The Keystone State – so called due to its strategic location among the original thirteen colonies – is one of the best places to experience the history of the United States. But apart from the many historic sights, the state also offers beautiful countryside, great food and nightlife – and the chance to explore a simpler way of life with one of the country’s largest Amish communities.Philadelphia
is one of the country’s most historic cities and offers a unique insight into the founding of the United States. The several blocks that comprise Philadelphia’s historic center are easy to tour on foot – and contain such well known sights as Liberty Hall, Christ Church and Franklin Square. The famous Liberty Bell also has a new home in a state of the art visitor’s center.
Several museums are also concentrated in Philadelphia’s historic center. The National Constitution Center is the only museum of its kind and of course, displays a copy of the constitution. There are also museums dedicated to Jewish history, the military and one of the most famous women in American history - Betsy Ross, the seamstress who made the first American flag. And if the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum look familiar – its where “Rocky” posed in the movie.
Like all big cities, Philadelphia offers a wide range of eating possibilities. Chinatown is easily located by finding the Friendship Gate at 10th and Arch streets. The Reading Terminal market has been supplying exotic and ethnic foods to Philadelphians since the late 19th century. And for the ultimate in local delicacies – the Philly cheesesteak, don’t miss Geno’s Steaks, a local institution.
Fifty miles west of Philadelphia is one of the most fascinating and picturesque parts of the state – Amish country. The Amish, sometimes known as Pennsylvania Dutch, have chosen to live frugally and mostly without the aid of modern conveniences. Around 75,000 of them live in and around Lancaster County – the largest concentration in the country.
The towns have delightful names such as Intercourse, Bird in Hand and Paradise and the countryside also contains over 25 traditional covered bridges. If you drive through the area – proceed with caution as sooner or later, you will come across the Amish ambling along in a traditional horse and buggy.
The center of Amish life is Lancaster, where you can see the Amish buy their goods at the Central Market. It’s the country’s oldest farm market, dating from 1730s, with over 80 stalls. Lancaster also boasts a heritage center with a collection of Amish arts, crafts and artifacts and the Amish farm and house – offering guided tours of a typical ten room Amish house and gardens.
The nearby town of Strasburg, which was named by French Huguenots, is a major destination for railroad enthusiasts. The town is the home of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and the National Toy Train Museum, with several layouts. And if looking at steam trains isn’t enough - you can ride a steam locomotive along the 9 miles of track to the town of Paradise.
Also within easy reach of Philadelphia is the scenic area of Bucks County. This part of the state is known for its small towns, antique shops and country inns and its beauty has inspired many writers, such as Pearl Buck and James Michener. The town of New Hope – which has become something of an artist’s colony - makes a good base for exploring, and offers specialty stores and art galleries.
Within easy reach of both Philadelphia and the state capital, Harrisburg are the Poconos Mountains, one of the most popular outdoor areas in the Northeast. The Poconos offer accommodation for every budget - from stylish resorts to campgrounds and many opportunities for boating, fishing and hiking. You can bathe in one of the area’s 150 lakes or inside a 7 feet tall champagne glass at Caesar’s Poconos resort.
One of the most well known battles of the civil war was fought in Pennsylvania, at Gettysburg. Today, almost 2 million people visit the site – the largest battlefield site in the country. Gettysburg can be toured in different ways – by walking or driving tours and even by horseback. The area boasts ten civil war museums and the town of Gettysburg offers many quant bed and breakfast inns and antique shops.
The often overlooked city of Pittsburgh boasts more bridges than Venice – but it’s also a city now known for its stylish architecture, museums and sculptures rather than the steel industry. One of the last reminders of the steel industry – an old steel blast furnace has been turned into a sculpture in the Station Square shopping district.
An excellent way to get an overview of the city and see the spot where three rivers meet to form the center of Pittsburgh is to ascend the Mt. Washington overlook and visit one of the several bars, cafes and scenic overlooks. The easiest way to the top is by one of the 100 year old cable cars.
Pittsburgh offers world class cultural institutions – many of which bear the name of industrial barons who made fortunes in the city. You can visit the Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Carnegie Science Center. And don’t forget one of Pittsburgh’s most famous sons – the artist Andy Warhol has a museum dedicated to him.
One of the most unique places in the country is Hershey – which understandably calls itself the “sweetest place on earth”. Streets here have names like Chocolate Avenue and it’s difficult to avoid the subject of chocolate. Hershey offers plenty of family-oriented activities including several amusement parks, a zoo and excellent shopping and dining opportunities.
Pennsylvania boasts many famous residents. But perhaps one of its most famous is a groundhog – Punxsutawney Phil has been forecasting the weather for over 100 years. If you are in the area on February 2nd, you can watch the ceremony at Gobbler’s Knob; otherwise the rather charming town makes an ideal base for exploring the surrounding countryside.Major cities: