In this Philadelphia CityPASS review, I’ll break down how the pass works, what it costs, and whether it’s the right choice for you.

Philadelphia may not always come to mind as a top U.S. destination, but it has a surprising amount to offer.

The site of many important events related to the American Revolution, Philadelphia has a particularly rich history and innumerable stories to tell. It’s home to some of the country’s best museums, including what some consider to be the world’s first penitentiary.

While Philly is a relatively cheap place to travel and is teeming free things to do, most of its world-class museums and historic sites are not on the list. To visit those, you’ll have to shell out some hard-earned cash.

Luckily, the Philadelphia CityPASS can help you cut back on sightseeing costs. Let’s take a look and see if it’s a smart buy for you.

Philadelphia CityPASS: How it Works Philadelphia CityPass Logo

The Philadelphia CityPASS is a choose-as-you-go sightseeing pass that can save you up to 44% on admission to Philadelphia’s top attractions.

The pass includes single entry to 3, 4, or 5 attractions from a lineup of 12. These passes are called C3, C4, and C5, respectively. You don’t choose your attractions in advance, though, just the number you want access to.

So, how does it work? If you’re familiar with the Seattle CityPass or the Atlanta CityPass, you already know the answer.

Just buy the Philadelphia CityPass online and either print a copy or keep a copy on your smartphone. From that point on, you don’t need to buy any additional tickets or pay any extra fees. When you’re ready to hit your first attraction (which can be any of the 12), you just go to the ticket counter, present your pass to be scanned, and head on in.

Your Philadelphia CityPASS is activated when it’s scanned for the first time. After that, it’s valid for 9 consecutive days, giving you plenty of time to get your sightseeing in.

That’s super-convenient, but how do you save money with the Philadelphia CityPASS? It’s simple: You pay one set fee for the pass. The name of the game is to choose your attractions strategically, so their total regular admission price is greater than the price of the pass. Any difference is money in your pocket!

Top Attractions Included on the Philadelphia CityPASS

The Philadelphia CityPASS includes 12 of the city’s most popular attractions listed below with their regular adult admission prices:

  • Big Bus Company and Philadelphia Trolley Works – $35
  • Adventure Aquarium – $31.98
  • Museum of the American Revolution – $25
  • Barnes Foundation – $25
  • Philadelphia Zoo – $24
  • The Franklin Institute – $23
  • Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial – $21.95
  • Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University – $21.95
  • Please Touch Museum® – $19
  • Eastern State Penitentiary – $16
  • One Liberty Observation Deck – $15
  • National Constitution Center – $14.50

*Current as of October 2nd, 2019

How Much Does the Philadelphia CityPASS Cost?

Before you can decide if the Philadelphia CityPASS is a good deal, you need to know how much it costs. Here you go:

PassesAdult (ages 13+)Child (ages 3-12)
C3$52$41
C4$68$49
C5$79$59
*Current as of September 3, 2019

Ok, so let’s crunch some numbers and see what kind of deal you’re getting.

The C5 pass is the best value but not by much. At $79, you’d pay an average of $15.80 per attraction, compared to $17 for the C4, and $17.33 for the C3.

So, if you buy the C5 pass for $79, you get the absolute best value for your money by choosing the 5 most expensive attractions. Looking at the list above, you see those are:

  • Big Bus Company and Philadelphia Trolley Works – $35
  • Adventure Aquarium – $31.98
  • Museum of the American Revolution – $25
  • Barnes Foundation – $25
  • Philadelphia Zoo – $24

If you visited those attractions without a pass and paid the gate admission, it would cost $140.98. That means the Philadelphia CityPASS would save you $61.98, which is 44%. Not too shabby at all.

Keep in mind, this is only if you chose the five most expensive attractions. If you deviate from that, your savings will be lower. For example, if you choose the five least expensive attractions, you’ll only save $7.45, or 5%. That’s not quite as exciting!

This is especially important with the C3 and C4 passes – if you choose the least expensive attractions, you’ll actually end up paying more money to get the pass than paying gate admission. So, be sure to determine how many sites (and which ones) you’ll visit to see if the pass makes sense for you.

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Top Reasons to Get the Philadelphia CityPASS

Philadelphia CityPASS Review - picture of inside Eastern State Penitentiary

Save Money on Admission

Sightseeing passes have several benefits, but like the best travel rewards cards, the most important benefit is the money they help you save. The Philadelphia CityPASS can save you up to 44% on admission to the city’s top attractions. If you’re confident you’ll visit 5 attractions during your trip, you have nothing to lose by buying the corresponding pass. With the 3 and 4 day passes you pretty much have to visit the most expensive sites to get value.

