Summer is coming to Lancaster, PA, and it’s time for the county to gear up for its annual influx of tourists.
If you find yourself and your partner looking for an outing in Lancaster, it’s important to note that there’s more here for you than just “Amish Country.”
Breweries, distilleries, restaurants, theme parks, historical tours, and more are all packed into this tiny county, along with a small city experiencing a vibrant cultural and artistic revival.
So if you’re part of a couple looking for what you can do in Lancaster, PA, here’s our recommendation of must-see and must-do items in an itinerary.
Recommendations: Lancaster Arts Hotel; Downtown Marriott
The first step to seeing Lancaster County is getting your accommodations sorted out.
There are a lot of options to do this — the county has an enormous supply of houses used as bed-and-breakfasts in both the city and out in the most rural parts of the county.
But if you’re looking for something a little more official, we recommend two of the more prominent hotels in the area.
The first is Lancaster Arts Hotel. This is a small, quaint hotel with an excellent restaurant on the floor level that offers great accommodations at an affordable rate. It’s perfect for a weekend, though it could get expensive for an entire week in Lancaster (although every hotel would).
We like Lancaster Arts Hotel because it’s locally owned and exceptionally run and maintained. We’ve personally spent weekends there, and Lancaster Arts Hotel has always delivered.
The second option is the Downtown Marriott. While this is a chain hotel, the management has invested a lot of time, effort, and cash into making it a destination in addition to a place to stay.
It has a bar on the ground floor, a convention center under that, and a brand-new restaurant that opens up into one of the main streets of the city.
On top of that, it also has a bar on the 12th story. This is far and away the highest vantage point in the city that you can publicly access.
In fact, the view from the Marriott’s 12th story bar is high enough to see the farmland that surrounds the city, making it an exceptional place to stand, sip a cocktail, and watch the sunset.
We mention this because all of this is packed into a single hotel / convention center that, despite the fact that it’s owned by a large corporation, has truly made itself a part of the Lancaster City community and economy.
Recommendations: Prince Street Cafe; Udder Choice
Lancaster County is home to a huge range of diners and cafes. Most of the diners are locally-owned and hosted for truckers, and most of the cafes are headquartered in Lancaster City.
However, there are still areas outside of the city where you can grab an incredible breakfast — and one that’s authentic to the culture of Lancaster County.
If you find yourself considering one of these two options for breakfast, here are the best choices for you.
Prince Street Cafe is a longstanding staple of the Lancaster City restaurant scene, complete with a huge menu. As the name implies, it’s a cafe, so it’s great to grab something light to start your day.
It’s also located across the street from the Fulton Opera House, so you can check out one of the most iconic landmarks in Lancaster history while you eat.
It’s quaint, it’s young, it’s hip, and it’s convenient.
If you’re looking for something more rustic and authentic to Lancaster County, Udder Choice in Ephrata is probably more your speed.
Udder Choice is a full-scale restaurant, but it feels much more like a diner that caters to families, individuals, and couples. There’s a seated bar along with tables and booths.
Its menu is primarily the kind of food you’d expect for Lancaster County — and it almost certainly all includes butter and salt.
Udder Choice serves food that’s genuinely Lancastrian by virtue of the fact that its menu is packed with food that you could find at any Amish or Mennonite person’s table.
Recommendations: Citronnelle; Rachel’s Creperie
If you’re someone who likes a good Sunday brunch, you’re in luck if you’re staying in Lancaster City.
That’s because Lancaster City has embraced brunches — specifically on Sunday — while the remainder of the county has stuck to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
As a result, the places that serve a light breakfast menu with alcoholic options (like mimosas) are almost entirely confined to Lancaster City.
Our favorite place to go is Citronnelle on Orange Street. This is a tiny, award-winning restaurant that started as a retirement project by the owner.
Now, it’s a culinary staple of Lancaster City, serving up French-American cuisine throughout the day. In-house bread, unique recipes, speakeasy atmosphere — it’s all in Citronnelle.
(We highly recommend their French toast.)
If French-American isn’t quite your thing, Rachels’ Creperie is probably your best bet. As the name implies, the place sells crepes — and they’re outstanding.
Rachel’s Creperie caters to the brunch crowd in a way that most other restaurants don’t. By that, we mean that their entire menu is basically breakfast and brunch.
That means Rachel’s Creperie has some of the city’s best experts on a good brunch.
Recommendations: Drive around; Oregon Dairy
When it comes to sightseeing, there’s not much you can do wrong in Lancaster County. Our best recommendation here is that you get lost.
If you want to experience the city, walk outside and hoof it around town.
If you want to experience the countryside, get in your car, pick a direction, and get off the highways as quickly as possible.
Can getting lost be scary in a new location? Of course. Take a GPS and fully charge your phone before you leave.
But once you leave, don’t use them unless you feel the need.
This gives you the opportunity to see a lot of Lancaster that only the natives see. That could include some housing developments, but it also includes vast countryside, farmland, livestock, and more.
If you don’t like getting lost but you still want to experience Lancaster, you can head to Oregon Dairy.
Oregon Dairy is a family-owned supermarket that’s survived the onset of Giant, Wegman’s, Whole Foods, Costco, and other massive grocery stores coming into the area.
Through it all, Oregon Dairy has managed to survive as a business because it’s more than a grocery store — it’s a restaurant, a playground, and (most importantly) a destination.
Oregon Dairy has a litany of summertime activities that occur nearly every weekend. In the past, this has included animal experts introducing kids to exotic creatures, classic car shows, and just about anything else you could imagine.
Is it family-oriented? Yes.
But can you still have fun there if you’re going as a couple?
Recommendations: Tanger Outlets; Queen Street; Building Character
Lancaster County is kind of a contradiction when it comes to retail shopping.
On the one hand, it’s packed with small businesses that offer unique, in-house products that you can’t find anywhere else.
On the other hand, it’s home to some of the largest sprawling chain retailers outside King of Prussia.
If you like established retailers and good deals, check out Tanger Outlets on Route 30. This is a great place to go if you just want to walk, shop, and head home.
If you’re looking something more Lancastrian, take a look at the northern section of Queen Street in Lancaster City.
Here, you’ll find local artisans and business owners who offer everything from tax assistance to locally-sourced, reclaimed table centerpieces.
Building Character is one such location that offers retail space to any local artisan who wants to rent it. Then, they can load up any inventory they want and sell it through Building Character.
The results are an eclectic collection of retro, classic, out-of-print anomalies that are exciting for anyone who has an eye for vintage or antique items.
It’s also a great way to get an impression of the Lancaster City art scene, particularly those who have dedicated themselves to a specific craft (like leatherworking).
Recommendations: Any restaurant in Lancaster City
We’ll be honest here — it’s pretty hard to go wrong for lunch in Lancaster County.
All of the recognized food chains are here in the county.
But there are also so, so many locally-owned restaurants that anyone would love.
We recommend taking a look at restaurants in Lancaster City to find a place to sit down and have a good lunch. And if you don’t feel like sitting, you can always grab takeout at any one of Lancaster’s Irish, German, French, Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, or Thai restaurants.
We really can’t emphasize that variety enough — Lancaster City is home to a shockingly diverse population, despite being in the heart of Amish Country. This gives it a rich culture that you can experience in its people, art, and food.
Recommendations: Hans Herr House; Lancaster City Walking Tours
Lancaster was founded on May 10, 1729. That means it’s almost 300 years old.
In those 300 years, Lancaster has been home to an incredible amount of American history. It’s the home of James Buchanan, it’s home to a college founded by Benjamin Franklin, and it was home to half a dozen cataloged Native American tribes prior to colonialism.
There’s history everywhere you turn, particularly in the city and in the smaller towns that fiercely protect their historical locations.
One of these locations is the Hans Herr House, which is the oldest homestead in Lancaster County built in 1719.
Located to the south of the city, the Hans Herr House offers tours, demonstrations, and other services that show its tenants the past of the house. This includes a dedicated exhibit to the aforementioned tribal Native Americans in a geographically- and culturally-appropriate longhouse.
If you’re more interested in the city itself, we recommend looking up any number of Lancastrian groups that offer tours of Lancaster City.
Despite the fact that Lancaster City is so small and little-known compared to places like Philadelphia, the background of its people and culture is a deep, rich vein of history.
Recommendations: Dutch Lanes; Dutch Wonderland
For leisure, you could more or less go anywhere in Lancaster City and a variety of places in the county as a whole.
Still, we recommend two places — both of which include the word “Dutch.”
First, Dutch Lanes is a bowling alley / arcade located in Brownstown, a suburb of Lancaster City.
It’s an authentically-Lancaster place that participates in the community and hosts a small community of dedicated bowlers itself. The business has been owned by multiple generations of the same family, and it’s survived multiple recessions and COVID shutdowns to continue serving the area.
Is it just bowling? Yes.
But it’s also fun and a small bit of history on its own.
Aside from that, Dutch Wonderland is a well-known tourist attraction that was built from the ground up here in Lancaster. It’s now owned by the Hershey Company — the same people who make the chocolate and maintain Hershey Park — but it’s still a major attraction in the county.
Dutch Wonderland is more of an experience for families and children than couples. But if you haven’t seen it before, it’s become a must-see location.
We’ve also found that it’s one of the best-known places in Lancaster outside of the county. From Philadelphia to San Jose, people flock to Dutch Wonderland.
Recommendations: Gallery Row
We briefly mentioned above that Lancaster City has a vibrant art scene.
This is true throughout the city, where you can find both privately- and publicly-funded murals and art installations.
But nowhere captures the artistic growth of the city like Gallery Row.
Gallery Row is on the 100 block of North Prince Street, along with a cleverly-named plant shop named Gallery Grow.
It’s home to the Christiane David Gallery, Red Raven Art Company, Liz Hess Gallery, and Freiman Stoltzfus Gallery, among others.
These galleries feature the works of local visual artists, and they’re often crowded during Lancaster’s First Fridays, which are the first Fridays of every month.
During First Fridays, the city holds outdoor concerts, gallery proceedings, food trucks, and other celebratory pockets among Lancaster City’s downtown and historic districts.
It’s a great way to spend an evening — and an even better way to see the best of what the city has to offer to visitors.
Recommendations: Plough; Kefi
Generally speaking, you can’t go wrong with dinner anywhere in Lancaster City. It’s literally all good.
But there are two places we can highly recommend.
The first is Plough, which is a new-ish fine dining restaurant that opened on the street level of the Marriott in the middle of town.
Formerly known as the Rendezvous Lounge, Plough is an upscaled, rustic farm-to-table experience. It’s delicious, and the bartenders are phenomenal.
In addition, there’s Kefi. Kefi is a fine Greek restaurant that’s above the sports bar Yorgo’s. It’s also owned and run by the same family that’s owned Yorgo’s since it opened.
Kefi is quaint, quiet, and enjoyable for every reason. It also gives a great second-floor view of the surrounding city block, which includes Binn’s Parkin the distance.
Again, you can’t go wrong with any place you choose to eat in Lancaster City. But we recommend these two places.
11. Evening Activities
Recommendations: Fulton Opera House; Concerts at Long’s Park
If you’re looking for an evening event, there are a ton of options at your disposal.
But just like with restaurants, we have two we recommend.
The first is to catch a show at the Fulton Opera House on Prince Street.
This historic theater is surprisingly well known by thespians across the United States. In addition to the stellar cast members of Fulton productions, it’s also somewhat common for Broadway performers to make the trek to Lancaster and act as an understudy or temporarily take on a role.
Demand for the Fulton Opera House has been so strong in the past that performances of Les Miserable and other famous musicals have been extended by weeks or even months.
This is partly because of the fame of the musicals.
But it’s mostly because of the talent on (and behind) the stage.
If you’re not into the theater, we recommend looking up concerts at Long’s Park.
Long’s Park is a short drive north of Lancaster City, just before the Park City Mall. Every summer, it hosts free concerts on Sundays. It also hosts other events that are perfect for a nice evening out on the grass.
Whether you like picnics, board games, throwing frisbee, or meeting other people’s dogs, this is a great place for a couple to go and enjoy an evening in Lancaster.
Recommendations: Yorgo’s; Marion Court; Annie Bailey’s; Marriott
Lancaster’s nightlife is booming. Nearly every restaurant has a liquor license, which means they’re almost always open until 2 in the morning (which is the latest they can be open by law).
Yorgo’s is a popular sports bar that’s located underneath Kefi. Marion Court is a staple of Lancaster nightlife that’s located right near the old city courthouse. Annie Bailey’s is a phenomenal Irish bar-restaurant that is nearly always packed. The Marriott is a comfortable, quieter alternative on the ground floor of the Marriott hotel we’ve mentioned before.
Regardless of where you pick to start your night, we recommend going to at least one other place that evening. Even if it’s just for one drink, it’s a blast to barhop around the city and enjoy the unique atmosphere of Lancaster’s drinking scene.
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