You probably know the chocolate-inspired town of Hershey is located in Pennsylvania, and you might know a thing or two about Amish Country. But did you know you can see Albert Einstein’s brain on display in Philadelphia, or that you can visit an International Dark Sky Park in the northern part of the state?
Pennsylvania is full of surprises, with unique destinations and experiences anywhere you go. Better still, many of the best places to explore in Pennsylvania don’t cost a penny, with free things to do including making rocks ring with the strike of a hammer, attending the nation’s largest free-admission music festival, and yes, running up the “Rocky” steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Cue the “Rocky” theme song and read on to discover the best things to do in Pennsylvania.
Gettysburg National Military Park: Gettysburg
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” This memorable first line is from Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, which the late U.S. president delivered following The Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.
Today, visitors can explore the storied battlefields at Gettysburg National Military Park via self-guided or ranger-led tours, as well as bus tours and horseback riding excursions. Plan to spend a day or two here so can explore the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center, where you’ll find the impressive Gettysburg Cyclorama (a large oil-on-canvas painting that depicts the final Confederate assault, considered a turning point in the war) and the home and farm of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, among other attractions.
Address: 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, PA 17325
Carnegie Museum of Art: Pittsburgh
One of the top art museums in Pennsylvania, the Carnegie Museum of Art features a wide array of thought-provoking exhibits, including both permanent and rotating installments. The museum also offers special programming, from sensory friendly days to art meditations.
Admission to the Carnegie Museum of Art includes access to the adjacent Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Past patrons say there’s so much to see that you may need more than a day to explore it all. Many people also say the Dinosaurs in Their Time exhibit (at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History) is their favorite.
Address: 4400 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Andy Warhol Museum: Pittsburgh
Andy Warhol’s famous artwork is on display throughout this five-floor museum in Pittsburgh, the late artist’s hometown. Expect to see his famous consumer product paintings of Campbell’s soup cans and Coke; celebrity portraits including Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe; and even work from Warhol’s mother, Julia Warhola, who also had an eye for art. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the museum also features rotating exhibits and special events including art workshops for kids and theater performances. Previous patrons say you’ll learn a lot of little-known facts about Warhol during your visit. For instance, did you know he was a collector, putting together more than 600 time capsules in the latter part of his life?
Address: 117 Sandusky St., Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Milton S. Hershey established his famous chocolate company in 1894, but he didn’t stop there. He used his fortune to build Hersheypark, ZooAmerica, The Hershey Hotel (and its chocolate-themed spa), The Milton Hershey School for underprivileged children and other local attractions. (It’s no wonder the town is named for him.) While you can’t tour the original chocolate factory, you can learn about it on a free indoor ride — in a Hershey’s Kiss-shaped car — at Hershey’s Chocolate World or on a visit to The Hershey Story Museum. There’s more to Hershey than chocolate, though. See a concert at Hersheypark stadium, try a falconry experience and sip craft beer at Tröegs Independent Brewing. There are so many things to do in Hershey that it’s worth a weekend (or more) to enjoy it all.
Shady Maple Smorgasbord: East Earl
People come from all over to enjoy Pennsylvania Dutch cooking at Shady Maple Smorgasbord, an icon in Pennsylvania. Located in the heart of Amish Country, this all-you-can-eat buffet offers a variety of hearty options, including meat carving stations and an extensive selection of desserts. Reviewers say the restaurant lives up to the hype, and that even though there’s often a wait — particularly on weekends — it doesn’t take long to get in.
Address: 129 Toddy Drive, East Earl, PA 17519
Dutch Wonderland: Lancaster
If you have young kids, a visit to Dutch Wonderland should be on your list of things to do in Pennsylvania. This “Kingdom for Kids” became an instant classic when it opened in 1963, offering local families a place to play together. Today it offers more than 35 rides, attractions and shows geared toward families with children ages 12 and younger. Located in Lancaster, the park offers (tame) roller coasters, a water park, parades and dining venues. Kids especially dig Exploration Island, where they’ll encounter nearly two dozen life-like dinosaurs. Just shy of 60 years since its opening, the amusement park continues to receive rave reviews from families near and far.
