What is in PA Dutch Country Besides the Amish? 10 To-Do’s in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
No matter where I travel, when people find out I am from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania they often say “Ah yes! Where the Amish live!” and proceed to ask whether I grew up with electricity or am in rebellion against the community. While it is true that many of our neighbors do not have electricity and drive a horse and buggy, I am not nor have I ever been Amish. To be clear, if I was Amish you would not have to ask. If you want to learn about Amish life and culture you do not need to go on a special tour, although they are available. The Plain communities that reside in PA Dutch Country certainly contribute to the unique atmosphere and the fusion of the old and new worlds. But Lancaster County is a unique destination for many reasons. If you plan on visiting, check out the Ten To’Do’s below and my 3 Day PA Dutch Country Highlights Unanchor itinerary for local tips and more features .
1. Farmer’s Markets
A day at the farmers market is a family event and an opportunity to shop and socialize. The crowd at a farmers market is an eclectic mix and if you enjoy people-watching, feast your eyes as well as your stomach without breaking the bank account! Although nearly every small town in Lancaster has a farmers market on a particular day of the week, check out Roots Country Market and Auction on Tuesdays, the Green Dragon Market in Ephrata on Fridays, or Lancaster Central Market in the historic city center on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
Lovers of all things classic, eccentric, or just plain weird, will be delighted by the antiques markets, alleys, and shops. Artists, collectors and designers can find just about anything to satisfy their creative appetites. In fact, I once had a friend from South Carolina purchase an old door from an Amish Buggy and use it as a decorative room divider. For marathon antique-shopping days, visit Antique Alley outside of Lancaster City or The Antiques Capital in Adamstown.
3. Art & First Fridays in Lancaster City Center
In the last few years, the Lancaster Arts group started First Fridays in the heart of Lancaster City and were met with wild success. Art galleries, cafes, bars and restaurants keep their doors open extra hours and have special events for their guests. Street musicians serenade the families, couples, students, and singles that throng the streets for a lively night of clean entertainment. In keeping with the down-to-earth and humble attitude of Lancaster Countians, the friendly, un-snobbish atmosphere of First Friday makes art accessible and fun.
4. Chocolate and Pretzels
I am a bit partial on this one because Lititz is my home town and I happen to have an addiction to chocolate and pretzels. (You would too if every day after school let out you were greeted with the smell of chocolate in the air). Truly, however, Lititz is a gem of a place. Main Street and Orange contain Wilbur Chocolate Factory and Julius Sturgis, the first pretzel bakery in the United States. You can take tours and score a few samples in either but most end up taking home Wilbur Buds or a sizable bag of the salty twisted treat. The town itself town itself offers a mix of Victorian and Colonial architecture with lots of specialty shops to boot. A stroll through the lovely Lititz Springs Park and and a pit-stop at Tomato Pie Cafe for their signature dish make for a complete afternoon in small town PA.
5. The Outlets
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not tax for food or clothing. Lancaster Countians also love a bargain and a sale. Combine these two things and you have an ideal situation for a shopping haven. Backpackers will have a tough time if they decide to visit Tanger or Rockvale Outlets because the bargains are simply too tempting to resist. Growing up, a mutually favorite post-shopping game is to ask friends or family, Guess how much I bought this for? (Hint, the lower the better!) For the serial shoppers, the nearby Park City Center offers local, national, and European brands.
6. Brew Pubs
There are no shortages of good beer locales, even in the heart of Amish country! The Lancaster Brewing Company and Iron Hill Brewery are popular city spots while theAppalachian Brewing Company in Lititz, Stoudt’s Brewing Company in Adamstown, and Union Barrel Works in Reamstown offer hop-heads tasty local brews in repurposed buildings with a Lancaster Country flare.
7. Weird Town Names
Yes, it is true and also ironic that a socially and politically conservative county also contains town names like Intercourse, Blue Ball, and Bird-in-Hand. For the record, the humor of the double-meaning is lost on most of the older generations. Sign-seekers would do well to grab a map and a camera and hit a few of the other places mentioned here along the way.
8. Moondancer Winery
Just across the Susquehanna River at the top of a rolling hill in Wrightsville sits Moondancer Winery. If it were not for the Lancaster County accents, you might think you were in Europe with the French-style chateau overlooking the vineyards and river. I have more than one fond (although sometimes hazy) memory of picnics on the patio with friends and a bottle or two with live jazz, bluegrass, acoustic or reggae music. I have been to wineries in California, New York, and Europe but every time I ask myself, if I had a chance to go here again or Moondancer, which would I pick? So far, Moondancer has been the clear answer for me every time.
9. Mt. Gretna
What started out as a tent meeting revival camp in the 1800’s has grown into the charming home for a tiny population and a vacation or tourist destination for many others. My family and I have a over a century of fond memories in Mt. Gretna, but what I remember most is July 4th weekends watching fireworks over Mt. Gretna Lake, selling crafts at the Kids Show with my sisters at the nationally-ranked juried art show in August, climbing the tower Governor Dick in the fall to view the changing leaves, eating a Dusty Road malt ice-cream sundae from The Jigger Shop, or opening presents on Christmas Eves in my grandparents cottage. Although woven into this tiny village tucked into the woods is a golf course, library, theater, tennis courts, public gardens, and an antique shop, the way to really enjoy Mt. Gretna is by getting lost in the hundreds of tiny paths and feeling like a character in a fairy tale among the gingerbread-like cottages.
10. Sampling Local Cuisine
It wasn’t until college that I realized that everyone does not have access to whoopie pies, shoo-fly pie, hamloaf, apple fritters, homemade hot pretzels, and faschnauts on Fat Tuesday. Although I am not a fan of scrapple, there are many who wake up and fry up a few slices in the griddle along with their eggs and toast. The buffet is a common way to serve food at a Lancaster County style restaurant and the buffet of all buffets can be found at Shady Maple Smorgasbord. The soil in Lancaster County is rich and the bounty vast. Fruits and vegetable stands dot every local road and don’t be surprised if you find a money box without an attendant--a core value of Lancaster Countians is honesty and the trust system. You can simply put your cash in the box and walk away with your fresh corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, berries, or root beer and enjoy the feast!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Samantha is the founder of The Traveling Advisor, custom travel design and education advising . Although originally from Lancaster, PA she travels, moves, and changes as a lifestyle and has been helping others do the same since 2006. Follow @traveladvising.