Lancaster: Recreation


Lancaster and its environs maintain many buildings of historic interest. Among them are the 1852 Fulton Opera House, which has been restored and houses a wooden statue of Robert Fulton; the 1889 Central Market, which is the oldest publicly-owned continually operating farmers market in the country; Rock Ford Plantation, a Georgian mansion built in 1792 for General Edward Hand; Wheatland, the 1828 country estate of President James Buchanan; and 1719 Hans Herr House, the oldest house built by European settlers in the county and the Western Hemisphere's oldest Mennonite meeting house.

The Heritage Center Museums of Lancaster County, including the Lancaster Cultural History Museum and the Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum, provide information about the cultural history of Lancaster County and have attractive displays of decorative and fine arts produced by generations of local artists and craftspeople. Lancaster Newspapers' Newseum explores the history of newspapers. At the Charles Demuth House and Garden, visitors can tour the eighteenth century home, studio, and gardens of world-famous artist Charles Demuth; the Demuth Tobacco Shop, located next door, was founded in 1770 and is the oldest tobacco shop in the U.S. The city also offers the Historic Lancaster Walking Tour, which concentrates on Revolutionary War era sites; the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum, which displays more than 100 locomotives and cars; the Ephrata Cloisters, one of the country's earliest and most influential religious communities; and the Robert Fulton Birthplace.

The countryside surrounding Lancaster is a favorite destination of visitors, who have made Lancaster County one of the top ten tourist attractions in the country. By car, bicycle, bus, buggy, or steam train, passing through covered bridges, one can tour re-created Amish farms and visit farmers' markets and Pennsylvania Dutch restaurants. Visitors interested in learning more about Pennsylvania Dutch Country can do so through a multimedia attraction at the Amish Experience Theater, located at Plain & Fancy Farm on Route 340. The production combines special effects with the traditional story of the Amish people and their centuries-old culture. The theater presents an original and critically acclaimed screenplay called "Jacob's Choice," which chronicles the saga of an Amish family from its flight from religious persecution in sixteenth century Europe to modern-day Lancaster County.

For those looking to explore nearby communities, a number of attractions in and near Hershey are worth a visit. Hersheypark offers amusement rides, shopping, food, and other forms of family fun. Hershey's Chocolate World serves as Hershey Food Corporation's official visitors center, and offers chocolate-making tours. For nature enthusiasts, Indian Echo Caverns gives guided tours of underground caves. And in nearby Kennett Square, Longwood Gardens allows visitors to tour one of America's most famous horticultural showplaces.

Arts and Culture

Lancaster Symphony Orchestra makes its home at the beautifully restored 1852 Fulton Opera House, a national historic landmark. There the orchestra performs 20 yearly subscription concerts in addition to a special New Year's Eve celebration and an outdoor patriotic concert at Long's Park. Also performing at the Fulton is Opera Lancaster, one of just a few non-profit, all-volunteer opera companies in the U.S. They boast an active performing membership of more than 100. The Fulton is a focal point for theatrical productions of all kinds, presented by groups sponsored by high schools and colleges as well as by touring professionals and community-based enterprises. These groups include the Actors Company at the Fulton, Youtheatre, and the Theatre for Young Audiences.

Recreated Amish farms can be toured in the countryside surrounding Lancaster.
Recreated Amish farms can be toured in the countryside surrounding Lancaster.

Outdoor concerts at Long's Park Amphitheater and other locales are presented during the summer months by Lancaster Symphony Orchestra and other groups under the auspices of the Long's Park Free Summer Entertainment Series. Both women and men participate in local barbershop choruses that perform from time to time throughout the area, as does Wheatland Chorale, a group of 36 singers specializing in close ensemble a capella singing.

Co-Motion, Hole-In-The-Wall Puppet Theatre, and First Stage Theatre provide family entertainment. Lancaster's Theater of the Seventh Sister has been in operation for more than 15 years, and offers a range of performances from new dramatic works, to plays of the old masters, to live musical performances. Dutch Apple Dinner Theater presents professional musicals and comedies accompanied by a large buffet dinner; Broadway comedies and hearty dinners are the bill of fare at Rainbow Dinner Theatre. Sight & Sound Theatres, one of the largest theatres in the U.S., has been offering musicals with a religious theme for more than 25 years. Philadelphia, with its rich array of cultural offerings, is 65 miles from Lancaster.

Landis Valley Museum is considered one of the most important living history museum complexes in the country. The complex's numerous exhibit areas, interpreting Pennsylvania rural life, include original structures such as the 1800s Landis Farmstead and the 1856 Landis Valley House Hotel, and other historically significant structures that were either moved to the site or are period reconstructions. The North Museum of Natural History and Science, on the campus of Franklin and Marshall College, is filled with hands-on displays and one of the largest planetariums in the state.

