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- Things to Do in Lancaster County with Kids
- 1. “All You Can Eat” Restaurants
- 2. Strasburg Railroad
- 3. Lancaster County Carriage & Antique Auction
- 4. Visit the Amish Village
- 5. Corn Cob Acres
- 6. Dutch Wonderland
- 7. Refreshing Mountain
- 8. Visit a Chapel
- 9. Lancaster Central Market
- 10. Lancaster Science Factory
- 11. Outdoor Activities
- 12. Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum
- 13. Kitchen Kettle Village
- 14. Tour the Home of a Former President
- 15. Things to Do in Lancaster PA with Kids: Take in a Show
Heading to Hershey Park? If you’re looking for more to do in the area, consider adding a day or more in Lancaster. It’s in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. You’ll get a warm welcome, eat yummy food and enjoy family friendly entertainment. Here are the top things to do in Lancaster PA.
My family and I had visited Pennsylvania before. When we did, we had larger attractions in mind, such as Hershey’s Chocolate World. We all loved it, but I felt like we were missing out on so much by going only to the most touristy places.
So I planned to go back to explore the culture a little more.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Always check the attraction’s website before you go. Opening hours and dates can change without notice.
Things to Do in Lancaster County with Kids
Located between Philadelphia and Harrisburg and just three hours south of New York City, Lancaster is in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch region. Although it is often referred to as Amish country, Pennsylvania Dutch is actually a term referring to all early German settlers in the region. Those settlers were made up of Lutherans and Anabaptists (Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren).
Lancaster County is nestled right in the middle of it all. It was the perfect place to use as our home base. Lancaster is a small city formed by tons of agricultural farms. There were plenty of things to do in Lancaster PA.
A large portion of the population consists of Amish people. They are masters at farming and simple living. So the area overflows with lush vegetation and great quality produce. But aside from small churches, horses, plantations and locally run schools, Lancaster has also developed a more modern side worth exploring.
All of that got my family and I really excited. We had been exploring mostly large cities on the last few trips and an Amish family vacation in the countryside sounded perfect.
1. “All You Can Eat” Restaurants
“All You Can Eat” and “Family Style” eating are popular throughout the area. What is family style? You sit at a huge table with other restaurant patrons and enjoy a home-cooked country meal. Entrees and side dishes are served in bowls and on platters to be passed around, just like they would be during a family dinner at home. Everyone takes what they want, and passes it on. “Please pass the green beans” is actually a great conversation starter!
One well known family-style restaurant is Plain & Fancy Farm Restaurant, located on Old Philadelphia Pike between Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse Pennsylvania. Not hungry? Pick up a Shoofly Pie in the Country Store for later. Shoofly Pie is a molasses crumb cake baked in a pie shell that was popular with the Amish as a breakfast food. Pie for breakfast sounds like a great idea to us!
Does Bird-in-Hand sound familiar? A musical, Plain and Fancy, that ran on Broadway from 1955-1956 was set there. It depicted Amish life, including a barn-raising.
2. Strasburg Railroad
Located only 20 minutes by car from downtown Lancaster, the oldest steam train in the world is still working in Ronks, PA. Buy a ticket and you’ll get to go on a 45-minute ride through the Amish countryside. While on board, a recording teaches fun facts, including the history of the train and surrounding area.
The coolest part about the Strasburg Rail Road? You get an authentic dining experience on board.
3. Lancaster County Carriage & Antique Auction
This is an annual event, not a place to visit, but it was one of the best experiences we had in the region. It happens in June. The next one is scheduled for June 23-24, 2022.
At the auction, you will be able to bid on things like fine carriages, miniature horses, furniture, quilts and other handmade crafts made by the Amish. If you don’t have to take a plane to go back, you could also take the chance to buy some of their plants.
But even if you are not there for shopping, it is so much fun and exciting to see the auctions happen. And the traditional, local food is also worth trying.
Can’t make it to try the food? We love this Amish cookbook. With more than 200 recipes and 60+ gardening tips it will keep you busy until you can travel to Lancaster.
4. Visit the Amish Village
The food and the auction gave us an idea of what the Amish are all about, but we didn’t to really get the full Amish experience and cultural immersion until we visited the Amish Village located in Ronks.
There are three different package options for the Amish Village. The Amish Farmhouse and Village tour takes you over 12 acres of village. Here you will find a one-room schoolhouse, barn with farm animals, blacksmith shop, smokehouse market, village store, windmill and a few other buildings. It will take you 25 minutes to explore the farmhouse. Plan on at least 30 more minutes to explore the rest of the village.
The second tour option is a bus tour along the back roads of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. During the 90 minute ride you’ll hear stories about Amish life, history, customs and culture. You will stop at at least one Amish home or business during the tour (except Sundays).
Want both? Choose the deluxe package which combines both options.
SheBuysTravel Tip: You can also do a guided house tour at The Amish Farm and House. It was the first tourist attraction in Lancaster (1955) and the first Amish attraction in the country. That puts it at the top of our list of things to do in Lancaster PA! Bonus: it’s located on Lincoln Highway which was America’s first toll road.
5. Corn Cob Acres
The easiest way to explain what this place is to call it a farm theme park. In this case, my older son didn’t get to enjoy it as much as the other kids, because it is targeted towards younger kids. My younger son had a blast on the rides.
