Unusual Attractions in Philadelphia, PA

Still round the corner, there may wait, a new road or a secret gate

J.R.R. Tolkien

Last week I shared my adventures in Philly with you guys. From the creatively artful spaces to the haunted and macabre, Philly is home to it all. Below are unique ideas to add to your itinerary. Some I’ve experienced first hand and others I sadly missed out on tickets for the last time I visited. You best BELIEVE I will make my way to all of these.  

Luckily, you don’t have to wait for me to take another day trip to hear about them. Check out my unique suggestions below and let me know which ones you would visit!

Magic Gardens

My first-ever trip to Philly wasn’t complete without a stop here. The space is a massive mosaic designed by Isaiah Zagar and is the largest public mosaic installation in the city. It’s also the most unique mosaic I’ve ever seen. 

What started as a way for the artist to beautify his neighborhood in an empty lot turned into one of Philly’s most beloved art pieces. The mosaic consists of mostly found objects like glass bottles, broken pieces of tile, mirrors, and other items/debris.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Before the construction of this prison in 1829 prisons were a chaotic place where booze, corrupt officials, and violence was commonplace. Eastern State Penitentiary was designed to be something different where order reigned supreme and prisoners could be penitent for their crimes. While prisoners enjoyed their own toilets, 3 meals a day, and exercise the prison often drove men insane.

No one was allowed to talk to each other, prisoners were transported with hoods over their heads and measures were taken to keep the prison as silent as possible. Needless to say that many were driven too insanity. The prison eventually switched to the system we know today where prisoners can interact, but the heavy history remained until it closed in 1971.

Today you can visit during the day or at night or even for special events such as prison uprising tours and Bastille Day and Halloween tours. All of the tours are self-guided, but you can learn about the prison and the prison system from Steve Buscemi. He narrates the entire thing and you’ll learn a lot while exploring the derelict building.

Mütter Museum

If medical oddities don’t send you screaming in the other direction you need to visit the Mütter Museum. This museum really isn’t for the faint of heart as you’ll see some wildly unique medical items. From the skeleton of the world’s tallest man to slices of Albert Einstein’s brain to items previously found in Victorian era cabinets of curiosities Mütter Museum doesn’t disappoint even if it borders on the macabre.

Another interesting exhibit to make you wonder why the human race as survived this long is the exhibit featuring objects removed from people’s throats. There are over 2,000 objects, so this is a pretty regular occurrence. Also not to be missed are the exhibits featuring conjoined twins and the Soap Lady whose body formed a waxy substance around itself during decomposition.

Love Letter Murals

Time to lighten the mood. Venture over to the elevated train platform of the Market-Frankford line. From there you’ll see the result of a collaboration between the artist Stephen Powers and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. These love letters aren’t your garden variety, average letter. They are murals that will make you laugh, make you go awwww, and make you realize that there’s a whole lot of love for Philadelphia from its residents.

Sayings like “you can have me over easy” with depictions of eggs and “I won’t put you on the side like bacon” will have you laughing. “You’re ever after is all I’m after” will give you the warm fuzzies. Try to find all 50 of these rooftop murals and see which ones you like best. They are all so unique and truly represent the city.

The Rosenbach

It might not look like much from the outside, but inside is a different story. The interior of the Rosenbach is home to an impressive collection of rare books and manuscripts. Want to see Bram Stoker’s handwritten notes for the original Dracula? You can! Don’t miss forgeries of Shakespeare’s works, James Joyce’s manuscript for Ulysses, original manuscripts for Sherlock Holmes, and more. This library/museum has literary items from authors dating back to 1450 all the way to 1900.

If you’re looking for something a littler more contemporary, why not mosey over to the exhibit with Stephen Colbert’s writing desk? Don’t skip the tours here. There are a variety of themes you can choose from and librarians will bring out items you can actually touch and handle. Yes, please!


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