The Heritage Center Museums of Lancaster County are located in two historic buildings on Penn Square: the Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum exhibits folk and decorative arts and crafts; the Lancaster Cultural History Museum collects items important to the area's history. Folk art and crafts are also on display at the Kauffman Museum of Pennsylvania Folk Arts and Crafts, located on the grounds of Rock Ford Plantation. Sheldon's Gallery in nearby Ephrata features original paintings, prints, photographs, and sculptures, while Garthoeffner Gallery specializes in painted furniture, folk art, and vintage toys. A number of art galleries in downtown Lancaster present permanent and changing exhibits; offered are works of local craftspeople, including Amish quilts, as well as national and international art.

Festivals and Holidays

Throughout the year, the Downtown Investment District coordinates many downtown Lancaster events, including Art in the Park, a Puerto Rican Festival, LancasterFest, a Classic Car and Auto Show, a Jazz and Blues Festival, and New Year's Eve's Count Down Lancaster. Winter visitors to the Lancaster area enjoy maple sugaring beginning in February. The Quilters' Heritage Celebration, held in early spring, is one of the largest quilting conventions in the world; the event showcases hundreds of quilts entered in a juried and judged contest. A Rhubarb Festival is held in Intercourse in mid-May, paying homage to a crop that grows abundantly in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Early June brings the Lancaster Spring Show of Arts and Crafts, displaying the works of artisans from around the country in a juried exhibition. The Kutztown Pennsylvania German Festival, held in Kutztown in late June and early July, celebrates the Pennsylvania Dutch way of life; arts, crafts, and quilts are displayed and sold, and regional and ethnic food is available in abundance.

The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, held at Mount Hope Estate and Winery 15 miles north of Lancaster, is a re-creation of a sixteenth-century English country fair. Costumed entertainers, jousting, Shakespearean presentations, crafts, and more appear each weekend from early July through mid-October. In late July and early August, Franklin and Marshall College hosts the Pennsylvania State Craft Show and Sale. Arts and crafts are also the focus of Long's Park Art & Craft Festival held in Lancaster on Labor Day Weekend. The Christmas season is celebrated in downtown Lancaster during Downtown Holiday Weekends, featuring food, tree lightings, music, gingerbread displays, and carriage rides. The season is celebrated throughout the region with special holiday tours at Rock Ford Plantation, Hans Herr House, and the Ephrata Cloister in Ephrata; Victorian Christmas Week at Wheatland; and Christmas at Landis Valley.

Sports for the Spectator

One of two spring highlights in downtown Lancaster is the Wachovia Cycling Series, which brings more than 200 of the world's top professional cyclists through the town's downtown on their way to Philadelphia. It is billed as the longest running and richest single-day cycling race in the U.S. The springtime five-mile Red Rose Run also draws hundreds of spectators, and has been an area event for more than 25 years. Lancastrians are also avid supporters of Philadelphia and Baltimore professional teams.

Sports for the Participant

Lancaster maintains nearly 300 acres of land in the form of community parks. The Lancaster Recreation Commission operates an active year-round schedule of adult and child-oriented sports and recreation programs. Park and recreation facilities include athletic fields, a street hockey rink, tennis courts, basketball courts, children's play equipment, and picnic areas. Dozens of state ski areas are accessible from Lancaster.

Shopping and Dining

Downtown Lancaster is a thriving and architecturally interesting district supporting hundreds of businesses that offer distinctive jewelry, home decorations, apparel, books, antiques, music, crafts, and gifts. A favorite among tourists and locals is Central Market, where baked goods, crafts, flowers, fresh produce, and Pennsylvania Dutch food and other ethnic delicacies are abundant. Park City Center, located in the city, is one of the largest malls in the state with 1.4 million square feet of space and about 170 stores. The northern end of the county is known for its weekend flea markets and antiques mall. With almost 1,000 Amish "micro enterprises" in existence, it's possible to locate everything from traditional handcrafted quilts to rolltop desks and Adirondack chairs—all within a few miles of each other in the surrounding countryside. Some shops are in family homes; other businesses have showrooms filled with beautiful handcrafts.

With the dozens of restaurants located in Lancaster's downtown area, diners can choose from a casual pub experience to elegant dining, as well as enjoy Thai, Chinese, Jamaican, Italian, and other ethnic cuisines. Pennsylvania Dutch specialties such as chicken pot pie, schnitz and knepp (dried apples with ham and dumplings), apple butter, and shoofly pie (actually a molasses sponge cake baked in a crust) are served in restaurants located throughout the nearby countryside; some of these restaurants are housed in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century inns that lined the country's first paved road.

Visitor Information: Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau, 501 Greenfield Rd., Lancaster, PA 17601; telephone (800)PADUTCH; email