Lancaster, Pennsylvania, sometimes referred to as Amish country, or Pennsylvania Dutch country, offers a plethora of things to do for married couples and families looking to get away for a weekend.
The city not only boasts thousands of acres of Amish farmland with related activities, but also has a booming downtown with gastropub eateries, vintage stores, and a Central Market that offers just about every type of food product you can think of.
Here’s a list of things to do if you’re traveling down to Lancaster for the weekend.
This is the first and most important thing you need to know about Lancaster. Since the city is mostly Amish and Mennonite, most of the great markets and shops are closed on the Lord’s day so you’ll really have to look long and hard for things to do if you decide to spend a traditional weekend there. Instead, you should should take a Friday off if possible and leave early this way you can have at least two days of good sightseeing and shopping. There are a few places open on Sunday, but it’s just not worth the hassle if you can free up your Friday.
The Lancaster Central Market is located in the downtown area of the city which mirrors neighborhoods in Philadelphia with brownstones and bustling streets. The market itself is staged in a large warehouse and has local vendors selling all kinds of goods, from fresh fruit, to butchered meats, coffee and sweets, and even some rare delicacies like sweet bologna and headcheese (yuck). Sweet bologna is a smoky alternative to the kind we normally eat, and is worth trying if you make it to Lancaster.
Shopping at the Amish Markets
The Amish create quality wood products which are sold at many of the shops along the main highways in Lancaster. There’s also no shortage of farmers markets which offer fresh produce, delicious baked goods, and their shoofly pie which is a pie made with just brown sugar and molasses.
Some shops even give you a slice topped with whipped cream to eat while you browse the store. If you just bought a house, I highly recommend heading down to Lancaster for items like tables, chairs, bedroom sets, and even outdoor goods. You get the quality-level of a top furniture outlet here without having to pay corporate, marked-up prices.
Sight and Sound Theaters
You don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy the amazing productions put on at the Sight and Sound theater. This massive, Disney-like performing arts center has wowed crowds for years putting on big productions like “Jesus” and “The Miracle of Christmas” that employ the use of live visual effects and real animals. Sure, every play is usually based on some kind of biblical story, but that doesn’t mean they slack when it comes to bringing it to life, or take advantage of a built-in religious audience. Sight and Sound’ productions rival some of Broadway’s best and is definitely a great place to see a show, especially during the holidays.
Good ‘N Plenty
Good ‘N Plenty is a staple in Pennsylvania Dutch country and offers traditional cuisine from the culture family style. That’s right; you’ll never go hungry when visiting this cozy eatery. Just make sure you’re prepared to wait before getting there since it gets crowded rather quickly. Some of the best dishes include their fried chicken, ham loaf (meat loaf made with ham), roast beef (tastes more like brisket), and homemade butter and apple butter that is literally to die for.
Millers Smorgasbord Restaurant
If you’ve already been to Good ‘N Plenty and want a little more variety on demand, then Millers might be just the place for you. It offers Pennsylvania Dutch classics like the fried chicken, but also has an amazing salad bar and countless desserts for you sweets lovers out there.
Millers is buffet style, so you won’t have to wait very long to eat, but this place also fills up quickly so you’ll probably have to wait before being seated. They also have some tasty, home-brewed beers that you’ll wanna try. I strongly recommend the strawberry blend.
Visit an Amish Farm
The Amish are a unique and fascinating culture that has chosen a more slow-paced life in order to focus more on God and family. This is something I learned when visiting one of the Amish farms where you are taken on a tour, and given a rich history lesson on the people who you see riding around the highways in a horse and buggy. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see some of their animals, and even have a conversation with them. The Amish have no issue communicating with the outside world, but they abide by strict rules created by the bishops of their church which encourage a lifestyle that has moved at the same pace for the last few hundred years.
Take a Horse and Buggy Ride
There are a few Amish outlets that offer horse and buggy rides. If you’re not allergic to these beautiful beasts like I am, or just want some kind of thrill, then head over to one of the many places offering a ride and take one. The buggies are equipped with state of the art traffic blinkers and even have reflectors so you should be safe riding in one of these things. Plus, you see them constantly when visiting Lancaster so it will probably encourage you to try it at least once.
Stay at a Bed and Breakfast
Lancaster is a cozy, welcoming city and a big hotel just doesn’t capture the essence of what this place is. Bed and Breakfasts like Bird in Hand give you that old country vibe. You’ll feel right at home, and if you’re with your significant other, it will make the trip a bit more romantic.
Many of these places are quaint and quiet. They provide maps and guides with things to do as well as coffee and breakfast in the morning. They also have their own shops where you can buy baked goods and little trinkets to take home as souvenirs.
Get Some Apple Butter
Apple butter is king in Lancaster. This brown sugary treat can be enjoyed on just about anything and is sold at many farmer’s markets. You can sample it anywhere and once you try it, I guarantee you’ll be hooked. Trust me!