Address: 2249 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, PA 17602
The Cartoon Network Hotel: Lancaster
The world’s first Cartoon Network Hotel is located in Lancaster, right next to Dutch Wonderland and within easy striking distance of other local attractions. The playful hotel features themed guest rooms and suites including a Powerpuff Girls Dream Suite. Suites sleep six or eight people and have kitchenettes, dining areas and living spaces, while guest rooms can accommodate up to two to four people depending which one you choose. The hotel is also home to a restaurant, a coffee shop, an arcade, an indoor pool, and an outdoor pool with a hot tub, slide, splash pad and concessions. Recent guests say their groups — especially the kids — loved the hotel.
Address: 2285 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, PA 17602
Independence Hall: Philadelphia
At Independence Hall in Philadelphia, you can take a free guided tour to stand in the room where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed. You can also see surviving copies of both documents at the Great Essentials exhibit, take a “bell-fie” with the famous Liberty Bell, and get the same cancellation on your postal stamp that Ben Franklin used when he was postmaster.
Address: 520 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19106
Valley Forge National Historical Park: Valley Forge
During the Revolutionary War, George Washington’s Continental Army camped out in Valley Forge, where they rested, trained and emerged a fighting force. The former encampment, now known as Valley Forge National Historic Park, features several historic monuments and memorials, as well as original buildings, including Washington’s Headquarters, from that time. Take a ranger-led tour of the park or explore on your own — there are myriad hiking and biking trails and places to enjoy a picnic lunch.
Address: 1400 N. Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia, PA 19406
Eastern State Penitentiary: Philadelphia
This hauntingly abandoned prison-turned-attraction is a must-visit in Philadelphia. Considered the world’s first true penitentiary (or prison for serious criminals), it remains a Gothic masterpiece, with vaulted, sky-lit cells and a Jewish synagogue. Its most notorious inmate, Al Capone, spent his first prison sentence here, and his cell is one of the prison’s many interesting exhibits. Past visitors say the tours are great, with many patrons also saying the Eastern State Penitentiary is better than Alcatraz in San Francisco. Visit at Halloween for an extra spooky experience.
Address: 2027 Fairmount Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19130
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens: Philadelphia
Isaiah Zagar started mosaicking as a form of therapy to cope with mental struggles in his late 20s. His project, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, aims to heal and inspire others through the power of art. Spend an afternoon getting lost in this whimsical maze of mosaics and sculptures. You can explore on your own, or opt for a guided tour such as this South Philly Markets, Mosaics, Magic Tour. No matter how you experience the Magic Gardens, previous patrons say you won’t be disappointed.
Address: 1020 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19147
The “Rocky” Statue and Steps: Philadelphia
Get your picture with the “Rocky” statue, originally created for a scene in “Rocky III,” before lacing up and running the 72 stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, just like Rocky Balboa did in the first film. Once you get to the top, turn around and catch your breath while you take in the views of Independence Mall in Center City. And if you really want to go the distance, sign up for the Rocky Run, which includes a 5K, 10K, and a 13.1 Italian Stallion Challenge hosted in the city each fall.
Address: 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19130
Duquesne Incline: Pittsburgh
Like other funiculars constructed in the 19th century, the Duquesne Incline (along with its sister, the Monongahela Incline) was built to transport cargo and people up and down Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington in the 1800s. Today it’s still used as a mode of transportation, but is more so a popular tourist attraction and ride, especially since it affords some of the best views of Pittsburgh’s skyline, including the confluence of three rivers. Previous visitors say the view is especially breathtaking at night.
Address: 1197 W. Carson St., Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Bushkill Falls: Bushkill
Otherwise known as The Niagara of Pennsylvania, Bushkill Falls encompasses 300 breathtaking acres in the Pocono Mountains. Wooded trails, bridges and walkways take visitors past eight cascading waterfalls; on the roughly 2-mile Red Trail, you can see all of the waterfalls at once. Bushkill Falls also offers play areas, opportunities for fishing and dining options, and is open April to October or November, weather permitting. Previous visitors say they enjoyed their experience, with some cautioning there are a lot of stairs to navigate.
Address: 138 Bushkill Falls Trail, Bushkill, PA 18324
Ringing Rocks County Park: Upper Black Eddy
Bring a hammer or two to Ringing Rocks County Park in Upper Black Eddy. When struck, the park’s boulders ring like a bell. It’s unclear why the sonorous rocks (their technical name) ring, though one geologist believes the rocks were under high pressure when they formed and are resistant to breakage. Located in Bucks County, Ringing Rocks County Park is a scenic spot to go for a hike or bike ride (and see the area’s largest waterfall) and enjoy a picnic lunch. Previous visitors say they enjoyed checking out this park, especially with kids. Many of them also recommend wearing sturdy shoes.
