When looking for a long weekend away from DC, Northern Virginia, or Maryland with your family that is both easy on the wallet and low stress, driving to the Pennsylvania Dutch country should be one of the first things that comes to mind.
Visiting the Pennsylvania Dutch country is an easy 2 hour drive from DC and well worth the visit for the great food, low key environment, and multitude of family friendly activities. Below is a sample three day travel planner which felt like the correct amount of time for a family to visit with kids.
Some items are noticeably left of the list due to driving distance between them, but are also worth the visit such as Hershey’s Chocolate World (http://www.hersheys.com/chocolateworld/locations/hershey) and Sesame Place Theme Park (www.sesameplace.com)
Day 1- Train Day
What to do: Enjoy a 45 minute ride on a large steam engine through rolling hills and farms. Kids who have never been on a train love the adventure. Besides the steam engine, there are other games and activities to participate in at the Strasburg Railroad such as a mini-steam engine, playground, and hand powered pump cars
Cost: $10 – $45 person depending on the class of ticket you purchase and if you want access to a special car (pinball, 1st class, dining)
Address: 301 Gap Rd, Strasburg, PA 17579
Railroad Museum of Strasburg
What to do: Directly across the street from the Strasburg Railroad is the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. If you have kids who love trains, this is a must visit as there are tons of trains of all shapes and sizes that kids can climb on and learn about inside.
Cost: Adult (ages 12 – 64) $10, Senior Citizen (65+) $ 9, Youth (3 – 11) $ 8, Age 2 and under FREE. The Museum also offers package deals with the Strasburg railroad that can be bought at the railroad despite them being different companies.
Address: 300 Gap Rd, Strasburg, PA 17579
if you are looking for a sit down restaurant or more than the standard fare of burgers, hot dogs, and chicken fingers (available at the Strasburg RR), be sure to stop by the Speckled Hen for sandwiches, salads, and out of this world coffee. They have seats and activities for kids if you want to take a break.
Address: 141 E. Main St, Strasburg, PA
National Toy Train Museum
What to do: This National Toy Train Museum is a great place to visit for an hour with the kids. The museum has one of the largest collections of toy trains in the world, professionally organized and interpreted. You can start some of the trains yourself with just the push of a button (kids love it) and a number of the toy trains are always running around the tracks.
Cost; Adult (ages 13 – 64) $7, Senior Citizen (65+) $ 6, Youth (6 – 12) $ 4, Age 6 and under FREE. The museum also offers a family rate of $22.00 (2 Adults and 3 or more kids; or 1 Adult and 4 or more kids)
Address: 300 Paradise Lane, Strasburg, PA 1757
Choo Choo Barn
What to do: The Choo Choo Barn features a 1,700 square foot train layout with over 150 hand-built animated figures and vehicles and 22 operating trains. Similar to the National Train Museum, this is just a few minutes from the Strasburg Railroad and a fun after lunch activity for an hour.
Cost: Adults (ages 12+ – 64) $7.50, Kids (ages 3 to 11) $4.50, Age 3 and under FREE.
Address: 226 Gap Rd, Strasburg, PA 17579
After a full day of trains, look no further for great craft beverages and comfort food than the Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant. Their menu which includes salads, pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, and small plates to share has an exhaustive kids and gluten friendly menu which will bring a smile to the face of each family member.
Address: 781 Harrisburg Ave, Lancaster, PA 17603
Day 2- Embracing the Dutch Wonderland
Lancaster Central Market
What to do: Start your morning off right with some delicious baked goods at the oldest, continuously operated farmer’s market in the U.S.. The historic market has been in operation since the 1730s, and was granted permanent status by King George II in 1742. Be sure to check their calendar before going as their schedules changes based on the season.
Address: 23 North Market St., Lancaster, Penn.
What to do: A self-described “Kingdom for Kids,” this theme park has over 30 rides, a water play area, dining, and live entertainment. What really impressed us is that unlike most theme parks, Dutch Wonderland is designed specifically for families with young kids. They have a great website that shows in detail what fun rides are available based on how big your kids are.
Cost: Packages ranging from $30-50 (Kids under 3 are free!)
Address: 2249 Lincoln Hwy E, Lancaster, PA 17602
Kettle Kitchen Village
What to do: After letting the kids play at Dutch Wonderland, enjoy a short drive to Kitchen Kettle Village to explore a wide variety of local shops. The must visit is without a doubt is the Jam & Relish Kitchen where you can sample and enjoy homemade jellies, jams, and baked goods.
Address: 3529 Old Philadelphia Pike, Intercourse, PA 17534
Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy Ride
What to do: Depending on the age of your kids, enjoy a leisurely ride back in time through the countryside of Lancaster County in an authentic Amish Buggy. Aaron and Jessica’s offers a number of tours including an Amish town tour and a farm tour. Our favorite was the “Cookie Run” tour where you ride 3 miles through an Amish farm with a brief stop for drinks and cookies. The Cookie Run tour is the shortest of the tours and best for kids with short attention spans. There is no set time for rides so just show up, say hi and enjoy some good times.
Cost: Varies based on your tour
Address: 3121 Old Philadelphia Pike, Ronks, PA 17505
Come hungry and enjoy a giant Amish Farm Feats at Plain & Fancy Farm (next to Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy Ride). This restaurant was featured on Travel Channel’s Man v. Food Nation special on “Feasts” and after showing up you will certainly know why. Be sure to make a reservation in advance as this place books up quickly.
Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery
What to do: Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery is the first commercial pretzel bakery in America. Stop by for a tour of the original bakery and twist your own pretzel. They are in the middle of a very cute town to walk around in and explore. The bakery is small and tours fill up fast so come by early to make sure you get in.
Cost: $3.50 adults and $2.50 children
Address: 219 East Main St. Lititz, PA 17543
Wilbur Chocolate Company
What to do: No trip to the town of Lititz is complete without stopping in the Wilbur Chocolate Company. Tours are no longer offered, but they have a large candy store with delicious confections and a small museum you can visit.
Address: 48 N Broad St, Lititz, PA 17543
After eating pretzels and chocolate, make your way to the casual eatery Tomato Pie Café. Serving a host of delicious sandwiches, breakfast items, and pizzas, every member of your family can find something they would love. Something special to note is that on the kids menu they have a Rainbow Grilled Cheese that looks like a rainbow actually jumped out of the sky and landed on the bread… your kids will love it!
Address: 23 N Broad St, Lititz, PA 17543
Turkey Hill Ice Cream Experience
What to do: A final stop in a three day trip should be a sweet one. We suggest visiting the Turkey Hill Ice Cream Experience. At the center, you can learn how ice cream is made, sit in a milk truck, milk mechanical cows, and even create your own virtual ice cream. The Turkey Hill Taste Lab, allows you to bring your virtual ice cream creation to life as you make your own pint of ice cream (for an extra charge… this fills up fast). The best part of this tour is being able to sample the delicious ice cream and iced tea products for as long as you want.
Address: 301 Linden St, Columbia, PA 17512
Where to Stay
To be most centrally located, we suggest staying in Lancaster. There is a wide selection of hotels, B&Bs, and motels that fit every budget. We recently stayed at the Double Tree Resort in Lancaster because of its central location, large rooms for families, kids activities at night, and amazing kid’s water playground.
Address: 2400 Willow Street Pike, Lancaster, PA