Pennsylvania Holiday Planning Guide
One of the country's 13 original founding states, Pennsylvania contains a balance of modern cities and fertile fields. A rich and varied state with a colorful history dating back to colonial times, it remains a worthy holiday destination with its well-preserved 19th-century battle sites and memorial parks. This diverse land is home to pristine forests and rugged mountain regions. For an urban experience, visit the state's university cities, which offer numerous tourist attractions as well as thriving music, performance, art, and culinary scenes. The region's Amish country provides an opportunity for a rural weekend getaway in quaint towns surrounded by rolling hills and fertile farmland.
Places to Visit in PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia
: Pennsylvania’s largest city, Philadelphia is a place steeped in history; at the same time it’s a bustling modern metropolis offering everything from arts and culture to shopping and nightlife.Pittsburgh
: Once an industrial powerhouse famous for its steel mills, Pittsburgh is now a city of cozy neighborhoods, lots of greenery, and an unique landscape dominated by hundreds of bridges.Gettysburg
: This historic town, best known as the stage of the most important battle in the Civil War, is the must-visit site for any history buff on a vacation in Pennsylvania.Hershey
: If you have a sweet tooth, you’re probably familiar with the name Hershey. In addition to the sweets, the candy capital of the United States offers lots of fun for the whole family.Pocono Mountains Region
: Featuring an array of charming small towns and vast areas of untouched nature, this region is the top place to visit in Pennsylvania for outdoor adventurers.Bucks County
: One of Pennsylvania’s oldest counties, this scenic region is the home of perfectly preserved historic sites, but there are also numerous modern-day attractions to choose from. New York City, Philadelphia, and Atlantic City are just a short drive away.Lancaster
: The center of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Lancaster is a popular tourist destination famous for its historic architecture, boutique shops, and friendly atmosphere.East Stroudsburg
: East Stroudsburg offers a great combination of small town charm and modern attractions and amenities, with a surrounding countryside perfect for outdoor activities.Strasburg
: With many of its early 19th-century buildings still standing and surrounded by working Amish farms, Strasburg is the closest place to a true living museum that you’ll find in Pennsylvania.Erie
: Situated on the coast of its namesake lake, Erie is the fourth-largest city in Pennsylvania. In addition to a great selection of water and outdoor activities, it offers a lively cultural and nightlife scene.New Hope
: The popular artists’ getaway on the bank of the Delaware River, New Hope is a small town with a lively atmosphere fueled by numerous tourists.
Things to Do in Pennsylvania
Popular Pennsylvania Tourist AttractionsHersheypark
: Experience thrilling roller coasters, family-friendly rides, and water slides at an amusement park originally founded over a century ago for the employees of the Hershey Chocolate Company.Gettysburg National Military Park
: Take a step back in history and tour the field of one of America’s bloodiest and most important battles.Philadelphia Museum of Art
: Housing tens of thousands of masterpieces, the museum must take the top spot on any art lover’s Pennsylvania itinerary. Fans of the movie Rocky will instantly recognize the steps in front of the museum, and few can resist the urge to run up.Independence Hall
: No historical tour of Pennsylvania is complete without a visit to the birthplace of America; the place where both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were adopted.Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center
: Displaying thousands of Civil War artifacts, this museum is a “must visit” for history enthusiasts. The highlight of the collection is the 19th-century cyclorama, which displays the crucial battle of the war.Eastern State Penitentiary
: See what a life behind bars was like at the reportedly haunted prison that once held notorious criminals like Al Capone.Longwood Gardens
: Home to thousands of different plant species and dozens of themed gardens, this is a perfect place to relax and soak in the beauty of nature.Sesame Place
: Meet the kids’ favorite characters and enjoy a number of rides and attractions at the amusement park themed after the famous TV show Sesame Street.Barnes Foundation
: Another great stop for art enthusiasts in Philadelphia, the foundation houses an impressive private collection of Impressionist and Modernist paintings, as well as hundreds of other pieces.Liberty Bell Center
: When in Philadelphia, don’t miss the chance to see one of America’s most famous artifacts; it was once housed in Independence Hall but now has its own museum.
Planning a Pennsylvania Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Pennsylvania with Kids
With an abundance of historical attractions, theme parks, zoos, and countless other attractions as well as natural beauty, Pennsylvania can be an unforgettable experience for the whole family.
