A Conservatory and Botanical Gardens may not always the first thing you think of when looking for things to do with kids. Just one visit to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, however, and you’ll quickly see why it’s one of the best things to do in Pittsburgh with kids. From the bright and beautiful flowers to the displays and activities geared specifically toward children, it’s the perfect indoor and outdoor oasis to take your children. Keep reading below for our 7 tips for visiting Phipps Conservatory with kids.
Note: Phipps is currently operating on a timed ticket schedule to manage crowds, and advanced ticket purchase is encouraged. Many children’s programs at Phipps are also currently being offered virtually due to the pandemic. Be sure to check the website for up to date information on displays and events.
Leave Ample Time for the Gallery Room and Play Farmer’s Market
The Gallery Room is space is specifically dedicated to the youngest visitors at Phipps Conservatory. The Phipps Produce Market located within this room has a huge selection of play food, complete with mini shopping carts and checkout counters that kids love. There’s also an adorable play kitchen that includes a stove, refrigerator and table for kids to pretend to make food with the produce they “purchase.” On Mondays and periodically throughout the week, there are also make and take crafts available with a theme for the day. You’ll quickly find that your kids won’t want to leave!
The Produce Market also aims to model healthy eating habits as part of Let’s Move Pittsburgh, a collaborative program under Phipps.
Visit a Few Times Throughout the Year to Catch the Special Displays
While Phipps is amazing all year round, the Holiday and Spring shows in particular are two that shouldn’t be missed. The Holiday Show at Phipps is magical, with many Christmas themed decorations throughout as well as a light show in the evenings. The train, available in the fall and winter, is definitely a highlight at that time of year Last year, Phipps introduced a new train display in the South Conservatory. It perfectly captures the history of Pittsburgh and Phipps, and it truly is one of the best things to do for Christmas in Pittsburgh.
If you’re able to catch the holiday light show, the winter garden at Phipps at night shouldn’t be missed. The entire outdoor area is filled with colorful lights and a beautiful path to walk through them. You can also find Santa on certain family fun evenings at Phipps.
The Spring Flower Show at Phipps is beautiful, with the brightly colored flowers and displays. It’s a great way to welcome the changing season and beautiful flowers that spring is known for. Phipps typically has a themed show in the summer and fall as well. In 2021, the Summer Flower Show at Phipps is the “Hidden Life of Trolls.” The displays look super fun and interactive and capture the magic of Trolls.
The Butterfly Forest is another family favorite that runs from April to September each year. This huge assortment of butterflies can be found in the Stove Room.
Explore the Children’s Discovery Garden in the Warmer Months
The Discovery Children’s Garden at Phipps offers so many fun and interactive features for kids. While this sensory garden is technically accessible throughout the year, the best time to explore it is in the summer when children can fully enjoy the garden’s features. Many of the flowers and other plants are specifically selected to attract birds and bees, making it fun for kids to seek out the insects and wildlife as well. In addition to the beautiful plants throughout, our son’s favorite things about the Children’s Discovery Garden at Phipps include:
- Making music with the percussion instruments.
- Playing with the water fountains and running over the water feature (including a handful of watering pails available to play with.)
- Playing around the playhouse and following the path behind it to find a fairy garden.
- Climbing around the giant tree stump (pictured below.)
Find the Wildlife Throughout the Conservatory
There are a few spots in Phipps for kids to see fish and other marine life. The fish tank in the Tropical Rainforest is pretty big with a large glass display that makes it perfect for little ones’ viewing. The Orchid Room has a small pond as well, and if you’re outside you can find fish in the Japanese Courtyard Garden. The Lagoon, located within the Center for Sustainable Landscapes Environs, contains turtles and fish. Birds can also be found throughout the Conservatory, and my son loves looking for them among the flowers.
Get a picture at the Cuban Car in the Tropical Rainforest
The entrance to the Tropical Rainforest section of Phipps has a real antique car in the style and era that Cuba is known for. It’s the perfect spot to open the door and get a quick photo with the Latin music playing in the background to feel like you’re really there. Throughout the rainforest display, there are also little huts for kids (and adults) to learn more about what it’s like to live in the rainforest first-hand.
Participate in one of several Discovery Programs offered for kids at Phipps
Throughout the week, Phipps Botanical Gardens and Conservatory offers Discovery Programs for children that are included with admission. Weekly programs offered at Phipps include:
- Make-A-Craft Mondays from 10:30am-12pm
- Story Time Wednesdays at 10:30am and 1pm (one of a few unique story times in Pittsburgh)
- Plant-A-Pot Fridays from 10:30am-12pm
There are several “discovery stations” offered sporadically throughout Phipps that include activities with corresponding books. On a prior trip to Phipps Conservatory, my son had a blast making daffodils with paper, beads and pipe cleaners for his Grandma and I in the Gallery Room.
Additional Programs at Phipps
In addition to the daily and weekly activities that are included with admission to Phipps, there are several other programs available for families, including:
- Camps for kids, starting at age 2. There are several different camps available, with themes varying from growing a veggie garden to learning about bugs to research and farm-to-table concepts. All programs incorporate science and natures in a fun and hands on way. The camps at Phipps also incorporate nutrition and healthy eating habits under Let’s Move Pittsburgh, with a healthy lunch offered during each camp day. For more information, check out Phipps’ summer camps here.
- Cooking classes offered in the beautiful Botany Kitchen. These cooking classes include family cooking classes that target ages 3+ and kids’ night out cooking classes for kids ages 4-10.
- Let’s Move Pittsburgh also offers monthly free yoga at Phipps during the warmer months. More information on events through Let’s Move Pittsburgh can be found on their Facebook Page here.
Don’t Leave Phipps Without Making a Wish
Did you know that Phipps has an official wishing well? While visitors are discouraged from throwing coins in the other points to protect the flora and fauna, this spot is aimed for making a wish with your coins. Head to the Broderie Room to find it and make your wish!
Know Before You Go- Additional Tips for Visiting Phipps with Kids
- Phipps Botanical Gardens and Conservatory is located at One Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, PA
- Phipps is open daily from 9:30am-5pm, with the exception of Fridays when it’s open from 9:30am-10pm
- Try to arrive at Phipps right when they open to score a free parking spot in the center island across the street on Schenley Drive
- Children under 2 are free; admission is discounted for children 2-18
- Phipps has a Cafe with really good, fresh food and a kids’ menu with healthy options
- Phipps is stroller friendly and accessible in most areas of the conservatory
- Backpacks are prohibited at Phipps (something to keep in mind if you typically carry one for your diaper bag!)
- For more information on visiting Phipps, see the website here
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