The Franklin Institute: At The Heart of Science and Technology


If you’re like me and have kids who are fascinated by science and technology, then taking a trip on the turnpike to have an adventure at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a must. Named in honor of America’s first scientist, Benjamin Franklin, The Franklin Institute is one of the oldest (founded in 1824!) and one of the premier centers of science education and development in the country. This family-friendly institute is full of surprises and will wow even a non-sciencey kid—you can race against pro athletes in the SportsZone, explore a brand new $8.5 million Wondrous Space exhibit, or you can walk through a “beating” human heart at The Giant Heart exhibit. We recently spent an afternoon exploring it and had a blast learning about health, physics, and tech. Scroll down for more details on our visit, and if you decide to make it a day trip, check out the other places to visit in Philadelphia with kids. (feature photo taken at the Franklin Institute)

Franklin Institute

SportsZone is full of interactive exhibits where you can test everything from your strength to your speed. Photo taken at the Franklin Institute

From pulleys to sports skills

With a bunch of interactive exhibits that emphasized physics, chemistry, and technology over three floors, we started our visit at Sir Issac’s Loft, known as a playground of experimentation that has falling objects, chain reactions, and optical illusions that bring Newton’s laws to life. There are a bunch of pulleys, prisms, and pendulums to try. We experimented with chain reactions, and the kids tested their strength by lifting their body weight with pulleys. Then, we headed over to the SportsZone, an interactive exhibit on how sports connect the science of the human body, laws of motion, and technical innovation. My son is a baseball player, and he loved throwing a pitch and watching the playback at high speed to analyze it. The kids also tried their balance on the surfboard simulator and then raced a pro athlete (you can pick from a gold medal winner, Eagles running back, or the Philly Phanatic baseball mascot) with their race simulator.

Wonderous Space

Wonderous Space is a new permanent exhibit that takes up two floors at the Franklin Institute. Photo taken at the Franklin Institute

Out of this world learning

After spending time in the permanent exhibits, we headed to the newest one—Wonderous Space. The neon colors, interactive displays, and unique sounds made us feel like we had entered another world. We were able to touch a genuine meteorite that fell to Earth over 50,000 years ago, design and launch a rocket, and explore a Mars Rover. There were interactive space activities like the gravity well, where we spun colored marbles that created a light path on the way down. We were also part of a computer-generated solar system as the planets and stars gathered around us letting us experiment with mass, gravity, and orbits. But the kids’ favorite part was creating their own spacesuit– they used a touchscreen to pick everything from the colors to the space destination that they wanted to visit in space.

Franklin Institute Brain

The Brain at the Franklin Institute is a perfect spot to let some energy out. Photo taken at the Franklin Institute

More to explore

As we made our way through the Franklin Institute, we arrived at Your Brain. Within the exhibit, we explored the city street exhibit filled with optical illusions and tried to figure out the truth from the distorted images. But the best part was the 18-foot-tall neural climb in the exhibit. The climb was in a darkened room with mood lighting that gave the space a fun vibe (Bonus: this is the perfect place for mom and dad to rest while the kids climb and play). There’s also an Electricity Exhibit, an interactive exhibit dedicated to Benjamin Franklin. The kids were able to use their bodies to complete the circuit to light different light bulbs and had a great time observing the Tesla Coil high voltage discharge, which goes off every hour (the Electricity exhibit will permanently close on May 6). 

Franklin Institute heart

It’s not a trip to the Franklin Institute without taking a trip throughout the heart. Photo taken at the Franklin Institute

The heart of the Franklin Institute

For over fifty years, The Giant Heart has been Franklin Institute’s most famous exhibit. The kids enjoyed taking this cardiovascular journey, where they could hear the sounds of an actual human heartbeat while exploring the different chambers of the heart. There was even a spot to climb through 8-foot arteries, and we appreciated that we could let them go on their own and explore. For the more intrepid, there are live heart and eye dissections daily in the demonstration space (you can skip this if your kids are squeamish). On the same floor, we visited the Franklin Air Show, where the kids were able to create paper airplanes and whirligigs to see how they would fly. They were even able to sit in a 1948 T-33 Jet, and they could put on wings and feel the force flying in a wind tunnel (which my husband also thought was a great place to cool off).

Franklin Institute flight

The Franklin Air Show is full of aviation surprises. Photo taken at the Franklin Institute

A starry night at any time of day

We decided to take a little break, and the planetarium seemed like the perfect place to relax and enjoy a show. The Fels Planetarium has a 60-foot diameter dome that allows us to look up to see the night sky without weather or pollution getting in the way. Current shows include Worlds Beyond Earth, The Sky Tonight, and To Space & Back. You can also visit the Holt & Miller Observatory, which is a 10” Carl Zeiss Refracting Telescope, one of the largest historical artifacts in their collection—it gives you a chance to safely view the sun and take in picture-perfect city views. 

Franklin Institute

The Art of the Brick is the largest display of LEGO brick art in the world. Photo taken at The Franklin Institute, The Art of the Brick

Catch Limited-Time Exhibits 

After the planetarium, my kids made a beeline for what we had been looking forward to since we entered the Institute—The Art of the Brick. Named one of CNN’s Top Ten “Global Must-See Exhibitions,” it was amazing to see the LEGO® brick come to life on display at this limited-time exhibit (it ends September 2) and the world’s largest display of LEGO® art ever featured. There were original pieces as well as reimagined versions of famous art masterpieces like Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. There was also a gallery showcasing LEGO® brick-infused photography produced by award-winning photographer Dean West. ​After exploring the exhibit, we entered the 9,000-square-foot brick play space, and the kids were able to build their own creations, including their own LEGO® cars that they were able to race down the track, which was a favorite memory at the exhibit. The entire exhibit was definitely a highlight of our visit. 

Franklin Institute

It’s shocking how much there is to do at the Franklin Institute. Photo taken at the Franklin Institute

What to know before you go

The Franklin Institute takes about 2-3 hours to explore, and it can take longer if you visit their special exhibits, the planetarium, or attend one of their events. The Institute is open daily from 9:30 AM – 5 PM (they recommend going later in the afternoon to avoid school crowds on weekdays). Tickets are valid for the day of purchase only, and tickets are $25 for adults and $21 for kids (ages 3-11). Art of the Brick with Museum pricing is $43 for adults and $39 for children (3-11 years old). There is a parking garage connected to the museum, and the cost is $25 per day. Strollers are allowed in the museum; however, large toddler carriers, double-sided strollers, and jogging strollers are not allowed in the special exhibition galleries due to space. Strollers are not available to rent or borrow. There is an Infant Feeding Area located on the first floor near the gold elevators for nursing mothers. If you are looking for storage, there are lockers for small bags, backpacks, and coats. There is a Sensory Guide available to assist anyone with sensory processing needs so that they know what to expect at each exhibit. Some exhibits, like The Giant Heart and Electricity, are closing down in May 2024 due to a reimagining of the exhibits. They are expected to reopen in November 2024. 

Visit The Franklin Institute on their website, Facebook, and Instagram for more information.

Franklin Institute
222 N. 20th Street 
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Become an NJMOM Insider! For all the best things to do with your family around New Jersey, sign up for our weekly newsletter, delivered right to your inbox. Don’t forget to tag your photos #NJMOM and @njmom for a chance to be featured on our social media.


About Author

Melanie Bodner has always had a love for writing, but now she has a new love…being a mom. Before having her kids, Melanie was no stranger to writing or working with children. She wrote for a local newspaper as a reporter and taught English and Dance in a public school. Now Melanie enjoys spending time with her kids, doing yoga, writing and decorating her home. Check out her Instagram @burlapbythebeach.