Take it from Maria Tomassetti, the artist whose works adorn the walls at Aussie and The Fox restaurant in her native city of Lancaster, Pa. “If you haven’t been to the city in the past five years, you haven’t been to Lancaster. So much growth has taken place with new galleries, shops, restaurants, and breweries.”
When we visited in 2011, we spent our time in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country surrounding the city. The delights — including horse-drawn carriages and comfort food that charmed granddaughters aged 6 and 12 — couldn’t have been better. But on this year’s visit by ourselves, my husband and I discovered a revitalized downtown Lancaster — plus refurbished older attractions such as the North Museum of Natural History and Science, whose $3.5 million renovation adds appeals such as the new planetarium.
Spirit-filled Lancaster has more events and spontaneous activity going on for its size — population about 60,000 — than any place we’ve visited recently. The Tuesday-Saturday Central Market, housed in a 120-year-old red-brick building on a 275-year-old site in city center, makes the point not only with its more than 60 vendors — selling crafts and collectibles, coffee and tea, homemade to-go items, groceries, and ethnic foods — but also through its last phase of renovation, where the courtyard invites shoppers to stay for entertainment.
The compact downtown area meant we covered a lot of territory during a weekend stay. Most of the places we wanted to visit we marked off within a seven-block area of a map. Use a smartphone or grab a gallery guide for quick selection of traditional and avant-garde arts venues. Want funky shops? Pop into a couple on North Queen Street.
History lovers shouldn’t miss Wheatland, home to James Buchanan for 20 years following his 1856-1860 term as U.S. president before Lincoln’s election.
Outside the city
Just south of Route 30, about a 15 minutes’ drive from downtown, is The Amish Village. It has added, within the past five years, the 90-minute narrated Backroads Bus Tours, Jeep Tours, and Luxury Tours. Capture the sights, sounds, and smells of Amish life: talk to the Amish teacher in the one-room schoolhouse, visit the blacksmith and the farm animals around the barn, and see the windmill and water wheel operating the barnyard pump in the absence of electricity.
A 10-minute drive on Route 340 east of the city found us at Kitchen Kettle Village — a third-generation business of specialty shops (with artisans on site), kitchen-canning (while we watched), restaurants, and an inn, all of which began with backyard sales of jellies and jams more than 60 years ago.
We prided ourselves on purchasing stocking stuffers and gifts in advance of the holidays.
Insider tip: One place to experience the holidays year-round is at the National Christmas Center in Paradise, where you’ll find unusual exhibits as well as shopping.
Fewer than 5 miles northeast of the city lies the Landis Valley Village and Farm, which spans building styles of nearly 200 years, blending the intertwined stories of farming, home life, domestic arts, and religion.
Check out special events for this month, which include shearing, spinning, and weaving demonstrations.
Heading west, less than a half hour from the city, is the Turkey Hill Experience, a different approach to factory tours (where no factory is present). Learn interactively how to make your own ice cream flavor and iced-tea products, star in your own TV commercial, and milk mechanical cows.
Where to stay
If you’ve had a busy day, consider retreating to the Fulton Steamboat Inn or Eden Resort Inn, both conveniently located off Route 30.
With one taking on the romantic appearance of a steamboat — in homage to Robert Fulton, born a few miles from the site — and the other
offering suites and villas, choices abound, but both feature indoor heated pools and varied dining experiences.
The Lancaster Marriott Penn Square is distinctive for incorporating artifacts from Lancaster’s heritage: the 19th-century façade of the landmark Watt and Shand department store in the hotel’s entrance and the adaptive reuse of the historic three-story William Montgomery House is housed within the lobby.
For more information:
Lancaster Tourism: discoverlancaster.com