Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens: Are They Worth Visiting?

Pathway in the Magic Gardens

Philly’s Magic Gardens are one of the most-visited places in the city, featuring eclectic and impressive mosaics made from discarded items—all in labyrinth-like structure.

Since entry is $15 for adults, you may be wondering whether it’s worth visiting, especially since you can see several similar mosaics for free in the surrounding neighborhood (more info about those at the end of this post!). 

Here’s my take as a travel blogger who finally visited the Magic Gardens on my third trip to Philadelphia.

History of the Magic Gardens

In the 1960s, Isaiah Zagar and his wife Julia started purchasing and renovating dilapidated buildings in the South Street neighborhood, where the Magic Gardens are located. Isaiah would often add mosaics to these buildings, including their exterior walls.

What would later become the Magic Gardens began in 1994, in the vacant lot near Zagar’s studio. Over the next fourteen years, he created the intricate mosaic garden, digging tunnels and tiling the walls with discarded materials such as plates, bottles, and bike wheels. His mosaics were inspired by his wife and sons, but also world communities and events, like the Day of the Dead and the Philly dance community.

Mosaics and discarded objects at the Magic Gardens

In 2002, the landlord of the lot decided to sell the land, so the local community came together to support Zagar. His art environment became a nonprofit organization, now known as Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, so that it would be preserved. 

Today, the Magic Gardens welcome countless visitors and are home to workshops, concerts, and other public events. 

How Much Do Tickets to the Magic Gardens Cost?

Currently, you must reserve tickets online for a specific timeslot, and you should do so in advance on weekends and holidays since they often sell out. Tickets cost:

  • $15 for adults
  • $12 for students with ID and seniors
  • $8 for kids 6-12
  • Free for kids 5 and under

Membership for a single person costs $35 for one year and $25 for students, educators, and miltary members. There are also family and dual memberships.

The Magic Gardens are open Wednesday-Monday from 11am-6pm (closed on Tuesday). Visitors are encouraged to wear a mask in the indoor galleries, but they’re fully optional in the outdoor spaces. 

Tunnel in the Magic Gardens

Are the Magic Gardens Worth Visiting?

Since the Magic Gardens are a pretty touristy and highly-instagrammed spot, you may be wondering whether the gardens are overrated or actually worth visiting.

The short answer: yes, they’re worth visiting.

The Magic Gardens are not a large space, but there are so many details and Easter eggs in the mosaics. You could easily spend hours just looking at the notes, poems, or doodles on the tiles, or chuckling at the little, random objects placed in the gardens. (Just as a heads up, some of the notes and doodles are suggestive/more PG-13).

If you like photography or getting a great shot for Instagram, there are plenty of photo ops. Just be mindful of the other guests, as some of the prettiest spots happen to be stairways or archways that others need to pass through. 

The indoor galleries give you some more background on the Magic Gardens and Isaiah Zagar, and they feature even more mosaics. In fact, even the bathrooms are fully mosaicked!

Bathroom of the Magic Gardens

My brother and I spent around half an hour wandering the tunnels and pathways, and we could’ve easily spent more time there. I would even pay to go back. We’d already spent about an hour walking around the neighborhood and viewing the public mosaics, so that’s why our visit to the actual Magic Gardens was shorter.

Where to See the Mosaics for Free

If $15 doesn’t seem worth it to you, you’re still able to view many of Zagar’s mosaics for free in the surrounding area. We stumbled upon these on accident, as we arrived to the Magic Gardens an hour before opening and went on a walk to pass the time. 

Zagar’s public mosaics can be found on many streets, but the streets with the most extensive artwork are S Schell St. (pictured below) and S Alder St at the intersection of South Street (the street where the Magic Gardens are located). If you wander around in the neighborhood, you’ll likely stumble upon even more mosaics.

These public mosaics are lovely and absolutely worth checking out, but they do lack the grotto/labyrinth-like structure of the Magic Gardens, which is part of the fun. So, I still encourage you to visit the Magic Gardens if you can afford it, as it will only support the nonprofit and help preserve the artwork for many more years to come. 

Either way, I love that so much of Zagar’s artwork is public, as it’s such a joy to see and it’s all the more accessible. 

If you’ve visited the Magic Gardens, let us know if you thought they were worth it!

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6 Comments

  1. Oooh, I love this! And it looks like the surrounding neighborhood is absolutely worth a stroll as well! There are actually direct flights from Amsterdam to Philadelphia, so maybe I should plan a trip…

    1. I think you’d like Philly! Lots of great vegan food too (I like Hardena, an Indonesian restaurant with lots of vegan options). Please let me know if you come since my brother is going to college nearby and I’ll probably visit the area every now and then!

  2. I have visited the Magic gardens many time with family and alone. See different items every time. Unfortunately I no longer live in the area. I love the Magic Gardens. Well worth seeing.

  3. Personally, I think they are hideous. That being said, they are hugely popular, and most people disagree with my assessment. I live 2 blocks away, and I see plenty of the mosaics around the neighborhood. My husband and I were going to look at an apartment right next to the Magic Gardens, but he said “absolutely not!” He thinks they are tacky, trashy and did not want to get hit in the face with them every time he went in, or out, of our apartment. We never looked at the apartment. If it’s your thing – Have at it!. I had an artist friend who did this type of mosaic tiling on trash-picked furniture, and I was never rude enough to to tell her that her furniture sucked. To each his own!!!

  4. Many years ago, when I still lived in Phila, I remember Zagar’s early creative & colorful artwork. To see how it has evolved is a lovely reminder of how this city is truly a collection of small neighborhoods.

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