Things to Do in Philly When You're Broke

Recently, a number of companies have started requiring their employees to take “furlough days,” days off from work that—unlike vacation days—aren’t paid.

While the news is welcomed by some (Time to catch up on errands and sleep in!), in this economy especially, we have a hard time rationalizing a day of spending money when, well, you’re not making any.

So we’ve done you a favor, and compiled a list of fun—and, more importantly, free—ways to spend your unpaid days off. You can thank us later.

Let’s start at Elfreth’s Alley. The pint-sized Old City street is often overlooked—probably, well, because it’s really, really small. Despite its size, the single block just off 2nd Street is actually the oldest continually inhabited residential street in the country. While there are guided museum tours on the Alley that do cost money, the Elfreth’s Alley Association also offers free cell-phone-guided tours. Simply trek down to Old City and, once you’ve arrived, dial 585.627.4152. Then choose the tour theme of your choice. 

Okay, this writer’s going to admit something you must promise not to hold against her: It took her 22 years to actually see the Liberty Bell in person—even though she’s lived here all her life. Don’t fall victim to this trap of complacency! It’s 100 percent free to take a tour of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, and explore the surrounding area. Even if you think you know all the history and have heard all the stories about these two icons of history, there’s still a thing or two (or three or four) you can learn.

If history isn’t your thing, maybe architecture is. The Kimmel Center, Avenue of the Arts’ gorgeous performing-arts complex, offers free guided hour-long tours that highlight its architecture and history. The tours run six days a week at 1 p.m. To register or get more information, simply stop by the Kimmel’s info desk (the building opens daily at 10 a.m.) or call 215.790.5830.

Speaking of the Kimmel Center, the building frequently hosts free, open-to-the-public performances. In the coming weeks, for example, you can check out a jazz ensemble performance, a tap-dance competition and a talk on the life and work of Stephen Sondheim—all free of charge. Just stop by the Kimmel’s Website to check out a list of upcoming events.

Also on the free performance front: WXPN’s Friday Free at Noon concert series at World Cafe Live. Every week, the local radio station hosts a live concert by a performer who’s currently getting airplay. Recently, they’ve welcomed Dr. Dog, Adele, the Annuals and Richard Shindell to perform for fans who just had to register in advance and show up. We recommend keeping an eye on XPN’s site for a date that fits your schedule and artist that you’d enjoy.

Artsy types who prefer visual art to music aren’t out of luck. Yes, the Philadelphia Museum of Art charges $14 admission—six days per week. Entry is free on Sundays. Check out the Museum’s modern art collection to admire the work of Picasso, Matisse and O’Keeffe, or admire Mannerist and Baroque masterpieces that date back to the 1500s.

We can’t imagine the museum wouldn’t satisfy your craving for fine art, but just in case: Philly’s burgeoning gallery district in Old City certainly will. Take a stroll down 2nd and 3rd streets between Market and Race, and pop into galleries like the Clay Studio’s, which features work of some of the top ceramic artists in the world. Be warned: You’ll probably be tempted to open up your wallet. The work’s just that good.

Time your trip to Old City right, and you can stop by Foster’s Homeware for the store’s free weekly cooking demonstrations, which are performed by chefs from some of Philly’s hottest restaurants (think Supper, Distrito and Paradiso). The demos are held Saturdays at 2 p.m. For a schedule of upcoming guest chefs, click here.

True to its name, the Free Library of Philadelphia frequently hosts fun, free events at many of its branches. In recent weeks, they’ve hosted everything from talks with famous authors and book clubs, to jewelry-making and teen writing workshops. Most are free. For more information—and a complete, interactive calendar of events—check out the Library’s Website.

Of course, by now you’re thinking: But NBC! I have to eat! And eating for free is, well, kind of tricky.

We recommend you stop by either of Whole Foods’ city locations (there’s one on South Street and one in the Fairmount neighborhood) to fill up on the plethora of samples they often have available. On a recent visit, we tried a fresh salad with grapes and blue cheese, a slice of pie, a couple cheddar cheese cubes, chips with hummus, and a bite-sized brownie. More than enough to keep us satisfied ‘til dinnertime.

Or, if you’re just looking for a snack to hold you over, you might want to stop by Center City’s DiBruno Bros. market, which frequently has samples of crackers, meats and cheeses for anyone to sample. Or, if you’re craving something sweet, Capogiro (which has a location just around the corner) might be a good option. If you’ve ever been to the decadent gelateria, you know they’re great for one thing in particular: free samples. But hey—you didn’t hear it from us…

Think of anything we missed? Help out your fellow Philadelphians during these tough times, and leave it in a comment below!

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