Of course, Philadelphia
is not to be missed on a Pennsylvania vacation but if you’re looking for toher options for an urban vacation, consider Pittsburgh
. Pennsylvania might be landlocked, but you can head to Erie
and enjoy sandy beaches along this Great Lake. Throughout the year the Pocono Mountains Region
offers outdoor fun for visitors of all ages, from hiking and horseback riding to skiing and dog sledding. A real treat for many kids on a trip to Pennsylvania will be a visit to Hershey
, the city of sweets.
Things to Do in Pennsylvania with Kids
Pennsylvania offers tons of options for family fun with all the activities you and your kids enjoy. Opportunities for sightseeing in Pennsylvania are not limited to the large cities alone, but with attractions like Philadelphia Zoo
and Carnegie Museum of Natural History
, they offer the best mix of attractions for all age groups. For kids interested in history, a visit to Gettysburg
will be the jewel in the crown of a Pennsylvania holiday. Theme parks in Pennsylvania come in all shapes and sizes, and places like Knoebels Amusement Resort
and Waldameer Park & Water World
can provide fun for children of all ages, as well as adults. For families who enjoy the outdoors, Pennsylvania’s picturesque countryside is the perfect setting for camping, hiking, or bike riding.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Pennsylvania
While you could easily spend an entire vacation in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or some other large city, the best family vacation ideas in Pennsylvania include taking a tour of the state. Bus services exist between most of the state’s larger cities, and visiting families can also take advantage of the charter services in the areas popular with tourists. If you prefer to rent a car or bring your own, be careful when driving on rural roads, especially in the wintertime when the snowfall can be heavy.
Pennsylvania’s cities are easy to get around and offer all the amenities a family might need. Family-friendly holiday resorts are widespread throughout the state, so finding a place to stay should not be a problem. Historic sites are some of the most popular tourist attractions in Pennsylvania and often they draw big crowds of visitors. To prevent your kids from getting impatient while waiting in lines, it’s a good idea to book tickets in advance whenever you can.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Pennsylvania
Cuisine of Pennsylvania
As one of the oldest European colonies in North America, Pennsylvania has had a long time to develop its trademark cuisine. From quick snacks to elaborate specialties and from sweets to drinks, Pennsylvania heritage is reflected through all the food groups. While exploring Philadelphia, don’t miss the chance to grab some pretzels that the city is famous for them. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is renowned for sandwiches and the pierogi, which was introduced by Polish immigrants. The biggest influence on Pennsylvanian cuisine comes from the Germans, locally known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. The best place to taste authentic Pennsylvania Dutch recipes is in Lancaster
, but many specialties, like the scrapple and pot pie, are widely available throughout the state. In addition to the world-famous Hershey’s chocolate, typical Pennsylvanian sweets include baked recipes such as the sweet molasses tart known as “shoofly pie” and the “whoopie pie,” a chocolate and cream Amish dessert. One of the many things that the Germans brought to Pennsylvania was a long tradition of beer making. Today, the state is the home to D.G. Yuengling and Son Brewery
, America’s oldest brewery, as well as a great number of smaller breweries that welcome visitors and offer tastings.
For true gourmands, one of the things to do in Pennsylvania is to go on an organized tasting tour, like City Food Tours Philadelphia
and Savor Gettysburg Food Tours
to experience a whole array of recipes that are popular in specific parts of the state.
Shopping in Pennsylvania
Just like many other U.S. states, Pennsylvania has plenty of outlets and shopping malls where you can find all the latest fashion designs, home decorations, or electronic gadgets. If this is your preferred way of shopping, make sure to stop by Visionworks - King Of Prussia Mall
, which is one of the largest in the United States. For those looking for more authentic products, Pennsylvania’s towns and cities are dotted with small boutiques, galleries, and gift shops, selling all things local. One of the most unique souvenir shops in the whole state is Victorian Photography Studio
, which will transport you back in time and produce a special memento of your Pennsylvania vacation. The state’s farmers markets are heaven for travelers who enjoy fresh food products, flowers, and handicrafts and Central Market
in Lancaster has a reputation as being one of the biggest and the best in Pennsylvania.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Pennsylvania
History of Pennsylvania
For centuries before the arrival of Europeans, the area that is now Pennsylvania was inhabited by native tribes, such as the Iroquois, Erie, and Shawnee. However, the first contacts with the Europeans, which started as early as the 16th century, had dreadful consequences for the natives, as many of them were decimated by the diseases spread by the newcomers. This left large portions of the land empty, and Europeans colonists quickly moved in. After initial attempts by the Swedes and the Dutch to establish a strong foothold in the region, the history of Pennsylvania took off with the English Quaker and entrepreneur William Penn, who established a British colony there in 1681 and named it Pennsylvania, meaning “Penn’s Woodland.”
