Pennsylvania, a state woven into the very fabric of American history, offers a journey as diverse as its landscape. From the bustling streets of Philadelphia, where the echoes of liberty still resonate, to the serene beauty of the Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania is a mosaic of experiences waiting to be discovered. This comprehensive guide delves into every aspect of traveling through the Keystone State, offering insights into its rich history, vibrant culture, and breathtaking natural attractions. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or a culinary explorer, Pennsylvania promises a journey that is both enriching and unforgettable.
Brief History of Pennsylvania
Pre-Colonial Era: Long before European settlers arrived, Pennsylvania was inhabited by Native American tribes including the Lenape, Susquehannock, Iroquois, Eriez, Shawnee, and others. These tribes had sophisticated societies and lived primarily by hunting, fishing, and agriculture.
Colonial Times: Pennsylvania’s history as a colony begins with the arrival of William Penn, an English Quaker, in 1682. Penn established Pennsylvania as a haven for religious freedom and democratic principles, a revolutionary concept at the time. Philadelphia, the colony’s capital, played a pivotal role in American history, hosting the First and Second Continental Congresses.
American Revolution: Pennsylvania was a key player in the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed in Philadelphia. The state was also the site of significant battles, including the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg.
19th Century: Industrialization and the Civil War: Pennsylvania became a hub of industry and innovation in the 19th century, particularly in steel production and coal mining. Pittsburgh emerged as a steel capital. During the Civil War, Pennsylvania was a Union state, with the Battle of Gettysburg marking a turning point in the war.
20th Century: Economic Shifts and Modernization: The 20th century saw a shift as industries modernized and diversified. Pennsylvania played a significant role in both World Wars by providing manpower and material. Post-World War II, the state experienced economic changes with a decline in traditional industries and a rise in service industries and technology.
21st Century: Pennsylvania Today: Today, Pennsylvania is known for its blend of historical sites and modern urban centers. It continues to be a hub for education, arts, and culture, maintaining its unique position as a cornerstone of American history and a vibrant, diverse state in the present day.
This concise history provides a journey through Pennsylvania’s rich past, from its earliest inhabitants to its current status as a state that balances historical significance with modern innovation and diversity.
Google Map with key sights in Pennsylvania
Overview of Pennsylvania’s Geography
Pennsylvania, located in the northeastern United States, is characterized by its diverse geography, which plays a significant role in the state’s culture, economy, and lifestyle. The state is bordered by New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, and the Canadian province of Ontario across Lake Erie.
Appalachian Mountains: Stretching across the middle of the state, the Appalachian Mountains are a defining feature of Pennsylvania’s geography. The range includes notable subranges such as the Pocono Mountains in the northeast and the Allegheny Mountains in the central and western parts. These mountains are home to lush forests, wildlife, and numerous state parks.
Pennsylvania’s Waterways: The state is rich in waterways, with major rivers including the Delaware River to the east, defining the border with New Jersey, and the Ohio River to the west. The Susquehanna River runs through the heart of the state, playing a crucial role in its ecosystem and providing avenues for commerce and recreation.
Piedmont Plateau and Great Valley: Southeastern Pennsylvania is part of the Piedmont Plateau, leading to the fertile Great Valley. This region is crucial for agriculture and is known for its picturesque landscapes, including rolling hills and small, historic towns.
Lake Erie Shoreline: To the northwest, Pennsylvania has a small but significant shoreline along Lake Erie, providing access to this Great Lake and supporting a unique ecosystem. This area is known for its vineyards and contributes to Pennsylvania’s wine production.
Pennsylvania Lowlands: The southeastern corner of the state, including the Philadelphia area, features lowlands that extend into the Atlantic Coastal Plain. This area is characterized by flat terrain and is a key economic and population center.
Coal Region and Central Pennsylvania: The state is also known for its Coal Region in northeastern Pennsylvania, an area rich in anthracite coal. Central Pennsylvania, often referred to as “Pennsyltucky,” is known for its rural landscapes and small towns.
Pennsylvania’s diverse geography not only shapes its weather patterns and natural attractions but also contributes to the state’s rich cultural tapestry, influencing everything from local cuisine to outdoor recreational activities.
Weather and Climate in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania experiences a varied climate due to its diverse geography, with noticeable differences between regions. The state generally enjoys four distinct seasons—spring, summer, autumn, and winter—each bringing its own unique weather patterns and beauty.
Spring (March – May): Spring in Pennsylvania is a time of renewal and mild weather. Temperatures gradually warm up from cool to comfortable, averaging between 45°F and 70°F. This season sees the landscape transform with blooming flowers and green foliage. Rainfall is common, making spring one of the wetter seasons.
Summer (June – August): Summers are generally warm and humid, particularly in the southern and eastern parts of the state. Average temperatures range from 70°F to 90°F. This season is ideal for outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and visiting the state’s many lakes and rivers. In the northern and mountainous regions, temperatures are slightly cooler, providing a pleasant escape from the heat.
Autumn (September – November): Fall in Pennsylvania is famous for its vibrant foliage, with leaves turning various shades of red, orange, and yellow. Temperatures start to cool, ranging from 50°F to 70°F. This season is generally drier and is considered one of the best times to visit, offering comfortable weather and picturesque landscapes.
Winter (December – February): Winters can be cold, with temperatures often dropping below freezing, especially in the northern and mountainous regions. Average temperatures range from 20°F to 40°F. The state receives snowfall, which varies significantly across regions. The mountainous areas experience heavier snowfall, making them popular destinations for skiing and winter sports.
- Northwestern Pennsylvania and Mountainous Areas: These regions typically experience cooler temperatures year-round and receive more snowfall in winter.
- Southeastern Pennsylvania: Including the Philadelphia area, this region tends to have milder winters and hotter, more humid summers.
- Central and Northeastern Pennsylvania: These areas see a mix of weather patterns, with cold winters and warm summers, and a balance of rain throughout the year.
Understanding Pennsylvania’s climate is essential for planning travel and outdoor activities, as the weather can vary significantly depending on the time of year and the region being visited.
Major Natural Attractions in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania, with its diverse landscapes and rich natural beauty, offers a plethora of natural attractions beyond its national parks. These sites provide visitors with stunning vistas, unique geological features, and ample opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Pocono Mountains: Renowned for their natural beauty, the Poconos offer a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. With lush forests, mountain streams, and waterfalls, it’s a popular destination for hiking, skiing, and water sports.
Pennsylvania Grand Canyon (Pine Creek Gorge): Often referred to as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, Pine Creek Gorge offers breathtaking views, especially during the autumn foliage season. It features steep canyon walls and dense forest, ideal for hiking and wildlife viewing.
Ricketts Glen State Park: Famous for its scenic beauty and 22 named waterfalls, Ricketts Glen is a favorite among hikers and nature photographers. The Falls Trail allows visitors to see many of the park’s cascades.
Presque Isle State Park: Located on a peninsula on Lake Erie, this state park boasts unique ecosystems, including beaches, wetlands, and forests. It’s a prime spot for bird watching, boating, and swimming.
Ohiopyle State Park: Known for its whitewater rafting opportunities on the Youghiogheny River, Ohiopyle also offers hiking, biking, and stunning views of waterfalls and rapids.
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: Straddling the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, this area offers spectacular scenery with the Delaware River cutting through a mountainous ridge. It’s a great spot for hiking, canoeing, and camping.
Raystown Lake: The largest lake entirely within Pennsylvania, Raystown Lake is a hub for boating, fishing, and water sports. The surrounding area also features trails for hiking and biking.
Laurel Highlands: This region is known for its rolling mountains, scenic byways, and outdoor recreation opportunities. It’s also home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater house, harmoniously integrated with its natural surroundings.
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary: A premier destination for birdwatching, particularly during the raptor migration season. The sanctuary offers miles of trails and stunning overlooks.
Bushkill Falls: Nicknamed “The Niagara of Pennsylvania,” Bushkill Falls features a series of eight waterfalls nestled in the Pocono Mountains. Hiking trails and bridges offer various views of the cascades.
Each of these attractions showcases the natural beauty of Pennsylvania, offering visitors a chance to explore and appreciate the Keystone State’s diverse and splendid landscapes.
