Outdoor markets, warmly lit downtowns, cozy restaurants, cheerful locals... there is something special about American…
Life moves fast. From my phone’s constant pinging, the relentless shuttling of kids from school to swimming and soccer, a fun but demanding career… I sometimes find myself daydreaming of a life lived at a slower pace. That’s just one of the draws of visiting Lancaster County. The Pennsylvania Amish of Lancaster County is America’s oldest Amish settlement, where thousands still live a centuries-old “Plain” lifestyle. A few days spent here allows us to step back in time to enjoy a more peaceful pace. Here’s how to make the most of your trip.
Where to stay in Lancaster
When you think of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, you can’t help but think Amish. Why not immerse yourself into Plain culture with a farm stay? From electricity-free guesthouse experiences to homes with WiFi and outlets, there is something for every kind of traveler. Check out AmishFarmStay.com or AmishBnB.com (seriously, it’s a thing!) to book your unique accommodations.
For a relaxing, low-key luxury stay, book a room at the Inn in Kitchen Kettle Village. Located in Intercourse, PA (I’m not going to make jokes here, because frankly, I don’t have to), the idyllic guesthouse puts you in the heart of Kitchen Kettle Village, featuring shops, cafés, bakeries, restaurants, and more. You’ll find free parking and breakfast included with your reservation, which just makes things so much easier.
And now for something completely different. Drop your bags at the Fulton Steamboat Inn, just off Lancaster County’s main tourist drag. Inspired by the design of vintage steamboats, this hotel infuses an element of fun and whimsy in a sea of otherwise beige accommodations. Many rooms offer balconies, and some even have bunk beds. Add in a playground, duck and koi pond, pool, and onsite restaurant, and this is a place your kiddos will never forget.
Where to eat
I’m not really a big buffet person, but I’ll let that slide in Lancaster. This area is known for its smorgasbords—local lingo for the all-you-can-eat buffets featuring Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. Shady Maple offers the largest spread, with a rotating list of entrees like prime rib, fried shrimp, and more. The salad bar boasts 46 (yes, precisely 46) items, plus soups, fresh baked goods, a sundae bar, and lots of pies. Hope you packed your stretchy pants!
Farms, farms, and more farms mean lots of incredible local produce. Enjoy it all at the Horse Inn, a bar and restaurant dating back nearly 100 years. You’ll find dapperly dressed bartenders slinging inventive craft cocktails (the Pistol Under the Pillow sounds right up my alley—gin, pressed lemon, and grapefruit, with vanilla, lavender, and egg white); and modern takes on classics, like the FGBLT—a fried green tomato BLT with hand-pulled mozzarella.
Who doesn’t love wood-fired pizza? No one I want to hang out with! In Lancaster, it’s all about Luca, which brings the vibe and flavor of Italy to Dutch Country. Dig into small plates, like wood-grilled octopus with potatoes; fresh salads (the stone fruit salad with peaches, heirloom tomatoes, and Persian cucumber sounds divine); handmade pasta; and Neapolitan pizzas. With a fabulous Italian wine list and a notably extensive gluten-free menu, there’s something here for everyone.
What to do
Livin la Vida Amish
It’s impossible to visit Lancaster without wanting to explore what life is like for Plain people. Here are a few ways to immerse yourself into this culture.
Old Windmill Farm
See what life is like on this third-generation Amish farm. Book an hour-long tour, where guests will have the opportunity to bottle feed a calf, tour the garden, milk a cow, gather eggs, feed pygmy goats, and more. Afternoon and sunset hayrides run every day except Wednesday and Sunday.
A miniature version of anything is cuteness overload, but when it’s a miniature horse? It’s almost more than my heart can handle. Visit this stable (P.S. it’s free!), with 10 teeny horses waiting to be fed and pet. For a more in-depth experience, schedule a one-hour session where you can help with grooming and feeding, as well as cart and saddle rides. Next door to the horse barn, you’ll find the family’s woodworking shop and store, offering birdhouses, small furniture, picture frames, and other hand-crafted products.
