Family Guide to Pennsylvania Dutch Country

If you’re searching for a fun, wholesome family getaway, look no further than Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  We have only been in the summer and winter, but anytime is a perfect time to visit this quaint part of Pennsylvania.  There is so much fun to be had by families that you can visit several areas in Lancaster County all within close proximity to one another.  The drive from DC clocks in at just under 2 1/2 hours.

Lancaster

There is more to Lancaster than just Dutch Wonderland.  Although, it has to be the best amusement park for kids under age 10 and always a highlight of our trips.

For an introduction to the Amish way of life, start your trip at the Amish Farm & House in Lancaster.  Tour the farmhouse, blacksmith shop, one-room schoolhouse, and covered bridge.  The farmhouse illustrates the simple Amish family with an old fashioned kitchen, bedrooms, and the meaning of the different colored clothing worn by the Amish.  My daughter loved the wooden playground, riding a scooter, and seeing the various animals that included cows and hens.  I found the tour brief, yet informative.  Wear comfortable shoes because the property is 15-acres or opt for the bus tour.  General admission is free for ages 4 and under, $5.95 for children, and $8.95 for adults.  The cost is extra for a bus or package tour.  Print the coupon from their website to save on admission.

Bird-in Hand Farmers Market

Fresh squeezed lemonade, handmade Amish quilts and more can be found at the Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market.  Located in the town with the same name, the indoor market is a fun way for families to sample Amish goods.  Kitchen Kettle Village is on hand with a stock pile of jams and sauces for you to sample on crackers.  Twenty five cents will get you apple cider at a produce vendor.  I bought some herb dip mix from “Smith’s My Own” and my kiddo enjoyed a pretzel dog from the Bird-in-Hand soft pretzel company.  Watch the ladies of Lennons Fudge stir the chocolate while sampling the treat.  I was over the moon when I discovered that they serve funnel cake!  There’s even a lunch counter in the back where they serve up light fare and Turkey Hill ice cream.  Note:  The market operates year round, but only on certain days depending on the time of year.  Check the website for operation time as it is definitely worth a visit.

Ronks

You know you have stumbled across a great eatery when the truckers are lined up outside.  While the décor is dated and cash is the only form of payment accepted, Jennie’s Diner creates colossal pancakes and, according to my husband, an excellent steak and egg at a great price.  Their walls proudly display the military who serve our country.

If you like kitsch, just look for the windmill and you have arrived at Dutch Haven.  It sounded so tacky, but it’s one of those things you have to experience if only for the tiny sample of shoo fly pie.  That pie is really bizarre tasting though!  Just beware that tucked along with gifts, crafts, and jam are tawdry Intercourse souvenirs that should be avoided by children.

It doesn’t sound exciting, but the Countryside Road Stand is a mix of authentic Amish goods, food and a farm all rolled into one.  The family who owns the property live next store.  They sell everything from headache salve, handmade soap, quilts, and small furniture to whoopee pies, lemonade, and buttery soft pretzels.  The view is beautiful with horse drawn buggies passing the country road.  One of the employees was dumping old pretzels and gave them to my daughter and I so we could feed the animals out back.  Yep, in the back yard of the store were chicken, goats, sheep, peacocks, and an alpaca.  It’s low-key fun for both children and adults.  And yes, the headache balm does work!

If you are in the area from May to October, take a free tour of the Mascot Roller Mills.  The craftsman gave us a little history and demonstrated how the grain and flour is processed at the mills.  There are great photo opportunities at Mill Creek which served as the source of water to power the mills.  We were pressed for time, but would have liked to have toured the miller’s house which is known as the Ressler family home.

For traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking head to Dienner’s Country Restaurant.  While it’s gotten rave reviews, I found the buffet style food too simple and bland.  However, I was glad to try some traditional Amish food and learn that the restaurant employees are Amish, Mennonite and “English.”

Strasburg

Train lovers, this one’s for you.  The town of Strasburg is all about trains.  You can even spend the night in a caboose!  Take a ride on the oldest short-line railroad in the U.S. aboard the Strasburg Railroad.  There are seven options to enjoy the 45 minute round trip ride from Strasburg to Paradise.  Tickets range in price from $8-$25 for children and $14-$25 for adults.  Plan your trip right and be there for Day out with Thomas or Santa’s Paradise Express.  Bonus:  Purchase a combo pass and then head across the street to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

Other kid-friendly activities in Lancaster County include becoming a pretzel twisting pro at Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Lititz or a stop at the Hands-on House Children’s Museum.  Older kids will have a whirl of fun tinkering with science activities at the Lancaster Science Factory.

There are several options for lodging in and around Lancaster.  Due to its central location, my family always checks into the Fulton Steamboat Inn.  The steamboat backs up to farmland and is surrounded by a pond where you can feed ducks and koi.  There’s a larger pond past the pirate ship playground and coin machines where you can feed a plethora of ducks pellets.  Children can adopt a fish during their stay with the “guppy love program.”  Each room has a fridge and microwave which was a huge plus for my family.  This time we picked a room that had bunk beds.  Other amenities include an indoor pool, small game room, coin operated laundry, and cookies and lemonade in the lobby.  Kids can get a free meal if they wear their sailor hat.  However, we didn’t care for the food or service in the restaurant.  There are plenty of options along the highway.

Things to know

  • Most attractions, stores and some restaurants close on Sundays.  The Amish believe that Sunday is a day for rest and time should be spent with family.
  • The Amish do not like their photograph taken.  If they see a camera near them, don’t be surprised if they get defensive.  Let them know that you respect their culture.

While it seems like I drove across the state, everything is within minutes of each other by car.  While this is not an itinerary, the above could be done comfortably in three days.  We tipped into downtown Lancaster which is very different from the Amish countryside.  Whether you’re heading solely to Dutch Wonderland or want to expand your visit, Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country makes for a relaxing family getaway.

Photo credits:

Photo 1:  Visitors to the quaint village of Bird-in-Hand will enjoy mingling with the Amish and Mennonite local residents while perusing the local items at farmers’ markets and quilt shops.  Credit: www.padutchcountry.com / Coy Butler

Photo 2: The Strasburg Rail Road is one of several train attractions in the village of Strasburg, offering 45-minute journeys through the Amish countryside. Credit: www.padutchcountry.com.

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