Address: Ringing Rocks Road, Upper Black Eddy, PA 18972
Sesame Place: Langhorne
The first Sesame Street theme park in the U.S. is located in Langhorne, about 25 miles north of Philly, and features pint-sized rides like Big Bird’s Tour Bus, the Flying Cookie Jars and the Sunny Day Carousel. There are also water attractions, live shows, parades and character meet-and-greet experiences to enjoy (including breakfast with Elmo). Visit during one of the park’s seasonal events, such as The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular or A Very Furry Christmas Celebration, for a special experience. Park patrons recommend visiting later in the day to avoid long lines.
Address: 100 Sesame Road, Langhorne, PA 19047
Bucks County Playhouse: New Hope
Just 70 miles southwest of New York City, the Bucks County Playhouse hosts a variety of musicals and plays, and Broadway greats including Grace Kelly, Dick Van Dyke, Bob Fosse, Liza Minelli and Audra McDonald have all performed on its stage. Book tickets to an upcoming show and enjoy dinner at the on-site Deck Restaurant and Bar or another one of New Hope’s lovely waterfront restaurants. The charming town of New Hope alone is worth a visit.
Address: 70 S. Main St., New Hope, PA 18938
Mercer Museum & Fonthill Castle: Doylestown
Once the home of archaeologist and tile maker Henry Chapman Mercer, Fonthill isn’t a true castle, but it certainly resembles one. Take a guided tour to see it for yourself, and be sure to look for “Rollo’s stairs,” where Mercer’s beloved dog, Rollo, left his paw prints in wet concrete during construction. A short drive from Fonthill, the Mercer Museum (located at 84 S. Pine St.) is a Smithsonian Affiliate with some 50,000 artifacts, most of which are associated with early American trades and crafts. Both museums have positive reviews, with Fonthill visitors noting that photos are prohibited.
Address: 525 E. Court St., Doylestown, PA 18901
The Franklin Institute: Philadelphia
This Philadelphia museum honors Benjamin Franklin’s work as a scientist and inventor through interactive exhibits, both permanent and rotating. Noteworthy exhibits include Electricity, where you can insulate yourself from a static charge; Changing Earth, where you can deliver a weather forecast on TV; and the visitor-favorite Giant Heart, where you can climb inside a life-size, beating heart. The museum continually receives rave reviews for being fun for all ages.
Address: 239 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA 19106
Longwood Gardens: Kennett Square
Longwood Gardens encompasses 1,077 acres in Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Creek Valley, with something new and beautiful to explore each season. At Christmas — which most people say is the best time to visit — you can ogle thousands of poinsettias and other pretty flowers while listening to holiday tunes, stroll through a half-million lights, gather around a fire pit and just enjoy the magic of the season. Longwood Gardens also hosts theater performances, concerts, classes, workshops and themed events throughout the year, and a full-service restaurant, a cafe and a beer garden are also available on-site.
Address: 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348
Flight 93 National Memorial: Shanksville
During the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, 40 people lost their lives when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville (about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh). Shortly after the flight departed Newark, New Jersey, for San Francisco, four Al Qaeda hijackers took control of the cockpit with intentions to crash the plane in Washington, D.C. Aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the crew and passengers banded together to divert the plane, potentially saving thousands of lives. The plane was successfully diverted from D.C., but crashed in Shanksville instead, killing everyone onboard.
The brave crew and passengers are now honored at the Flight 93 Memorial, where the Tower of Voices, a 93-foot-tall musical instrument, rings with 40 wind chimes representing each crew member and passenger.
Address: 6424 Lincoln Highway, Stoystown, PA 15563
Presque Isle State Park: Erie
If you’re looking for a beach in Pennsylvania, head to Presque Isle State Park, a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula on Lake Erie. Presque Isle has 13 beaches and as such, is a popular spot for swimming. It’s also popular for fishing and boating (including boating tours), as well as land-based activities such as biking and hiking. And if you enjoy bird-watching, be on the lookout for endangered, threatened or rare bird species, which are known to migrate to this area. Visitors comment that the park is clean and the views are spectacular.
