Horse-drawn buggies, bearded men in dark coveralls, women in bonnets and English spoken with a distinct accent are everywhere in Lancaster. It’s the heart of the Amish/Pennsylvania Dutch community. “Dutch” is a corruption of “Deutsch,” as in “German.” Religious refugees from Switzerland and Germany, the Amish speak a German dialect, live in tightly-knit communities, and avoid most technology.
To learn more about their culture, visit the Amish Farm and House (www.amishfarmandhouse.com) and the Amish Village (www.theamishvillage.net). Both demonstrate Amish farm life, and explain Amish customs and religion. You’ll see a schoolhouse, homestead, blacksmith, rope maker, and farm animals. Both offer 90-minute bus tours of the area. You can also take a traditional buggy ride. (The Amish are offended at being photographed, so please be respectful.)
A springtime tradition is the “mud sales.” So called because spring means mud to farmers, these auctions are held on Saturdays through May. Open to all, you’ll find many Amish folks buying and selling quilts, furniture, crafts, buggies, building supplies, garden and farm tools, and livestock. See the schedule at www.discoverlancaster.com/mudsales.
Food is a large part of the Amish experience. The Good ’N Plenty Restaurant (www.goodnplenty.com) in Smoketown is famous for its family-style meals, with guests seated at long tables and food passed around on platters. Hershey Farm Restaurant and Inn (www.hersheyfarm.com) has a similar farm menu, but served in a smorgasbord. Its accommodations include a farm house and carriage house. It’s especially good for families, with farm critters and walking trails.
The Amish may eschew fashion trends, but Lancaster provides plenty of shopping for fashionistas. There is no sales tax on clothing in Pennsylvania, which is just another reason to visit the Tanger and Rockvale outlet malls for designer labels. Downtown Lancaster, meanwhile, has boutiques and specialty stores. Antiquers migrate to Adamstown, which boasts five thousand dealers along a 5-mile stretch of road.
Lancaster also has a surprising number of arts venues, including the Fulton Theatre (www.thefulton.org), the oldest continuously operating theatre in the country
Go back in history onboard a steam train at the Strasburg Rail Road (www.strasburgrailroad.com). The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania (www.rrmuseumpa.org) has over 100 locomotives and huge collection of artifacts and the National Toy Train Museum (www.nttmuseum.org) has five working model train layouts.
• Turkey Hill Experience (www.turkeyhillexperience.com): Create your own ice cream flavor at the company’s factory.
• North Museum of Nature and Science (www.northmuseum.org): The museum is newly expanded and renovated with a planetarium, an iGlobe showing real-time weather patterns and an indoor beehive.
• Dutch Wonderland (www.dutchwonderland.com): This theme park is designed with younger children, ages 2 to 10, in mind.
• Cherry Crest Adventure Farm (www.cherrycrestfarm.com): Come here for 50 acres of farm activities: Animals, wagon rides, a massive corn maze and P-Y-O crops, including popcorn.
For more travel advice go to www.insightguides.com.