Lancaster Travel Guide: Is Lancaster, Pennsylvania Worth Visiting?

· The answer to everything about Lancaster from a local ·

Jul, 01, 2022

The United States is a land of extreme diversity in just about every way. It is one of the most racially, geographically, and religiously diverse countries in the world. One group of people that visitors often find to be especially interesting is the Amish.

The Amish are an ethnic and religious group of people who share a very unique heritage and culture and live within a pretty closed-off community. While they have several geographical hubs around the country, one of the biggest centers of the Amish population is the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area.

The Best Things to Do in Lancaster

As one of the most culturally unique places in the United States, Lancaster, Pennsylvania is well worth a visit and is exploding in popularity. This small city was one of the most important places in the country during the colonial period, and even once served as the capital of Pennsylvania and the capital of the United States!

This rural city is known now for being the epicenter of the Amish, an ethnic and religious group that came out of Europe in the 1800s and 1900s. Amish people are most known for their reclusive-natured community, and their vow to simple living without any electricity. Their influence has played a large role in shaping the culture of the city to this day.

Here are the best things to do in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

1. Try Local Foods at the Lancaster Central Market

flower stand at lancaster market

One of the best things to do in Lancaster, PA is to eat local food, and there is no better place to do that than at the Lancaster Central Market. This place is filled to the brim with delicious food of all types produced by local farmers and small businesses, and a visit to the market is easily one of the best things to do in Lancaster.

Lancaster Central Market is open from 9am to 3pm on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. As one of the oldest farmers markets in the world, Lancaster Central Market has been operating for almost three hundred years. Stop in and be a part of three centuries of history in the making!

2. Tour the Amish Farm and House

herd of three black pigs sticking their head through fence

If you are visiting Lancaster to learn about the Amish, there is no better place to go than the Amish Farm and House. This complex has been operating since 1955 to educate the American public on the ways of Amish life. From horse tours to bus tours, and sewing to butter churning, there is a lot of stuff to see and learn about here.

After your tours, you can walk around their large property and explore some of the coolest aspects of the Pennsylvania Dutch lifestyle. Make a reservation in advance if possible!

3. Visit the Mennonite Information Center

While the Amish get a lot of notoriety and fame, they aren’t the only unique group of people that form part of the Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. The Mennonites are another religious group that was born out of a similar religious movement. While their religion and lifestyle are much more modern and liberal than the very conservative Amish lifestyle, Mennonites still live a distinctly unique and conservative lifestyle.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania is one of the places with the highest concentrations of Mennonite people, and the Mennonite Information Center is one of the best places to learn about this group of people that form a distinct part of the rich Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.

4. Catch a Show at Sight and Sound Theatres

Large theater building at sunset

Known to some as the Broadway of Christian Theatre, Sight and Sound Theatres is an epic venue that puts together world-class reenactments of Biblical stories. From Noah’s Arc to Samson and Delilah, Sight and Sound Theatres has cranked out some very high-quality shows over the years.

Sight and Sound only has two locations in the world: Lancaster, PA and Branson, MO. For more information about what show is currently being run and to purchase tickets, visit their website.

5. Indulge at Shady Maple Smorgasbord

Known locally as just Shady Maple, this 200+ foot long buffet is one of the finest in Pennsylvania. Shady Maple is the biggest buffet in Lancaster County, and the foods that they serve are simply delicious. While Lancaster Central Market is one of the best places to grab a bite to eat in Lancaster, Shady Maple is by far the best place to get dinner in Lancaster.

person using stainless steel fork to get food from long buffet

On top of that, entrance is very reasonable at usually below $30 per adult. Entrance is even free on your birthday! Stopping in at Shady Maple, though a bit of a drive from downtown Lancaster, is very worth it to taste the delicious meats, sides, and Pennsylvania Dutch dishes that they serve.

6. Explore the Charming Town of Lititz

Lancaster is not a big, bustling city, so the odds are that you will not be seeking an escape from the city itself. However, if you do find yourself in need of a break from the city and are in search of something a bit more charming, head to Lititz.

Lititz has quickly become one of Lancaster County’s ritzier towns, and the town’s main strip is getting cuter and more charming by the year. Lititz is also the home to the Wolf Sanctuary of PA, which is a really cool place to check out if you’ve never been to one.

