Sail Philadelphia 2018 - Tall Ships Festival at Penn's Landing - Memorial Day Weekend - Your Guide!

Sail Philadelphia 2018 – or more colloquially, “the Tall Ships” – at Penn’s Landing, on the Delaware River Waterfront, featuring the Independence Seaport Museum, is one of the coolest events in which you, your friends, and family should participate, this Memorial Day weekend.  We have all the information and advice you need to make the most of it.

The official site is - and of course, they have very thorough information.  However, here at, we have advice as to how to prioritize your finite time – since odds are, you won’t have time to do everything!  After all, it begins with the Parade of Sail on Thursday, May 24, and runs through Memorial Day, Monday, May 28.  We also have toured a couple of the ships from previous visits, and we can tell you what that’s like, and how worthwhile it is.

If at all possible, and you have a flexible schedule, try to be there for the Parade of Sail – the fleet of ships all sail in on Thursday, May 24, at 3 PM, and it lasts till about 5 PM.  There is no corresponding Parade of Sail on Monday, as they will be leaving at staggered times.  And it’s free.  It’s breathtaking, seeing all of these beautiful sailing ships entering Penn’s Landing, as they would have done from the 17th to the 19th century at Philadelphia’s historic seaport.  If you can’t go, WPVI (Channel 6), will be televising it live, so record it on your DVR.

But even if you don’t catch the Parade of Sail, you still have lots of chances to join in on the fun.

Tall Ships / Sail Philadelphia 101 – Ship Tours, Ship Cruises, Musical Entertainment, Maritime Festival, Fireworks, Bars, and the Independence Seaport Museum

As the official site puts it, there are three ways of enjoying the Tall Ships, On Land, On Deck, Or On Water – and you can do all three, depending on how much time and money you have.

On Deck - Ship Tours

We absolutely recommend that you do at least one of these.  They are well worth the cost of admission – for any single ship, adults, $10; seniors and military, $8; children ages 12 – 3, $7; children 2 and under, free.  They are worth every penny.  We have taken the tours of the Gazela – Philadelphia’s hometown sailing ship – and the Kalmar Nyckel, the official sailing ship of the State of Delaware.

You will be taken back in time to the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries, depending upon the vintage of your vessel.  The crews are almost all volunteers, and are very passionate about sailing these ships, old-school, just like they did, back in the day.   They aren’t just replicas, these ships actually sail up and down the East Coast, just as their historical predecessors did.   Feel free to ask any questions, they will be more than eager to answer them.  Ask them about what it’s like sailing a centuries-old ship, daily life on the ship, any object that you see, etc.  They’ll be thrilled by the questions.

If you want to go all in on taking the tours, you can purchase Early Entry Tickets:
Adults: $65, Seniors/Military: $55, Children 12 – 3: $50, Children 2 & Under: Free.    They have two key perks – as VIPs, you can start taking tours at 11 AM, an hour before they open to the public, so you’ll have fewer people (and it won’t be as hot!)  You also then have the privilege of touring all the ships. throughout the festival, on any day.

A couple of tips on visiting antique sailing ships, from direct personal experience: wear comfortable clothes, especially shoes.  You’re going to be climbing up and down very tight passageways and chutes, up and down gangplanks, and it’s a lot easier when you’re dressed for comfort.  Also, if somebody has a nagging physical injury, be careful when you’re taking the tour.  Everything is packed in tight – remember, these vessels were designed for speed and utility, not the comfort of passengers or visitors, so be cognizant not to bang your head on the low ceilings, trip over coiled ropes, etc.

Ship Cruises – “Sail Away Cruises”

Taking a cruise is a great deal more expensive than the tour -

Day Sails are $90 per person and Twilight Sails are $125 per person. Each Sail Away ticket also includes admission to the Waterfront Festival and Independence Seaport Museum.   However, if you have the cash and the interest, by all means go for it.  The only thing cooler than taking the tour of a centuries-old sailing ship is actually sailing on it!  And it does include the tickets to the festival and the museum, so that saves you a few dollars.

On Land – the Waterfront Festival, Independence Seaport Museum, Fireworks, etc.