First is the barnyard with tons of fun rides, slides, trains, sandboxes and ball toss. Then there is the pumpkin patch with face painting, slides, pumpkin painting, scarecrow dressing and photo spots. Lastly, there is another area with food trucks, a small gift shop and bathrooms.
6. Dutch Wonderland
This is another amusement park, but this one has more varied rides. Dutch Wonderland covers 48 acres and is aimed at young kids.
There are 32+ rides and a small water park area called Duke’s Lagoon. It even has numerous live shows daily. Seasonally, it offers Halloween and Christmas events.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Hours at Dutch Wonderland depend on the season. So check the calendar when planning your visit.
7. Refreshing Mountain
This one is for nature lovers looking for some adventure and more contact with the great outdoors.
Refreshing Mountain is an adventure park with attractions like canopy tours, swimming pools with trampolines, an elevated obstacle course and a farm animal section where you get to ride horses and pet some other animals.
You can even stay within the park by renting one of the rustic yet comfortable cabins. We only visited the park for four hours because we had limited time in the area. But I would have definitely loved to stay.
8. Visit a Chapel
Pennsylvania was founded on the idea of religious freedom, so there are a variety of churches, monasteries and other sites to visit. The Ephrata Cloister has a long and storied history. At one point, it housed celibate nuns and brothers in their main buildings. On the surrounding grounds were households of people. The focus? A simple life centered around religion. During the Revolutionary War, the grounds were used as a hospital. The Ephrata Cloister is now a museum. You can tour seven original buildings, access the grounds and picnic.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you’re looking for more religious-oriented attraction, view a reproduction of the Old Testament tabernacle at the Mennonite Information Center. It is one of several free things to do in Lancaster PA.
9. Lancaster Central Market
Think farmers markets are a trendy new idea? Nope. The Lancaster Central Market was started in 1730, before the United States even existed. Farmers from around the area brought their wares to this market. Because of that, King George II designated Lancaster city as a market town. By royal decree, the city was to hold two markets per week. These days, it’s three markets a week, all in the market buildings. You can find everything from flowers to sausage to cheeses to fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms. This market is interesting enough to make our list of things to do in Lancaster PA with kids.
SheBuysTravel Tip: To show your kids how early markets worked read them The Ox Cart Man. This Caldecott Medal Winner follows the story of a family’s harvest from planting to market day.
10. Lancaster Science Factory
The Lancaster Science Factory is a mix of interactive exhibits, hands-on workstations and fun activities. It’s geared towards ages 7 and up and it takes about 3 hours to explore the museum. You can reenter the museum on the same day so feel free to take a lunch break! With more than 75 exhibits covering seven different STEM areas, your kids will be excited and engaged.
11. Outdoor Activities
Depending on the season, there are always outdoor things to do in Lancaster PA. With the Susquehanna River cutting through the area, beautiful views are abundant. Hiking trails can be found in Chickies Rock County Park (400+ acres). A short drive south from Lancaster you’ll find Susquehannock State Park with 550 miles of hiking trails.
If you’re looking for an outdoor activity with a little less effort, consider a hot air balloon ride. The view from above of Lancaster County is stunning. Visiting in the fall? Go apple picking! Even a scenic drive will show you the beauty that Lancaster County has to offer.
12. Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum
This 100-acre living history museum is a great thing to do in Lancaster PA with kids. Located in Manheim near Dutch Wonderland, Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum has everything from artifacts to heirloom seeds. Kids will love the farm animals. If you’re a gardener, don’t miss this stop. The Heirloom Seed project sells more than 80 varieties of seeds and the museum sells plants each year at an Herb and Garden Faire.
13. Kitchen Kettle Village
This collection of shops, restaurants and lodging offers something for everyone. You can buy fine arts, handicrafts, and watch jams and jellies being made. While you’re there, treat the kids to ice cream at Lapp Valley Farms Ice Cream. The ice creams are made fresh daily and showcase local fruits. On our things to do in Lancaster PA with kids list this is one of the tastiest options!
14. Tour the Home of a Former President
James Buchanan’s Wheatland is filled with artifacts and historical nods to the country’s 15th President. Guides will take you on a tour of the 1828 mansion talking about Buchanan’s challenge presiding over a nation on the brink of Civil War. Fun fact: James Buchanan is the only president who never married, making Wheatland a bachelor pad! This National Historic Landmark is located in Lancaster.
15. Things to Do in Lancaster PA with Kids: Take in a Show
Built on the site of a former jail, Fulton Theatre is now a center of arts and culture in Lancaster. It’s reportedly haunted so keep your eyes open as you attend a performance. Nearby American Music Theatre presents both original and touring shows in this 1600-seat establishment. Looking for a meal and a show? Check out Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre.
16. Turkey Hill Experience
Located in Columbia is Turkey Hill Ice Cream. If you’re looking for things to do in Lancaster PA with kids, do not miss the Turkey Hill Experience. This location isn’t a working factory so it’s an “experience” and not a tour. The exhibits are interactive and outside. Spring for the extra cost of the Taste Lab. You’ll get to experience an Ice Cream 101 class and make your own pint to take home. You start with a base and add things to reach whatever flavor you dream up!
Lancaster is much more than I ever imagined. It ended up being an amazingly enriching and educational experience for all of us.
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