Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County is famous for many things. Some of them include great Pennsylvania Dutch food, the peaceful serenity of Amish farms and buggies, history and culture museums, and great kid-oriented attractions. There are many different things to experience and explore that will make your trip to this bustling Pennsylvania county a vacation you will always remember.
First, a little bit about the Amish farmers whose properties make up a huge part of the area: Centuries ago, a strict religious group arrived from Germany around the same time as many other Pennsylvania German immigrants. The Amish people were Christians of a very strict order; their every activity, article of clothing, and action was regulated by the scriptures. Even today, the Amish do not favor electricity, modern amenities or popular dress. Visiting an Amish farm (you can even tour the grounds in some instances) is a great way to experience a life very different (and much calmer) than the one you’re used to living.
For another up close and personal glimpse of Amish life, take an actual buggy ride operated by an Amish family. This is a great way to see the countryside, experience transportation from a different viewpoint, and chat with some friendly and knowledgeable members of the faith. For children, especially, this would make a great introduction to “Pennsylvania Dutch Country,” as Lancaster County is known. Some of these tours drive on the back roads and farmlands without actually going into heavy traffic; if you want to get out on the open road, perhaps a vehicle tour would be a better option. Abe’s Buggy Rides and AAA Buggy Rides are two companies you may want to check into before your trip.
If you plan to visit Lancaster County you should not miss Ephrata Cloister, especially if you’re traveling with school-age children. These small wood buildings have been kept in good condition since the 18th century when a pious community of Pennsylvania Germans built and occupied the complex. The men and women who each had quarters here were not unlike the Catholic monks and nuns, but were German Protestants of a very strict religious organization. You will be able to enter some of these modest buildings like the Meetinghouse, the Academy, and many other restored buildings. You will even find a farm and an old cemetery nearby; here Conrad Beissel, the founder of the Ephrata Cloister, is buried.
Remember to spend at least a few hours here; there is much to see. Very small children may find the endless array of old homes boring and uneventful, but older children should appreciate the history and reverence of what they are seeing. Make it more interesting by reading to them what each place is, what the building represents, and how people lived there very long ago. The buildings themselves are graceful works of art, built to resemble medieval German structures.
Landis Valley, a living history museum, is also located in Lancaster. Here you can learn even more about the Pennsylvania German immigrants who made this place their home in the 18th century and later. Landis Valley is an outdoor reconstructed village, complete with a tavern, an elegant home, and many other buildings. Tour guides dressed in period garb will be happy to help you find your way. Children might enjoy the schoolhouse to compare how their modern schools differ from this older model. Remember to stop at the visitor center to find out anything you may have wanted to know about Landis Valley.
For a more lighthearted approach to Lancaster County (and one for which the kids would probably give a high thumps-up) try Dutch Wonderland. This name also alludes to the Germans who helped make the area famous (strangely enough, the name “Lancaster” is unmistakably British). Just a few of the things kids (and parents) can do here include golfing, riding the carousel, getting great food, and hanging around with themed characters from time to time.
Dutch Wonderland offers many reading and entertainment programs for children, but all in all, parents might find these activities to be worthy of a yawn. Having kids *and* parents happy is what family vacations are about, so you might want to steer clear and find a more “exciting” activity like the Pipeline Plunge or the Flying Trapeze. Don’t forget to try some park food, of course. Consider some funnel cake! Not only is it an extremely popular German food, but the taste is enough to keep you coming back for more!