28 top things to do in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

While Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is home to the oldest Amish communities in the U.S., there’s a lot more to Amish Country than meets the eye. From sampling award-winning ice cream at the Turkey Hill Experience to sipping craft brews along the Lancaster Ale Trail or staying in the one-of-a-kind Cartoon Network Hotel, this county offers an endless number of unique activities to partake in — some family-friendly and some just for the adults.

Read on to learn about the best ways to fill your days when you visit Lancaster.

Experience Bird-in-Hand

(Getty Images/iStockphoto/michaelmill)

Bird-in-Hand is a quaint village that transports visitors to simpler times. Visitors can shop at a farmers market, enjoy horse-and-buggy rides, book a hot air balloon ride over the Amish countryside or sit down to enjoy some authentic Pennsylvania Dutch cooking including shoofly pie, a local favorite. Book an overnight stay in a one-room Amish schoolhouse or 18th-century inn, and enjoy special experiences that include an Amish farmland tour, ice cream socials, cornfield picnics and wine tastings. Past visitors have commented on the delicious goods at the Bird-in-Hand Bake Shop and the excellent shopping at the on-site stores and boutiques.

Address: 2760 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505

Shop the Antiques Capital of the U.S.

Lancaster is a treasure trove for those who love vintage furniture, decor and other wares from a time gone by. While you’ll find antique dealers throughout the entire region, the best shops line the streets of Adamstown, known as the Antiques Capital of the U.S. The “Adamstown Antique Mile” runs along state Route 272 in northeastern Lancaster County and features roughly 5,000 antique dealers, with even more offered during Antiques Extravaganza Weekends. Renningers Antique Market is especially popular, with more than 500 vendors alone. Previous visitors of Renningers rave about their experiences, noting that it’s open on Sundays only.

Visit the Sight & Sound Theatres

Lancaster’s Sight & Sound Theatres brings the stories of the Bible to life in spectacular performances that include professional actors in elaborate period costumes, trained animals, world-renowned orchestras and special effects that leave patrons in absolute awe. This award-winning, 2,000-seat theater also has a sister venue in Branson, Missouri, with shows traveling between both locations.

Address: 300 Hartman Bridge Road, Ronks, PA 17572

Sleep in a train car

If you’re looking for a unique place to stay that’s both nostalgic and fun, consider the Red Caboose Motel in Ronks, Pennsylvania. This landmark motel lets you spend the night in a historic caboose that’s been remodeled to serve as a retreat for couples and families. While many of the caboose rooms sleep two, three or four people, the Large Family Caboose and Baggage Car sleep six guests, plus there is a refrigerator and microwave. Previous guests say they were impressed with the hotel’s unique room types and family-friendly atmosphere.

Address: 312 Paradise Lane, Ronks, PA 17572

Take a buggy ride

Two boys ride in the back of a horse-drawn buggy stopped at a traffic light Wednesday May 29, 2019 near Gap, Pa. in Lancaster County. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

Take a horse-drawn buggy ride to explore the Amish countryside, a place where tightknit families live without modern conveniences and follow the same traditions their ancestors have for hundreds of years. Many local families offer buggy rides, and you can even add on a personalized tour of a local Amish farm. With Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy Rides, for example, you can book a private tour and see how the Amish live with stops at one-room Amish schoolhouses, butcher shops, bakeries, quilt shops and more. Past guests say the buggy rides with Aaron and Jessica’s family in particular felt truly authentic, and that they had a lot of fun.

You can also tour the area via a mini-bus, stopping at an Amish farmhouse and for photo ops along the way.

Visit Columbia

Columbia is one of the most popular destinations in Lancaster County since it offers everything from outdoor adventures to museums and shopping. Check out The Wright’s Ferry Mansion, which was built to increase access to new areas along the Susquehanna River, and make a stop at the National Watch & Clock Museum, home to the largest known collection of 19th-century American clocks and watches in the world.

