When my husband and I moved to Central Pennsylvania nearly six years ago, I was nervous about leaving behind the academic and artistic world of downtown Pittsburgh, where we had been living. For the duration of our time there, we filled our weekends with readings, art shows, museum exhibits, and lectures. We were never short of something to discuss, discover, or explore.
As beautiful as Central Pennsylvania is, marked by rolling hills, fields of corn, and an abundance of farmers’ markets, I worried we would miss the intellectual, artistic world of Pittsburgh.
A few weeks after we moved, a neighbor told us about First Fridays in Lancaster City. The first Friday evening of every month, Lancaster celebrates their vibrant art culture by keeping its art galleries open late and filling its streets with pop-up musicians, food trucks, and more.
My husband and I made the 30-minute drive to Lancaster City to explore it on a First Friday. Walking the tree-lined streets, strolling in and out of galleries, eating outside next to the bustling street while listening to live music, I realized this side of Pennsylvania had far more to offer than I thought it did.
In the years that we have lived here, I have continued to enjoy exploring Lancaster City and its surrounding area. There is truly something for everyone here: nature, culture, history, markets, and of course, plenty of good food.
What to See
Lancaster is often associated with the Amish community, and for good reason. The Pennsylvania Amish are part of America’s oldest Amish settlement. Over the years, the Amish community has made itself an essential part of Lancaster’s identity and culture.
Lancaster is full of activities for non-Amish people that offer a taste of what it is like to be Amish. Tours are available of the Lancaster countryside from an Amish horse and buggy. It’s easy to spend an entire afternoon driving around the countryside, shopping for Amish-made quilts and crafts. Old Windmill Farm is a working Amish farm that offers guided tours. Children can learn to milk a cow, gather eggs, and explore the petting farm.
Lancaster City is a place of rich history, full of stories and old buildings. The best way to explore the downtown area is on foot, and walking tours are available multiple times a week. One of the most popular attractions of downtown Lancaster is Central Market. The market, which originated in 1730, is open to the public on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Central Market offers some of Lancaster’s best cuisine, including soft pretzels, bakeries, whoopie pies, and coffee shops.
To enjoy the area another way, the Strasburg Railroad offers tours of the scenic rural area surrounding Lancaster. Strasburg Railroad is the oldest continually operating railroad in the western hemisphere. Offering 45-minute train rides, this attraction is especially magical at Christmastime. My girls love listening to the Christmas band play carols aboard the train.
Other attractions include Dutch Wonderland, an amusement park that is fun for the whole family, Cherry Crest Adventure Farm, which features a wonderful corn maze in the fall, and the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, the first commercial pretzel bakery in America.
Lancaster also has a vibrant hiking and nature scene. We like the Turkey Hill Overlook Trail, a six-mile loop that offers lovely scenery.
Where to Eat
It would be nearly impossible to list all of Lancaster’s good restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops. The city and surrounding areas are packed with delicious food.
It’s not uncommon to spend a Saturday in Lancaster eating through the day. Bird in Hand Bakery & Cafe makes whoopie pies, apple fritters, and wet-bottom shoefly pies. On Orange is a perfect spot for a weekend breakfast. Lancaster Brewing Company is a great stop for an afternoon drink, and Luca’s Wood-Burning Italian Kitchen makes delicious pizzas over a wood-burning hearth and Neapolitan oven.
No trip to Lancaster is ever complete for our family without a stop at Fox Meadows Creamery, a restaurant and ice cream shop which features hand-crafted ice cream made with milk from the cows on their own dairy farm. They feature seasonal flavors, but I almost always end up with the Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss.
Lancaster City and the surrounding area are full of beauty, art, and cuisine. It boasts a full event schedule, so there is almost always something happening, be it the annual Balloon Festival, the Spring Artwalk, the Taste of Lititz (an adorable town just a few minutes away from Lancaster City), or the Whoopie Pie Festival. Whether for art, culture, or food, Lancaster is a place we return to again and again.