If you need a day out and you’re willing to travel a little bit right now, Pennsylvania has plenty to offer. And among the most interesting and popular areas is good old Pennsylvania Dutch County — a.k.a. Lancaster County.
Sure, everyone knows that there’s a strong, expansive Amish community in Lancaster, and there’s plenty of ways to explore that. But Lancaster, located about 90 minutes from Philadelphia, is much more than that, thanks to elements like its strong arts scene, rich history, and killer downtown area. In short, there is no lack of things to do, especially if you’re down for a day trip.
But remember, with the coronavirus pandemic still going, there is always a risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19 when it comes to traveling and going out. So make sure to take proper precautions like social distancing, wearing your mask, and regularly washing your ands — and always be sure you are abiding by the rules at any location you visit.
If all that sounds doable, we’ve rounded up a few spots in Lancaster that you can visit on a day trip from Philly. Check out the list below:
Arts and museums
Gallery Row. Lancaster has a strong local art scene, and you can get a taste of it (and maybe even take home a piece) on Gallery Row. Located in downtown Lancaster, it has spots like the Liz Hess Gallery and CityFolk Gallery, which have everything from paintings and sculptures to photography and jewelry. Nearby: If you’re staying the night and want to do it somewhere artistic, check out the Lancaster Arts Hotel, which features some 269 pieces by 36 artists across 63 rooms. 100 block of North Prince Street, hours vary, lancastercityartgalleries.com.
Demuth Museum. Dedicated to modernist painter (and Lancaster native) Charles Demuth, this museum is housed in the artist’s former home and studio in town, and features more than 50 of his paintings — plus exhibitions from other artists. Coronavirus precautions are in place, and admission is donation-based (but timed tickets are required). 120 E. King St., open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 717-299-9940, demuth.org.
North Museum of Nature and Science. There’s plenty to learn at this museum, which has exhibits on everything from dinosaurs to arthropods. Plus, you can even go off-planet with a trip to their planetarium — which the museum says is the largest in South Central PA. 400 College Ave., open 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, 717-358-3941, northmuseum.org.
Local history and walking tours
Historic Lancaster Walking Tour. Dig into the area’s history with a guided tour from the Historic Lancaster Walking Tour, which has been educating visitors for more than 40 years. Trained volunteers lead a scenic stroll through more than 250 years of the city’s history. 38 Penn Square, open April through October (tours daily at 1 p.m., and at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays), 717-392-1776, historiclancasterwalkingtour.org.
Ghost Tour of Lancaster. Go for something a little more spooky from this outfit, which has offered candlelight walking tours of the city with a paranormal twist since 1995. Their stories about curses, vigils, and other ethereal phenomena cover 300 years of history. 25 S. Queen St., hours vary by season, 717-687-6687, ghosttour.com.
Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy Rides. If you’re looking for a more old-timey tour of the Lancaster area, Aaron and Jessica have got you covered. Their buggy tours take you through Amish country farms and villages, and you can choose from several routes, depending on what you want to see. 3121 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-In-Hand, open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, 717-768-8828, amishbuggyrides.com.
Eating and drinking
Lancaster Central Market. Established in 1730, this spot is considered the country’s oldest, continuously running public farmers' market. Home to more than 60 local vendors, you’ll be able to find everything from fresh produce and locally sourced meats and cheeses to baked goods and candies. 23 N. Market St., open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday, 717-735-6890, centralmarketlancaster.com.
Beiler’s Doughnuts. Yep, the same folks who offer the best donuts in Reading Terminal Market are slinging treats in Lancaster, too. This spot serves as their main headquarters, so grab a quick dozen (or three) and indulge your sweet tooth at the source. 398 Harrisburg Pike, open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 717-869-6415, beilersdoughnuts.com.
Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery. Baker Julius Sturgis opened this spot in 1861, making the first commercial pretzel bakery in the country. And now, you can learn from the masters on a tour of the original facility, where you’ll get a lesson in pretzel twisting with a playdough mixture (call ahead for reservations). 219 E. Main St., Lititz, open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, 717-626-4354, juliussturgis.com
Lancaster Brewing Company. Lancaster’s craft beer scene is a must-see for beer drinkers. Start with Lancaster Brewing Co. — arguably the city’s best-known brewery. Everything from milk stout to pilsner is on tap, and there’s a full menu that includes thin crust pizza, crab cakes, and pierogis, too (indoor and outdoor seating available). 302 N. Plum St., open 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, 717-391-6258, lancasterbrewing.com.
Meduseld Meadery. It’s not just beer that’s pouring in Lancaster — there’s some great craft mead, too. Meduseld, which opened in 2017, has more than a dozen taps and offers options like orange creamsicle and snickerdoodle-inspired meads, as well as house-made hard seltzers and beer. Or you can just show up for their axe throwing range. 252 Harrisburg Pike, open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, 717-208-6144, meduseldmeadery.com.
Spring House Brewing Company. Spring House is among Lancaster’s newer breweries, having opened its new home in the city in 2015. It is, however, a must-try, thanks to its excellent hazy IPAs, sours, and stouts — as well as a menu that includes brisket, pulled pork, and wings. There’s even a dog-friendly patio during the warmer months. 209 Hazel St., open noon to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and noon to midnight on Friday and Saturday, 717-984-2530, springhousebeer.com.