Aside from ship tours and cruises, there will be plenty of enjoyable activities to keep you busy on land.  The Waterfront Festival, as the official site puts it: “Live music, food vendors, beer gardens, and family-friendly programming all within an anchor’s throw of tall ships from U.S. and international ports. Tickets include same-day admission to the Independence Seaport Museum.”

Here are the Major Offerings at the Festival

Also, according to the official site, here’s what you’re getting from your Maritime Festival tickets (we resume our commentary and advice, at the end of what you see below):


Buy Festival-Only Tickets
Great Plaza Main Stage Performances
May 25 – 28, 2 – 7pm

Live music and family-friendly performances provide a full day, or weekend, of entertainment for Sail Philadelphia attendees. The main stage at the Great Plaza will feature musical acts including The Jolly Tars (maritime folk band), the Sea Dogs (maritime band & nautical performance group), Stella Ruze (indie folk band), the Beat Tells (Beatles tribute band), and Man About a Horse (a bluegrass quintet). Illusionist Ran’D Shine will also delight crowds with his unique brand of magical comedy. All shows and entertainment are included with same-day festival admission tickets.

Maritime Village Entertainment
May 25 – 28, 11 – 7pm

Jugglers, stilt walkers, and magicians will entertain festival-goers throughout the holiday weekend. Even the youngest crew members can enjoy face painting, carnival booth games, waterfront safety lessons from a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary group, and get a few seafaring pointers from SailTime Philadelphia.

Activities at Independence Seaport Museum
May 25 – 28, 11 – 5pm

Beat the heat and head indoors for educational and entertaining activities at the Independence Seaport Museum. Throughout the Sail Philadelphia festival, the museum will offer:

  • Hands-On Activities
  • Signal Flag Activity – create colorful signal flags and learn the meaning behind flags that ships use to communicate to each other.
  • Telescope Activity – make your own telescope using a cardboard paper tube to learn about instruments used at sea for navigation.
  • Moving Fish Activity – create a fun moving fish and learn about the Channel Catfish that lives in the Delaware River.
  • Cork Boat Activity – learn about the science behind buoyancy and why corks float by building a cork boat of your own.
  • Talk to the Curator – see artifacts from the museum collection and talk to Chief Curator Craig Bruns to learn more about all of the history that the museum holds.
  • Citizen Science Lab Activities
  • Aquatic Acidification – experiment and learn how changing pH affects life in the Delaware River and what can you do to help keep our waterways healthy.
  • Explosions – shake up your knowledge and burst with wisdom as you explore the effects of pressure, containment, and ignition that have led to some of the worst disasters at sea.
  • Classy Plankton – explore what’s happening in the busy microscopic world of plankton collected from the Delaware River.
  • Movie Screenings
    May 25 – 28, 1pm & 4pm
  • Enjoy maritime-themed movie magic as the Independence Seaport Museum holds daily screenings of “Finding Nemo” at 1pm and “Pirates of the Carribean” at 4pm.

The Sail Philadelphia celebration wouldn’t be complete without stellar food and beverage options. Guests can choose from a wide array of food vendors throughout the festival grounds including classic festival foods like ice cream, funnel cake, and cotton candy, along with snow crab legs and peel and eat shrimp from Chickie’s & Pete’s.

For sailors over the age of 21, there will be plenty of places to wet your whistle, including three beer gardens.

Deck at Independence Seaport Museum

Beginning Thursday, May 24 at 3pm a pop-up bar will open on the second-floor Deck at Independence Seaport Museum and offer brews and bites from 12th Street Catering. Deck at Independence Seaport Museum will be open daily during the festival until 11pm and will close at 7pm on Memorial Day.

Admirals Tavern

Admirals Tavern, also operated by the Independence Seaport Museum, opens for Sail Philadelphia guests at the Cruiser Olympia. Gather your crew for beer, cocktails, wine, and games aboard the oldest steel warship afloat in the world from 6 – 11pm, May 24 – 27.

Sail Philadelphia Beer Garden

At the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing, the Sail Philadelphia Beer Garden will serve local craft beer and seasonal cocktails from 11am – 7pm during the festival.

Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest
Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest is located at the North end of the Festival, and has food and beverage options at Chickie’s and Pete’s Waterfront Crabshack, Franklin Fountain Clubhouse Cabin, and The Bar at the Waterfront Crabshack.

