My absolute favorite vacation spot, yet one that is often ignored by fellow New Yorkers and Northeasterners. Center of Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish region.

Lancaster is not a place to go to stay in a hotel, sip a drink by the pool, and play a round of golf. Do that elsewhere. If you're going to Lancaster, it's a place to get out and see and experience new things.

Having been to Lancaster County (which includes Lancaster (city) and its surrounding area) maybe 15 times in my life, I offer the following guide:

Things to Do

  • Go to the visitor information center. Get as many brochures as you can. Browse them in your hotel room and see what you like. Also, be sure to get one of the several maps they offer.
  • Go off the beaten path. As with everyplace, there's tourist traps. In Lancaster, some of the more popular places ARE good places to go. However, to me, the best are those that are a bit further away from the "main strip".
  • Drive away from the main roads, if you can (especially if you're comfortable with maps). The main routes are often congested and the best way to get the "true flavor" of the area is to drive down the farm roads. Whenever my family was traveling somewhere within the area, we'd go up and down the country roads. It would take a little longer, but seeing an Amish family harvesting or kids on their scooters was much more fulfilling than dealing with 10 cars at every traffic light.
  • If you don't know what something on a menu is, ask. Food in the area is especially good (one of my favorite parts of a trip there). There's some things that might be new (shoo-fly pie, for example). Ask what it is.

Things to avoid

  • Don't take pictures of the Amish. It's against their religion to be photographed. Respect that. Besides, how would you like if a bunch of foreign tourists came up to you because you looked "strange" to them, and tried to take a picture of you. You'd be embarrassed, right?
  • Don't stay in a large, expensive hotel. As I said above, a vacation in Lancaster is about going out and doing and seeing, not about the hotel. Bed and breakfasts are nice, but a normal economy hotel (and there are many) is fine.
  • Don't get lost at night. While I recommend driving down country roads in the area, stick to the main roads at night, especially if you're not comfortable with maps. Road lighting in the region is poor, and there's alot of deer and other animals darting across roads. Not a good place to get lost when the sun goes down.

Some places to go in the area (all a bit off the beaten path)

  • Shady Maple Smorgasbord and supermarket
    a must! It's on route 23, about 20 miles northeast of Lancaster city, close to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The smorgasbord (or buffet, if you prefer) is huge. Every night there's a theme (seafood night, prime rib night, etc), but everything's good. Next door, there's a large supermarket that has all of the region's specialties inside. Like many of the "best kept secrets", there's more locals inside than tourists.
  • Hayloft Candle Factory
    On Groffdale Road (I think), off of route 23, about 8-10 miles east of Lancaster city. Has a nice craft/candle shop and also has a surprisingly large petting zoo, with such exotic animals as emus and llamas...and it's all free. Great if you have children along (be careful though, some of the animals do snap at you!), or even if you don't.
  • Herr's Factory
    Herr's, a snack food company, is headquartered maybe 20 miles south of Lancaster city (on either route 222 or route 272, I forget which), near the Maryland border. They give quite interesting tours of their plant (free, if i remember correctly), and provide visitors with a gift bag, with a variety of their snack foods. Closer to central Lancaster, Anderson Pretzels also offers tours/samples, but I preferred Herr's.

And tons more, some of which even I haven't been to yet...

Possible daytrips from Lancaster

I haven't been to the area in a few years, so try to call any of the places to get any schedules or pricing specifics.

Lancaster County is a great place to visit, whether alone or with family. There's plenty to do, and plenty to see. It's only 4 hours or so from NYC. I highly recommend it.

Note to editors: If you think this belongs in either Lancaster, PA or Lancaster instead of here, /msg me and I'll move it. Thanks.