• Photo: John Wollwerth / Shutterstock

Plan Your Pennsylvania Dutch Country Vacation

Neatly painted farmhouses dot the countryside of Lancaster County, nearly 65 mi west of Philadelphia. Whitewashed fences outline pastures, and the landscape looks like a patchwork quilt of squares and rectangles. On the back roads the Amish travel in horse-drawn buggies and lead a lifestyle that has been carried on for generations.

Here the plain and fancy live side by side. You can glimpse

what rural life was like 100 years ago, because whole communities of the "Plain" people—as members of the Old Order Amish are called—shun telephones, electricity, and the entire world of American gadgetry. Clinging to a centuries-old way of life, the Amish, one of the most conservative of the Pennsylvania Dutch sects, eschew the amenities of modern civilization, using kerosene or gas lamps instead of electric lighting, and horse-drawn buggies instead of automobiles. Ironically, in turning their backs on the modern world, the Amish have attracted its attention.

Today the county's main roads are lined with souvenir shops and sometimes crowded with busloads of tourists. The area's proximity to Philadelphia and Harrisburg has brought development as non-Amish farmers sell land. In fact, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has put Lancaster County on its list of the nation's most endangered historic places because of rapid suburbanization. But beyond the commercialism and development, general stores, one-room schoolhouses, country lanes, and tidy farms remain. You can find instructive places to learn about the Amish way of life, pretzel factories to tour, quilts to buy, and a host of railroad museums to explore.

When visiting among the Amish, remember to respect their values. They believe that photographs and videos with recognizable reproductions of them violate the biblical commandment against making graven images. Out of respect, you should refrain from photographing them.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Amish country life Experience a traditional way of life that continues despite the intrusion of the modern world.
  2. Lancaster's Central Market Visit the nation's oldest continuously operating farmers' market, which dates to the 1730s.
  3. Plenty in store Shop till you drop in Adamstown, a small town with three major markets—Renninger's, Stoudt's Black Angus, and Shupp's Grove—selling all manner of antiques, collectibles, and coins.
  4. Gettysburg Battlefield This sacred ground offers a stirring history lesson about the U.S. Civil War. The new Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center is worth a visit in itself, with state-of-the-art exhibits and the Gettysburg Cyclorama, an 1884 painting of Pickett's Charge, which if unfurled would be longer than a football field.
  5. Sweet times You can't go wrong with a visit to a place inspired and built by chocolate—Hershey—site of a grand hotel, famed amusement park, and other attractions. And in the humid summer months, cool down with some ice cream while learning how it's made at the Turkey Hill Experience.

When To Go

When to Go

Lancaster County can be hectic, especially on summer weekends and in autumn when the fall foliage attracts crowds. Farmers' markets and family...

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