12 Family Friendly Tips for Visiting the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia

National Constitution Center

Today was our first visit to the National Constitution Center. It’s been on my list of things to do and I’m glad an opportunity came up that encouraged me to go. If your child has disabilities, I’m sure I experience the same anxieties in these situations that you’ve experienced.

You’re worried about parking, how far to walk, food, noise, lights, crowds, bathrooms and so many other things. So no more worries–I’m sharing everything I’ve learned after many trips to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

national constitution center

Kevin is ambulatory, but does use a wheelchair. He doesn’t have great endurance for walking all day. It helps him if he’s fatigued, and it definitely serves as his comfort zone when he gets stressed.

Right now we have a convaid, for those of you familiar with that brand of wheelchair. It fit everywhere we needed to go.

National Constitution Center-Parking

So starting out with parking, this is where I dropped the ball. I knew where the NCC was, but the first time I went, I didn’t plan out where I was going to park.

And I didn’t look it up online beforehand–my fault. I did find a nice spot, just a block away, and it was for handicapped only, on-street parking.

Problem was, you still had to pay a kiosk. That’s not a big deal but it had a 2-hour limit. So midway through our visit, I had to run out and pay again.

I later realized that there is ample parking, and presumably ample accessible parking, right underneath the building.

Our spot was right next to Ben Franklin’s tomb and the US Mint, so not all was lost.

 two boys at the constitution center
My guys enjoying running around on the grass in front of the Constitution Center.

National Constitution Center-Accessibility

It’s a newer facility, so everything is wide doorways and button openers, which is nice. The main lobby/vestibule area is wide open. It’s a bit noisy and the sounds echo. In the lobby, they had kids activities set up, crafts and stuff.

We enjoyed this. My son still requires hand-over-hand for most things like this, but I always welcome the opportunity to do so in a setting that isn’t so forced.

They also had some candle-making which the older kids seemed to be enjoying.

My younger son looking out the window; you can see Independence Hall in the background.
My younger son looking out the window; you can see Independence Hall in the background.

National Constitution Center-Sensory

The special exhibits are usually on the lower level and it’s in the back. This was a nice┬áchange from the lobby. The lights are dimmed and there’s virtually no talking because they offer iPod narrated tours. I decided against that, and just read the signs with the displays.

But it had a very calming effect on K after the hustle and bustle of the city and the lobby. He was very content in the stroller and my other son actually enjoyed the exhibits. There are guns, cannons, replicas of horses and all sorts of interesting things.

After that, we went upstairs and walked around a bit. It’s bright, airy, and again the sounds echo. K really wasn’t bothered by it though. They both liked running around in the open space and looking out the windows.

I did not stay for the main part of the NCC, or for any of the shows. I know that I really didn’t use my visit to its full potential, but we had to get back for an OT appointment. This article was written in 2012, and we have been back many, many times since then, it is not to be missed if you’re in Philly!

National Constitution Center-Food

The cafeteria appeared to have choices that you would expect for a lunch menu. They allow you to bring food in. At least, they checked my bags (for security) when I went in and didn’t say anything about me bringing in a lunchbox.

There is an outdoor patio upstairs if you choose to eat out there. We ate out front, in the grassy area in the shade.

We walked around the Independence Mall area after we ate. I found the whole area to be pretty accessible. Every curb/corner had an entry, sidewalks are wide and so on. The restrooms were clean, had wide doorways, wide stalls and an area for baby-changing.

There are benches throughout the building if you need to rest. There also are nooks and corners and little places to get away, should you need a few minutes to regroup.

There are two sets of elevators. I found that the doors didn’t stay open very long and we missed it the first try.

Restaurants Near the National Constitution Center

I don’t live in the city, but visit often enough that I can kinda sorta call myself a local. I live 30 miles away, so actual city residents may not agree.

But when you’re at the NCC, you’re in the historic area known as Old City. You’re also very close to center city, Chinatown and Penn’s Landing. There are just too many restaurants to name. And too many prices ranges and cuisines.

You can find just about anything to eat in these areas.

National Constitution Center-Review

All in all, it was a very stress-free place to visit. I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again. I wouldn’t expect any unforeseen disasters. If your child has a lot of trouble processing lots of visuals with competing sounds, I would keep them out of the main exhibit area of the NCC.

But there are plenty of benches around and other things to do, so you & a spouse could take turns going in to see it because it is definitely worth seeing.

I was a bit reluctant to go because I thought that the content might be a bit too mature for my kids, and yeah, overall, it is. I mean, my 2-year-old couldn’t even say Constitution Center (though hubby and I laughed as he tried!). Let alone learn what it’s all about.

But they enjoyed the mascots, the displays, the dioramas and just the fun of the hustle and bustle of being in the city. And hopefully, it will give them a reference point for the future, for when they visit with their schools and can comprehend the material.

This was written several years ago. We have been back several times since then and enjoy it more each time. I highly recommend this attraction. This post is periodically updated to check its accuracy.

Also read: 50 Sensory Friendly Attractions in Philadelphia

a toddler doing arts and crafts at the national constitution center
My little guy working on his craft project.
two boys at the springsteen exhibit national constitution center
Their first “Disability Pride Day” which I presented to them as a fun day in the city–which it was!

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