Day trip to Lancaster PA with a Toddler
Lancaster, PA is about an hour and a half drive from Baltimore or Philadelphia (two and a half hours from Washington DC), making it an easy day trip for those looking for a unique experience outside of the city. Locals have capitalized on the roughly 35,000 Amish people living in Lancaster County, setting up many tourist attractions showcasing Amish traditions. Our family visited Lancaster County over a long New Year’s weekend, spending two nights in Ronks and one full day exploring Lancaster County. Here’s how we spent our time there:
There are lots of Smorgasboard options in Amish Country. These all feature Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine in a buffet setting. If I’m going to eat a giant unhealthy meal, I’d rather do that in the morning to have the rest of the day to digest. So we opted for the breakfast buffet at Dienner’s. It was all the standard American breakfast foods with some Pennsylvania Dutch treats I had never tried before including a baked oatmeal dish and peanut butter marshmallow spread which was great with pancakes. This was only $7.25 per adult and kids 2 and under are free. In comparison, Miller’s smorgasboard next door was $25 for dinner, so this is a much more economical way to get your smorgasboard fill.
Tour the Amish Farm and House
There are so many options available to learn about the Amish including the Amish Village, the Amish Experience, and countless bus tours. We settled on a tour at the Amish Farm and House. An unexpected snow storm had rolled in during the early morning hours. So when we arrived at 10 AM, they were still scurrying to clear paths and could only guarantee us a tour of the house. We happily accepted a discount rate of $7.50 per adult for the abridged tour, and were told we could come back the next day for a free farm tour.
The house tour lasted about 45 minutes and was led by an older woman who had lived in Lancaster her whole life. She was very knowledgeable and had an answer for every question she received during the tour. We started in the parlor which is where “church” services would be held. We learned that the Amish don’t have churches but rather a different family will host a service every week. Therefore it is necessary to have some kind of large gathering space whether it be a parlor or a big barn. Next the tour moved into the kitchen. The Amish don’t like having wires or pipes that they cannot control in or around their house, but that doesn't mean they can’t use modern kitchen appliances. Instead they run their refrigerators and ovens on propane and have wells and septic systems to facilitate running water in the house. Next we visited the bedrooms upstairs. The Amish generally have 6-10 kids and so the bedrooms are rather large to accommodate lots of beds. Because of the large amount of kids they have and because 90% of Amish choose to remain Amish, their population has been doubling every 20 years.
Next our tour guide taught us all about Amish clothing and how it changes from childhood to adulthood. The Amish only wear certain colors and never any patterned clothes. The women also are not allowed to have any buttons on their clothes and so fasten their dresses with straight pins.
As our house tour ended, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that all of the farm paths had been cleared and so we got to tour the farm as well.
Amish Buggy Rides
We were bummed to find out that no one was giving buggy rides because of the snow on the roads, but we did definitely see lots of buggies out and about on the roads as we were driving around.
Most of them were driving on the shoulder of the road so cars could easily pass. We stopped into Target to pick up some baby food, and they actually had special buggy parking. It was a really interesting site to see along with the long line of Amish teens at the Starbucks.
We also saw lots of Amish people getting around on scooters. Apparently the Lancaster Amish see bicycles as too worldly but allow the use of scooters.
The Choo Choo Barn
This was a stop that we made especially for our 15 month old son, but I was surprised to see lots of adults without children there as well. The Choo Choo Barn is a 1700 square foot space filled with motorized miniature scenes and toy trains. The craftsmanship was pretty amazing, and we spent about an hour meandering through and inspecting all the little details of each scene. The entrance fee was $7.50 per adult and free for kids under 3.
Nearby is also a toy train museum and the Strasburg railroad which offers 45 minute excursion rides on their steam locomotive. So this a great place for train enthusiasts to spend some time.
Shopping at Kitchen Kettle Village
We aren’t really the type of people that go shopping on vacation, but Jimmy appreciates woodworking craftsmanship and I appreciate free samples of Amish goods. Kitchen Kettle Village which is like an Amish outlet mall, delivers on both those fronts. The Amish of course are famous for their furniture and home cooked treats, and pretty much all the stores in this mall are dedicated to one or the other. My favorite was the canned goods store which had endless samples of jams, pickles, and sauces. We were there at closing time and so ended up getting some discount cookies too.
Dinner in downtown Lancaster
Downtown Lancaster is a sleepy little city with some cute restaurants. We settled on Root and had a German pizza to stick to the theme of the day. It was a cheeseless pizza with mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, sausage, and mustard. It was actually pretty delicious, and I’d reccommend you try it if you get the chance. Surely a creation like this does exist in many places.
We stayed at the Scottish Inn in Ronks which I definitely cannot reccomend. The service was awful, a heroin addict was shooting up in his car outside our room, and the breakfast consisted of rock hard bagels and pads of butter. After driving through Lancaster County, I would reccomend staying somewhere in Intercourse which was a lot more charming than Ronks.
Options for Older Kids
The Caribbean Indoor Water Park and Dutch Wonderland looked like awesome options for families with older kids that wanted to spend some more time in the area. There are also lots of dinner theater options and Magic Lantern shows which combine storytelling with Amish slide projection. If Lewis were four years older, I think we would have stayed an extra day for some of these activities.