A Definitive Guide To Visiting Philly’s Art Museums

Philadelphia is a city for art lovers. While the museums of New York City and Washington D.C. might be better known, the gems of Philly offer an unparalleled range and quality.

There is a diversity of offerings that we consider must-sees, from the quirky Rodin Museum and Magic Gardens to the venerable Philadelphia Museum of Art and the magnificent Barnes Foundation collection. Here is our recommendation of the four best art museums for visitors to the city.


The Barnes Foundation

Millionaire Albert C. Barnes began to collect European masters in 1912. He eventually amassed a collection that is considered one of the finest in the world, estimated to be worth $25 billion dollars.

Here you will find the largest single Renoir collection, featuring a stunning 181 works by the impressionist painter. Also among the 900 paintings are 69 works by Cezanne, 59 by Matisse and 46 by Picasso.

In addition to paintings by European and American masters, there are also examples of early American furniture as well as collections of African carvings and Native American art.

Barnes first opened his museum to the public in 1922. His will stipulated that the paintings must remain exactly as they were arranged upon his death.

Website: barnesfoundation.org
Location: Center City, Philadelphia, along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Entry Fee: $25 for adults, $5 for youth, children under 12 free
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11am-5pm
Estimated time required: 3-6 hours
Top Attraction: Works that are seldom seen outside the Barnes, such as Matisse’s The Joy of Life or Georges Surat’s Models


The Rodin Museum

While this museum only features the works of a single artist, the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, it still provides an interesting diversity. Set among beautiful gardens, the museum has the largest collection of the artist’s work outside of Paris, France.

Our favorite part of the museum might be the sculpture garden, as several of the artist’s works are located outside on the grounds. Strolling through this area creates an organic and serene experience where art and nature blend seamlessly together.

The most widely recognized of Rodin’s works, The Thinker , greets you as you enter the grounds of the museum. Behind it you will see a replica of the Merdon Gate behind which stand Adam and The Shade .

Within, you will find everything from small studies to life-sized statues as well as busts and drawings. There is enough variety to keep you interested.

While it is possible to stroll the grounds without paying the entry fee, you should not miss out on the fine works inside. Since it is located close to the Barnes Museum and opens an hour earlier, it might make sense to schedule a visit here before going on to the larger venue.

Website: rodinmuseum.org
Location: Center City, Philadelphia, along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Entry Fee: $10 for adults, children under 12 free
Hours: Wednesday to Monday, 10am-5pm
Estimated time required: 45-90 minutes
Top Attraction: The Thinker


The Philadelphia Museum of Art

This provides a more comprehensive tour of art than the other museums on this list. Considered one of the best in the nation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collections span both space and time. Here you will find art dating back from ancient times to the modern era and encompassing not just Western countries but also much of Asia.

On the first floor are masters such as Monet, Renoir and Picasso as well as a comprehensive contemporary and modern art section. As we continue exploring upstairs, we find older European art, including a fantastic bust of Benjamin Franklin.

Moving back in time, we find art from the Middle Ages and ancient religious works. These include pieces from monasteries and a section filled with medieval armor and weapons.

Finally, there is a wing dedicated to Asian art and culture. Here you will find pieces from many different countries, though India and China are well represented. The paintings, pottery, sculptures, and jewelry in this section give an insight into the cultures of these vast areas.

Website: philamuseum.org
Location: Center City, Philadelphia, along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Entry Fee: $25 for adults, children under 12 free
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday: 10am-5pm with extended hours on Wednesday and Friday to 8:45pm
Estimated time required: 4-7 hours
Top Attraction: The magnificent bust of Benjamin Franklin on the second floor.


The Magic Gardens

While Philadelphia’s South Street today is a hub of trendy shops, restaurants and bars, back when artist Isaiah Zagar moved there over 50 years ago, it was a desolate area. His art gallery began the process of neighborhood transformation and revitalization.

In 1998, he began the 14 year process of converting two vacant lots adjacent to his studio into the Magic Gardens.

Here, the artist converted broken tiles and everyday household items into vibrant and charming works of art. While various pieces may seem disjointed viewed on their own, the artist has used them to create decorated alleyways and interesting nooks that seem to holistically meld together into a pleasing cacophony.

Visitors will find themselves exploring open air corridors and tunnels filled with light and color as well as movement. The mosaics are stunning and the passion for detail awe-inspiring. Zagar manages to transform the mundane and the broken into true beauty.

We particularly recommend this museum for families with children, as they will enjoy exploring the maze-like structures and be introduced to art in a unique way.

While it is entirely possible to enjoy Zagar’s work for free, as you can see some of it simply by walking outside the museum and find both small murals and full scale alleyways decorated by the artist throughout Philadelphia, we still think it’s worth it to spend the time and money to immerse yourself fully in his vision by visiting the Magic Gardens.

Website: phillymagicgardens.org
Location: 1020 South Street in Philadelphia
Entry Fee: $15 for adults, $8 for children
Hours: Wednesday to Monday, 11am to 6pm. Closed on Tuesdays. Currently the museum is closed due to the pandemic but is scheduled to reopen in April.
Estimated time required: 1-2 hours
Top Attraction: The underground areas carved out by the artist where you can be completely surrounded by his work