Growing up, a common day trip from my home in Central New Jersey consisted of a ride out to Lancaster, PA, better known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country; so named for its large Amish population. In those days, a trip to Lancaster meant a peaceful drive through the rolling farmlands, past the Amish farms and locals traveling by horse and buggy.
Flash forward thirty years and PA Dutch Country has become quite a family travel destination, with countless things to do in Lancaster with kids.
Lancaster was the first stop on our spring break road trip to Gettysburg and Chincoteague. We squeezed a lot into one day but to get the most out of a visit, I’d recommend at least a weekend, especially if you have young kids.
One of the highlights of our day was our buggy ride with Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy rides, which stopped in at an Amish farm. We capped off our day with a visit to the Turkey Hill Experience, much more than an ice cream factory tour. Here are some other ideas of family activities in PA Dutch Country.
10 Things to do in Lancaster with Kids
I would like to thank the PA Dutch Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for hosting our trip, Plain and Fancy Farm for the delicious all-you-can-eat feast and Aaron and Jessica’s for the complimentary buggy ride.
1. Take a scenic drive
Starting out our trip, I worried that with all the development that has gone on in Lancaster in recent years that we would be hard pressed to get away from the tourist traps and enjoy the countryside with its farms and beautiful landscapes.
I needn’t have worried. Once you get off of Route 30 into some of the back roads you will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the scenery and start a buggy tally of your own.
2. Stop at the Hans Herr House for some history
The Hans Herr House is the oldest homestead in Lancaster County and a good place to get acquainted with the settlers of the area and their search for religious freedom.
3. Ride the Strasburg Rail Road
If your little ones are at all into trains, they will enjoy a ride on the Strasburg Railroad. This 45-minute steam train ride takes you through the tranquil Amish countryside.
For true train fanatics, the quaint town of Strasburg also offers a railroad museum and the Choo Choo Barn at Traintown USA, featuring a 1700 square foot model train display. After spending time with the trains, the rest of your family members might enjoy a stroll through the charming town of Strasburg.
4. Take a buggy ride
After seeing countless buggies along the byways of Lancaster, your kids will be clamoring for a ride of their own. There are many different options for buggy rides and you might want to research ahead of time to understand your options for the type of tour and buggy experience you desire.
For example, we took a ride with Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy Rides, conveniently located at the Plain and Fancy Farm. They offer a number of tour options of 25-50 minutes in duration that stop at a farm, stop in town, or take a “cookie run.” Keep in mind that these are not private buggy tours, and some buggy are more like carriages that hold up to 15 people.
If you can’t make a reservation in advance, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to wait your turn and put your name on the list as soon as you arrive. Another thing to keep in mind is that with some tours, like Aaron and Jessica’s, you can ask questions of your Amish guide and learn more about the community and customs.
5. Visit an Amish Farm
On our visit we decided to combine the buggy ride with a farm visit so that we could see the workings of an authentic Amish farm. At the farm we stopped in at the barn, where we saw the cows that the farmer spends about four hours a day milking.
After a quick visit with the horses and the most adorable calves, we climbed back in the buggy for our ride back. If you are a looking to spend more time at a farm and learn about the Amish lifestyle, you could also visit The Amish Village or the Amish Farm and House. Y
ou could also spend an afternoon at the Cherry Crest Adventure Farm for some “agri-tainment” like corn mazes, wagon rides, visits with baby animals and more.
6. Ride the rides at Dutch Wonderland
They weren’t open for the season during our stay but Dutch Wonderland is perfect for little kids with over 30 fun-filled rides and a water play area.
7. Shop til you drop
As with any touristy area, you can find the ubiquitous outlet shopping malls but if that jars with your sense of place and history, try something more authentic at the Kitchen Kettle Village with over 40 shops with authentic PA Dutch merchandise and locally-made products.
If you are in town on a Tuesday, Friday or Saturday, you can also check out the Lancaster Central Market, the country’s oldest continuously operating farmer’s market, with local PA Dutch specialties; or visit the Bird-in-Hand Farmer’s Market on Wednesday – Saturdays.
8. Mix up some fun at the Turkey Hill Experience
Turkey Hill’s chocolate peanut butter is my favorite ice cream flavor and it makes me long for my pre-lactose intolerance days. A visit to the Turkey Hill Experience lets you try many of their famous flavors of ice cream, iced tea, and lemonade while mixing up some flavor fun. Learn more about our visit to the Turkey Hill Experience.
9. See a show
The Amish Experience theater at Plain and Fancy Farm tells the story of “Jacob’s Choice,” which helps explain what it means to be Amish. For something more dramatic (and religious) the Sight and Sound Theater is a Christian theater that “brings the Bible to life” with shows like Moses and Jonah, if you are into that kind of thing.
One thing PA Dutch Country is famous for is its smorgasbords, or all-you-can-eat buffets. These are not just a way to stuff your gullet, but also one approach to sampling all the local foods and PA Dutch specialties.
On our visit, we didn’t do a traditional smorgasbord but we did get to try many PA Dutch foods from the Amish Farm Feast at the Plain and Fancy restaurant. Made famous on the Travel Channel’s Man v Food with Adam Richman, the Amish Farm Feast offered up more than we could eat of salad, cinnamon raisin bread, chicken pot pie, fried chicken, chow chow (pickled vegetables), corn, roast beef, buttered noodles, mashed potatoes and so much more including shoofly pie!