Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Good Food, Art, and Culture

By Rachael Dymski
Rachael Dymski
Rachael Dymski
Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She’s currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com
October 23, 2021 Updated: October 23, 2021

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.

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Central Market and the Griest Building in Lancaster. (James Kirkikis/Shutterstock)

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.

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A horse and buggy ride down a country back road. (Brian Evans/DiscoverLancaster.com)

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.

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Pumpkins at Cherry Crest Adventure Farm. (DiscoverLancaster.com)

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.

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Lancaster County’s intricate quilts take weeks, even years, to complete. (DiscoverLancaster.com)

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.

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Cherry Crest Adventure Farm pedal karts for kids. (Brian Evans/DiscoverLancaster.com)

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.

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Wilbur Buds from Wilbur Chocolate Factory and Americana Museum. (DiscoverLancaster.com)
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Pretzels. (Brian Evans/DiscoverLancaster.com)

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.

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Bull’s Head Tavern in Lititz. (Simone Associates Inc/Discover Lancaster.com)

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.

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The Fulton Theatre. (DiscoverLancaster.com)

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.

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Visitors and tourists snap photos of a steam locomotive as it chugs to the station in rural Lancaster County. (George Sheldon/Shutterstock)

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.

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Jacksaw Sawmill covered bridge. (DiscoverLancaster.com)

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.

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Amish youths play volleyball as part of a tournament at the Intercourse Heritage Days, an annual community festival in Lancaster County. (George Sheldon/Shutterstock)

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.

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The Pet Parade includes dogs and other pets at the annual community street fair in a small community in Lancaster County. (George Sheldon/Shutterstock)

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.

Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She’s currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com