7. Head to the Historic Rock Ford Plantation

The Historic Rock Ford Plantation is the preserved estate of Edward Hand, one of George Washington’s top generals during the Revolutionary War. This estate acts as a window into the life of a wealthy Pennsylvania family in the 1700s. While this is not historically confirmed, there are rumors that the Hand family once hosted George Washington here for tea.

Red brick farmhouse

Visiting the Historic Rock Ford Plantation is very convenient, as it is located just 1.5 miles south of downtown Lancaster. If possible, buy your tickets online in advance before visiting.

8. Admire the Historic St. Mary’s Church

Standing since 1741, Historic St. Mary’s Church is the 4th oldest church built in the 13 colonies and is as beautiful as it is old. This stunning church is a pillar of the local Catholic community and has even been specially recognized by the Vatican for its heritage and significance.

This is a beautiful place to go to mass while in Lancaster, but it can be visited outside of regular Mass hours, too.

Best Foods to Eat in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh is a great city for foodies to visit, with great restaurants spanning just about every type of cuisine. From fantastic foreign cuisines like Thai and Mexican to some really great waffles, Pittsburgh has it all. Here is a list of some of the best restaurants in Pittsburgh and what you can expect there:

1. Whoopie Pies

Basically a cake sandwich with icing in the middle, whoopie pies are a local dessert staple that has spread all throughout the country. These treats are very sweet and come in many flavors, although the original variety is two chocolate cake ends with vanilla filling in the middle. If you have the chance, try one refrigerated – they’re even better that way.

two small whoopie pie brown cakes with icing in the middle

2. Apple Butter

Basically a cake sandwich with icing in the middle, whoopie pies are a local dessert staple that has spread all throughout the country. These treats are very sweet and come in many flavors, although the original variety is two chocolate cake ends with vanilla filling in the middle. If you have the chance, try one refrigerated – they’re even better that way.

caramel colored apple butter in a jar surrounded by apples on a table

3. Scrapple

Scrapple is one of the more interesting food items on this menu, and your best chance of finding it is at any local diner. Scrapple is a breakfast food, and it is best described as the stuff that goes in hot dogs, but in breakfast sausage form. While it doesn’t sound or look very appetizing, it actually tastes pretty good and goes very well with eggs. When in Lancaster, you need to try it.

4. Shoofly Pie

Basically a cake sandwich with icing in the middle, whoopie pies are a local dessert staple that has spread all throughout the country. These treats are very sweet and come in many flavors, although the original variety is two chocolate cake ends with vanilla filling in the middle. If you have the chance, try one refrigerated – they’re even better that way.

spoon sitting next to a slice of shoofly pie with white dusting and brown center

5. Pennsylvania Dutch Style Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken pot pie is found all over the country, but that is an entirely different food. In fact, there is nothing “pie” at all about Pennsylvania Dutch-style chicken pot pie! This food is basically a thick mix of noodles, potatoes, and chicken served in a dish.

It’s like soup, except thickened. This makes a great meal or appetizer and is arguably even better than what you traditionally think of as chicken pot pie!

delicious dutch style chicken pot pie in a bowl with a biscuit

6. Ham Balls with Pineapple Glaze

Ham balls are basically meatballs, but made of ham and pork. They are naturally sweeter than regular meatballs, and they are often served in a sweet, tacky pineapple glaze. The blend of sweet and salty tastes is what really makes ham balls special, and they are often very large as well.

platter of glazed meatballs

How to Get to Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Flying to Lancaster

Lancaster is a pretty small city, all things considered, and flying directly into Lancaster is probably not an option for you. While Lancaster does have its own airport, it is only served by rare flights and specific regional carriers. The better option is to fly into either Harrisburg International Airport (MDT), Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), or Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI).

Of these three, Harrisburg is the closest but also the smallest. Your odds of finding direct and affordable airfare to Harrisburg from somewhere else in the country are slim. If you’ve read my post on finding cheap airfare, you know that the biggest airports tend to yield the cheapest ticket prices, and when it comes to flying to Lancaster, that theory usually holds true.

Philadelphia International Airport is about 90 minutes away by car, and Baltimore/Washington International Airport is about the same. Both of these airports are major international airports, but Philadelphia is probably the better option if you are hoping to use public transportation to arrive in Lancaster, as there is an Amtrak train line directly from Philadelphia to Lancaster.