Operated out of Plain N’ Fancy Farm, Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy Rides is one of the best ways to explore real, non-commercial Amish farms and the countryside. Offering both short and long rides, with seven routes to suit your interests, this is life experienced at a whopping 8 mph. Along the way, you’ll stop for homemade cookies and pretzels, lemonade and root beer.
Stop at a roadside stand.
From flowers to produce and baked goods, you’ll find all sorts of lovely things at Amish-run roadside stands. Though some stands accept personal checks, who honestly uses those anymore? Cash is king here, so hit up that ATM before you go. Often, no one is working at the stand, and the honor system is in full force. You’ll usually find a notebook to write down your purchase, as well as a tin or cashbox for placing money. If you don’t have the correct change, just round up.
Of course, there is more to Lancaster than Amish country. From theater to outdoor adventures, you’re not going to run out of things to do.
With over 35 rides, attractions, and shows, this amusement park is the perfect place for families. Though there are a few bigger thrill rides, preschool, and elementary-aged kids are Dutch Wonderland’s sweet spot. In addition to rollercoasters, kiddie rides, and classic amusements (hello, tilt-a-whirl!), there’s a water play area (Duke’s Lagoon) and animatronic dinosaur experience.
Love live theater? Visit the Fulton Opera House. Located in historic downtown Lancaster, the Fulton was built in 1852—reportedly the oldest working theatre in the United States. You’ll find professional productions of big names shows, like Mama Mia! and Evita; a children’s series (The Little Mermaid; Beauty and the Beast); as well as cutting-edge productions of lesser-known shows, like Wait Until Dark and Fun Home. During the summer, tours are offered Fridays at noon, go online or call ahead for reservations.
It’s been more than a century since wild wolves called Pennsylvania home. However, you’ll find dozens of them thriving at the Wolf Sanctuary of PA. This 80-acre property provides food, shelter, and veterinary care for over forty wolves. You may tour the property and learn about the wolves by appointment only, but those who do will leave with a newfound respect and admiration for this beautiful and mysterious creature.
Where to shop
As you’d expect, Pennsylvania Dutch country is rife with Amish handicrafts. There’s no better place to browse for quilts, furniture, and more than everyone’s favorite Amish town: Intercourse. Here, you’ll find the Old Country Store—a shop selling fabric, locally-made quilts and crafts, books and kitchen gadgets, and locally preserved foods. You can also sign up for craft classes, like quilting, embroidery, and kids sewing classes.
Intercourse is also home to Kitchen Kettle Village, a shopping center featuring 40 shops and restaurants—from local, traditional stores to big brands. Be sure to visit the Bake Shop for whoopie and shoofly pies. It’s what the region is known for. It’s a good thing calories don’t count when you’re on vacation.
Tips for Visiting Amish Country
Don’t take photos of the Amish. Of course, you can certainly ask, but don’t be offended if they say no. It’s generally thought of as disrespectful by their culture.
Treat Amish People Like People. I know this is obvious, but sometimes when plopped into a new cultural experience, even the most open-minded of us can get… awkward. Make conversation just like you would anywhere else. You’ll probably find you have a lot more in common than you thought!
Everything is Closed on Sunday. If you really need something, make sure you get it before the end of business on Saturday. And plan ahead for meals—lots of restaurants close that day, too. The good news is, that many people will be out and about, going to church services and activities, making the atmosphere fun and buzzy.
Dress respectfully. Even on the hottest days of the year, modest clothing may not be required, but it is appreciated.
Drive mindfully. Your car is sharing the road with slow-moving buggies, kids on scooters, and many pedestrians. Winding roads, blinding afternoon sun, and unpredictable horses make for dangerous driving conditions. Keep a handle on your speed and drive with care.
Photos courtesy DiscoverLancaster.com
Have you been to Lancaster County? Share your experience in the comments!
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