When you hear the clip-clop of hooves, smell the syrupy sweet aroma of shoo-fly pie, spot colorful hex signs on the side of barns and observe men with long beards and black hats riding their horse-drawn buggies down rural roads, you’ll know you’re in Pennsylvania Dutch Country.
Lancaster County is the heart and soul of "Penn Dutch," as the home of the Amish people living in this region west of Philadelphia is commonly called, and over five million people every year visit towns in Penn Dutch whose strange names include Bird-in-Hand, Paradise and Intercourse.
This is the place of one-room school houses, modern machinery pulled behind four-and six-mule teams, homemade quilts and wooden covered bridges. It’s also a place where you’ll find the freshest, most delicious locally grown vegetables, homemade ice cream and smorgasbords anywhere.
Stay in Lancaster for one perfect day, or go a little farther afield. Lancaster is close to two other family vacation hot spots – Hershey Park and Gettysburg – which makes Penn Dutch a close-to-home, inexpensive vacation for summer and fall.
Lodging in Lancaster ranges from hotels to bed and breakfasts. Best Western, Rodeway and Days inns all have a presence in Penn Dutch, but a better option is to stay at a bed and breakfast, not only because the cost per night is less but because the flavor of the area lives on inside these handsome residences. Most bed and breakfast inns are homey and beautifully decorated, and King’s Cottage is no exception. Owners Jan and Ann make their guests comfortable and take pains in the morning to serve food the region is famous for. Best of all, King’s Cottage is located in downtown Lancaster and is central to all attractions.
The Amish who live in Lancaster County are descendants of people who immigrated to the U.S. from Germany and the Low Countries before 1800. Hardworking, family oriented, religious and dedicated to a simple lifestyle, they shun current fashion and most elements of the modern world.
Their simple, charming presence is found throughout the region. From small children to adults, there’s something for every member of the family to enjoy and do. Dutch Wonderland Amusement Park in Lancaster has rides and water slides to keep young children busy for an entire day. A pretzel factory tour for older kids shows how these favorite salt-encrusted treats are made. Authentic Amish farmers take tourists on horse and buggy rides through bucolic farmlands where corn and other vegetables grow in abundance.
Longwood Gardens is a short drive from Penn Dutch and people with green thumbs will marvel at the beauty of the flowers, plants, shrubs and trees. Kids can see up close how insect-eating plants scoop up bugs for supper and watch in amazement as water shoots out of fountains while patriotic and popular tunes play in the background.
Or spend your day at Hershey’s Chocolate World where the streets are paved in chocolate. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but the marketplace has shops and restaurants specializing in Hershey’s chocolate products. Attractions include the Really Big 3-D show, Hershey Trolley Works, Factory Works Experience and a free chocolate tour ride.
Adjacent to Chocolate World is an amusement park with roller coasters, water slides, kiddie rides merry-go-round, boardwalk and outdoor restaurants.
Older children who have studied the Civil War in school will want to experience Gettysburg first hand. The drive from Lancaster is less than an hour and the town and battle fields can be seen in a day.
Every weekend throughout the summer and fall there’s a special event in Gettysburg. For instance, the Annual Old Fashioned Corn Fest at the Historic Round Barn eight miles west of Gettysburg will be underway in July. The mouth-watering menu will feature corn roasted in the husk over an applewood fire, barbecued chicken, pulled pork, peach sundaes and apple dumplings. The festivities will also include hay wagon and pony rides and more.
Return to Penn Dutch Country and plan to spend a few more days. There’s a lot more to discover in the place history liked so much that it never left.
What & Where:
The King’s Cottage (1049 East King St; 717-397-1017)
Dutch Wonderland Amusement Park (2249 Lincoln Hwy East; 866-386-2839)
Aaron & Jessica’s Buggy Rides, Plain & Fancy Farm* (3121A Old Philadelphia Pike (Rt. 340), Bird-in-Hand; 717-768-8828).
Intercourse Pretzel Factory at Cross Keys Village Center (3614 Old Philadelphia Pike, Intercourse; 717-768-3432)
Longwood Gardens (1001 Longwood Rd, Kennett Square; 800-737-5500)
Hershey’s Chocolate World (251 Park Blvd, Hershey; 717-534-4900)
Hershey Park (100 W. Hersheypark Dr, Hershey; 800-HERSHEY)
*Lancaster’s only ride thorugh real working non-commercial Amish farms. Four-mile tour with Amish guides; visit to real Amish home. Open all year. Group and bus tours welcome.