By Joan Rykal

If the word “bucolic” appeals to your vacation senses, then look no further than the beautiful countryside of Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. Synonyms for the word, such as pastoral, idyllic, rustic, and rural, can all be used to define this lovely little escape in southern Pennsylvania.   

Lancaster County, as a tourism destination, is most widely associated with the Pennsylvania Amish settlers who came to the area to farm the lands in the early 1700s and established the largest Amish community in the country at the time. To date, it is the second largest Amish settlement in the US. The rolling countryside of Lancaster County is dotted with farms and the roads are populated with the Amish and their horse and buggy, which co-exist with standard modes of transportation as they whizz past the slow-paced buggies.   

Visitors can view the simple ways of the Amish lifestyle and there are several attractions that allow a glimpse into the life, but still allow the Amish to maintain their highly-regarded privacy.

Amish Lifestyle

A great place to get to know all about the Amish way of life is a visit to The Amish Village in Ronks. With 12 acres to explore, visitors can tour an authentic 1840s Amish farmhouse, as well as a blacksmith shop and the one-room schoolhouse. Visitors can also choose to take a 90-minute “backroads” bus tour through the Amish countryside and learn about the history and culture of the Amish during the tour.  For details about the Village as well as tour information, visit amishvillage.com.

In the town of Bird-in-Hand, visitors will find the Amish Country Homestead which includes the Fisher family home as well as the one-room schoolhouse, which is attached to the home and features authentic furnishings from the schoolhouse. Don’t miss the Homestead’s theater production of Jacob’s Choice, which depicts the story of a young man struggling to choose between his Amish heritage and the modern world. Bird-in-Hand is also home to the Plain and Fancy Farm Dining Room, which offers traditional Amish dining options.  

A visit to Kitchen Kettle Village, in the village of Intercourse, will provide you the opportunity to watch Amish women making jams and jellies. Kitchen Kettle Village also has plenty of shops, including a bake shop, pottery shop, a fudge and sweets shop and a yarn shop. For more information on what to see at Kitchen Kettle Village, visit.kitchenkettle.com. 

Pretzels & Chocolate

The quaint little town of Lititz holds lots of goodies – chocolate and pretzels to name a few. The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery was the first commercial pretzel bakery in the US and today, visitors can tour the bakery and take a lesson on pretzel-making. For information visitjuliussturgis.com. If you’re looking for some good chocolate, look no further than the Wilbur Chocolate Company, which has been making delicious chocolates since 1884 (they previously made hard candies) and are known for the Wilbur Buds, which are specially molded to resemble a flower bud. Free samples of Wilbur Buds are available when you visit the Broad Street store in Lititz. If you’re still hungry, consider taking one of the Lancaster County Food Tours.lancofoodtours.com), which includes one called “Come Eat Lititz.” 

Covered Bridges

Lancaster County is home to more than 25 covered bridges, sometimes called “kissing bridges” because the privacy gave strolling couples the opportunity to exchange a quick kiss. In fact, one of the first covered bridges in the country was built in Lancaster County. A map for five separate driving tours of the covered bridges can be found at discoverlancaster.com. 

Hersheypark

Hersheypark is a one-stop shop for fun of all kinds. The Park includes a waterpark, 70 attractions, including 14 roller coasters, and a wildlife park featuring more than 200 animals native to North America.   

Created by Milton Hershey as a leisure park for the employees of the Hershey Chocolate Factory, Hersheypark has grown from the simple picnic and boating spot it was in 1907 to the hot spot it is today. The Park is estimated to have more than 3.3 million visitors annually.  

Hershey’s Chocolate World will delight candy lovers of all ages where highlights include a 30-minute tour that shows how the cocoa beans transform into a candy bar and the opportunity to create your own candy bar. There are also chocolate tastings and a shop chock full of all the Hershey goodies.   

New this summer at the theme park is Reese’s Cupfusion, an interactive gaming ride where the rider’s mission is to save the delicious peanut butter/chocolate cup from villains! The 1,904-seat Hershey Theater offers Broadway shows and other live entertainment including music and comedy shows. For lineup information, visit
hersheypa.com. 

Day Trips

Harrisburg

A trip to Pennsylvania’s capital city, Harrisburg, will take you about 45 minutes and here you can see the Capitol Building, the National Civil War Museum and the Whitaker Center for Science and Arts.  

The Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex encompasses several buildings but the gem within the complex is the Capitol building itself, which was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, prompting President Theodore Roosevelt to call it “the most handsomest building” he’d ever seen. This Beaux-Arts design building, complete with a domed rotunda, interior sweeping marble staircase, hand-made tiles, and stained-glass windows, is worth a visit. Guided tours are offered Monday through Friday and tour times and admission cost can be found at pacapitol.com. Also, at the Complex, The Senate Library offers exhibitions and collections that detail the history of Pennsylvania’s Senate while the Interactive Welcome Center has interesting exhibits and information about the Keystone State.   

The National Civil War Museum (nationalcivilwarmusuem.org) provides a history lesson about the Civil War and uniquely tells it from both the Union and Confederate viewpoints. This history lesson here is all-encompassing with exhibits ranging from Weapons & Equipment to Civil War Music. Artifacts on display include several items belonging to General Robert E. Lee as well as a bullet-ridden piece of the fence from the Battle of Gettysburg.   

