portion of the Independence Seaport Museum to see a full-size waterline model of the 1797 Schooner Diligence come to life with traditional boat building techniques. Inspired to sail? Return to the boat basin and rent a paddle or swan boat.

Spruce Street Franklin Fountain follows the Spruce Street Harbor Park schedule. Independence Seaport Museum (211 S. Columbus Blvd.) is open year-round. Ticket prices include admission to ship, submarine and museum. Boat rentals additional.

Independence Seaport Museum

Music, Movies and Shopping: Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing

A sprawling flea market, outdoor concert or one of the nine festivals celebrating Philly’s diverse cultures and cuisines are all found on the steps and stage of the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing.  Visiting during the week? Join the locals for free movies and live music under the stars. 

S. Columbus Blvd. at Chestnut St.  PECO Multicultural Series, Thursday movies and Friday Smooth Jazz Summer Nights are all free.

Penn's Landing

Retro Fun and Games: Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest 

On weekend evenings at Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest DJ’s spin tunes as kids of all ages enjoy Philly’s only outdoor roller skating rink. Around the rink’s perimeter there’s more fun to be had in an Arcade with classic games like air hockey and pinball, and at the new 9-hole mini golf course. When stomachs start growling check out the rink-side outposts of popular Philadelphia restaurants, then bring your selections to the new Urban Beach and dine alfresco at picnic tables beneath gigantic umbrellas along the water.

Columbus Blvd. at Market St. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Blue Cross RiverRink SummerFest

Big Guns and Little Creatures: Battleship New Jersey & Adventure Aquarium

Board the RiverLink Ferry at Walnut Street for a short sail to New Jersey, where Camden’s Waterfront offers a variety of attractions. Tour the Battleship New Jersey; Nearly the size of three football fields, it’s America’s most decorated battleship.  At Adventure Aquarium, meet the newest addition to the 8,500 aquatic animals in residence—eight adorable and lively Little Blue Penguins—or cross the new Shark Bridge, suspended just a few feet above the Aquarium’s tanks.

Check websites for hours and ticket prices. Battleship New Jersey is open Feb. through Dec. 10 Delaware Ave., Camden, New Jersey. Adventure Aquarium welcomes guests daily year round.1 Riverside Drive, Camden, New Jersey.

Battleship New Jersey

Tranquility and Nature: Race Street Pier

Greet the morning like a local with a peaceful—and free—yoga class on Race Street Pier.  Or simply stroll the length of this industrial pier turned serene park suspended over the water. At the park’s tip, a steep drop off gives the feeling you’re at the bow of a ship plunging into the water. From this vantage point your crew can soak in soft breezes, watch boats sail by and take a last look at the river and all her attractions.

N. Columbus Blvd. at Race St. 

Race Street Pier

Getting Here

Camden’s Waterfront can be reached from Philly via the RiverLink Ferry or by car. 

Philadelphia’s Waterfront can be reached on foot, and by bike, bus, boat and car. On the river Water Taxis stop at destinations from Penn’s Landing to the Navy Yard, as does the Philly Phlash.

For parking, hours, maps and more info visit online or call 215.922.2FUN. 

Doreen Creede
About the author

A regular contributor to WHERE Philadelphia on chic finds in Philly, Doreen Creede has been...