Best Things to Do in Lancaster, PA (2024)

04/18/24

Lancaster

History, culture, art, city life, and delicious food all come together in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Whether you're a longtime fan who visits often or are crossing state lines to explore the area for the first time, Lancaster County is packed with options for an unforgettable stay.

Lancaster City and its surrounding countryside combine Dutch and German history and heritage, riveting American colonial history, and thriving Amish communities for a true melting pot of culture you won't find anywhere else. Exciting activities aren't far away, either. You can shop, dine, and enjoy art at the many stunning businesses throughout the historic city.

Ready to plan your trip? Here are 30 of the best things to do in Lancaster, PA, perfect for weekend trips, vacations, or a great night out with family and friends.

Immerse in the Amish Culture and Experiences in Lancaster

The long-standing Amish residents of Lancaster have shaped Pennsylvanian history. Get a taste of the Amish lifestyle in one of these tranquil destinations.

Authentic Amish Experiences to Savor

Visit one of the many Amish community experiences in the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside for a close-up view of their way of life:

  • Amish Farm and House: The Amish Farm and House is just off Route 30 and includes a 15-acre farm, a one-room schoolhouse, artisan shops, and delightful farm animals. Take a 90-minute countryside tour by bus, tour the authentic Amish farmhouse, or take a self-guided tour of the farm. You can also join in on events such as goat yoga with some four-legged friends. Whatever floats your "goat!"
  • The Amish Village: Centered around an 1840s Amish farmhouse, you'll receive an in-depth introduction to the Amish way of life when you tour the 12-acre Amish Village community with its barn, schoolhouse, windmill, smokehouse market, blacksmith shop, and store, along with the farm's goats, horses, chickens, and Molly the Mule. Each tour provides a true representation of how Pennsylvania's Amish have lived in Pennsylvania for more than 300 years.
  • Old Windmill Farm: A frequent recipient of Tripadvisor's Traveler's Choice award, Old Windmill Farm immerses visitors in Amish culture and experiences with hands-on activities. Bottle feed a calf, milk a cow, and gather eggs on a farm tour, or take a hayride to explore the fields and farm. You can also help in the garden, take a barrel train ride, and join in on seasonal events.

Discover Historical Landmarks in Lancaster County

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History buffs will feel right at home when visiting Lancaster. The area is jam-packed with history, from its early settlement days to the American Revolution and the booming rise of rail transportation. With engaging guided and self-guided tours, you can dive into the rich history and heritage of the area. Here are a few of our top picks for reliving Lancaster's history:

  • Historic Rock Ford: Edward Hand was George Washington's adjutant general during the American Revolution, and his Historic Rock Ford mansion offers a window into 18th-century Lancaster. Just minutes from downtown Lancaster and across 33 acres of property, you can take guided tours of the 1794 Hand Mansion, explore the gardens, and browse the John J. Snyder, Jr. Gallery of Early Lancaster County Decorative Arts.
  • President James Buchanan's Wheatland: One of just two Pennsylvania-born presidents, James Buchanan's longtime residence was built in 1828. Located just west of Lancaster City, you can walk in the president's footsteps on a guided tour, stroll the Louise Arnold Tanger Arboretum on the grounds, and explore museum exhibitions and research from LancasterHistory.
  • Lancaster Central Market: Get a taste of the past while getting your shopping fix at Lancaster Central Market, the country's oldest publicly owned, continuously running farmers market. Established way back in 1730, its vendors now sell a wide variety of produce, meats, dairy, candies, and freshly made foods alongside flowers and home and wellness products.
  • The Ephrata Cloister: Featuring many of the original Germanic log, stone, and half-timbered buildings, the historic Ephrata Cloister settlement was a unique monastic community formed in 1732. Here, the celibate members would spend their days in work balanced with hours of private prayer to prepare for their eventual heavenly existence. The Cloister even served as a hospital during the American Revolution. Now, you can take tours through the fascinating buildings and grounds.
  • The Strasburg Rail Road™: Come aboard the Strasburg Rail Road, the oldest operating railroad in America with roots dating back to 1832. Step back in time and hop aboard an authentic steam train as you travel the Amish countryside. The Strasburg Rail Road also hosts special events throughout the year, such as lunches, dinners, wine and cheese tastings, and murder mystery rides, as well as special holiday themed rides. Perfect for little ones, they even offer a day filled with Thomas the Tank Engine on certain days throughout the year.
  • The Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum: Pennsylvania was a key destination for many German immigrants during the 1700s and 1800s who brought with them the rich culture and traditions of their original homeland. You can learn how they lived and thrived in their new homeland at the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, the largest Pennsylvania German museum in the nation. Enjoy tours of the buildings and farm along with a vast array of items from 1740-1940, including heirloom seeds passed down through the generations, or visit during one of their special themed events ranging from gardening and harvest days to Civil War Days and holidays.

