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The city of Lancaster, located at the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, is an appealing city of row houses with a thriving arts and cultural scene that's worth exploring in its own right. Dating to 1710, it's one of the nation's oldest inland cities and makes for a fitting gateway to historic sites, such as Wheatland, the home of U.S. president James Buchanan; the Landis Valley Museum, which focuses on rural life before 1900; and the many hamlets and small towns where locals still follow a more traditional way of life.
Less than a half hour outside the city limits, get a taste of the country in the small towns of Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand, with their markets, outlet shops, and sights that interpret Amish life. Nearby is Strasburg, where visitors learn all about the history of railroads and go for a scenic ride on a restored train. Also in the vicinity are the historic villages of Ephrata, site of a religious community dating to the 18th century, and Lititz, where you can still twist your own at one of the region's best-known pretzel makers.
Western Lancaster County is a quieter part of the county. Bicycle down winding lanes, sample local wines and authentic Mennonite cooking, and explore uncrowded villages. Its history is rooted in the Colonial period, the residents are of Scottish and German descent, and architecture varies from log cabins to Victorian homes.
If you've brought your children as far as Lancaster, you may want to continue northwest to Hershey, the "Chocolate Town" founded in 1903 by Milton S. Hershey. Here the number one attraction is Hersheypark, a theme park with kiddie and thrill rides, theaters, and live shows. Or you may wish to journey southwest to the Civil War battlefields and museums of Gettysburg, also within driving distance.