The new colony was established on the principles of religious tolerance, and in addition to Quakers, it attracted members of different minority religious groups from all over Europe, such as the Huguenots, Puritans, Calvinists, and Jews alongside Catholics, Protestants, and the Native Americans who were already settled on the land. The same year the colony was founded, Penn established the city of Philadelphia
, whose name was borrowed from ancient Greece and meant “The City of Brotherly Love.” In the coming decades, the colony developed into the cultural and economic center of the Thirteen Colonies, and Philadelphia grew to be the largest city of British-controlled North America. Western parts of Pennsylvania remained controlled by France, but after the British victory in the French and Indian War, they too became the part of the colony. One of the most influential people at the time, not only in Pennsylvania but in the entire Thirteen Colonies, was Benjamin Franklin, who left his native Boston for Philadelphia at a young age. He would play a key role in the events that gave America its independence.
During the Revolutionary War, Pennsylvania played a pivotal role in American history. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall
, and the city served as one of the new country’s capitals--the same role it would play during the construction of Washington D.C. It was in Pennsylvania, just outside New Hope
, where George Washington crossed the Delaware River and in the winter of 1777 the continental army was encamped at the sight of Valley Forge National Historical Park
. Once the war was over and the nation won its independence, the state delegates convened once again in Philadelphia and in 1787 created the United States’ Constitution. By ratifying the Constitution on December 12, 1787, (just five days after Delaware did), Pennsylvania became the second state to join the newly created union.
In the early 19th century, Pennsylvania retained its position as one of the country’s most important states, even though Philadelphia had to give up the spot of its prime urban center to the fast-developing New York City. During the Civil War, Pennsylvania was one of the key Union states, and Gettysburg
was the stage of the pivotal battle of the war.
After the war, industry in Pennsylvania boomed, led by business magnates such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. The promise of work drew millions of immigrants, whose cultural influence played a major role in shaping modern Pennsylvania. Today, monuments telling the tale of the state’s rich and turbulent history are some of the most popular attractions in Pennsylvania.
Landscape of Pennsylvania
The rolling hills and mountains of the Appalachian region almost entirely dominate the Pennsylvania landscape, and more than half of the state’s territory is covered by forests. Amish Country
, one of the most scenic places to visit in Pennsylvania, is the state’s only lowland region. Rivers and streams are more numerous than in any other U.S. state, and they are often surrounded by areas of breathtaking natural beauty, such as Pine Creek Gorge
Holidays & Festivals in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s long history is well reflected in the state’s various festivals and celebrations. Each New Year in Philadelphia starts with a colorful Mummers Parade, one of the oldest festivals in the United States. On February 2, Punxsutawney
gets its moment of fame as the winter prediction center thanks to the world-famous Groundhog Day festivities. The arrival of spring in Philadelphia is celebrated with the largest indoor flower show in the world--held in March--and which attracts over a quarter of a million visitors each year. During summer, the whole state comes alive with various celebrations, but there’s no better place to celebrate Independence Day than at the city where the country was born. The Fourth of July in the City of Brotherly Love is traditionally celebrated with the largest free concert in the country and a huge fireworks display over Philadelphia Museum of Art
. For music lovers, the best month for a trip to Pennsylvania is August when the city of Bethlehem
hosts Musikfest. This is the largest free music festival in the United States, hosting some of the world’s biggest music stars.
Pennsylvania Travel Tips
Climate of Pennsylvania
Even though it can vary from one part to the other, the climate in the state is generally mild, so you can take your holiday in Pennsylvania any time of the year. With a lot of the state featuring areas of untouched nature and forests, spring and fall are particularly colorful. Summer is also a good time to visit, especially if you plan to hit the beaches in Erie
. With temperatures around 27°C (80°F), July is usually the warmest month of the year. Snow is common in the winter, but it usually creates a fine backdrop during the holiday season, so it’s often appreciated rather than seen as an obstacle. However, keep in mind that in rural areas, heavy snowfall can sometimes leave the roads blockaded for long periods of time. Snowstorms and floods occasionally occur, but in general Pennsylvania rarely experiences extreme weather conditions or natural disasters.
Transportation in Pennsylvania
All of Pennsylvania’s major towns and cities either feature a public transportation network, or are small enough to easily explore on foot or by bike. Like elsewhere in the United States, a car is the main way of getting around Pennsylvania, but the number of bus lines that connect various parts of the state is significantly larger than in some other parts of the country. Winding mountain roads are great for a driving tour of Pennsylvania, but they also require an extra level of alertness, especially in bad weather or at night.