Experience Lancaster's Museums and Theaters

Culture is around every corner in Lancaster, and you can experience it all when you visit local museums and theaters.

Journey Through Lancaster's Museums

From art enthusiasts to budding scientists, many visitors love exploring the museums in Lancaster. Here are some popular museums to visit, many of which double as historical landmarks in Lancaster:

  • The Hans Herr House and the 1719 Museum: If you want to step into early American history, the Hans Herr House — the oldest Mennonite meeting house in the Western Hemisphere — is a perfect place to visit in Lancaster, PA. Bishop Hans Herr was among the early Swiss Mennonites to settle in Pennsylvania and the house he built for his family in 1719 still stands. The 1719 Museum also features a reproduction of an Indigenous longhouse, farmhouses, barns, a blacksmith shop, and outdoor oven.
  • The Demuth Museum: Housed in a historic rowhome, explore the works of painter Charles Demuth in his old studio and learn about the influence of his unique life on his art and the influence of Demuth's unique art on the nation's 20th century art world. Be sure to check the museum's website before you go because they are closed when installing new exhibitions.
  • The North Museum of Nature and Science: Release your inner scientist at the North Museum of Nature and Science, which is packed to the brim with interactive exhibits and activities for all ages. From rocks and reptiles to thrilling planetarium shows, the museum's 84,000 objects display 500 million years of earth's history, offering hands-on experiences across numerous scientific disciplines.
  • The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania: Not far from the Strasburg Rail Road sits the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Boasting more than 100 historically significant locomotives and railroad cars and nearly 20,000 artifacts, here you can discover the stories of the travelers, workers, support industries, and manufacturers who helped build and maintain Pennsylvania's extensive rail system back when railroads were king.
  • The Lancaster Museum of Art: Though small, the Lancaster Museum of Art is bursting with the creativity of community artists. Explore special exhibitions in this historic home-turned-museum in Lancaster.

Be Entertained at Lancaster's Theaters

Visit one of the performance venues and theaters in Lancaster to enjoy a memorable night out in a historic venue, watch an arthouse movie, or squeeze in some belly laughs at a comedy show. These local theaters always offer exciting things to do in Lancaster, Pennsylvania:

  • Fulton Theater: With a rich history dating back to the mid-1800s, the Fulton Theater's venue boasts historic architecture, a full bar, and theater education. You'll find musicals and plays of all types filling its grand stage.
  • Trust Performing Arts Center: Located in the heart of downtown Lancaster, enjoy a variety of community theater, dance, and music, or hear from inspiring speakers in the historic and stunning setting of the Trust Performing Arts Center. Designed by prominent Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban in the early 1900s, this beautiful Beaux-Arts building originally housed the opulent headquarters of the Lancaster Trust Company and today provides a beautiful venue for Lancaster's performing arts scene.
  • American Music Theater: Staging more than 200 live performances each year, the 1,600-seat auditorium at the American Music Theater hosts big-city entertainment across genres and mediums, from award-winning musicians to plays, musicals, and children's shows. With state-of-the-art lighting and acoustics, wide aisles, and seats offering lots of leg room, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!
  • Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse: If you find yourself looking forward to film awards season more than some holidays, you've got to visit the Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse. This intimate venue packs a movie theater, restaurant, and distillery into one charming place. Join fellow film fanatics to discuss the art over drinks or enjoy a delightful dinner before a movie.

Savor Breweries and Shopping Experiences in Lancaster

From a good beer to a good buy, the shopping areas and breweries in Lancaster make finding Pennsylvania specialties a breeze.

