Rolling hills dotted with picture perfect farms. Small historic towns oozing old world charm. Horse drawn buggies roped up at the local grocers. Known as the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Lancaster County is synonymous with all things Amish and a simpler way of life.
I first visited the area a few years ago when I came to see friends. I fell in love with the serene landscapes, boutique shopping, and all the hilariously quirky town names. You’ll see what I mean. However, I didn’t get to everything on my to-do list, so I was keen for a revisit. This time Jeremy even got to tag along.
All located within Lancaster County, this top 10 list aims to inspire a memorable trip to the area. We hope you enjoy Pennsylvania Dutch Country as much as we did.
Where to Stay in Pennsylvania Dutch Country?
Attractions in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country are spread out across Lancaster County. It doesn’t really matter which town or city you stay in. Though, we found it most convenient to stay within 15 miles of Lancaster city.
- Hampton Inn & Suites in Ephrata – We spent our first few nights at this hotel. It was everything we’d expect from a Hampton Inn; clean, quiet, and comfortable.
- The Carriage House at Strasburg – The Hampton Inn was already booked out when we decided to extend our stay in the area. Luckily, we found this gem. The owners of this small motel have done an amazing job refurbishing it into a modern, clean, and comfortable lodging. The rooms even include a delicious breakfast across the street at the Speckled Hen Coffee House.
- Lancaster Arts Hotel – Originally constructed in the 1880’s, this converted brick warehouse is perfect for anyone looking for a bit of character in the heart of Lancaster city. We were keen to stay here, but they were already fully booked for our trip.
1. Start Your Day at the Lancaster Central Market
Come hungry, and ideally with a sweet tooth. The most popular spot in Lancaster is the Lancaster Central Market. Only open on Saturdays and Tuesdays, the market is the oldest, continuously running public farmers’ market in the country.
Its 60+ stalls include everything from freshly made breads, to produce, to canned jams, to knitwear. They also have an impressive section of international foods, like empanadas, falafel, West African dishes, and even freshly made pasta. Though, we favored the doughnuts. Yum!
2. Get Something Printed from the .918 Club
As we wandered the streets and boutique shops of Lancaster, we came across the most impressive handcraft market, BUilDING CHARACTER. Tucked down a little alley off N. Queen Street, there are over 70 vendors with tons of unique and quirky gifts.
At the front of the market, step into a 1920’s print shop. Run by volunteers from the .918 Club, the Heritage Press Museum keeps the art of printmaking alive with demonstrations.
We fell in love with their passion for their craft and showed our support by buying beautifully printed Christmas cards.
3. Learn to Twist Pretzels in Lititz
In the adorably sweet town of Lititz is the country’s first commercial pretzel bakery. Established in 1861, visitors can tour the original Julius Sturgis Bakery and learn how to make that famous pretzel twist. Unfortunately, they don’t give away their famous recipe, nor can you cook your play dough pretzel, but it’s a fascinating look into how the business progressed through the years.
4. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth at Wilbur Chocolate
Pennsylvania is known for chocolate making. Though Hershey’s is by far the most famous Pennsylvanian chocolate company, it wasn’t the first. Nor were they the first to sell chocolate drops. Wilbur’s Chocolate Buds were on the market almost 13 years before the famous little kisses appeared.
Though the old Wilbur Chocolate factory is now a hotel, apartment complex, and food hall, the new Wilbur Chocolate shop sits right across the street in Lititz. You can still watch the chocolate being made, and sample some of their sweetness.
5. Step into the Past at Ephrata Cloister
Located in the town of Ephrata, the Cloister is a true step back in time.
Developed in the early 1700’s, the Cloister was a spiritual community of around 80 celibate “brothers” and “sisters”. The founder, Conrad Beissel, believed earthly life should be spent preparing to achieve a spiritual union with God at the Second Coming.
The community went into decline after the founder passed in 1768, with the last member dying in 1813. We would guess having only celibate members played a role in the community’s demise. Today, the historic village is preserved as a museum.
As Covid affected opening hours, we weren’t able to go inside the buildings. However, we were able to walk around the site. There is a virtual online tour, with a map of the site and information on each of the buildings.
6. Hunt for Covered Bridges
Who doesn’t love covered bridges? We were surprised to learn there are so many of these historical beauties dotted around the countryside.
Our favorites included the Pinetown Bridge, originally built in 1868, and the Line Valley Bridge, originally built in 1871. Both were in such pretty settings, with gorgeous interiors.
There are approximately 24 covered bridges remaining in Lancaster County. We managed to track down six. Each had a small information board with its history. How many will you find?
7. Learn About the Amish Way of Life
One of the most popular things to do in Pennsylvania Dutch Country is to tour an Amish village or house. The Amish Farm and House and the Amish Village are set up like museums where you can learn about the culture. In addition, there are a dozen or so tour companies that offer bus tours of the countryside and horse drawn buggy tours.
Before doing one of these tours, we recommend visiting the Mennonite Information Center, just outside of Lancaster. It’s a great place to learn about the religions and the differences between the Mennonites and Amish.
8. Shop for Amish Wares in Pennsylvania Dutch Country
From extraordinary handmade furniture to tacky tourist tat, shopping in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country is big business and a fun way to spend some of your time.
In the small town of Intercourse (yes, that is the name so enjoy the childish giggle), is Kettle Kitchen Village. With about 30 very cute boutique shops, you’ll find something for everyone on your list. Be sure to stop by the Jam & Relish Kitchen to watch them make and can the products.
Only a few miles down the road is the Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market, look for the covered wagon out front. This is a really cool market to look through. Mostly, they sell Amish products including local cheeses, meats, and sweets, but there are also a lot of housewares.
9. Take the Train at Strasbourg Rail Road
There’s something exciting about a steam train, especially one with old world charm. The Strasbourg Rail Road company offers 45-minute luxury rides through the Pennsylvania countryside.
For train aficionados, they also do specialty tours of the workings of the trains. There’s a tour of the 611 cab, a tour of their mechanical shop, and even a tour on how they maintain and ready the trains.
10. Try the Local Food
We’ve saved the best till last, or maybe the worst, you decide.
Everywhere from marketplaces to local shops and restaurants carry what are known as Amish foods. The desserts are especially popular.
We found the concoction of eggs, molasses, brown sugar, flour and shortening, known as Shoofly-pie to be over-the-top sweet. However, we did like it better than the very popular Whoopie Pies, which honestly were just gross in our opinion.
It wasn’t all bad, we promise. If you’re a foodie, check out our post on the 16 Foods to Try in Pennsylvania Dutch Country.
Learn More for Your Trip
It is worth learning more about the Amish while you’re in the area.
- The Lancaster Visitor Center has a free small pamphlet available called Lancaster County Amish: Their Lifestyle, Beliefs, & Heritage. We felt it provided a wonderful overview.
- However, if you prefer something with more depth, we found the book Simply Amish: An Essential Guide from the Foremost Expert on Amish Life informational.
Plan on spending more time in Pennsylvania?
- We found the DK Eyewitness Guide to Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Dutch Country useful for planning our trips. We love the photos and illustrations for inspiration.