Big Bus Company and Philadelphia Trolley Works

The Philadelphia CityPASS includes 1-day unlimited access to daytime double-decker bus and trolley tours. Tours have 27 stops around the city, including a bunch of attractions on the pass plus other key landmarks. It’s a hop-on, hop-off situation, and you can hop as often as you like.

The buses and trolleys give you a lift from one adventure to the next, but there’s a tour component that shouldn’t be overlooked. Grab a seat on an open-top double-decker bus and take in Philadelphia’s sites while a tour guide illuminates the city’s rich history. These kinds of bus tours are always a fun way to see the sites and learn about a new city while getting to sit back and relax.

Not for nothing, the bus and trolley tour is the most expensive option on the Philadelphia CityPASS, so choosing it is a smart move if you’re looking to maximize your savings.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Every American sightseeing pass seems to have a bus tour, an aquarium, and at least a few museums. Those things are awesome, and you should totally check them out. But the Philadelphia CityPASS has something unique.

Eastern State Penitentiary, touted as America’s most historic prison, is a haunting (haunted?) relic that should not be missed. Closed since 1971, the now-abandoned cells housed infamous criminals like Al Capone. Take a self-guided tour (with audio voiced by Steve Buscemi) complete with hands-on experiences to travel back in time and catch a glimpse into life as a prisoner.

Anyone interested in true crime, history, or creepy buildings will love this attraction. There’s a scavenger hunt for kids, too. Ask for the free Eastern State Challenge booklet for details.

Convenience

The Philadelphia CityPASS is more convenient than buying admission tickets individually for two reasons.

For one thing, it’s just easier. You have one item to keep track of, and if you go electronic, all you really need to have is your smartphone. And let’s face it, most people have that with them at all times.

The other nice feature is fast-track entry. At Adventure Aquarium and Eastern State Penitentiary, you get to skip the main ticketing line and get in faster. This saves precious time and allows you to fit more fun into your day.

Other Benefits of the Philadelphia CityPASS

  • Valid for Nine Days – The Philadelphia CityPASS is valid for nine days, meaning you have tons of time to visit your attractions of choice. Unlike an all-inclusive sightseeing pass, there’s no pressure to fit a certain number of activities into a day. This means you can be flexible with your plans and change them according to the weather or your whimsy.
  • Mobile Pass – People who are trying to go green or simply want fewer things to carry will love the convenience of having a mobile pass on their smartphones. No need for a printer, paper, or to keep track of anything. Just grab your phone and go. But don’t worry if you’re not a smartphone user – you can still print a copy if that’s your preference.

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Where the Philadelphia CityPASS Falls Short

The Philadelphia CityPASS has quite a bit going for it. However, the pass isn’t perfect, and there are a couple of drawbacks worth mentioning.

First of all, it’s a bit limited. There are only twelve attractions to choose from and the most you can choose is five. So, it’s far from being comprehensive. It offers a good cross-section of what’s available in Philly, but due to its small size, it leaves out a few biggies. Notable omissions include The Philadelphia Museum of Art and City Hall.

There also aren’t many tours included on the pass, since it’s mostly museums. The bus and trolley tours are excellent, but I’d like to see an additional tour – perhaps of City Hall. Adding a few extra options to the pass and offering a choice of 15 instead of 12 could really round things out.

The other thing worth noting is that the potential savings aren’t as robust as what you get with an all-inclusive sightseeing pass like the New York Pass. As I demonstrated above, the most you can save is 44%, and that’s when you buy the C5 pass and choose the 5 most expensive attractions. That lineup includes the aquarium and the zoo, which may be more wildlife than some people want to see.

Don’t get me wrong, 44% is nothing to sneeze at, but don’t expect enormous savings, especially if you don’t choose the more expensive options or don’t want 2 of your attractions to be wildlife-based. Also be careful with the C3 and C4 passes, as they can actually cost you more money than buying tickets at the gate. Choose wisely.

Who Should Consider the Philadelphia CityPASS?

Philadelphia CityPASS Review - picture of Franklin Institute

First-time Visitors – If it’s your first time visiting Philly, you’ll want to check out some of the main attractions. The One Liberty Observation Deck, the bus and trolley tour, and Eastern State Penitentiary are probably on your list, along with some great museums. It’ll be easy to get value from the Philadelphia CityPASS – choosing just five things to see might be a challenge, though!