National Parks in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s national parks reflect the state’s rich historical legacy and natural beauty. Each park provides unique insights into the nation’s past and stunning natural landscapes, distinct from the major natural attractions previously mentioned.
Gettysburg National Military Park: This park commemorates the site of the Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the American Civil War. Visitors can explore battlefields, memorials, and the Gettysburg National Cemetery, where President Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address.
Independence National Historical Park: Located in the heart of Philadelphia, this park is often referred to as “America’s most historic square mile.” It includes Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed, and the Liberty Bell, an enduring symbol of American freedom.
Valley Forge National Historical Park: Best known as the site of the 1777-78 winter encampment of the Continental Army under General George Washington. The park offers insights into the Revolutionary War with its historic structures, monuments, and museum exhibits.
Flight 93 National Memorial: Located in Shanksville, this memorial honors the passengers and crew of Flight 93 who bravely fought back against hijackers on September 11, 2001. The site includes a Visitor Center and a memorial plaza with a Wall of Names.
Steamtown National Historic Site: Situated in Scranton, this park is dedicated to the history of steam railroading in America. It features a working railroad yard, historic steam locomotives, and a museum offering interactive exhibits.
Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site: This site preserves an early American industrial landscape from 1771-1883, including a cold-blast furnace where iron was produced. Visitors can explore the historic village, learn about iron making, and enjoy the natural surroundings.
Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site: This park commemorates the first railroad to circumvent the Allegheny Mountains. It highlights the innovation of the Portage Railroad, which was a key part of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal.
Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River: Offering some of the finest fishing, boating, and wildlife viewing in the Northeast, this area along the Delaware River is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor: This park celebrates the historic transportation system that fueled the industrial revolution in the United States, including canals, railroads, and hiking trails following old towpaths.
Johnstown Flood National Memorial: This site memorializes the catastrophic flood of 1889, which resulted in significant loss of life and property. The park tells the story of the flood and its impact on Johnstown through exhibits and tours.
These national parks in Pennsylvania offer a diverse range of experiences, from historical exploration to natural beauty, each contributing to the state’s unique heritage and landscape.
Cities and Towns of Pennsylvania
As Pennsylvania’s largest city and the birthplace of American independence, Philadelphia is steeped in history. Iconic landmarks like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are must-visits. The city is also renowned for its arts and culture, with institutions like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a vibrant food scene, including the famous Philly cheesesteak.
Known for its rich industrial heritage and resilient spirit, Pittsburgh has transformed into a hub of technology, education, and arts. The city’s unique topography, with rivers and hills, offers picturesque views, particularly from the Mount Washington overlook. Attractions include the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Museums.
Pennsylvania’s capital city, Harrisburg, sits on the banks of the Susquehanna River. It’s home to the impressive Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex and the National Civil War Museum. The city also serves as a gateway to the surrounding regions, including Hershey, known for Hershey Park and the Hershey Chocolate Factory.
Allentown, in the Lehigh Valley, is known for its industrial history and is the third-largest city in Pennsylvania. The city boasts attractions like the Allentown Art Museum and the Liberty Bell Museum. Nearby, the Lehigh River offers recreational activities like fishing and boating.
Located on the shores of Lake Erie, this city offers a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural experiences. Presque Isle State Park provides sandy beaches and outdoor activities, while the Erie Maritime Museum and the flagship Niagara celebrate the city’s naval history.
Famous for its role in the nation’s coal and railroad industries, Scranton offers a glimpse into industrial history at the Steamtown National Historic Site. The city also features attractions like the Electric City Trolley Museum and the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour.
Lancaster is known for its rich Amish heritage and rural charm. Visitors can explore Amish farms, markets, and traditional shops. The city also boasts a vibrant arts scene and historical sites, including Wheatland, the home of President James Buchanan.
Reading, once a major industrial and railroad center, is now known for its cultural sites like the Reading Public Museum and the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts. The city’s surrounding countryside and the nearby Appalachian Trail offer outdoor adventures.