Make your own ice cream

Another notable attraction in Columbia is the Turkey Hill Experience, which combines the craft of ice cream making with the joy of eating it. Guests who book the experience can learn about dairy farming through interactive exhibits, and they can also create their own virtual ice cream flavor or real ice cream in the Turkey Hill Taste Lab. Of course, the day wouldn’t be complete without eating some of the famous ice cream that’s made on-site. Ice cream lovers, especially families, say they had a great time here.

Address: 301 Linden St., Columbia, PA 17512

Enjoy dinner and a show

Twin church spires shot from high vantage point in Lancaster, PA (Getty Images/iStockphoto/Dillon_Naber_Cruz)

Lovers of live entertainment should check out the many local theaters in the Lancaster area, each of which rolls out its own selection of rotating shows. The Fulton Theatre, considered the nation’s oldest continuously operating theater and a National Historic Landmark, puts on musical productions that have included “The Little Mermaid” and “Man of La Mancha.” Previous patrons say they appreciate the hilarious and interesting productions, including shows from a bygone era. Other theaters include the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, which offers musicals and concerts with an all-American buffet meal that changes with each performance, and the American Music Theatre, which hosts traveling acts such as Riverdance.

Cross a covered bridge

If you enjoy the history and architecture of covered bridges, you’ll love Lancaster County. This region of the U.S. is home to 25 covered bridges from different periods of history, with many of the best-preserved bridges dating back to the 1800s. You can take a self-guided driving tour of Lancaster’s covered bridges with five different routes outlined by Discover Lancaster.

Discover the Lancaster County Winery Trail

A horse grazes in a fenced field at a farm Wednesday May 29, 2019 outside Gordonville, Pa. in Lancaster County. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

Lancaster County also has a self-guided winery trail, which lets you traverse the countryside while stopping to sip local wines. There are nearly a dozen wineries to explore, each one specializing in different varieties of wine. Mount Hope Estate & Winery in Manheim is especially popular with a brewery, seasonal festivals and more available on its expansive property. The Lancaster County Winery Trail impresses visitors with its wine tastings and events, although some travelers complain about high prices and limited business hours.

Tour James Buchanan’s Wheatland

James Buchanan’s Wheatland is made up of a Federal-style mansion and several outbuildings on more than 150 acres of land. Now owned by LancasterHistory, Wheatland is open to the public for the purpose of providing a glimpse into President James Buchanan’s life in the 1800s. Guided tours are available with limited capacity, and Wheatland hosts a variety of educational program offerings, academic symposiums and public events throughout the year. Visitors to Wheatland praise the guided tours and the beautiful decor and furnishings found in the mansion on the property.

Address: 1120 Marietta Ave., Lancaster, PA 17603

Explore the Lancaster Science Factory

Families with kids in tow should check out the Lancaster Science Factory for a fun, educational experience everyone in the crew can enjoy. This factory-museum hosts a variety of rotating STEM-related educational programs and workshops, and interactive exhibits include “Mechanics and Motion,” “Acoustics and Sound” and “Structural Engineering.” Visitors to this science museum say it’s fun for all ages, including adults.

Address: 54 New Holland Ave., Lancaster, PA 17602

Take a ride on the Strasburg Rail Road

Founded in 1832, Strasburg Rail Road is the oldest continuously operating railroad in both America and the Western Hemisphere. Experience the history of this landmark with a themed tour or train ride. Options include the Tap Takeover, a scenic train ride that features a tasting of four local craft beers; a Murder Mystery train ride for ages 2 and up, which features live performances with the usual “whodunit” twist; and Christmastime rides such as Santa’s Paradise Express. Previous visitors say the rides are both scenic and informative. After your ride, check out the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania (directly across the street) and the Choo Choo Barn with hand-built animated figures and trains.

