Lancaster, PA – Amish and More

About 25 years ago, my company had a meeting once in Lancaster, Pa. It seemed to be a convenient meeting point, since we had departmental offices from Pittsburgh all the way to Philadelphia. I don’t have too many distinct memories of the tour I took through the Amish and Mennonite communities, but I hope to relive the adventure again this summer with my daughter. She has no clue about that way of life, and can’t even imagine survival without the latest technology, let alone electricity. As I’ve searched and read library books and tourist brochures, I’m starting to get mixed feeling about the growth of the area. In one way, it’s great that it’s becoming more known, but it commercialism has hit the PA Dutch homeland just as much as it has other unique destinations.

There are at least five different groups that offer buggy rides through the countryside, one of them touting themselves as the “authentic” providers. So how does a visitor choose? There is no detail available regarding times or routes, so I guess I’ll just have to get there to find out. Not that these are important aspects, but it’s a different kind of appearance than if there was just one, if you know what I mean. There are a couple of different Amish village/farms, all boasting a lot of opportunities to see handmade quilts and buy local delicacies such as shoo-fly pie. Two different people had told me, both within the last week, that I must make it to the Lancaster Farmer’s Market for the best sausage and ice cream in the state. There are also 3 or 4 buffets and several “family style” restaurants that can provide visitors with their fill of the authentic culinary dishes as well.

The towns and farm areas of Intercourse and Bird-In-Hand offer local attractions such as historical museums, roadside fruit and vegetable stands, train rides and art galleries, while Hershey Park and Dutch Wonderland provide a day’s worth of family theme park entertainment. It seems that there are a lot of antique stores and outlets in the nearby vicinity, along with a pretzel factory, hot air balloon rides, and Indian Echo Caverns.

A short search uncovered the typical assortment of chain hotels and motels, but the area is also known for bed and breakfasts, as well as lodgings at working farms. There are approximately two dozen listed in the Lancaster Country Official Getaway Guide, and one of them is classified as “Equestrian Estates”. However, they are not in the immediate vicinity of the main streets, so if your goal is to be in walking distance to everything, these won’t meet that need. (I also found out that most bed and breakfast establishments do not return deposits if cancellations are made within a week or so or the reserved time, and many do not offer beds larger than doubles. So, as quaint as they may appear, B&B’s may not be your cup of tea when it comes to practicality.)

Edging out of this immediate area, everyone should be able to find something to keep them busy. There are miniature golf courses, a sports emporium (with go karts, batting cages, roller-skating, rock climbing, and a lasertron), Ephrata Cloisters, Herr’s Snack Factory, an Ice Rink, a Science Factory, and numerous vineyards, not to mention several golf courses and entertainment venues.

Another great thing about considering a visit to Lancaster for your family’s summer vacation is that it’s close to other notable places. It is less than 90 minutes from Gettysburg, PA and Philadelphia, and about two hours from Atlantic City. That means that, coming from the west, visitors can get an overview of the Civil War, as well as experiencing the many ghost tours of the Gettysburg battlefields and cemetery, before heading to Lancaster the next morning. Once there, it would be easy to spend a day and a half exploring the Amish, Mennonite and PA Dutch communities-in addition to taking advantage of Lancaster attractions-before heading to the city of Brotherly Love. In Philadelphia, the history lesson could continue for a day, and a traveler can spend that night looking out from their casino hotel room onto the Atlantic Ocean.

For more information, you should check out or visit to map your next educational, athletic, entertaining-and overall fun-trip-in the Keystone State.

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