Bethlehem, part of the Lehigh Valley, is rich in industrial history, particularly steel production. Today, it’s known for its cultural festivals, including Musikfest, and historic sites like the Moravian Museum. The Sands Casino Resort also adds to its modern appeal.
York, known as the first capital of the United States, has a significant historical presence. The city features sites like the Colonial Complex and the York County History Center. It’s also a hub for arts and culture, with a vibrant downtown area and cultural events.
These cities and towns in Pennsylvania showcase the state’s diverse character, from historic significance to cultural richness and industrial heritage. Each city offers its own unique experience, contributing to the multifaceted identity of the Keystone State.
Pennsylvania Small Towns
Nestled in the Lehigh Gorge, Jim Thorpe is often referred to as the “Switzerland of America” due to its picturesque scenery and architecture. This small town is rich in history and outdoor activities, offering scenic train rides, river rafting, and historic mansions like the Asa Packer Mansion.
Lititz, in Lancaster County, exudes small-town charm with its well-preserved historic downtown, unique shops, and cafes. It’s known for its Moravian heritage and events like the Lititz Craft Beer Fest. The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, America’s first pretzel bakery, is a popular attraction.
Home to the Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle, Doylestown boasts a unique blend of history and culture. This Bucks County town is also known for its vibrant arts scene, including the Michener Art Museum and numerous galleries and theaters.
Located along the Delaware River, New Hope is a haven for artists and musicians. With its eclectic shops, art galleries, and vibrant nightlife, it’s a popular destination for those seeking a blend of historic charm and artistic flair.
Famous for its rich railroad heritage, Strasburg in Lancaster County is home to the Strasburg Rail Road and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. The town’s quaint streets, lined with historic homes and unique shops, offer a glimpse into 18th-century life.
Known as the “Mushroom Capital of the World,” Kennett Square hosts an annual Mushroom Festival that draws visitors from all over. The town is also near Longwood Gardens, one of the premier horticultural display gardens in the United States.
Boalsburg lays claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. This small town near State College is rich in history, with attractions like the Pennsylvania Military Museum and the Boal Mansion Museum, offering insights into early American life.
Situated in the Laurel Highlands, Ligonier is known for its picturesque town square and Fort Ligonier, a reconstructed and restored French and Indian War fort. The town also hosts Ligonier Days, a popular fall festival.
Gateway to the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, Wellsboro maintains a charming atmosphere with gas street lamps lining its main street. It offers access to outdoor activities in Pine Creek Gorge and hosts the annual Pennsylvania State Laurel Festival.
A suburb of Pittsburgh, Sewickley offers a quaint, small-town feel with its tree-lined streets, Victorian homes, and a vibrant downtown area filled with shops and cafes. The Sewickley Heights History Center and nearby parks add to its appeal.
These small towns in Pennsylvania each offer unique experiences, from historical significance to cultural richness, set against the backdrop of the state’s diverse landscapes. They provide a more intimate glimpse into Pennsylvania’s local life and heritage.
Road Trip Ideas in Pennsylvania
1. Pennsylvania Wilds
Highlights: This journey through the heart of Pennsylvania’s wilderness offers breathtaking natural beauty and wildlife. Travelers can explore the Elk Country Visitor Center for elk viewing, visit the Kinzua Sky Walk, and enjoy the scenic beauty of Pine Creek Gorge. Charming small towns along the way, like Wellsboro, provide a rich historical backdrop.
2. Historic Route 6
Highlights: Stretching across northern Pennsylvania, this road trip is a journey through small towns, picturesque landscapes, and historical sites. Key attractions include the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, and numerous quaint towns offering unique cultural experiences.
3. Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway
Start: Kennett Square
End: Chadds Ford
Highlights: This route offers a mix of culture, history, and natural beauty. Visit Longwood Gardens, one of the world’s premier horticultural display gardens, explore the Brandywine River Museum of Art, and enjoy the historic charm of the small towns along the way.
4. The Amish Country Tour
Highlights: Experience the simplicity and beauty of Amish country. This route takes you through rolling farmlands, past traditional Amish farms, and into towns like Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse, known for their Amish crafts and foods.
