While Lancaster (pronounced "lank-uh-stir") is still the most important city in the region, it hit its peak in the Colonial era and as an early-20th-century urban beehive; this is reflected in the architecture and attractions. The basic street grid layout, copied from Philadelphia's, centers at Penn Square: the intersection of King (east-west) and Queen (north-south) streets. You won't see too many Plain People venturing into town anymore, since they can buy provisions and equipment more easily at regional stores, but they still sell at the bustling Central Market. Erected just off Penn Square in 1889 but operating since the 1730s, this is the nation's oldest continuously operated farmers' market, with more than 80 stalls. You can savor and purchase regional produce and foods, from sweet bologna and scrapple to breads, cheeses, egg noodles, shoofly pie (a concoction of molasses and sweet dough), and schnitzel or dried apple. The market is open Tuesday and Friday from 6am to 4pm and Saturday from 6am to 2pm.
Beside the market is the Heritage Center Museum in the old City Hall, with a collection of Lancaster County crafts and historical artifacts. Its new self-guided Family Walking Tour puts an entertaining spin on local history. The museum is free (donations are encouraged) and open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 4pm, Saturday 9am to 3pm, and Sunday 10am to 3pm. The nearby Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum, a colorful collection housed in a magnificent 1912 Beaux Arts bank building, has recently expanded and is open Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday, 9am to 4pm, Wednesday and Thursday 10am to 4pm, and is closed Sunday and Monday. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for students, and free for ages 17 and under. The Heritage Center of Lancaster County (tel. 717/299-6440; www.lancasterheritage.com) operates both museums. Less than 2 miles west is Wheatland, 1120 Marietta Ave., Route 23 (tel. 717/392-8721; www.lancasterhistory.org), the gracious Federal mansion and gardens of the 15th U.S. president, James Buchanan. It features costumed guides and is open April through October, Monday through Saturday 10am to 3pm; open select days in November and December (call for hours). Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for students, and $3 for children 6 to 11.
Four miles south of town near Willow Street rests the 1719 Hans Herr House, 1849 Hans Herr Dr., off Route 222 (tel. 717/464-4438; www.hansherr.org), the oldest building in the county, restored and furnished to illustrate early Mennonite life, with a historic orchard and outdoor exhibit of agricultural tools. You can visit from April to November, Monday through Saturday from 9am to 4pm; admission, including a tour, is $5 for adults and $2 for children 7 to 12.
The eastern side of town explodes with a commercialized welter of faux Amish attractions and amusements like Dutch Wonderland and Running Pump Mini-Golf, fast-food restaurants, and outlet stores on Route 30. The Amish Farm and House, 2395 Lincoln Hwy. (tel. 717/394-6185; www.amishfarmandhouse.com), offers guided tours of a historical 10-room Amish house, a new one-room schoolhouse, farm buildings with live animals, and exhibits including a water wheel outside. It's open daily January through March, 10am to 4pm; April to May and September to October, 9am to 5pm; June to August, 8:30am to 6pm, and November to December 9am to 4pm. Admission is $8.25 for adults, $7.50 for seniors, and $5.25 for children 5 to 11. Don't be put off by its odd location, sandwiched between a Target and a strip mall: This worthwhile attraction epitomizes the survival of old ways amid rampant development.
Intercourse's suggestive name refers to the intersection of two old highways, the King's Highway (now Rte. 340 or Old Philadelphia Pike) and Newport Road (now Rte. 772). The Conestoga wagons invented a few miles south -- unusually broad and deep wagons that became famous for transporting homesteaders all the way west to the Pacific Coast -- were used on the King's Highway.
The town, in the midst of the wedge of country east of Lancaster, is a center of Amish life in the county. There are about as many commercial attractions, which range from the schlocky to good quality, as there are places of genuine interest along Route 340. Of the commercial sites, try Kitchen Kettle Village, on Old Philadelphia Pike, Route 340 (tel. 800/732-3538 or 717/768-8261; www.kitchenkettle.com), with more than 40 stores selling quilts, crafts, and homemade edibles, grouped around Pat and Bob Burnley's 1954 jam and relish kitchen. Their Lapp Valley Farms ice-cream store, with 16 all-natural flavors, is much more convenient than the original farm stand near New Holland. Buggy rides are available and festivals are held throughout the year. Comfortable rooms and suites are scattered in different buildings around the village.
Ephrata, near exit 21 off I-76 northeast of Lancaster, combines a historic 18th-century Moravian religious site with a pleasant country landscape and the area's largest farmers' market and auction center. Ephrata Cloister, 632 W. Main St. (tel. 717/733-6600; www.ephratacloister.org), near the junction of Route 272 and Route 322, housed one of America's earliest communal societies, which was known for its fraktur -- an ornate, medieval German lettering you'll see on inscribed pottery and official documents. Nine austere wooden 18th-century buildings (put together without nails) remain in a grassy park setting. The cloister is open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sunday from noon to 5pm May through October; March, April, November, and December, Wednesday through Saturday 9am to 5pm and Sunday noon to 5pm. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $6 for children 3 to 11.
The main street of Ephrata is pleasant for strolling and features an old rail car on the place where the train line used to run. On North State Street, 4 miles north of town, is the wonderful Green Dragon Market & Auction (tel. 717/738-1117; www.greendragonmarket.com), open Friday from 9am to 9pm (except Fri in Jan and Feb, 9am-8pm). Walk through seven market buildings, with over 400 local growers, merchants, and artisans; there's even an auction house on-site for hay, household goods, and small animals. A flea market and arcade have sprung up outdoors, with plenty of cotton candy, clams on the half shell, and fresh corn.