Address: 301 Gap Road, Strasburg, PA 17579

Browse a gallery exhibit or two

(Getty Images/iStockphoto/2windspa)

Lancaster has an artistic flair, with an array of art galleries and exhibits on Gallery Row in the downtown Arts District. Visitors can browse artwork by renowned and unknown artists at local landmarks such as the Demuth Museum, the Lancaster Museum of Art, and the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design. Seasonal exhibits and events including First Fridays and artwalks are also offered throughout the year, featuring historic and contemporary art from local and regional artists.

Head to the North Museum of Nature and Science

The North Museum of Nature and Science is home to an array of exhibits and features that can keep kids of all ages interested and entertained. Major attractions include a planetarium with an XD projection system; a live animal room with frogs, turtles, snakes and other living creatures; and a Lego Lab that lets kids use the popular blocks to build their own creations. Previous visitors have been impressed by the display of birds as well as the reptile room.

Address: 400 College Ave., Lancaster, PA 17603

Visit Dutch Wonderland

Dutch Wonderland is a popular Pennsylvania theme park with more than 35 rides, attractions and shows as well as Duke’s Lagoon water play area. Favorite attractions include Merlin’s Mayhem, a family-friendly roller coaster; the Flying Trapeze swing ride; and Exploration Island, with lifelike dinosaurs. Visitors can also nosh on delicious local favorites like hot soft pretzels, fresh-cut fries and Turkey Hill ice cream. Most visitors agree the amusement park is best for young kids, but that the whole family will enjoy it.

Address: 2249 Lincoln Highway E., Lancaster, PA 17602

Stay at the Cartoon Network Hotel

If you’re looking for a unique place to stay in Lancaster, consider booking a few nights at the one-of-a-kind Cartoon Network Hotel. This resort offers an array of fun rooms, from Cartoon Network-decorated rooms that sleep up to four guests to Dream Suites that sleep up to eight but still have living space for up to 10 “alien heroes.” Activities offered at the hotel include swimming at the indoor pool, gaming in the on-site Omnicade and interactive play in the Toon Room kid’s play area. Visitors agree this hotel mostly lives up to its expectations, and that the property is clean and ideal for families with small kids. It’s also within steps of Dutch Wonderland amusement park.

Address: 2285 Lincoln Highway E., Lancaster, PA 17602

Learn about Pennsylvania history at the 1719 Museum

Lancaster’s 1719 Museum helps visitors learn about what life was like for early Mennonite settlers and Native Americans in the area hundreds of years ago. The museum offers tours and exhibits, and is home to the Herr House, the oldest surviving homestead in Lancaster County. The museum’s full-scale replica of a longhouse provides a glimpse into the history and cultures of Indigenous tribes that lived in south-central Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. The on-site Herr House tends to get positive reviews, mostly due to its well-kept grounds, its artifacts and its historical significance.

Address: 1849 Hans Herr Drive, Willow Street, PA 17584

Plan a weekend feast

Smorgabords and buffets reign supreme in Lancaster, with many of them featuring authentic Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. Most popular is Shady Maple Smorgasbord, a 200-foot, all-you-can-eat buffet. People from all over come to Lancaster for this unique Pennsylvania experience.

Stop at the Mennonite Life Visitors Center

The Mennonite Life Visitors Center (formerly the Mennonite Information Center) provides even more perspective about the region with free resources and a Biblical Tabernacle Experience, which includes an educational lecture and a full-sized reproduction of the original tabernacle Moses constructed for the nation Israel. This museum offers truly amazing details on Amish life that you can’t find elsewhere.

Address: 2215 Millstream Road, Lancaster, PA 17602

Learn how to make old-fashioned pretzels

Originally founded in 1861, the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Lititz is the oldest commercial pretzel bakery in the U.S. Visitors to the Lancaster area can stop in this bakery to learn how these famous hot pretzels are made and sample a few kinds along the way. Popular options include traditional sourdough pretzels and flavored pretzels like honey mustard and onion or ranch. Hungry guests with a sweet tooth will also enjoy the chocolate-covered pretzels on offer. Previous visitors say the pretzels are delicious, the tour guides are great and that this is a must-visit in Lititz.