Spruce Street Harbor Park Sustained by Univest
Spruce Street Harbor Park Sustained by Univest is located at the South end of the Festival, and features food offerings from local Philadelphia restauranteurs, including HipCityVeg, Chickie’s & Pete’s, Garces, Franklin Fountain, and Frozen Delights. Beer, wine, cocktails, and frozen drinks can be purchased from the barge oasis and the beer garden.

Now, It's Back to Our Advice To You!

All of this will be capped off by a spectacular fireworks show at 9 pm on Saturday.  Having seen many fireworks shows at Penn’s Landing, that would be very cool even under normal circumstances, but with a fleet of sailing ships at the seaport, it would be even more thrilling.  Don’t miss that!

So, How to Spend Your Time?

One important note – the Museum, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, is closing at 5 PM even when there are going to be hundreds of visitors on the waterfront.  But since it is, you may want to head there first.  Being inside also means that you escape the heat.  The festival music and entertainment lasts till 7 PM, in contrast, and the Spruce Street Harbor Park probably doesn’t close into well into the night.

However, please bear in mind that the Museum – as cool as it is – is permanent, whereas the Tall Ships festival is not, so try to emphasize visiting the festival entertainment, the ship tours, etc.  There’s so much cool stuff in the Museum that it could easily absorb your entire day, so you need to resist the temptation.

The Spruce Street Harbor Park is the latest iteration of an increasingly popular trend in Philadelphia- namely, temporary, pop-up beer gardens during a festival.  We’ve been to them before and they are really cool, and well worth experiencing. 

Our advice – focus your time on opportunities that you can’t do at other times or other places.  So focus on the ships, the ships, the ships.

Don’t Try To Drive Directly to Penn’s Landing – It Will Be Very Difficult to Find Parking and It Will Be Expensive and Time Consuming

You have two other good options – either driving to Center City, parking there, and proceeding to Penn’s Landing, or eschewing the car completely, and taking SEPTA both ways.  We explore both ideas here.

Driving to Center City And Parking There

Due to it being Memorial Day weekend, there will be plenty of parking options in Center City.  You might be able to park on the street, but that would require having to go back and feed the meter, and miss part of the festival.  We’d recommend a commercial lot, preferable one as close to Penn’s Landing as possible, that offers a flat discount rate.

Depending on how far away you are from Penn’s Landing, you can follow the instructions below on how to take SEPTA over to it, or you can walk or take a cab.  (The advice is identical, to what you see below.)

One Option is Not Driving At All – SEPTA Will Provide Easy Access With Multiple Options

How to Get to Penn’s Landing From Center City via Regional Rail, if you’re coming in from the Suburbs Or the City Outskirts Or from Out of Town

Drive to a Regional Rail Station near you, and park there.  With the holiday weekend, you should be able to park at your station easily.  The closest Regional Rail Station is Market East Station, located at 11th and Market Streets - which is now renamed, officially, Jefferson Station.  (Don’t get confused by this, they’re the same place.  Also, Philadelphians are never likely to get used to calling it “Jefferson Station”, they’re probably going to continue calling it Market East.

Once there, you can take the Market-Frankford Line – the “el”, in Philadelphia parlance, eastbound to Penn’s Landing.  The way to do that is by getting on the El at its 11th Street stop, make sure you’re heading eastbound, and getting off at 2nd and Market Streets.  (Be alert, as there are only three stops from 11th to 2nd Street, you’ll only be on it for about two minutes).  From there, it’s an easy walk to Penn’s Landing.  You could also cab it, which is more expensive, but will be faster, and if you’re going in a group, the expense would be about the same as everyone getting on the el.

Also, be advised that “SEPTA tokens” – the tried-and-true, historical method of taking SEPTA buses, the subway, the el, and trolleys – have finally been supplanted with farecards.  Now what you do is purchase a fare card, which you can do at a kiosk for that purpose.  You put whatever money you want onto it, and use that for your fare.

We’d recommend the SEPTA DayPass, which you can buy on board your train, and which makes the el free, as it’s included with your round-trip train ticket.  It also saves time because then you don’t need a fare card.

If you’re coming from a different part of the city, and don’t’ need to use Regional Rail, you probably already know how to get to the el from the subway, trolleys, and buses.  The main point is to wind up at 2nd and Market Streets.