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EssentialsExperience the slow pace of Amish life in a horse-drawn carriage at The Amish Farm and House , Plain & Fancy Farm or Abe's Buggy Rides .
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Tour the area's first religious commune, Ephrata Cloister , founded by German immigrants in 1732.
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Greg Weekes / AAA. Photo submitted by Greg Weekes
Experience the heritage of Pennsylvania Germans at the Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum , a working farm that replicates life in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Visit the Hans Herr House , the oldest Mennonite meetinghouse in the country, and tour its farmhouses, barns and orchards.
AttractionsIn a destination with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
A number of museums in Lancaster County evoke the area's bucolic, homespun charm. The National Watch and Clock Museum , a AAA GEM attraction in Columbia, explores the history of timekeeping and watchmaking. Thousands of featured timepieces range from European cuckoo clocks, Chinese sundials and 19th-century pocket watches to Mickey Mouse wristwatches, car speedometers and digital alarm clocks.
If you still have time, head over to Lancaster to the Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum , another AAA GEM attraction. More of a working farm than a traditional museum, this village of 30 restored buildings focuses on Pennsylvania German heritage 1740-1940. Costumed interpreters demonstrate everything from basketmaking to leatherworking, sheep shearing and rug making, and historical breeds of animals and plants evoke an earlier time. The museum's assortment of Pennsylvania German objects is said to be the largest of its kind in the United States.
Would-be conductors will want to pull into Strasburg for the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania . Spanning the history of railroads in the state, this AAA GEM features more than 100 restored locomotives and rail cars from the 19th and 20th centuries—including a complete 1950s freight train and an enormous 1875 steam locomotive—as well as railroad artifacts, art and exhibits.
In Amish Country you'll find many attractions that give insight into the lifestyle of the Plain People. The Mennonite Information Center and Biblical Tabernacle Reproduction in Lancaster educates about the Mennonite and Amish faiths, and two movies offer an in-depth look at this way of life. To sneak a peek at how the Amish work and live, visit Amish Country Tours at Plain & Fancy Farm in Bird-In-Hand, a historic site furnished to illustrate a typical Amish household. Or tour The Amish Village in Ronks, where an 1840 farmhouse is furnished in Old Order Amish style and a barn, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop and springhouse stand on the grounds. In Lancaster, find the 10-room The Amish Farm and House , built in 1805. Folks demonstrate quilting and whittling on the property, where you'll see crops, farming equipment and barnyard animals. To experience the slow pace of Amish travel, see Abe's Buggy Rides in Bird-In-Hand for a tour of Amish Country in a modest, horse-drawn family carriage.
Built in 1719, the Hans Herr House in the town of Willow Street is the oldest Mennonite meetinghouse in the country. Its stone building was the subject of a well-known painting by Andrew Wyeth, a descendent of Hans Herr. The complex includes three farmhouses, barns, an ancient orchard, outbuildings and displays of farm equipment. Lancaster also is home to the AAA GEM President James Buchanan's Wheatland , the residence and personal retreat of President Buchanan. Interpreters in period dress offer tours of the 1828 Federal-style estate, which is furnished in period and surrounded by exhibition gardens.
Another AAA GEM attraction is the bucolic Ephrata Cloister , a collection of stark, European-style buildings (dormitories, meetinghouses, a paper mill and printing house, among others) that was home to one of the country's earliest religious communities. Founded in 1732 by German settlers, the village included celibate brothers and sisters and a congregation of families. Tours are offered of the Ephrata property, now a National Historic Landmark.
For insight into the Quaker way of life, visit the Wright's Ferry Mansion , once the home of a literary Quaker. The restored 1738 English stone house in Columbia shows life in a Pennsylvania Quaker household until 1750. Family-friendly attractions include Cherry Crest Adventure Farm in Ronks, where kids can run wild in a giant cornfield maze, take a wagon ride and visit critters in the petting zoo. Find a knight, dragon and princess, along with rides and attractions geared for kids at the Dutch Wonderland Family Amusement Park in Lancaster.
Another fun way to spend the day is by sampling the fare at one of the county's farmers' markets. An antique in itself, the Central Market in Lancaster sells such treats as Bavarian pretzels, shoofly pie (a sweet mixture of molasses and dough) and schnitzel (dried apple). You can spot the Amish selling fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers from neighboring farms at the market, which has been in operation since the 1730s. At the Green Dragon Farmers Market in Ephrata , watch the sale of livestock animals in one of its auction houses, and find antiques in the other. A flea market and stands selling fresh produce also are on the grounds. The Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market lists fudge, pickled vegetables, soft pretzels, smoked meats and cheeses on its smorgasbord of delicacies.
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RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
For a hearty, freshly prepared sandwich, there's really nowhere else to go but Isaac's Famous Grilled Sandwiches . This chain of Pennsylvania restaurants offers more than 30 whimsically named sandwiches (such as the Phoenix and the Gooney Bird), and all can be fixed in hundreds of ways. Take-out is available, and a changing menu of homestyle soups and salads will tempt your taste buds.
Warm and cozy, the Hershey Farm Restaurant in Ronks is the perfect ending to a long day of exploring the farmlands and historic sites of Lancaster County. The smorgasbord-style restaurant offers fruits and vegetables from its on-site garden, as well as such homemade goodies as Pennsylvania Dutch chicken pot pie (with noodles instead of crust), and the ever-popular shoofly pie. After dinner, browse the general store to purchase a memento of your visit.
Forget the diet as you step into Smoketown's Good 'N Plenty Restaurant, a family-style, all-you-can-eat experience. The staff serves four-course Pennsylvania Dutch meals in large serving dishes, and diners share long tables, encouraging conversation between parties as they pass fried chicken, mashed potatoes, fresh bread, dried corn and any number of other tasty dishes from an ever-changing list of local favorites.
You simply can't travel to this region without sampling Pennsylvania Dutch food. At Miller's Smorgasbord & Bakery in Ronks, there are several meal options, but most everyone opts for the full buffet, which includes appetizers, entrees, dessert and drinks. You'll find plenty of local specialties such as chow-chow (vegetable relish), brown buttered noodles and shoofly pie, along with favorites like roast turkey breast, fried chicken and baked ham with cider sauce.
Formerly an early 20th-century tobacco warehouse, the Walnut Street Grille at Lancaster Brewing Company exudes a cool, industrial feel and a fun, relaxed atmosphere. American cuisine, punched up with Mexican, Asian and Continental influences, includes a variety of tasty pizzas, chops, salads and sandwiches. An on-site microbrewery creates seasonal beers that pair well with menu selections, providing a perfect way to cool down on a hot summer day.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
There's no better spot in America to feast on Pennsylvania German cuisine, and the folks in Amish Country celebrate food and drink at a number of festivals throughout the year. In early September the Whoopie Pie Festival in Ronks honors the tasty dessert—creamy icing spread between two soft chocolate cakes—with a whoopie pie treasure hunt, amateur eating contest, a creative pie-making contest, and—best of all—the whoopie pie long-distance launch. See whose pie can fly the farthest! At Hans Herr House in Willow Street, apples are at the core of the Maize & Snitz Fest Colonial-period harvest festival in October. Costumed interpreters demonstrate cider pressing and apple butter making, which begins with snitzing (slicing the apples thinly so they'll cook). You can also explore the orchards surrounding the house and partake of numerous demonstrations. In early October the aroma of cocoa wafts through town during the Lititz Chocolate Walk . More than 25 chocolate-tasting stations tempt with sweet treats created by local candy makers and pastry chefs. (Stroll and sample, stroll and sample.) Ticket proceeds help local charities.
It wouldn't be German heritage without beer, and a number of festivals give a nod to barley and hops. Lancaster Liederkranz German Oktoberfest comes to Manheim on the third weekend in September, and Stoudt's Brewery Oktoberfest takes place in Adamstown in October.
Hobbyists and collectors flock to Strasburg, home of the Choo Choo Barn, Traintown, U.S.A. and The National Toy Train Museum . As you might expect, the town plays host to a number of railroad events, and Reading Railroad Days in early July attracts many to honor the heritage of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Antique hunters converge in Adamstown any time of year, but in late September the pickings are especially good, thanks to the town's Antique Extravaganza at Stoudt's Black Angus Antique Mall, where more than 400 dealers sell their wares. Adamstown's giant, outdoor flea and antique market, in operation since 1962, is the scene for the Shupp's Grove Spring Antique Extravaganza in late April and the Shupp's Grove Homecoming Extravaganza in late September.
The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire takes place in Manheim from early August to late October. Immerse yourself in the 16th century with costumed knights, lords and ladies, and enjoy entertainment by such court performers as jousters, minstrels and troubadours. Attendees are encouraged to arrive at the 35-acre, 19th-century Mount Hope Estate adorned in their finest Renaissance garb.
Harvest festivals abound in the fall, including events honoring specific crops (rhubarb, apples and pumpkins, to name a few). In October, Lancaster plays host to Harvest Days , with wagon treks to the pumpkin patch, scarecrow making and pumpkin decorating. Kids will believe the sign welcoming them to Paradise when they catch sight of Cherry Crest Adventure Farm , where a 5-acre corn maze is open from early July to mid-September. Zigzag your way through the carved cornfields along miles of paths and bridges using clues to find the exit.
Pennsylvania Dutch Country residents observe the holidays the old-fashioned way. In early December, Country Christmas Village at the Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum in Lancaster offers traditional holiday foods, including hot cocoa and gingersnaps. Mid-December brings Christmas at the Cloister to Ephrata, where seasonal readings and holiday music accompany quiet reflection. The Holiday at Landis Valley Bonfire celebration features a wagon ride, hot cider and cookies.
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The Plain PeopleThe Pennsylvania Dutch emigrated from Germany in the 1720s, when Amish and Mennonites followed William Penn and his “holy experiment” of religious tolerance. The two sects formed out of the 16th-century Anabaptist movement and the core tenet that only adult believers should be baptized. Menno Simons, a Catholic priest from Holland, joined the Anabaptist movement in 1536; his followers were known as Mennonites. Swiss bishop Jacob Amman broke from the Mennonite church in 1693, and those who followed him were called Amish. While Amman agreed with many Mennonite principles, he believed that church members should live apart from the world and its earthly temptations.
The Amish and Mennonites still share the same views about baptism and Bible doctrines, but they differ in how their beliefs should be applied in daily life. Moderate Mennonites, who have no restrictions about wardrobe or cars, go unnoticed in the general public, while Amish and Old Order Mennonites stand out with their old-fashioned bonnets and horse-drawn buggies.
The Amish stress humility, piety and community—individuality is a sin of pride. Plain, solid-colored clothing prevents vanity and marks the group as separate. Members shun technology for its power to erode traditional farming values and close-knit ties. (Horses and carriages limit the distance traveled away from home and family; hand-powered tools ensure the virtue of hard work.) While the Amish can't own a car, they may accept a ride if it's necessary, and a communal phone is generally allowed for emergencies and business uses. Each church district decides what modern conveniences to accept or reject, based on a literal interpretation of the Bible and a set of rules called the Ordnung, which dictates how members express their faith through everyday living. Almost all congregations draw the line at electricity—and the intrinsic dangers of TV, radio and the Internet—but 12-volt batteries, diesel farm equipment and propane gas refrigerators are commonly used.
Though the Amish are strict in their values, they don't expect special treatment from the outside world. They speak English with others (their main tongue is Pennsylvania Dutch, a German dialect, and High German is used for worship). Dairy farmers rely on modern but non-electric equipment to conform to USDA standards. The Amish pay taxes but won't accept Social Security, Medicare or other government assistance, nor will they serve in the military.
Amish children are usually educated in one-room schoolhouses that teach basic reading, writing and arithmetic, and students leave at 16 to work in the fields. Teenagers are encouraged to go out into the contemporary world and “sow their wild oats” before accepting baptism into the church. Amish couples generally marry in their early 20s and produce large families (an average of seven children). Bachelors remain clean-shaven; married men wear untrimmed beards. Members shun drinking, smoking and swearing; lying is grounds for excommunication. A sense of community is key: church members assist newlyweds in buying farmland and establishing a household—barn-raisings are a traditional gift—and friends and neighbors help care for the sick and elderly.
In an age of computers and cellphones, the Amish face a constant struggle to preserve their simple way of life. Daily contact with visitors in Lancaster County offers another challenge—exposure to “English” ways. Many Amish believe that self-portraits are images of vanity or pride, so be respectful when taking photographs. Above all, watch for slow-moving vehicles as you travel the back roads. You'll know the Amish farms by their distinctive green window shades and, at night, the flicker of kerosene lamps.
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