5. The Great Allegheny Passage
Start: Cumberland, Maryland
Highlights: Ideal for a biking road trip, this trail follows the path of an old rail line and offers stunning views of the Allegheny Mountains. The journey includes the historic town of Ohiopyle and the breathtaking view at the Horseshoe Curve.
6. The Covered Bridge Tour
Highlights: Explore the picturesque covered bridges of Bucks and Lancaster Counties. This scenic drive takes you through beautiful countryside, past historic sites, and into charming small towns, offering a glimpse into Pennsylvania’s rural heritage.
7. The Pocono Mountains Route
Start: Jim Thorpe
End: Delaware Water Gap
Highlights: Winding through the heart of the Pocono Mountains, this route offers outdoor adventures, scenic waterfalls, and panoramic mountain views. Key stops include the historic town of Jim Thorpe, Bushkill Falls, and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
8. The Civil War Trail
Highlights: Focused on Pennsylvania’s rich Civil War history, this route includes the Gettysburg National Military Park, the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, and numerous historic sites and battlefields.
9. The Chocolate and Chip Trail
Highlights: A sweet journey from Hershey, the home of Hershey Park and Hershey’s Chocolate World, to Hanover, known for its snack food factories. Along the way, enjoy factory tours, tastings, and a glimpse into the state’s confectionery and snack-making heritage.
These road trip ideas in Pennsylvania offer diverse experiences, from natural wonders and historical exploration to cultural delights and culinary adventures, showcasing the rich tapestry of the Keystone State.
Cultural Highlights in Pennsylvania
Philadelphia’s Historic District: This area is a living museum of American history, where visitors can walk in the footsteps of the nation’s Founding Fathers. The district includes landmarks like the Betsy Ross House and Elfreth’s Alley, America’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street.
Fallingwater: Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater in the Laurel Highlands is an architectural masterpiece harmoniously blending with its natural surroundings. It’s considered one of Wright’s greatest creations and a stunning example of modernist architecture.
Pennsylvania Dutch Country: Centered in and around Lancaster County, this region offers a deep dive into the unique culture of the Amish and Mennonite communities. Visitors can experience traditional farming methods, crafts, and foods, providing a glimpse into a simpler way of life.
Pittsburgh’s Cultural District: This area in downtown Pittsburgh is home to a dynamic arts scene, with theaters, galleries, and performance spaces. It hosts the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and a variety of Broadway shows.
The Andy Warhol Museum: Located in Pittsburgh, this museum is dedicated to the life and work of the iconic pop artist Andy Warhol, a native of the city. It houses an extensive collection of his art and archival materials.
Kutztown Folk Festival: An annual event in Kutztown celebrating Pennsylvania Dutch culture. The festival features traditional crafts, food, folk music, and demonstrations of Pennsylvania Dutch farming practices.
The Barnes Foundation: In Philadelphia, this art collection and educational institution boasts one of the finest collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early Modern paintings, including works by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso.
The Pennsylvania Ballet: Based in Philadelphia, this company is one of the premier ballet institutions in the United States, known for its artistic innovation and superbly trained dancers.
The African American Museum in Philadelphia: The first institution built by a major United States city to house and interpret the life and work of African Americans, offering a rich tapestry of African American heritage through exhibits and educational programs.
The State Museum of Pennsylvania: Located in Harrisburg, this museum offers a comprehensive overview of Pennsylvania’s rich history, from geological beginnings to contemporary issues. It features a planetarium, historical artifacts, and interactive exhibits.
These cultural highlights represent Pennsylvania’s diverse artistic and historical legacy, showcasing everything from significant historical sites to modern artistic expressions and unique cultural traditions.
Local Cuisine and Noteworthy Restaurants in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s Culinary Staples
Pennsylvania’s culinary scene is as diverse as its cultural heritage, featuring a blend of traditional American, Pennsylvania Dutch, and various ethnic cuisines. Here are some of the Keystone State’s signature dishes:
- Philly Cheesesteak: Originating from Philadelphia, this iconic sandwich consists of thinly sliced beefsteak, melted cheese, and onions on a long hoagie roll.
- Pierogies: A nod to the state’s Eastern European influences, these dumplings are filled with potato, cheese, and onions, often served boiled or fried.
- Scrapple: A Pennsylvania Dutch specialty, scrapple is a mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and flour, typically fried and served at breakfast.
- Apple Butter: This thick, spiced spread made from slow-cooked apples is a Pennsylvania Dutch classic, often found at local markets.
- Shoofly Pie: A sweet, molasses-filled dessert pie that’s a staple in Amish and Mennonite baking.
- Pretzels: Pennsylvania, especially the city of Reading, is known as the Pretzel Capital of the World, with a long history of pretzel baking.
- Lebanon Bologna: A type of smoked, fermented, and cured beef sausage, originating from the Pennsylvania Dutch region of Lebanon County.
Zahav, Philadelphia: A renowned restaurant offering a modern Israeli culinary experience. Chef Michael Solomonov’s menu features mezze dishes, grilled meats, and signature hummus.
Savory Grille, Macungie: Set in a restored 1800s roadside inn, this restaurant offers a fine dining experience with a focus on fresh, local ingredients and a seasonal menu.
Allegheny Grille, Foxburg: Located by the Allegheny River, this restaurant provides scenic views along with its menu of American classics and regional favorites.
Primanti Bros., Pittsburgh: Famous for its sandwich piled high with grilled meat, coleslaw, and French fries, all between two slices of Italian bread. A Pittsburgh tradition.
Bolete Restaurant, Bethlehem: Known for its farm-to-table approach, Bolete offers a rustic yet elegant dining experience, with a menu that changes daily based on the freshest local ingredients.
Lacroix at The Rittenhouse, Philadelphia: An upscale dining experience offering innovative international cuisine, Lacroix is known for its brunch and exquisite views of Rittenhouse Square.
The Victor Café, Philadelphia: A unique dining experience where the waitstaff performs operatic arias for guests. The menu features classic Italian dishes.
The Log Cabin, Leola: An elegant restaurant offering a fine dining experience in a historic log cabin setting, with a focus on innovative American cuisine.
Girasole, Pittsburgh: A family-owned Italian restaurant, Girasole combines traditional Italian cooking with a contemporary twist, featuring fresh, seasonal ingredients.
From traditional Pennsylvania Dutch fare to modern culinary innovations, Pennsylvania offers a rich tapestry of flavors that reflect its diverse cultural heritage and culinary creativity.
Art and Music Scene in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s art and music scene is as vibrant and diverse as the state itself, with a rich history of fostering artistic talents and hosting a variety of cultural events. From world-class museums to dynamic music festivals, the Keystone State offers an array of experiences for art and music lovers.
Philadelphia Museum of Art: One of the largest museums in the United States, it houses a remarkable collection of artwork from around the globe. The museum’s steps were famously featured in the “Rocky” films.
Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory: A contemporary art museum, it’s known for its room-sized installations that provide immersive art experiences. The museum focuses on providing a unique platform for artists to experiment with new techniques and concepts.
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia: America’s first art museum and school, it offers a unique collection of American art and hosts various exhibitions and educational programs.
Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program: An initiative that has turned the city into an open-air art gallery, featuring thousands of murals that express the city’s rich history and diverse culture.
The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia: Home to the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the “Big Five” American orchestras, and a venue for a variety of other performances, ranging from concerts to Broadway shows.
Musikfest, Bethlehem: An annual music festival that attracts musicians and music enthusiasts from all over. It features a wide range of musical genres, showcasing both local talent and internationally renowned artists.
The Mann Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia: An outdoor amphitheater that hosts a variety of concerts, from classical to pop music, in a beautiful park setting.
First Friday, Pittsburgh: A monthly cultural event in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, where art galleries and spaces open their doors to showcase new exhibitions and artists.
Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, State College: An annual event that brings together artists and community members for a celebration of the arts, including a sidewalk sale and exhibition, musical performances, and food vendors.
Pennsylvania’s art and music scene reflects the state’s creative spirit, offering experiences that range from classical to contemporary, and encompassing a diverse array of artistic expressions.
