Lancaster County is about 3 hours drive from New York City, with glorious farmland, Pennsylvania Dutch smorgasbord and Amish themed tours, it is truly a wonderful weekend getaway from your busy city life. I first visited Lancaster in the summer of 2013, and have been coming back at least once a year ever since.
Arrive Thursday Night
If you leave the city around 5pm or 6pm, you can manage to get in Lancaster before 9pm. I would recommend staying in the East Lancaster area, such as Bird-In-Hand, Paradise or Ronks etc. Those locations are very close to the Amish settlement, and have supermarkets and restaurants nearby. There are lots of hotels along the Lincoln Highway East, or if you like Bed & Breakfast, many of them are along the Old Philadelphia Pike.
Friday with Old Order Amish
Friday is for Amish, but first stop by Lancaster Central Market to get breakfast. Lancaster Central Market is the oldest farmers market in the country (according to its website) and opens Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It has the standard farmer’s market stuff: fresh fruit, produce, coffee and tea. There are also Amish crafts, cookies, cakes and pies sold. It also surprised me with its gluten-free bread and cookies.
Now onto the Amish adventure. Amish Farm and House is a must stop for its informative bus tours. The tour takes you through the photographic Amish farmland and makes stops at Amish craft shops and roadside stands to try their homemade lemonade, ice cream and hand rolled pretzel.
Another must-do is the “Visit In Person (VIP)” tour offered by Amish Experience at Plain and Fancy Farm. Buy tickets online and enjoy a very personal visit to Amish businesses and family. We visited an Amish dairy farm and a soap shop, and saw the process of milking cows and making soaps. And the best part is our last stop at an Amish home, we got to sit in the living room of an Amish family and talk to them. One of the daughters of the family is a school teacher for Amish kids, so we actually looked at their textbooks used in school. It’s very informative and very personal. There is also an Amish Experience Theater at Plain & Fancy Farm where you can see a screening of “Jacob’s Choice” about a young Amish boy’s struggle in choosing the Amish church, or leaving behind family and community for the “English” world.
Whether you choose to go on a buggy ride or drive through the back road on your own, a must stop is the Countryside Road Stand for its soft pretzels. They are made fresh, you can watch the Amish ladies make them right in front of you. They are hot, buttery and so yummy. They also have homemade ice cream and root beer.
Saturday in Hershey
On Saturday you can either extend your Amish adventures or do something different and visit the Hershey Park. Hershey Park is about an hour away from Lancaster, with an amusement park and a water park, you can spend all day there. At night after the entire day of rides, dine at Khana Indian Bistro for some tandoori chicken or fish curry, the food is great and it opens late.
Sunday in Strasburg
Lancaster is like a lot of other small towns that has quiet Sundays, because a lot of restaurants and shops choose to close on Sundays, but there are still some fun things to do. Climb aboard on the trains at Strasburg Rail Road and enjoy a 45-minute, round-trip ride through the scenic Amish countryside to Paradise, PA and back. Marvel at more than 1,000 acres of farm fields as they pass by your window. Reserve tickets online for first class cars, or just walk up to the ticketing booth for coach class.
Rest of Sunday is a good time for shopping. There is Park City Center Mall and several outlet malls in the area and since PA has no sales tax on clothes and shoes, buy as much as you can carry ;)
Where To Stay
I usually book a hotel on Priceline.com because I interned at Priceline.com and loved it. I don’t work there anymore because I can only work full time for an employer that sponsor H1B visa, but I still love to use Priceline.com every time I travel. Sometime I also like to stay in other people’s homes through Airbnb.
What Else To Do
Visit Hayloft Candles for candles of all occasions and see how candles are made. There is also a petting zoo free of admission.
If you are interested in religious shows and experiences, one time my host recommended me to Sight & Sound Theater. I’m not religious so I didn’t go, but I see the good reviews on Yelp and other travel websites.
For gifts and souvenirs, check out Kitchen Kettle Village for Amish dolls, pickles, foods and crafts.
For outdoors, make a stop at the Wolf Sanctuary of PA.
Where To Workout
Where To Eat
For lunch and dinner, definitely try the Pennsylvania Dutch smorgasbord, there are Plain & Fancy Farm Restaurant, Good ‘N Plenty Restaurant, and Miller’s Smorgasbord. Lititz Family Cupboard Restaurant & Buffet also serves breakfast buffet worth trying. Some restaurants in the area don’t open on Sundays, so you need to either call ahead or check Yelp to confirm the hours.
This category “Take Friday Off” is inspired by WSJ’s “Take Monday Off” on it’s Life section. So far my weekend getaways are restricted to places within the US because I can only renew my visa in my home country (China) and I have to do it once a year, so if I make a trip to some other country, I’ll have to go back to China, renew my visa before entering the US again. It’s really challenging because all I want to do is to spend money and have fun, and not being able to renew my visa in the US gave me a lot of trouble since I work at WSJ on breaking news, I can’t afford to break the “Breaking News” just to spend 3 days in Cozumel.