Stoll & Wolfe Distillery. For something a little stronger, head to Stoll and Wolfe’s Lititz headquarters, where you can get a taste (and take home a bottle) of their Pennsylvania rye whiskey and bourbon. Outdoor seating on the patio is available, and you can even get cocktails like a whiskey sour with Thai basil, or a pineapple-infused rock and rye. 35 North Cedar St., Lititz, open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesay and Thursday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, 717-799-4499, stollandwolfe.com.
Nissley VIneyards. Oenophiles in need of a glass can head to Nissley Vineyards, which produces 30 varieties of wine from 14 varieties of grapes grown on their 30-acre plot of vines. Self-guided tours are currently on hold, but you can head out to the vineyard for a tasting or bottle, and picnics are encouraged. 140 Vintage Dr., Bainbridge, open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, 717-426-3514, nissleywine.com.
For the kids
Choo Choo Barn. For locomotive-obsessed kids (and big kids), it’s tough to beat Strasburg’s Choo Choo Barn. Open since 1961, this spot is a classic, and it features a 1,700-square-foot model train layout with more than 150 animated figures and 22 trains. Just remember to wear your mask and social distance. And if your tykes are itching for an actual train ride, head on over to Strasburg Rail Road, where you can book an authentic steam train ride through Amish country. 226 Gap Rd., Strasburg, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, 717-687-7911, choochoobarn.com.
Hands-On House Children’s Museum. Perfect for kids aged 2 to 10, the Hands-On House is a great place to let your child’s imagination run wild. Exhibits include the outdoor-themed “Right In Your Own Backyard,” the agriculturally focused “Little Valley” farm, and the artsy Clubhouse Art Studio, so feel free to get creative. 721 Landis Valley Rd., open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, 717-569-5437, handsonhouse.org.
Tiny Town. Think of Tiny Town like a backyard play set gone full Broadway, and you’ve got an idea of what this playplace has to offer. Designed for kids 7 and under, it’s home to “locations” like Ruby’s Hospital, Uncle Brent’s Garage, and Bailey’s Market — all of which are the perfect places for your youngster to play make-believe. 533 Janet Ave., open 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 717-947-7350, tinytownpa.com.
Turkey Hill Experience. It ain’t Wawa, but the Turkey Hill Experience has plenty to offer. Check out exhibits like the Turkey Hill Taste Lab (where you can make your own ice cream flavor) and Tea Discovery (where you can learn about and taste teas from around the world), and don’t forget to fill up on free samples. Please note: Reservations required. 301 Linden St., Columbia, hours vary by month, 1-844-847-4884, turkeyhillexperience.com.
Go 'N Bananas Family Fun Center. This jungle-themed, family friendly indoor attraction has something for kids of all types. From a ropes course and laser tag to miniature bowling and a bumper cars course, this one should wear the kiddos out nicely. Like elsewhere, masks, social distancing, reduced capacity are all part of the game now. 1170 Garfield Ave., hours vary by month, 717-287-5000, gonbananas.com.
Lancaster Science Factory. At it since 2008, the Lancaster Science Factory makes STEM education creative and fun. That’s done with more than 75 hands-on exhibits that run the gamut from structural engineering to acoustics and sound, so something’s bound to grab your kid’s curiosity. 454 New Holland Ave., open noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, 717-509-6363, lancastersciencefactory.org.
Dutch Wonderland. For a full-on amusement park experience, consider a trip to Dutch Wonderland (but save it for 2021, as the 2020 season is over). Open since 1963, this is a classic Lancaster County family destination, and today features more than 35 rides and attractions, plus a water play area known as Duke’s Lagoon, and a campground. 2249 Lincoln Highway East, hours vary by season, 866-386-2839, dutchwonderland.com.
Chickies Rock County Park. Located on more than 422 acres of Lancaster County land, Chickies Rock County Park offers plenty of scenic views of the Susquehanna River, and 14 miles of multi-use trails. But the big draw is Chickies Rock, which is a huge outcropping of rock 100 above the river (oh, and there’s also a supposedly haunted tunnel, too). 880 Chickies Hill Rd., Columbia, 717-299-8000, co.lancaster.pa.us.
Hot Air Balloon Rides. Get outdoors and up in the air with the United States Hot Air Balloon Team, which offers hot air balloon flights overlooking the Lancaster Country side. And if you want something more romantic, you can even book a private flight with your sweetie — if you’ve got a spare $895 to burn. 2727 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-in-Hand, flights at 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily (call 800-723-5884 to confirm launch time), 717-276-9326, ushotairballoon.com.
Lancaster County Central Park. At 544 acres, Lancaster County Central Park is the area’s largest park, and it has everything from multi-use trails and historical covered bridges to attractions like the Garden of Five Senses and a 10-acre, tent-only camping area. But if you’ve got a little shredder in tow, make sure you check out the quarter-acre skate park. 1050 Rockford Rd., 717-299-8000, co.lancaster.pa.us.
White Cliffs of Conoy. Everyone knows England’s White Cliffs of Dover, but Lancaster County has its own version with the White Cliffs of Conoy. Located in Koser Park, these limestone and dolomite cliffs are an easy, 1.5-mile hike from the park’s parking lot, and were created due to a long-defunct limestone quarry piling up rock as high as 30 feet. 107 Race St., Bainbridge (parking lot access), 717-252-0229, susquehannariverlands.com.
The Amish Village. Get a better look at Pennsylvania Dutch Country at the Amish Village, a 12-acre property complete with an authentic farmhouse that was built in 1840. Options include a tour of the farmhouse and village, and a “Backroads Bus Tour” that takes you on a 90-minute journey through Amish country. 199 Hartman Bridge Rd., Ronks, open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday to Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 717-687-8511, amishvillage.com.