Lancaster PA is often overlooked by travelers and people looking for a place to go to for a vacation. But it is a place rich in culture and fun things to do for families. This list is an example of a few of the best things to do in Lancaster.
My family and I had already visited Pennsylvania before. When we did, we had larger attractions in mind, such as Hershey’s Chocolate World and the Turkey Hill Experience. We all loved it but I felt like we were missing out on so much by going only to the most touristy places.
So I planned to go back to explore the culture a little more. For this, Lancaster County looked like the perfect place to use as our home-base. It’s a small city formed by tons of agricultural farms.
A large portion of the population consists of Amish people. They are masters at farming and simple living. So the area overflows with lush vegetation and great quality produce. But aside from small churches, horses, plantations and locally run schools, Lancaster has also developed a more modern side worth exploring.
All of that got my family and I really excited. We had been exploring mostly large cities on the last few trips and some fun in the countryside sounded perfect.
7 Things to Do in Lancaster PA with Kids
1. “All You Can Eat” restaurants
This isn’t a place to visit in itself. “All You Can Eat” and “Family Style” eating seems to be a trend throughout the city. You will find tons of restaurants like this. Heads up: these aren’t your normal buffets. At Lancaster County, all-you-can-eat restaurants offer something that they like to call family-style meals. And it’s a great idea! This was pretty much the only type of restaurant that we visited.
What is family style? It is this unique style where you sit at a huge table with other restaurant patrons to enjoy a home-cooked country meal. These are normally offered for lunch and dinner. This is an experience everyone should have at least once. Entrees and side dishes are served the same way they are at home (family style, get it?) in bowls and on plates to be passed around. Everyone takes what they want, and passes it on. “Please pass the green beans” is actually a great conversation starter!
2. Strasburg Rail Road
Located only 20 minutes in a car from downtown Lancaster, the oldest steam train in the world is still working. By buying a ticket, you get to go on a 45-minute ride through the Amish countryside. While on board, you’ll listen to a recording about fun facts and history of the train and surroundings.
The coolest part about the Strasburg Rail Road is that you also get to go on the tour and experience an authentic dining experience on board.
3. Lancaster County Carriage & Antique Auction
Ok, this is an annual event, not a place to visit, but it was one of the best experiences we had in the region. It is an annual event that happens in June. In 2018 it is going to be the 28th and 29 of June.
At the auction, you will be able to purchase things like fine carriages, miniature horses, furniture, quilts and other handmade crafts made by the Amish. If you don’t have to take a plane to go back, you could also take the chance to buy some of their plants.
But even if you are not there for shopping, it is so much fun and exciting to see the auctions happen. And the traditional, local food is also worth trying.
4. Visit the Amish Village
Now, the food and the auction gave us an idea of what the Amish are all about, but we didn’t get to know what their culture is really about until we visited the Amish Village.
The tour is held on a 12-acre property. Here you will find authenticity: a one-room schoolhouse, barn with farm animals, blacksmith shop, smokehouse market, village store, windmill and a few other buildings. It will take you 25 minutes to explore the farmhouse. Plan on at least 30 more minutes to explore the rest of the village. After that, you also have the option to go on a bus tour along the backroads.
Reservations aren’t needed but recommended, especially if you want the combo of the 3 tours.
5. Corn Cob Acres
The easiest way to explain what this place is all about would be by calling it a farm/theme park. In this case, my older son didn’t get to enjoy it as much as the other kids, because it is targeted towards younger kids. My younger son had a blast in the rides.
First is the barnyard with tons of fun rides, slides, trains, sandboxes and caves ball toss. Then there is the pumpkin patch with face painting, slides, pumpkin painting, scarecrow dressing and photo spots. Lastly, there is another area with food trucks, a small gift shop and bathrooms.
6. Dutch Wonderland
This is another theme park, but this one has more varied rides.
I’m not even going to try to mention some of them because there are over 35 of them. But my oldest was able to find rides that would excite him. The favorite part for both of my sons was the fact that this park also has a small water park in it. They even have numerous live shows daily.
TravelingMom Tip: Hours at Dutch Wonderland depend on the season. So check their calendar when planning your visit.
7. Refreshing Mountain
Now this one is for those nature lovers looking for some adventure and more contact with the great outdoors.
Refreshing Mountain is an adventure park with attractions like canopy tours, swimming pools with trampolines, an elevated obstacle course and a farm animal section where you get to ride horses and pet some other animals.
You can even stay within the park by renting one of their rustic yet comfortable cabins. We only visited the park for four hours because we had limited time in the area. But I would have definitely loved to stay.
Lancaster is much more than I ever imagined. It ended up being an amazingly enriching and educational experience for all of us.