The Whitaker Center includes science-based exhibits for both adults and children at the Harsco Science Center well as an art gallery, an IMAX theater and more. The art gallery exhibits the works of local artists while the IMAX runs feature films with science and nature-themed topics. Great Bear Rainforest 3D will run through July 13. For more information on the museum and its exhibits and IMAX films, visit whitakercenter.org.   

Fort Hunter Park (forthunter.org) sits on a bluff overlooking the Susquehanna River and provides plenty of space for leisurely nature walks and bird watching. Self-guided walking tours take you to such sites as Stone Arch Bridge, built in the 19th century, Everhart Covered Bridge, built in 1881 and Tavern House, which accommodated overnight travelers in the 1800s. A highlight here is the Fort Hunter Mansion, a Federal-style home built in 1814. 

Philadelphia

As Pennsylvania’s largest city, Philadelphia offers a variety of things to do. From history lessons to food tours, and one of the oldest, and most innovative, zoos in the world, Philadelphia has something for
everyone. Philadelphia is about an hour’s drive from Lancaster County.   

Let’s start with the history lessons that can be found in this city that was once the capital of the United States. The Constitutional Walking Tour is a great place to get your footing and tour the historical highlights of the city. The 90-minute tour includes stops at The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the home of famed flag maker, Betsy Ross. A longer tour, at about 2 hours, is the Founding Fathers Tour. Designed as a more intimate tour, it takes you past many of the historic sites as your tour guide provides a history of the city. Other ways to tour the city include horse-drawn carriage rides and the Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley tour.   

Valley Forge National Historic Park is 3,500 acres of history and the site where the Continental Army made camp in the winter of 1777-78 during the Revolutionary War. The Encampment Tour, which can be done by car, takes you past historic monuments as well as scenic stops in the Park. The Park theater also runs an 18-minute video, entitled Valley Forge: A Winter Encampment which details the events of the winter encampment as well as a brief history of the Revolutionary War.  

Did you know the Philadelphia Zoo was the first chartered zoo in the US, but due to the Civil War, it was another 15 years before it officially opened in 1874 with more than 800 animals on exhibit? Today, the zoo remains as innovative as when it first opened with its Zoo360 Animal Exploration Trails and the Urban Green, an open-air food marketplace. Zoo360 is the only trail system of its type in the world and was designed to allow the animals to roam around and above the zoo’s grounds while also linking animal habitats of animals that share similar habitats, allowing them to “share” each other’s space.   

If you’re a lover of selfies, or photography in general, Philadelphia is home to two of the most iconic sites for picture-taking If you’re visiting the Philadelphia Art Museum, don’t miss the statue of Rocky Balboa, the loveable, underdog boxer made popular in the Oscar-winning film, Rocky, located at the bottom of the entrance steps to the museum. If you’re feeling up for a training session, run up the 72 steps just like Rocky did while training for his bout with Apollo Creed.   

Fittingly, the City of Brotherly Love is home to sculptor Robert Indiana’s LOVE, which is in the John F. Kennedy Plaza, also known as LOVE Park.   

Philly is known for its cheesesteaks, but they also make a pretty good pretzel, and something called tomato pie, their version of pizza. Sample these tasty goods on one of several food tours offered in the city. Check out phillyfoodtours.com and see what’s on the menu. They run the gamut from Hot and Spicy Philadelphia to Ethnic Eats.   

Baltimore

Good Morning, Baltimore! This seaport city is located approximately 84 miles from Lancaster County and is another great spot to soak up history, culture and of course, good food.

Fort McHenry, which played an integral role in the War of 1812, is a great place for a history lesson. It was the fort’s valiant efforts to defend the harbor during the war’s Battle of Baltimore that inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star-Spangled Banner. The fort and surrounding area also served as a prison during the Civil War, a hospital base during World War I and a Coast Guard base during World War II. It was made a National Monument and Historic Shrine in 1939 and in 1966 was named to the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can help the ranger raise and lower a replica of the “Star-Spangled Banner” flag daily. For more information visit nps/fomc.com.   

Visit the city’s Inner Harbor where you will find the Maryland Science Center and the National Aquarium. The Inner Harbor is also home to several historic ships, including the USS Constellation, a Civil War sailing ship, and the USS Torsk, a World War II submarine. The National Aquarium has an exhibit dedicated to the Maryland Blue Crab, which was important to the region both as a food source and to the economy. The Inner Harbor is also a great place to catch a sightseeing tour, via boat, as well as enjoy some of the seafood the area is known for.  

Take in a baseball game at Camden Yards, which is home to the major league baseball’s Baltimore Orioles and the site where Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played – Gehrig held the record, playing in 2,130 games until Ripken bested that on September 6, 1995. Ripken, along with other Oriole greats including pitcher Jim Palmer and outfielder Frank Robinson, is honored with statues throughout the park. The park itself, which was completed in 1992, is important because it was one of the “newer” ballparks that were dedicated to the purpose of baseball only, taking a step away for the multi-use stadiums that sprang up in prior decades. The structure managed to incorporate state-of-the-art facilities while maintaining the “old ballpark ambiance.” Ticketed fans can enjoy all the fun of Eutaw Street, which is adjacent to the park, and has all kinds of activities and food vendors on game day. Visit RVontheGo.com to plan your Pennsylvania getaway.