It's easy to get caught up in the candy-coated
sweetness of Hershey, Pa. Families can spend an entire spring break
in the town known for its amusements and chocolate. At this time of
year, the area is in full bloom, with more than 5,000 vibrant
tulips at the Hershey Garden alone.
If you're making the trek to east central Pennsylvania,
don't miss Lancaster, a 40-minute drive from Hershey. (Harrisburg
International Airport is the closest major airport to Hershey and
Lancaster.) In the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, experience
the Amish culture by riding in a horse-drawn buggy, touring an
Amish farm and tasting traditional Pennsylvania Dutch
As an East Coast gal who just moved to Chicagoland, I grew
up riding on Hershey Park's roller coasters and touring the Amish
countryside. Before our move, my husband and I also took a quick
trip to the area with our two children (6 and 3).
Here are our top picks for a Hershey/Lancaster vacation
your family won't soon forget:
To truly experience Hershey, a visit to Hershey's Chocolate
World (adjacent to Hershey Park) is a must. Hop
aboard the chocolate train (free) and learn how Hershey's chocolate
is made. You will be treated to a miniature candy bar at the end.
There are a plethora of other chocolate-centric activities, like
concocting your own candy bar recipes or personalizing candy bar
wrappers with your photo. We opted for the dessert creation studio
where we dipped strawberries, bananas and pretzels into chocolate
fondue. (At least the kids got in a fruit serving amidst the
Hershey Park has
enough rides to keep your family busy for at least one full day (if
not two or more). If you hit the park in the summer, you might want
to allot another full day for the water park. Hershey has plenty to
entertain kids of all ages, but Lancaster also has an amusement
park worth visiting.
in Lancaster caters to younger kids (ages 2-10). Resembling a
fantasy land, Dutch Wonderland doesn't provide the thrills of
looping roller coasters, but the park offers plenty of family rides
For a completely unique experience, climb aboard the Strasburg Railroad
near Lancaster. The 45-minute ride winds through the Amish
countryside. For your miniature train fanatics, reserve a spot on
"Day out with Thomas" when families ride on Thomas the train.
(Available June 15-23; Sept. 14-22; and Nov. 22-24)
Amish culture is truly intriguing (even to kids). It's
worth renting a car from Hershey to Lancaster to experience this
fascinating way of life. Most likely you won't be able to explore a
real, working Amish farm, but there are plenty of opportunities to
get a feel for Amish life. One of your first stops should be a tour
of an Amish-themed farm.
The Amish Farm and
House, an old farmhouse dating to the 1700s, offers tours of
the farmhouse, one-room schoolhouse and farm with goats, chickens,
sheep and cows. The Amish
Village offers a similar experience with tours of the 12-acre
property, farmhouse, one-room school house and barn with animals.
is another must. Claiming to be the world's oldest working farmers
market, Central Market in downtown Lancaster sells regional foods
like chow chow (pickled vegetables in spicy mustard sauce) and
Scrapple, along with plenty of baked goods and souvenirs. (My
daughter just had to buy an Amish-style bonnet.)
For more Pennsylvania Dutch eats, dine at least once at a
traditional family-style restaurant. Plain and Fancy or Good n' Plenty are good
bets, but my family's personal favorite was Groff's Farm
Restaurant. You will thank me once you try the sweet rolls and
pies. It's important to note that Lancaster pretty much shuts down
on Sundays, so restaurants and shopping will be slim pickings that
day. Before you leave Amish country, don't forget the
horse-and-buggy ride. Try Abe's Buggy Rides or Aaron and Jessica's Buggy
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