Otherworld Philadelphia: A Mind-Bending Immersive Art Experience

Otherworld is an immersive art experience, but that description really doesn’t do it justice. The space is packed with stunning visual images and remarkable spaces to explore. It’s partly a puzzle and partly a giant, interconnected art gallery. And all of it is designed to be touched and experienced with all your senses.

Giant alien with milk machine attached to its udders.
Udder Delights, a color-changing interactive exhibit

Interactive spaces like this are all the rage. Pioneered by Meow Wolf in Santa Fe—and now in Denver, Las Vegas, and Dallas—as well as Seismique in Houston and the original Otherworld in Columbus, the Philadelphia Otherworld is among the best (we’ve been to most of them on our travels). You don’t need to go farther than northeast Philadelphia to have your mind blown!

When we arrived at what is likely Philly’s most unusual attraction, we were immediately transported into a surreal and alien environment. The space is a maze of rooms and passages, each more elaborate and creative than the last. The artistic works combine elements of science fiction, fantasy, and steampunk to create something unusual and ethereal. Woven within all of it is a giant mystery we tried to solve.

Room with LED lights dangling from the ceiling as water rains down into pools.
The Weeping Willow, an otherworldly tree

Otherworld’s tangle of 55 themed rooms were designed by 100 visual artists, including many who are local. Each room has a theme or showcase object to absorb. For example, one room has a pathway lined with bins full of soft balls (or are they alien eggs?). Another room is filled with giant teardrop shaped objects that hang from the ceiling (maybe they’re cocoons) that you can crawl into like a chair.

The attraction’s centerpiece is The Weeping Willow, a room filled with illuminated abstract trees that rain, filling shallow ponds below. (There’s a notice that you might get wet, but we stayed dry by sticking to the path).

As we wandered, we found ourselves wondering about so many of the displays. Is that a radioactive rabbit that you’re supposed to milk using the udder pumps? Is this a funeral parlor or the royal court of some foreign country? What is that black and white monster with multiple eyes?

Black and white striped creature with multiple eyes.
The creatures and aliens reflect a lot of creativity
Colorful lights and objects.
Is the bug getting ready to eat you?

Every visitor comes away with their own “truth.” And everyone will question what they see. It’s necessary if you want to solve the mystery. If you’re lucky some of the attendants along the way may help if you’re on the right track.

Playing detective

From the moment we stepped inside the front door, our experience was up to us—we chose where to start (yes, there are multiple choices), how fast to go, and how we wanted to engage. There are three options when it comes to immersing yourself in the space: become a detective, appreciate the art, or both.

As we walked through the space, we wanted to play detective and find a clear narrative to follow. We did not succeed, but we did enjoy the creativity along the way.

Claw game machines.
Claw games with creepy, crawly prizes

There’s kind of a story of an alien world where an ACME-type evil corporation experiments on benevolent alien creatures. Kind of. Or maybe that was just us reading too much into it. To be honest, we didn’t play as much detective as we should have.

TIP: If you decide you want to crack the code of Otherworld, read everything, especially the posters and objects on the walls. Also, look at the computer on the desk in the room with the harlequin head and read the emails on the terminal.

Harlequin head in multiple colors.
Be sure to check the computer nearby

Be sure to also explore all the nooks and crannies. Climb up into the yarn tree (wearing pants and closed-toe shoes is helpful). Crawl into the tunnel under the Space Boopers video game. Play DJ in the interactive room. Read each of the wall panels in the alien incubator room.

As you do all that, try to draw threads between them. Are aliens visiting here, or are you going there to save them? What do your detective skills tell you?

If playing detective sounds like too much work, you can wander through the rooms and experience the interactive art installation.

Tear drop room with suspended bean bag chairs.
Are they eggs?

Touch everything. Climb up into the tear drop chairs. Sit on the cushions in the Bedouin tent/hookah lounge. Stomp on the illuminated floor. Pump the handles on the milk machine and watch the milk flow from the udders.

The entire attraction has a feeling of falling into an alternative reality that would blow little Alice’s mind. It’s a very psychedelic, trippy experience when you just absorb the visuals that surround you.

Trees made of colorful LED lights.
The trees change colors and make a great spot for selfies or photos

As you explore, appreciate the creativity, complexity, and otherworldly creation that has descended on Northeast Philadelphia.

Visiting Information

Geometric shapes in all the colors of the rainbow under a sign that reads "Otherworld."
You can’t miss the colorful entrance

Location:  Otherworld Philly is located in a strip mall in the Northeast at 2500 Grant Avenue, two blocks east of Roosevelt Avenue. It was previously a Forman Mills outlet store. You can’t miss it—the exterior of the building is painted in geometric shapes in all the colors of the rainbow.

Hours: During the week, the attraction is open 11am-8pm. On weekends, it opens at 10am, and stays open until 10pm on Friday and Saturday nights. Otherworld is closed on Tuesdays. Most visits are 1-3 hours.

Admission: Timed tickets need to be purchased in advance online. The price for adults and teenagers is $34.99.  Admission for children (ages 3-12) are $29.99. Tickets are available on the Otherworld website.

Concessions: Bottled water is available, but there is no food for sale. If you’re hungry, we highly recommend Nifty Fifty’s across the street for classic diner fare and excellent milkshakes or Asad’s Hot Chicken at 7300 Roosevelt Blvd. for some of the crispiest hot chicken around.

Giftshop with rows of plush aliens.
Fall in love with one of the cute aliens? You can take one home with you from the gift shop

Kids: It is designed to be accessible for visitors of all ages and is a great, kid-friendly attraction, particularly on rainy days when outdoor activities may be limited. That said, some rooms have “monsters” that could be troubling or give very young children nightmares (particularly the animal “incubator” area with a giant snake-like creature). Use your best judgement on what is appropriate for your children. Visitors should be aware that there are strobe-type lights and loud noises throughout the exhibit.

Tips: Be prepared to crawl into and over objects. Visitors may be more comfortable in long pants and shoes (no sandals).

Getting there: The SEPTA bus #19 passes immediately in front along Grant Ave, and the SEPTA buses #1 or #14 pass along Roosevelt Avenue (two blocks away). There is also a large parking lot with free parking.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *