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Pennsylvania Dutch Country, PA

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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Pennsylvania Dutch Country, PA

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Best Western Plus Revere Inn & Suites

3063 Lincoln Hwy E (Rt 30). Paradise, PA 17562

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Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Ephrata-Mountain Springs

380 E Main St. Ephrata, PA 17522

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Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square

25 S Queen St. Lancaster, PA 17603

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SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western Elizabethtown-Hershey

147 Merts Dr. Elizabethtown, PA 17022

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