Address: 301 Peninsula Drive, Erie, PA 16505
Fallingwater: Mill Run
Frank Lloyd Wright’s widely acclaimed Fallingwater house is located in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. Designed for the Kaufmann family (owners of the largest department store in nearby Pittsburgh) in 1935, the architectural masterpiece is tucked into the woods atop a cascading waterfall, beautifully marrying art and nature. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is open for a variety of tours, including guided architectural tours and forest-to-table dinners. Visitors say Fallingwater is a must-visit in Pennsylvania, even if you don’t know much about architecture or have an interest in it.
Address: 1491 Mill Run Road, Mill Run, PA 15464
Cherry Springs State Park: Coudersport
Pack a red light flashlight and prepare to see the night sky as you’ve (likely) never seen it on the East Coast. Located in Potter County, Cherry Springs State Park is one of the darkest destinations on the Eastern Seaboard, with very little light pollution. A Dark Sky Park, Cherry Springs affords visitors the rare opportunity to see constellations, asteroids and more with the naked eye. You might even spot the northern lights, too (though it’s less likely).
The best (and essentially only) way to experience Cherry Springs State Park is by camping overnight. Keep in mind, there are just 30 campsites on-site, so advance reservations are a must.
Travelers rave about their experiences at Cherry Springs and recommend taking advantage of the park’s stargazing programs, which include nightscape photo workshops and telescope tours. For the clearest views, plan your visit between April and October.
Address: 4639 Cherry Springs Road, Coudersport, PA 16915
Betsy Ross House: Philadelphia
It’s never been confirmed that Betsy Ross created the first American flag. However, she remains the person most widely credited with sewing the first stars and stripes inside her tiny Philadelphia home in 1777.
Today visitors can visit the Betsy Ross House to learn who the late upholsterer, businesswoman and patriot was; travelers can also see her burial plot here. If you’re planning a visit with children, inquire about the kids audio tours, which feature a series of mysteries to solve. Previous visitors say the actors, including “Betsy” herself, and other staff are wonderful.
Address: 239 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA 19106
Elfreth’s Alley: Philadelphia
After you tour the Betsy Ross House, take a short walk to Elfreth’s Alley, the nation’s oldest continually inhabited residential street, and one of the nation’s most photographable streets, too. While many people pass through for photos, Elfreth’s Alley also offers a small museum (at house numbers 124 and 126), where you can learn about the artisans and tradespeople who helped build our country. Previous visitors say a stroll through this quaint alley feels like walking back in time. If you’re interested in guided tours of Elfreth’s Alley, The Betsy Ross House and Old City, consider the Old City Historic Walking Tour or the Founding Fathers Tour of Philadelphia.
Address: 126 Elfreth’s Alley, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Ricketts Glen State Park: Benton
If you enjoy hiking, Ricketts Glen State Park should be on your list of things to do in Pennsylvania. The park has 22 named waterfalls — the largest of which stands 94 feet tall — along its aptly named Falls Trail. The trail runs 7.2 miles in total, so grab your dog (the park is pet-friendly), pack a picnic lunch and plan to spend a whole day here. Afterward, retreat to one of the park’s tent or cabin campsites. Previous visitors recommend wearing hiking shoes since the trails are admittedly difficult in some areas, and they also recommend bringing a camera to capture the park’s beauty. For a unique experience, consider a guided ice hiking tour in the winter months.
Address: 695 PA-487, Benton, PA 17814
Museum of the American Revolution: Philadelphia
Opened in 2017, the Museum of the American Revolution tells the story of our nation’s founding through captivating and interactive exhibits that include George Washington’s War Tent and Revolution Place, where kids ages 5 to 12 can join the Continental Army and see what life was like at a military encampment. Rotating exhibits have included various versions of the first, 13-star American flag and an installment dedicated to Alexander Hamilton and his connections to Philadelphia. Previous visitors appreciate the museum’s chronological path, adding that it’s one of their favorite museums in Philly.
Address: 101 S. 3rd St., Philadelphia, PA 19106
Woodloch Resort: Hawley
There are very few all-inclusive resorts in the U.S., but Pennsylvania has two of them in the Poconos: the family-friendly Woodloch Resort, and The Lodge at Woodloch, an upscale, adults-only spa resort that’s consistently recognized as one of the best hotels in the U.S. Previous guests rave about both hotels, noting that Woodloch Resort is fun for both kids and kids at heart.
