Lancaster County, or Pennsylvania Dutch Country, is a fantastic driveable family getaway from The Tri-State Area, the DMV, or Philly. I’m from the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area and now live in NJ. When planning group family vacations with home friends, we are always looking for great spots in between to meet. Lancaster popped up on the map and I had heard about “Amish Country” but didn’t know anything else about it. Well, I was shocked at all the amazing family activities there are. You could easily spend a whole week, or more, here! There really is something for everyone in Lancaster—cultural Amish experiences, working farm activities, history, outdoor sports and scenic hikes, a train lover’s mecca, agri-tainment and amusement parks.
There are a lot of different areas in Lancaster County and we tried to organize our days by region to avoid criss-cross driving. We enjoyed driving around — getting a flavor of the area, seeing Amish actively working their farms, and sharing the roads with horse and buggies. To our pleasant surprise, even though it was a holiday weekend, nothing was “very crowded” which is such a welcome change from daily life in the Tri-State area. I think we’ll be back!
We went on this trip with another family, so renting a whole house made a lot of sense for us. I know not everyone is comfortable doing this, but we really do enjoy it! Each family had their own floor of bedrooms, we had a backyard for the kids to run around play, and we cooked a big, lazy breakfast every morning. While we like to explore new places, we also love to chill on the deck with wine, beer and pizza with friends while the kids play! We stayed in Property # 867156 on VRBO.com and would definitely recommend this stylish and comfy house located 10 minutes west of Downtown Lancaster.
Besides this house, there are some really cool lodging experiences in Lancaster— you can stay at a working farm with animals or at a real amish dairy, as well as a wide range of house rentals. Check out Discover Lancaster’s page outlining their wide range of house and hotel options.
Alternatively, multiple people recommended Eden Resort & Suites to us, but they were sold out for Memorial Day weekend and we planned this trip only a couple of weeks in advance. From the pictures I can see why families love staying here: great pool, splash pad, pirate ship playground, shuffleboard, basketball, family suites and larger room options.
DO & EAT BY TOWN
North of Downtown
I know, I know people either love or hate Renaissance Fairs, but this one shares its grounds with a winery! It only took Flavorfest Wine & Food Festival to get me to one for the first time! And let me tell you, it was a lot of fun! Entrance to the Ren Faire was free and an all you could taste festival wine glass was $7 – – yes $7! If you’ve read my other posts, the Frugal Fannie in me was really proud! The moms “escaped” to the WineFest section of the Faire while the dads took the kids around to the various cool activities. It turned out to be a real gem! They have BrewFests and other festivals throughout the year, check out their schedule!
The Shack Restaurant & Putt Putt (Manheim, PA)
If you still have time left in the day head to The Shack on your way back. Who doesn’t like a Putt-Putt/Playground/restaurant/ice cream place! Their 20 hole course was great for our wide range of kids’ ages–even my two year old had fun! We didn’t have dinner here, but the restaurant was very popular with tons of people who came just to eat. With a long list of sundaes, milkshakes and a famous chicken dish I can see why!
One of the most well known spots in Lancaster is The Turkey Hill Experience. Who doesn’t love an interactive center dedicated to Ice Cream?!? The base tickets include entry to the museum, play areas, all you can eat ice cream and iced tea tastings. For a premium ticket, you add one hour in the Ice Cream Lab to make your own ice cream flavor with endless add-ins! Getting Lab tickets does require you to plan much more in advance as you have to buy them beforehand for a certain time slot and people purchase these weeks in advance. If you have younger kids/toddlers I think you could skip the Lab add-on and still have an amazing time! This ice cream lover thinks it is a must-do half day activity!
Riverside State Park, 10 minutes from Turkey Hill Experience, is perfect for a lazy hangout after filling up on Turkey Hill ice cream or as a launching pad for biking, fishing, or water activities to burn off those delicious calories! This new center featured a large covered porch with rocking chairs, picnic areas, a small history museum and the all important bathroom for kids. We ate a light packed lunch here as we pretty much had ice cream for our meal (the best lunch ever) at the lab. If you have time, plan on bringing or renting bikes for a ride on the 14-mile Northwest Lancaster County River Trail, which begins here. There is a vendor on site for bike, canoe, and kayak rentals to enjoy the beauty of the Susquehanna River. They can even ferry you back to your parked car if you’ve gone too far/kids have had enough of biking!