Best Outdoor Activities and Adventures in Pennsylvania
White Water Rafting in the Youghiogheny River: Experience the thrill of white water rafting in the Youghiogheny River, especially in the Ohiopyle area. Suitable for both beginners and experienced rafters, it offers a mix of serene stretches and challenging rapids.
Biking on the Great Allegheny Passage: Explore this famous trail that stretches from Pittsburgh to Maryland. Ideal for cyclists of all levels, it offers scenic views of the Allegheny Mountains and passes through charming small towns.
Hiking in the Endless Mountains: The Endless Mountains region offers numerous hiking trails with breathtaking views. It’s a less crowded alternative to the more popular spots, providing a peaceful hiking experience.
Fishing in Lake Erie and its Tributaries: Known for its excellent fishing opportunities, Lake Erie and its surrounding streams are perfect for catching bass, walleye, and steelhead trout.
Skiing and Snowboarding in the Pocono Mountains: With several ski resorts, the Poconos are a winter sports haven. Resorts like Camelback, Jack Frost, and Big Boulder offer slopes for all skill levels.
Bird Watching at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary: This sanctuary is a prime spot for bird watching, especially during the raptor migration season. Its scenic vistas provide ideal conditions for spotting a variety of bird species.
Kayaking and Canoeing on the Delaware River: Paddle along the scenic and historic Delaware River. The river’s calm stretches are perfect for beginners, while its rapids offer challenges for more experienced paddlers.
Rock Climbing in Ralph Stover State Park: Known for its high cliffs overlooking Tohickon Creek, this park is a popular spot for rock climbers, offering routes for various skill levels.
Horseback Riding in Gettysburg Battlefield: Experience a unique perspective of this historic site on horseback. Guided tours offer a blend of history and scenic beauty.
Caving in Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park: Explore Penn’s Cave by boat – America’s only all-water cavern tour. The cave features stunning formations, and the park offers wildlife tours.
Pennsylvania’s diverse landscapes provide a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a range of activities from adrenaline-pumping adventures to peaceful nature experiences.
The Best Hiking Trails in Pennsylvania
Appalachian Trail: One of the most famous hiking trails in the world, a significant portion of this trail runs through Pennsylvania, offering a variety of terrains and scenic views, particularly in the Cumberland Valley and Blue Mountain areas.
Loyalsock Trail: Stretching 59 miles through the Loyalsock State Forest, this trail offers hikers a mix of rugged terrains, waterfalls, and breathtaking vistas, particularly in the areas around Worlds End State Park.
Black Forest Trail: A challenging 42-mile loop in the Tiadaghton State Forest, known for its steep climbs and descents, lush forested areas, and panoramic views, especially at the Slate Run area.
Conestoga Trail: This trail spans 63 miles, taking hikers through the rolling hills and farmlands of Lancaster County, along with riverfront views and historic sites.
Pine Creek Rail Trail: A more leisurely option, this 62-mile trail runs through the Pine Creek Gorge (Pennsylvania Grand Canyon), offering flat terrain suitable for all ages and skill levels with picturesque views of the surrounding canyon.
Quehanna Trail: An extensive loop of about 75 miles that traverses a mix of forest, mountain streams, and open meadows, with opportunities to see wildlife and diverse ecosystems.
Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail: This 70-mile trail provides a continuous footpath stretching through mountainous terrain in the Laurel Highlands, including picturesque overlooks, state parks, and the 1,000-foot-high Beam Rocks.
Montour Trail: Near Pittsburgh, this multi-use trail covers about 60 miles, providing a gentler hiking experience with its relatively flat terrain, ideal for families and casual hikers.
Glacier Ridge Trail: Located in Moraine State Park, this trail offers a challenging hike through diverse landscapes, including forests, ridges, and the glacially formed landscapes of the park.
North Country Trail: Part of a national scenic trail that cuts through Pennsylvania, offering unique sections in the state like the rugged landscapes of the Allegheny National Forest.
Each of these trails in Pennsylvania offers unique experiences for hikers, from challenging mountain treks to leisurely walks through serene landscapes, showcasing the state’s natural beauty and diversity.