Address: 219 E. Main St., Lititz, PA 17543

Visit a living history museum

The Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum is the perfect place for an outing with the family. This living history museum is home to a Pennsylvania German Village with historic buildings, which feature a collection of more than 100,000 artifacts from the 18th and 19th centuries. Visitors who stop in can also enjoy living history interpretations, learn about open hearth cooking and baking, and see traditional craft demonstrations. Guided tours are available, but you can also explore on your own. The museum in particular gets high marks for its beautiful natural setting.

Address: 2451 Kissel Hill Road, Lancaster, PA 17601

Enjoy the fresh air at the Holtwood Environmental Preserve

Nature lovers should visit the Holtwood Environmental Preserve, home to the Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve of spring woodland flowers as well as endless opportunities for camping, boating, swimming, hunting and more. Active travelers can stay busy on 39 miles of hiking trails in the area or explore the Lock 12 Historic Area or the Indian Steps Museum of Native American artifacts. The Holtwood Environmental Preserve is also popular for bird-watching, especially in early spring when bald eagles and ospreys nest in the area.

Address: 9 New Village Road, Holtwood, PA 17532

Shop Lancaster Central Market

Originally founded in 1730, Lancaster Central Market is the oldest continually running farmers market in the U.S. This market features more than 60 vendors who sell their goods ? from home decor and crafts to meats and cheeses ? three days a week, on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Previous patrons note that the market can get crowded, but is still worth a visit to enjoy the delicious foods.

Address: 23 N. Market St., Lancaster, PA 17603

Explore the Lancaster Ale Trail

Beer lovers can try an array of local favorites on the Lancaster Ale Trail, a self-guided brewery crawl with stops throughout Lancaster County. Featured breweries include Lancaster Brewing Company, Black Forest Brewery, Artifice Ales and Mead and, a bit farther afield, Tröegs Independent Brewing, one of the top things to do in nearby Hershey. You can download a map of the Ale Trail on the Discover Lancaster website.

Have a field day at Cherry Crest Adventure Farm

Cherry Crest Adventure Farm offers family activities galore, from wagon rides and hay jumps to singing chicken puppet shows and logic mazes. Visitors will also find a giant hay chute slide and a farm animal center filled with goats, chicks in the spring and more. Make sure you bring your appetite if you visit. Cherry Crest offers up delicious hot dogs, grilled chicken, freshly made cider donuts and roasted sweet corn. Previous guests say they enjoyed the activities at the farm, especially the corn maze and the slides.

Address: 150 Cherry Hill Road, Ronks, PA 17572

Stay in a steamboat-inspired hotel

The Fulton Steamboat Inn isn’t located on an actual steamboat, but it certainly resembles one. Its founder, the late Robert Fulton, grew up in the area and is largely credited with the idea to propel boats by steam. The historic hotel features nautical- and Victorian-inspired guestrooms, an on-site restaurant, an indoor pool, a fish feeding pond and the adorable Jr. First Mate’s Happy Harbour Landing Playground. Previous guests say it’s one of the most unique hotels they’ve ever stayed at, with some saying it very much feels like you’re staying on a steamboat or even the Titanic.

Address: 1 Hartman Bridge Road, Lancaster, PA 17602

Visit a wolf sanctuary

The Wolf Sanctuary of PA is a nonprofit wolf refuge and education facility in Lititz, housing and caring for both wolves and wolf hybrids. Guided tours are offered, but require a reservation in advance. Previous visitors say it’s a beautiful, heartwarming place to visit.

Address: 465 Speedwell Forge Road, Lititz, PA 17543

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28 Top Things to Do in Lancaster, Pennsylvania originally appeared on usnews.com

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