Philadelphia boasts more than 3,000 murals—more than any other city in the entire world. The colorful, larger-than-life artworks brighten schools, community centers, businesses, and homes from Center City and the Avenue of the Arts to outlying neighborhoods that most tourists and even some residents rarely see. Especially in parts of the city where urban blight is at its worst, the murals bring beauty and a sense of community pride to neighborhoods that need it most, and the Mural Tours provide visitors with an interesting and safe way to explore these areas.
The Mural Arts Program traces its roots to the mid-1980s, when the city was plastered with graffiti. Muralist and community activist Jane Golden was hired to redirect the energies of graffitists into mural painting. She still runs the program, which has not only alleviated much of the graffiti problem but also empowered young artists and contributed to neighborhood revitalization in many parts of the city. Professional artists are hired to work closely with residents to create murals that tell the stories of the spaces they inhabit.
While the magnificent works of art speak for themselves, a guided tour is the best way to experience them. The Mural Arts Program (215/925-3633) offers trolley tours ($30 adult, $28 senior, $20 child 12 and under) of various sections of the city on Saturdays and Sundays in May and September-November, and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday June-August. They begin at 10am and last 1.5-2 hours. The Mural Mile Walk ($20 pp), offered Saturday and Sunday September-August at 11am, covers two miles and 15 murals in Center City. If the guided tour is sold out, you can rent an MP3 player and headphones for a self-guided version ($10). All tours depart from Mural Arts at the Gallery at 901 Market Street, rain or shine. Reservations are strongly recommended. Bike tours ($25 pp) are offered on occasion. One new, unique tour option is known as Love Letter ($20 pp) and features 50 rooftop murals designed by famous graffiti artist, Stephen Powers (aka ESPO). Participants take in the artworks from SEPTA’s elevated train and several platforms. The tour departs at 10:30am on Saturday and at 1pm on Sunday April-December.
Be sure to check the website for a full schedule of tours and special events, as the Mural Arts Program is always expanding to offer more murals and more ways to experience them.