In Amish Country lots of places are closed on Sundays, so when planning a weekend trip here, you gotta make some tough choices! For our Saturday plan, we picked downtown instead of Strasburg (below) so we could go to the oldest farmer’s market in America. After all, we are in Farmer’s Country. This beautiful indoor building features 60 stalls of local meat, cheese, fruits, desserts and other happiness in a bite. If you’ve read my other posts, you might remember that meat and cheese plates are big priorities for me! The weather held for our day, so we decided to get a bunch of market items to-go and headed to nearby Lancaster County Central Park for a picnic lunch.
On a whim, we decided to go to the portion of the park with Rock Ford Plantation because we saw that it had a parking lot (Use “Rock Ford Plantation” in Google Maps for directions). It was a great call! For most of our afternoon there, we were the only people. This section of Central Park has a wonderful large lawn, picnic tables, and access to the City View Hiking Trail – a very easy loop! Hubby always has frisbees in the car, but my kids mainly played in a deceased tree full of bugs ( go figure!) We didn’t time up our visit with tours of the historical house, but that is an option here!
Lancaster Science Factory/North Museum of Nature and Science
There was a possibility that it was going to rain, so we mentally made a back-up plan to check out the downtown kids’ science museums. (A planner having a back-up plan- shocker!) Thankfully the weather held out for us. Both of these places are part of the ASTC reciprocal admission program for members of other science museums. If you’ve read my post on Liberty Science Center membership, I talk about how a membership at one museum can also include free admission to partner museums around the country. It’s perfect for family trips when you might need to fill a short amount of time, or need an indoor back-up plan!
Okay, let me talk to you about this place! I don’t even remember how I found it, but the reviews online were so glowing and our group loves Indian Food so it was a must do for us. They are a boutique BYOB restaurant serving Neplalese and Indian food in a lovely, yet family friendly setting. We made a reservation because we were a party of 8, but reservations are highly recommended for dinner as they have a small number of tables. I can’t tell you how many people came in trying (more like begging) for a table while we were there. They also have a very popular lunch buffet if you are touring around downtown. Either way, if you’re a fan of this food, definitely go and enjoy. They LOVED having kids at their restaurant, were super accommodating and made them feel more than welcome!
My husband is a HUGE fan of crepes, so anytime we come across a very highly rated creperie it always gets added to this list. Sadly, we didn’t make it this trip, but the reviews are outstanding and this restaurant is within walking distance from the Central Market.
So, we couldn’t fit Strasburg activities into our three day weekend and I’m pretty bummed! I would totally come back to Lancaster for a weekend at Dutch Wonderland and Cherry Crest Adventure Farm alone.
I know Hershey is pretty close to Lancaster but Dutch Wonderland is an amusement and water park designed FOR younger kids! We were traveling with another family and their kids were too old for this place, but I think my kiddos would love it! I’m not from the Tri-State area, but this place is almost a rite of passage for area kids – it is recommended by almost every local mom I meet. #2021List for sure!
I’ve never even heard of Agri-tainment before, but this place looks like a lot of fun! I really wanted a turn on the Apple Blaster. When a place has such crazy high reviews you know you’ve found a gem. I can see my kids wanting to spend the whole day here. NOTE: Make sure to schedule your weekend around this place, as they are closed on Sundays.
In Strasburg there is a grouping of train activities, if you have a train lover in your family! In my Train Lover article I mention the Choo Choo Barn, National Toy Train Museum and Strasburg Railroad which operates train rides from Cherry Crest Adventure Farm. My son would have LOVED these train places, but he moved on to Beyblades before we visited Lancaster.
We did stop here for dinner on our way to our house rental on the recommendation of friends. So many people told me we had to eat here to experience one of Amish country’s classic homestyle family restaurants! They have family style, a la carte and kids menus depending on the size of your group or personal preference. All four of us enjoyed our meals and the service was fantastic. Don’t forget to visit the bakery in the basement to stock up on baked goods and apple butter. They bake everything fresh the day of and were delicious! We picked up treats and pies and enjoyed them a la mode with Turkey Hill Ice Cream of course!
There’s a fantastic mix of peaceful country activities and bustling attractions. We didn’t even scratch the surface of all the fun things to do during our long weekend. Come and see for yourself – it’s such a great family spot!
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I’m Monica—truly a planner at heart! I’ll be bringing you along for the ride at PAH. Whether it’s my Frugal Fannie life, family activities in my region, family road trips, couples getaways, or timeshare traveling, I’ll be sharing my plans with ya’ll!