It’s not all about the Amish in Lancaster, Pa., though that’s certainly one of the popular draws for visiting this day trip-friendly destination.
Located in the south-central part of the state, less than a three-hour drive from Fairfax, Lancaster first welcomed religious refugees from Germany in the 18th century. Today’s Amish — descendants of those refugees, who were attracted by the area’s tolerant religious views — still live and farm here in the largest Amish community in the U.S. In this day of nonstop pinging from our various electronic gizmos, the Amish — with their basic lifestyle (as in, no cars, no electricity, no personal telephones, etc.) — are something of an unwilling, though not at all unfriendly, tourist attraction themselves as visitors try to get a glimpse into their self-described “plain” lives.
Lancaster in general has a long history, dating back to 1734. Originally known as Hickory Town, its name later was changed to Lancaster, after the city in England. It briefly served as capital of the 13 colonies in 1777, and later as state capital, from 1799-1812.
In addition to its many Amish-related attractions, from quilt shops to horse and carriage rides, in recent years Lancaster also has become a popular destination for arts lovers, foodies, and, of course, shoppers (from antiques- to outlet bargain-hunters).
Fun fact: America’s first paved road was built between Philadelphia and Lancaster. It was called the Philadelphia-Lancaster Turnpike and now is part of U.S. Route 30.
Not to miss:
2395 Lincoln Highway East
For more than 60 years, the Amish Farm and House has been a “don’t miss” for anyone interested in learning about the Amish way of life. The farm is situated on 25 acres and tours of the house, farm and nearby countryside are offered daily year-round.
23 North Market St.
Lancaster Central Market is the country’s oldest farmers market. It’s located in a 120-year-old red brick building in the heart of Amish country where you can sample such regional food specialties as Pennsylvania Dutch sausage, scrapple (a breakfast meat of pork scraps and cornmeal), head cheese, preserves, chowchow (pickled vegetables in a spicy mustard sauce), apple butter and shoofly pie. The market is open 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, year-round.
There are more than 25 snapshot-worthy covered bridges in Lancaster County. Sometimes called “kissing bridges,” they make a romantic stop for a stolen smooch. For information on driving tours, visit www.padutchcountry.com.
2249 Lincoln Highway East
If you have little ones in tow, you’ll want to visit this 43-acre family amusement park with more than 30 rides, a water-play area, live entertainment, games, food and the requisite royals — Princess Brooke, Duke the Dragon, and an assorted collection of knights. The park opens the last weekend in April, remains open on weekends only until the first of June, and then opens daily for the summer season.
Time your visit to Lancaster just right, and you can enjoy a First Friday evening when galleries and shops stay open until 9 p.m., host exhibit openings and artists’ receptions, and offer entertainment and refreshments. In the spring and fall, the city also hosts Lancaster ArtWalk, a celebration of visual, performing and culinary arts. This spring’s ArtWalk will take place on May 4-5.