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Lancaster County is one of the most serene and beautiful places in the United States. Lancaster County is home to one of the largest populations of the Amish religious sect. Nestled in an expanse of farmland, a visitor to Lancaster has many choices of attractions: recreational activities, restaurants and sight seeing. There is much to see and do, and it is difficult for a first time tourist to decide where to begin. The past decade has brought much in the way of “tourist traps,” and as a native Lancasterian, I can point you in the direction which will lead you to the most that Lancaster has to offer, without breaking your pocketbook. I’ve broken down all of the noteworthy places to eat, visit, shop and sightsee, as well as including the contact information for those sites.

When one visits Lancaster County for the first time, it is always a surprise when a tourist encounters an Amish person. It is very important how you conduct yourself around an Amish person, for you do not want to offend them. The Amish are a religious sect who settled in Lancaster around the early 18th century. The modern Amish have not changed their ways since that time. Their homes have no running water, electricity, and their dress is very simple. The most important thing to warn tourists of is that the Amish do not believe in graven images. This means that you may not photograph them. To do so is not only rude, but highly disrespectful. Do not gawk, stare or ask them questions about their culture, but do smile politely and nod your head in a friendly greeting.

Lancaster is most famous for its Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine, antiques, shopping, and overall sense of peacefulness that speaks of yesteryear and times past. I have outlined the “must see” and “must do” sites and attractions below. I have included only those sites that are reasonably priced. I have not included the newer, highly costly attractions and activities. A trip to Lancaster need not cost one her/his life savings.

Lodging: There are many hotels, motels, Inns, Beds and Breakfasts in Lancaster. Some are located in the historic downtown region, and some are located in the farmlands. I have listed two of my favorites.

*The Candle Inn
This beautifully restored inn is located in Ronks, right in the heart of the Amish country. The inn is a restored Victorian, and is family owned. The inn is surrounded by farmlands, so you will not be disturbed by highway noises. The inn has several regal rooms to choose from. The prices start at $80.00 a night. The rooms vary in size, but all have beautiful antique furniture, mahogany beds, and some even have fireplaces.
The inn is a bed and breakfast and therefore, they serve meals. It’s a beautiful romantic place to relax, or to take a walk and view the lovely working farms in the area. Credit cards may be accepted in the near future.

*The Red Caboose Motel
The Red Caboose is an attraction in and of itself! Located in the Strasburg section, the motel is comprised of several turn of the century caboose cars that have been renovated into motel rooms. This is a most unique place to lodge. The cabooses are complete with railway bunks, lanterns, and even a television placed in the original (non-working) potbelly stoves. The motel is in the middle of the farm community, and the only noise you will hear is the clip-clop of horse’s hooves and the horse drawn Amish buggies make their way along the country roads. The motel is also complete with a restored Victorian dining car that moves as if in locomotion. Also on the premises are a train museum and a gift shop. The Strasburg railroad is close by, and one can walk a few feet and watch this wonderful antique train taking tourists on a scenic tour of the farmlands. It’s wonderful! The rates start at $39.00 a night. Credit cards are accepted.

No visit to Lancaster would be complete without a sampling of the regional fare. I have included 2 of the best known local and reasonably priced restaurants.

*Millers Smorgasbord
Millers is a huge all-you-can-eat family style buffet eatery located in Ronks. Eating family style is traditional in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. You will be seated at a table with another couple or family who are touring from some other part of the country. You will break bread and share your meal with the other party. This is a rewarding experience, and you may even make a lifetime friend! Miller’s boasts the best Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine in Lancaster County. The buffet consists of various meats, along with a chef who will cook and cut your choice of meat, noodle dishes, pot pies, shrimp, as well as the infamous chicken waffles!

Miller’s also has dozens of low-fat and vegetarian meals, so everyone can eat guilt-free. Miller’s has an on-site bakery, therefore their desserts are out of this world; 3 variations of Shoofly pie, cobblers, homemade ice cream and every sort of pie imaginable. Reservations are recommended or else you might end up waiting at least an hour. Miller’s also serves a breakfast buffet that will cause you to re-think what breakfast is all about. Given that you can eat as much as you want, $12.00 for an adult dinner, $6.00 for children is more than reasonable. The breakfast prices are a few dollars less.

*Plain and Fancy Farm
The Plain and Fancy Farm is operated by the same folks who own Miller’s smorgasbord. The ambiance is far different. The Plain and Fancy Farm is a small restaurant located in the middle of the farm country. It is a quaint, less crowded eatery. The restaurant also serves meals in the all-you-can-eat family style fashion. Like it’s counterpart, the restaurant also has low-fat and vegetarian meal choices. Choices include roasted chicken, chutneys, seasoned vegetables, fresh baked bread, and deserts that will leave your mouth watering for hours afterward. No reservation is required, but expect to wait about a half-hour. The prices range from $5 for children to $12 for adults for dinners, and slightly less for breakfast.

Lancaster has much to see and do. I’ve included activities that include a variety of interests.

*Covered Bridges
The covered bridges are located all along the back roads of Lancaster. They are beautiful pieces of nostalgia. Most are closed to traffic, but tourists are allowed to walk on the bridges and photograph them. There is no charge to visit a covered bridge.

*Bird-in-Hand Farmer’s Market
This wonderful market is located on Philadelphia Pike in Bird-in-Hand. The market is open everyday except Sunday. There is no need to eat lunch before visiting the market, since every vendor offers free samples of their food specialty. There is Graff’s fudge, which will change the meaning of fudge for you. Also, are Dutch Fries, ice cream, various Amish bakery stands, homemade pretzels and chocolates. The market also has 2 gift shops. One is geared more for children, while the upstairs shop contains beautiful glassware, iron works, and replicas of churns, lanterns and other collectibles.

*The Old Country Store
The Old Country Store is a fabulous place for antiques and replicas. It is located on Old Philadelphia Pike in Intercourse. The store stocks Amish made crafts, quilts, as well as the Quilt Museum, which is free. The store is a very inexpensive place to purchase candles, woodcrafts, and decorative objects.

Lancaster is home to many professional and miniature golf courses.

*Lancaster Host Resort
Lancaster Host Resort sports the largest golf course. They have many package plans available. Single games are available for less than $7.00. There is also a senior citizen discount offered. There is a restaurant and snack bar on the premises.

*Village Greens Golf
Village Greens is located on 13 acres of an expansive garden stocked full of seasonal flowers and lovely shrubs. Village Greens is the largest miniature golf course in the county. It has a small snack bar that serves ice cream. Prices are less than $7.00 for adults, and less for children. There is also a senior citizen discount.

*Strasburg Country Store and Creamery
This wonderful little country store is most famous for it’s homemade ice cream and cones. You can watch the workers pouring the cream, adding chocolate—making the ice cream right before your eyes! They also make their own cones. You can see them pouring the batter into huge antique waffle irons to make waffle cones. This is the best ice cream there ever was! And at $2.00 for a medium cone, it’s a meal in itself. The store houses collectibles, candles, and Amish crafts at very affordable prices. There is something for everyone here.

As you can see, it doesn’t cost much to enjoy Lancaster County if you stay away from tourist traps. The Pennsylvania Dutch Welcome Center is an amazing source for planning a trip to Lancaster. The center can supply you with coupons, free maps, and calendars of events. The Lancaster County Pennsylvania Dutch Country Visitors Bureau on Greenfield road is also a wonderful source of free information. The guides are available to answer questions, and to provide talks on the history of Lancaster Co. There is no need to “buy” into any of the multifarious tours of Lancaster; you can get that for free at the Visitor’s center.