Lancaster's Craft Brewery Scene

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Beer aficionados, you're in luck — Lancaster has a big reputation in the brewing scene, in part thanks to the influence of the German immigrants who came to the area. Among the amazing craft breweries in Lancaster are:

  • Lancaster Brewing Co.: Located in the historic Edward McGovern Tobacco Building in downtown Lancaster, you'll get a taste of history along with some tasty brews at the Lancaster Brewing Co. You can choose from various ales, IPAs, lagers, stouts, and other drinks made with quality ingredients and sustainable brewing practices. Pair your beverage with a bite to eat from the downtown brewery or Tap Room.
  • Our Town Brewery: When two college friends took their home-brewing hobby to the next level, the result was Our Town Brewery, which now serves clever drinks and food made with locally sourced ingredients. Located in a nearly century-old building that originally housed Chamber’s General Tire Company, the floor that once was a car showroom now houses the tanks used in crafting their traditional beer styles and more experimental brews.
  • Saint Boniface Craft Brewing Company: Named after the patron saint of brewers, Saint Boniface Craft Brewing Company in Ephrata was the first one-barrel, nano-brewery in Lancaster County, initially crafting a single beer, the Hegemony Stout, that soon was attracting craft beer lovers from near and far. And how far they've come from those early days, now crafting a wide selection of great tasting brews including IPAs, stouts, ales, and, of course, the beer that started it all, the Hegemony Stout, all still handcrafted for you to enjoy.

Shopping Experiences in Lancaster

Ready to shop till you drop? Shopping experiences in Lancaster include big-name brands and one-of-a-kind finds at places like:

  • Green Dragon Farmers Market and Auction: Enjoy 30 acres of year-round, outdoor and indoor shopping bliss and take home a piece of Amish culture or enjoy a tasty treat at the Green Dragon Farmers Market and Auction. Located in Ephrata and open every Friday, it's one of the largest flea markets on the East Coast, with vendors selling furniture, crafts, baked goods, collectibles, and antiques.
  • Cackleberry Farm Antique Mall: If you're an antique lover, you'll be in Paradise (literally) when you visit the Cackleberry Farm Antique Mall, which offers a massive variety of products. You'll find crafts, collectibles, china, books, toys, jewelry, and furniture from more than 125 dealers in an indoor, climate-controlled building off Route 30.
  • Tanger: For something a little more modern, the Tanger outlet mall has more than 65 stores and designer outlets. You can “shop till you drop” with stores featuring apparel for adults and children, footwear, jewelry and accessories, home furnishings, and a variety of specialty shops, while finding some great deals on brands such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Coach, Nike, and Under Armour.
  • Shops @ Rockvale: Visit the Shops @ Rockvale for a diverse mixture of well-known stores and smaller shops to suit any shopping style and fun special events throughout the year. It also has plenty of on-site restaurants to choose from when you need to refuel.
  • BUiLDiNG CHARACTER: Rounding out our list is the BUiLDiNG CHARACTER marketplace, Lancaster's top spot for all things vintage, recycled, and handmade. It resides in a stretch of historic warehouses in Downtown Lancaster and hosts more than 70 vendors. You can also watch a vintage letterpress printing demonstration while you're there.

Unearth the Hidden Gems in Lancaster

Heed the call of adventure with these lesser-known attractions in Lancaster. If you're a frequent visitor, these hidden gems are perfect for exploring Lancaster in a new way. If you're a new visitor, even better! These unique places to visit in Lancaster, PA, are perfect for making the most of your trip.

Off-the-Beaten-Path Attractions in Lancaster

A few of our favorite hidden gems and tourist attractions in Lancaster include:

  • The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania: In the quiet and peaceful wooded hills of Lilitz, for more than four decades the Darlington Family has provided a refuge for injured, unwanted, and abused gray wolves and wolf-dogs at the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania. Go on a guided educational tour for a glimpse of these fascinating creatures. The sanctuary also offers photography tours and private tours and hosts regular events.
  • The National Watch and Clock Museum: Turn back the clock in the distinct National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia and just north Lancaster City. Boasting more than 13,000 timepieces from across the globe, the museum houses the largest, most comprehensive collection of timepieces in North America, including old watches, new watches, an incredibly accurate atomic clock, watches owned by historical figures, stately grandfather clocks, vintage pocket watches, a SpongeBob wristwatch, and even a clock that tells the time on Mars. It's about "time" to give the museum a visit!
  • Root's Country Market & Auction: Visit the delightful Root's Country Market & Auction on Tuesdays for produce, fresh meats, bakery items, crafts, and other marketplace finds. Founded in Manheim in 1925, the market with its 200+ vendors has been a staple of Lancaster County for very close to a century.
  • Pinnacle Overlook: For outdoorsy adventurers, Pinnacle Overlook in Susquehannock State Park offers a stunning panoramic view of the Susquehannock River. If you're lucky you just might catch a glimpse of the bald eagles, osprey, and the more common turkey and black vultures that regularly patrol the sky by the Hawk Point Overlook. Hop on one of the nearby trails to soak up even more of the Pennsylvanian countryside and stunning displays of spring and summer wildflowers as well as native holly and rhododendron.
  • Pine View Dairy: This long-standing dairy farm has made fresh milk and milk products since 1971. Meet the cows, then grab some of the freshest dairy products and premium ice cream at the Pine View Dairy store, which also offers seasonal produce and on-the-go breakfast and lunch foods.

Frequently Asked Questions

Lancaster has lots to offer, but planning a visit requires more than simply picking your destination. To make your trip a little easier, we've answered some frequently asked questions about visiting Lancaster.

Is Lancaster a Walkable City?

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The answer is a resounding yes! Lancaster is ranked as the most walkable city in the Commonwealth, scoring an 81 out of 100 on its Walk Score meaning people in Lancaster can reach an average of seven restaurants, bars, and shops within a 5-minute walk. Some of the best areas for walking are the Lancaster Central Business District, Musser Park, and Chestnut Hill, which all have scores in the 90s. Try one of these spots if you're looking for things to do in Lancaster, Pennsylvania without a car.

Walking not your thing? Lancaster also has many rental car options and a healthy public transportation system run by the Red Rose Transit Authority. Nevertheless, the city's walkability makes it an easy visit for almost everyone traveling without a car.

What Food Is Lancaster Known For?

Since Lancaster has so many unique cultural influences from the Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish, and German communities, you'll find some uncommon yet delicious delicacies in the region. Visiting Lancaster gives you a large variety of food options ranging from casual restaurants to fine dining, some of which offer Lancaster specialties, such as:

  • Whoopie pie: Fun fact —They're not a “pie” in the traditional sense of the word, but feature two cakey sponges with some type of creamy filling in between, and Lancaster just happens to be the birthplace of this tasty treat! While “traditional” whoopie pies feature chocolate cake and a buttercream filling, there are now as many varieties as there are flavors of cake and fillings! So shout, “Whoopie”!
  • Scrapple: Scrapple is an interesting mixture of pork scraps (hence, the name “scrapple”) and trimmings, cornmeal, wheat flour, and spices made into a loaf and fried in slices. While usually served at breakfast, theFood Network has dubbed this flavorful dish “American paté” that can be served all throughout the day.
  • Stroopies: Stroopies are derived from the Dutch treat stroopwafel, which litterally means syrup waffle. They're made by sandwiching homemade caramel between round, chewy cinnamon waffles. You can find authentic stroopies at the Lancaster Sweet Shoppe where they're made fresh off the waffle-presses each day and you can even find them in a variety of shapes and flavors.
  • Chow chow: Not to be confused with the dog breed, chow chow is a Pennsylvania Amish relish made with a sweet brine and veggies, often made and served in late summer and early fall when loads of vegetables are at their peak for picking. You'll often find chow chow crafted from green and lima beans, carrots, corn, cauliflower, and other vegetables

And that's just the tip of the iceberg! Lancaster boasts many regional dishes that set its cuisine apart.

Why Visit Lancaster?

A visit to Lancaster can take many forms, from a relaxing country getaway to a lively downtown outing. History buffs can immerse themselves in a new culture, and theater fans can get a taste of live performances. Travelers love the wide range of things to do in Lancaster and the truly exceptional spirit of the area. Deciding what to do in Lancaster, PA, is often the hardest part of visiting!

Logistically, Lancaster is an affordable place to stay, with many family-friendly, pet-friendly, and accessible activities. It's also a short trip from nearby East Coast cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York. Wherever you're visiting from, Lancaster's rich history and vibrant businesses are sure to create a memorable experience.

Plan Your Lancaster Trip Today

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From culture-packed Amish adventures to some of the best antique shopping in Pennsylvania, unforgettable experiences await in Lancaster. Locals and visitors alike can explore all the nooks and crannies of this exceptional city.

Immerse yourself in Lancaster's rich culture and attractions by planning your visit today! We'd love to see you around. Sign up for our PA travel newsletter to stay in the loop on all things travel in Pennsylvania. We regularly share events, outdoor adventures, and the best food in the Commonwealth.

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