Founded in 1756, this town, 6 miles north of Lancaster on Route 501, is one of the state's most charming. The cottage facades (now packed with wonderful shops and cafes) along East Main Street (Rte. 772) haven't changed much in the past 2 centuries. One interesting sight is the Linden Hall Academy, founded in 1794 as the first school for girls in the United States. There are several Revolutionary War-era churches and buildings on the grounds of the school. Across the street is the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, 219 E. Main St. (tel. 717/626-4354; www.juliussturgis.com). Founded in 1861, the oldest such bakery in the country launched Lititz's reputation as "the Pretzel Town." An entertaining 20-minute guided tour lets you try your hand at rolling and twisting dough, and see the original ovens and bake shop. Tours, $3 for adults, $2 for ages 4 to 12, are offered Monday through Saturday, 9:30am to 4:30pm (reduced hours Jan to mid-Mar). Stock up on assorted goodies in the gift shop. Down the street, the Lititz Museum at 145 E. Main St. (tel. 717/627-4636; www.lititzhistoricalfoundation.com) has permanent collections tracing the history of the town, and currently features an amazing exhibition of vintage toys. Hours are 10am to 4pm Monday through Saturday, Memorial Day through October; and select weekends in May, November, and December. Donations are accepted. Even if you don't have time for a meal, at least make a quick stop at the terrific, organic-focused Café Chocolate at 40 E. Main St. (tel. 717/626-0123; www.chocolatelititz.com) for a decadent dessert or a "Turbo" (classic hot chocolate plus a shot of espresso) to go.
At the junction of Route 501 and Main Street is Wilbur Chocolate Company's Candy Americana Museum & Store, 48 N. Broad St. (tel. 888/294-5287 or 717/626-3249; www.wilburbuds.com). Famous for its "Wilbur buds" (bite-size chocolates that preceded the foil-wrapped Hershey Kiss), the factory provides a delightful nostalgic peek at the process and history of chocolate making, with samples, plus a store selling cooking or gift chocolate in a turn-of-the-20th-century atmosphere. Next door is the Lititz Springs Park, with a lovely duck-filled brook flowing from the 1756 spring, and the historic General Sutter Inn.
This little town, named by French Huguenots, is southeast of Lancaster on Route 896 and is a paradise for rail buffs. Until the invention of the auto, railroads were the major mode of fast transport, and Pennsylvania was a leader in building and servicing thousands of engines. The Strasburg Rail Road (tel. 717/687-7522; www.strasburgrailroad.com) winds over 9 miles of preserved track from Strasburg to Paradise and back, as it has since 1832; wooden coaches and a Victorian parlor car are pulled by an iron steam locomotive. The railroad head is on Route 741 east of town and is open daily from mid-March to November, weekends in December, December 26 to December 31, and on weekends starting in mid-February to mid-March. Fares for 2011 start at $14 for adults, $7.50 children ages 3 to 11, and free for children under age 3; prices vary for the numerous special events and tours. Other attractions include the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania (tel. 717/687-8628; www.rrmuseumpa.org), displaying dozens of stationary engines right across from the Strasburg Rail Road; the National Toy Train Museum (tel. 717/687-8976; www.nttmuseum.org) on Paradise Lane off Route 741, one of the world's largest and most prestigious such collections, featuring five huge push-button operating layouts; and Choo Choo Barn-Traintown USA (tel. 717/687-7911; www.choochoobarn.com), a 1,700-square-foot miniature Amish Country landscape filled with animated trains and figures, which enact activities such as parades and circuses; an authorized Thomas Trackside Station store is a bonus. If you eat and sleep trains, then the Red Caboose Motel & Restaurant (tel. 888/687-5005; www.redcaboosemotel.com), with its refurbished 25-ton caboose rooms and 80-ton P-70 coach dining car, offers lodgings that are right on track.
The Bridges of Lancaster County
Pennsylvania is the birthplace of the covered bridge, with some 1,500 built between the 1820s and 1900. Today, 217 bridges remain, mostly on small country roads, and you can actually drive (slowly!) through most of them. Lancaster County has the largest concentration, with 29, including one on the way to Paradise, a village east of Lancaster city. Bridges were covered to protect the trusses from the weather. Does kissing inside one bring good luck? The only way to find out is to try: Their one-lane width allows for a certain amount of privacy. The Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau map indicates all covered bridge locations. Five driving tours are listed on their website; call tel. 800/PA-DUTCH (723-8824) or visit www.padutchcountry.com for more information. The following bridges are interesting and easy to find:
- Hunsecker's Mill Bridge: This is the largest covered bridge in the county, built in 1975 to replace the original, which was washed away in Hurricane Agnes. From Lancaster, drive 5 miles north on Route 272. After you pass Landis Valley Farm Museum, turn right on Hunsecker Road and drive 2 miles.
- Eshleman's Mill/Paradise Bridge: This bridge is in the midst of Amish cornfields and farms. An oversize truck put it out of commission in the 1980s, but it has been restored. Drive north 1 mile on Belmont Road from Route 30, just east of the center of Paradise.
- Kauffman's Distillery Bridge: Drive west on Route 772 from Manheim, and make a left onto West Sunhill Road. The bridge will be in front of you, along with horses grazing nearby.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.