There’s hardly a more diverse place to visit than Lancaster. The vibrant modern boutiques, restaurants and art galleries are as engaging as the genuine Pennsylvania Dutch experience.
History of Lancaster
Lancaster was designed by Alexander Hamilton’s son James Hamilton. One of the city’s earliest residents, John Wright, wasn’t crazy about the original name, Hickory Town. He insisted that it be changed to Lancaster after his home in England.
Lancaster is the oldest inland city in the country, and it was the original capital of Pennsylvania. In fact, for just one day, Sept. 27, 1777, it was the capital of the U.S. when the British captured Philadelphia.
Famous citizens of Lancaster include the only president ever elected from Pennsylvania, James Buchanan. Thaddeus Stevens was a prominent abolitionist and congressman. The Conestoga wagon, the first commercially successful steamboat and the incorrectly named Kentucky rifle were all produced in Lancaster.
If you’re not familiar with Dutch Country cooking, you might want to bring a translator with you.
Local favorites include schnitz and knepp, a dish of pork shoulder with dried apples and dumplings; chow chow, a sour salad of pickled celery, cauliflower, onions and peppers; and whoopie pie.
Whoopie pie, a cake sandwich filled with creamy, delectable goo, was invented here. The annual fall festival features more than 100 variations of the classic chocolate recipe.
Here’s a small sampling of Lancaster restaurants:
• John J. Jeffries: Grass-fed beef and seasonal, farm-to-fork fare are dished up according to an ever-changing menu.
• The Pressroom: Enjoy casual, New American cuisine in a courtyard graced with waterfalls.
• On Orange: This breakfast and lunch spot gets especially high marks for its chilaquiles and Hog Island Grilled Cheese, which is slathered with Gruyere, aged jack and fromage blanc.
• Fenz Restaurant and Late Night: Sample local wines and bistro fare at this smart rooftop lounge.
• The Belvedere Inn: The Belvedere occupies a Victorian mansion in the heart of downtown. The extensive menu, innovated by a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, creatively elevates traditional dishes like lobster bisque, beef tips on toast and even Brussels sprouts.
If none of those strike your fancy, Lancaster offers a melting pot of other cuisines. If you’re hungry for Vietnamese, French, Italian, Polish or Himalayan, they’re on the menu somewhere in town.
Beer was being brewed in Lancaster as early as the 1700s. Prohibition didn’t stop innkeepers from practicing zymology on the sly in their back rooms or basements.
Some of the standouts for great bar food and diverse selections of beer include Lancaster Brewing Company, Wacker Brewing Company, St. Boniface Craft Brewing Company, Bull’s Head Pub, Stoudt’s Brewing Company and Mad Chef Craft Brewing. Wacker traces back to the 1850s, and Mad Chef sets itself apart with a creative, eclectic food menu.
Many Lancaster breweries are housed in historic buildings. Shop around for interesting tours and, of course, free samples.
Things to Do in Lancaster
• Amish Farm and House Countryside Tours: Start by immersing yourself in a simpler way of life. This 15-acre farm features a one-room schoolhouse and a 200-year-old home. Take a scenic buggy tour through some of the prettiest countryside in America.
• Central Market: The 120-year-old landmark building is noted in the National Register of Historic Places. Central is the oldest farmers’ market in the country, and you can make a whole day of browsing homemade Amish goods and sampling iconic local foods.
• North Museum of Nature and Science: Explore the galaxy and do a little stargazing in SciDome Theater. The kids will also enjoy live animals, rare birds and an extensive collection of fossils.
• Long’s Park: Check out this 80-acre venue for all kinds of outdoor activity. Seasonal festivals include a live music series and a barbecue competition.
You’ll also find art museums and galleries, excellent spas, botanical gardens, hiking trails and several area theme parks. People of all ages and interests will find things to do in Lancaster.
The centrally located Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square boasts charming architecture, stunning views, a gorgeous pool, an excellent restaurant and unparalleled service. It’s everything you’d expect from the name Marriott.
Fireplaces, massages for two and whirlpool baths make King’s Cottage Bed and Breakfast a romantic destination for sweethearts.
The Lancaster Arts Hotel is housed in a former 1880s tobacco warehouse. Its original character, marked by exposed brick and wood beams, is perfectly preserved. The works of local artists are displayed throughout.
One of the most unusual Lancaster hotels is the Cork Factory. Its rustic decor is a fine example of industrial-chic design. There are spacious rooms, several eateries and even a ballroom. Exposed brick and stone have never looked so elegant.