All-inclusive rates at Woodloch Resort include overnight accommodations, two or three meals daily (depending on your plan) and access to a plethora of amenities, activities and events, including seasonal festivals. At The Lodge, rates cover luxury accommodations; three gourmet meals per day; access to all of the spa’s facilities, including hydrotherapy pools, fitness studios and more. Guests of Woodloch Resort are welcome to make reservations at the spa up to 14 days in advance.
Address: 731 Welcome Lake Road, Hawley, PA 18428
Musikfest, the nation’s largest free-admission music festival, takes place in Bethlehem every August. Stroll throughout town to hear live music across a variety of genres during the 10-day event. Ticketed shows for big-name acts are available, too.
Just as good as the music is the food and drink, with favorites including Aw Shucks Corn — corn on the cob dipped in a vat of butter, doused in parmesan cheese and sprinkled with Aw Shucks, a seasoning of 13 herbs and spices. (Don’t worry, you can buy the seasoning to take home.) You’ll also find a variety of local artisan vendors.
What makes this festival even more special is that parts of it are hosted amid the famous SteelStacks (formerly Bethlehem Steel), an attraction in itself and a sight to behold, especially when lit up at night.
Christmas City: Bethlehem
Aside from a visit to Bethlehem for Musikfest, this small city is also worth a visit during the winter holidays. Nicknamed Christmas City, Bethlehem hosts Christkindlmarkt, a German-style Christmas market with handmade gifts, as well as the country’s only Live Advent Calendar, where, every night from Dec. 1 to 23, one lucky visitor gets to knock on the door of the Goundie House; when the door opens, there’s a special surprise for any onlookers. For more holiday shopping, pop into the shops along Main Street — including the Moravian Book Shop, the oldest bookstore in the U.S. — and, for an extra-special experience, spend a night at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem, which is beautifully decorated for the holiday season.
The Catacombs at Bube’s Brewery: Mount Joy
Founded by German immigrant and brewer Alois Bube in 1876, Bube’s Brewery landed a spot on the map for its crisp, German-style lagers, a popular style of beer during this era. Today, it’s known for a variety of beers plus several dining venues including The Catacombs, an underground, completely candlelit restaurant. Previous patrons say the food is good and the service even better. Bube’s Brewery is located in Mount Joy, about 15 miles northwest of Lancaster.
Address: 102 N. Market St., Mount Joy, PA, 17552
The Mütter Museum: Philadelphia
Operated by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, The Mütter Museum houses tens of thousands of anatomical and pathological specimens from dead people. Permanent exhibits include Albert Einstein’s brain, the conjoined liver of Siamese twins and an entire display of wet specimens, including tumors and cysts. Reviewers say if you like the strange, weird or odd, this place is for you. (You might want to hold off on lunch until after your visit, though.)
Address: 19 S. 22nd St., Philadelphia, PA 19103
Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire: Manheim
You can find renaissance fairs in many places throughout the U.S., but you simply can’t miss the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire in Lancaster County. This renaissance fair takes place every weekend from late August through October and includes a variety of activities and events, including jousting tournaments, art demonstrations, man-powered rides, themed weekends and more. Well-behaved dogs are encouraged to attend the festival (as long as their humans fill out a waiver in advance), and all attendees are encouraged to dress in costume. Repeat visitors say its location on the grounds of Mount Hope Estate & Winery is beautiful, and that it gets better every year.
Address: 2775 Lebanon Road, Manheim, PA 17545
King of Prussia Mall: King of Prussia
If you enjoy shopping, you’ll love the King of Prussia Mall — one of the largest shopping malls in the U.S. Split into two buildings (the Plaza and the Court), the King Of Prussia Mall features more than 450 stores, from luxury to budget finds, plus a wide variety of restaurants, from grab-and-go options to fine dining. The King of Prussia Mall is located about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
Address: 160 N. Gulph Road, King of Prussia, PA 19406
Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center: Punxsutawney
Of course, the ultimate experience in Punxsutawney is to witness the groundhog make his annual weather prediction on Feb. 2. But if you can’t be there for the famous event, you can still visit the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center, which is geared toward kids, according to reviews. You can also visit Gobblers Knob, where Phil takes the stage every year. Punxsutawney is a small town in the Pennsylvania Wilds, about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
Address: 201 N. Findley St., Punxsutawney, PA 15767
You might also be interested in:
More from U.S. News