Train to Lancaster

If you aren’t driving and aren’t flying, the next best way to get to Lancaster is by taking a train. Lancaster has its own Amtrak station, and it serves the Keystone and Pennsylvanian lines. Both lines lead all the way from New York City to Harrisburg, and the Pennsylvanian line continues on all the way to Pittsburgh.

Therefore, you can get to Lancaster on Amtrak from Pittsburgh, New York City, and Philadelphia, or any city that connects via these three cities. The ride from Philadelphia to Lancaster is just over an hour, the ride from New York City is about two hours and forty-five minutes, and the ride from Pittsburgh takes closer to six hours.

How to Get around Lancaster


amish man and woman riding horse carriage in the country
Your only option is horse and buggy. Just kidding.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania is a small city and there is not much public transportation available. There are local and regional buses, but that is it. Visiting Lancaster requires either the use of a car, Uber, or pre-arranged tour operator.

While the city itself is walkable, most of the best things to do in Lancaster are spread out and require drives of several miles. While the Amish rely on horses and buggies to get around, you don’t need to worry – Uber and Lyft are available and popular here!

If you plan on visiting Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I highly recommend either driving there or renting a car for the duration of your visit, though. Taxi and Uber fares will quickly add up, as there aren’t as many drivers available as there are in major cities!

The Best Time to Visit Lancaster, PA

orange pumpkins under white sky at daytime

Most places in the world are at their best in the summer. Just about any travel guide you read will, in one way or another, tell you to visit a place in the summer. While the summer in Lancaster is beautiful, there’s no better time to visit Lancaster than in the early fall.

Lancaster is located at the heart of a highly agricultural and rural area, meaning that there is a ton of harvesting going on and endless fresh produce to enjoy. On top of that, the leaves change color at this time, which absolutely makes autumn the best time to visit Lancaster. Get ready for some apple picking and corn mazes, as these are both popular activities at this time of year!

What Is Lancaster, Pennsylvania Known For?

Above all else, Lancaster, Pennsylvania is known for being the home of some of the largest Amish and Mennonite communities in the world. These groups of people have been there for a couple of hundred years, and their presence has heavily influenced the development of the area and its culture. While Lancaster is just a short 90-minute drive from Philadelphia, it is worlds different.

The Mennonite and Amish people of this region are often referred to as the “Pennsylvania Dutch,” and this phrase is coined all throughout the area. In fact, Pennsylvania German is a recognized language because of the European migrants that settled in this region!

From mouth-watering foods to horse and buggies in the streets, Lancaster is a place that is very unique indeed. Growing up, people never believed me when I said the stores in my town had poles where people could tie the reins of their horses! Lancaster is more than just the hub of Pennsylvania Dutch culture, though. It is also a picturesque, charming city that offers refreshing solace from the hustle and bustle of Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore. All three of these cities are reachable in less than three hours, making Lancaster a very popular day trip or weekend trip destination.

Is Lancaster, Pennsylvania Worth Visiting?

While I wouldn’t recommend flying from across the country strictly to visit Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I do think that it is a fantastic addition to any Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington D.C. itinerary. This small city is booming in popularity and offers visitors the chance to partake in many unique and enjoyable activities.

Between indulging in Pennsylvania Dutch food at Shady Maple Smorgasbord and the Central Market to visiting the Amish Farm and House, Lancaster has enough to do to fill up a weekend of fun. If you have the time and are looking for a good day trip away from any of these major East Coast cities, Lancaster is absolutely worth checking out!

That’s all we have for you about Lancaster! Hopefully, this post is helpful as you start planning your journey to the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. As a native of this area, I think the novelty is well worth a visit, and a trip to Lancaster offers visitors a perspective that they may not normally imagine within the United States.

Did we miss anything? Comment below with further tips for visiting Lancaster!


Greg is a seasoned traveler who has lived in Mexico, Italy, China, and the United States. From New Year’s in Dubai to epic sunset hikes in Panama, his journeys have taken him to almost 50 countries all around the world.

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Greg | The Author

Greg is a seasoned traveler who has lived in Mexico, Italy, China and the U.S. From New Year’s in Dubai to epic sunset hikes in Panama, his journeys have taken him to almost 50 countries.

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