Museum Lovers – Philadelphia is home to some world-class museums, and the pass includes a few of them. In fact, museums make up most of the options on the pass. I should mention again, though, that the Philadelphia Museum of Art is not included. That’s unfortunate considering admission is pricey at $20.

Families – The cost of sightseeing is multiplied when you’re traveling as a family, but so are the savings you can realize with the Philadelphia CityPASS. The zoo, aquarium, bus tour, and most the museums are kid-friendly, so it’s easy to find activities the whole family will enjoy.

Sightseers Interested in a Few Attractions – If you’re only interested in checking out three to five attractions, because that’s your style or because you’re on a brief trip, the Philadelphia CityPASS fits the bill if you’re interested in the expensive options.

Travelers Who Like to Take Their Time – Because the Philadelphia CityPASS is valid for nine days, travelers who enjoy a relaxed pace can spread out their sightseeing with no repercussions.

Who Should Skip the Philadelphia CityPASS?

Travelers Seeking Free Activities – When discussing who should skip a pass, I always mention travelers on very tight budgets because it always applies. Passes can save you a significant amount of money, but sticking to free activities can save you even more. While I consider some of the options on the Philadelphia CityPASS must-see, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Philadelphia has many fantastic things to see and do for free. Touring Independence Hall, perusing Reading Terminal Market, scouting Boathouse Rowe, and getting a pic with the Liberty Bell should all be on your list…and they don’t cost a cent.

Power Sightseers – People who want to do as much sightseeing as possible won’t love the Philadelphia CityPASS. It’s better suited to someone who wants to see some of the highlights but isn’t on a sightseeing mission. If you’re embarking upon such a mission, you need an all-inclusive pass like the Go Philadelphia Pass.

Those Interested in the Lowest Priced Attractions – If the lowest priced attractions on this list are your top picks and you’re only considering the 3 or 4 attraction passes, you might skip this pass. You could end up paying more than admission price.

Tips for Using the Philadelphia CityPASS

  • Use Up All Your Attractions – The number one rule for getting value from the Philadelphia CityPASS is to make sure you use the attractions you buy. If you don’t, you could lose money on your purchase.
  • Choose the Most Expensive Attractions – Especially for the C3 and C4 passes, you’ll have to include the most expensive attractions to save money. It’s easier with the C5 pass but only if you’ll visit at least 5 of the attractions included. To save the advertised 44%, you need to buy the C5 pass and choose the 5 most expensive attractions. If some of those 5 don’t appeal to you, run the numbers to see if the pass makes sense for your plans.
  • Buy the Pass on Sale – This tip applies to any sightseeing pass but especially for this one: Keep your eyes open for online sales. Signing up for the promotional emails is an easy way to stay in the know and nab a pass on sale, super-charging your savings and making the C3 and C4 passes much more attractive. It’s common to see sales of 15% or more.

How to Buy the Philadelphia CityPASS

There’s just one way to buy the Philadelphia CityPASS – online.

Unlike some other passes, you can’t buy this one at any of the attractions. That doesn’t matter, though, because you can buy it online in a few minutes from anywhere. If you’re ready to buy now, you can grab it here.

As soon as you complete your online purchase, you’ll get an email with two options – a printable ticket or a mobile ticket. Whichever one you choose, that ticket is your pass. When you head to an attraction, show them your printed paper pass or your digital pass on your smartphone. That’s all there is to it. Just be sure not to lose it.

The Philadelphia CityPASS expires one year after purchase, so feel free to buy it advance as long as you activate it within a year.

Bottom Line: Is the Philadelphia CityPASS a Good Buy?

The Philadelphia CityPASS is a good buy as long as you use all the attractions purchased and aim for the most expensive.

As I mentioned, if you choose the least expensive attractions, you could actually lose money on the C3 and C4 passes. Even with the C5 pass, it’s just a few dollars when you choose these. Hey, money is money, but it’s not exactly exciting. By choosing the most expensive options, you can save up to $62. That’s more like it.

What you need to consider is whether the Philadelphia CityPASS the right buy for your sightseeing needs. It’s best-suited to people who want to see a few of the main sites and the most expensive attractions on the pass. People who want to jam as many sites as possible into their visit won’t be satisfied by the limited options and are better off seeking an all-inclusive pass.

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Philadelphia CityPASS Review Pin - pictures of Independence Hall, Eastern State Penitentiary, and Franklin Institute