Sports Opportunities in Pennsylvania
Football: Pennsylvania is a hotbed for football, from high school to the professional level. The state is home to two NFL teams, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers, both with passionate fanbases. College football is also popular, with teams like the Penn State Nittany Lions drawing large crowds.
Baseball: Baseball has a storied history in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates are the state’s Major League Baseball teams, with a strong following. Minor league and college baseball also have a significant presence.
Basketball: Pennsylvania boasts a rich basketball culture, with the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA leading the charge. College basketball is particularly popular, with several universities competing in Division I, including Villanova, a recent national champion.
Ice Hockey: The state is home to two NHL teams, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, both with a dedicated fanbase. Ice hockey at the college and amateur levels is also popular, with numerous leagues and rinks across the state.
Soccer: Soccer is growing in popularity in Pennsylvania, with the Philadelphia Union representing the state in Major League Soccer. Youth and college soccer programs are widespread, reflecting the sport’s increasing popularity.
Wrestling: Pennsylvania is known for its strong wrestling tradition, particularly at the high school and collegiate levels. The state regularly produces top wrestlers and hosts significant tournaments.
Lacrosse: Lacrosse has been growing rapidly in popularity in Pennsylvania, especially at the high school and college levels. The state has several competitive college teams and youth programs.
Roller Derby: Roller derby has a niche but enthusiastic following in Pennsylvania. Cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have their own roller derby teams that compete in regional and national tournaments.
Motorsports: Pennsylvania hosts several major motorsports events, including NASCAR races at the Pocono Raceway. Dirt track racing is also popular in more rural areas of the state.
Ultimate Frisbee: Growing in popularity, Ultimate Frisbee has a strong presence in Pennsylvania, particularly in colleges and universities, with many schools having competitive teams.
These sports reflect Pennsylvania’s diverse and enthusiastic sports culture, offering opportunities for both spectating and participation across a variety of athletic pursuits.
Educational and Family Attractions in Pennsylvania
The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia: One of the oldest and most prominent science museums in the country, offering interactive exhibits, a planetarium, and the famous giant heart model, making it a hit with families and educational groups.
Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia: Designed for younger children, this museum encourages learning through hands-on, interactive exhibits, focusing on science, nature, and the arts.
Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh: Featuring a range of scientific exhibits, a planetarium, and the USS Requin submarine, it’s a great place for families and school groups to explore and learn.
Hershey Park, Hershey: A family-friendly theme park offering a variety of rides, attractions, and tours of the Hershey Chocolate Factory, blending entertainment with educational aspects of chocolate making.
The Crayola Experience, Easton: An interactive and colorful adventure for kids, this attraction allows families to explore the world of Crayola with creative activities and hands-on exhibits.
The Pennsylvania State Capitol, Harrisburg: Offering guided tours, this architectural marvel is not only the seat of the state’s government but also a living museum of Pennsylvania history and art.
Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Pittsburgh: Home to thousands of animals representing hundreds of species, including many endangered species, providing an educational and fun experience for families.
The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Strasburg: Housing one of the most significant collections of historic railroad artifacts in the world, this museum is perfect for train enthusiasts of all ages.
The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh: Focused on the arts, sciences, and humanities, the museum provides interactive exhibits that encourage learning through play for younger children.
Erie Maritime Museum and U.S. Brig Niagara, Erie: This museum and historic ship offer insights into Pennsylvania’s nautical history and the War of 1812, providing an educational experience for the whole family.
These attractions in Pennsylvania offer educational experiences that are both fun and informative, making them perfect destinations for family outings and school field trips.
Travel Logistics in Pennsylvania
Navigating Pennsylvania is relatively straightforward, with a variety of transportation options available to suit different needs and preferences. Understanding the logistics can help you plan a smoother and more enjoyable trip.
Air Travel: Pennsylvania is served by several major airports, including Philadelphia International Airport and Pittsburgh International Airport, offering both domestic and international flights. Smaller regional airports like Harrisburg International and Lehigh Valley International also provide good connectivity.
Road Travel: Pennsylvania has an extensive network of highways and roads, making road trips a popular way to explore the state. Major highways include the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76), I-80, I-81, and I-95. Rental cars are widely available, and the state’s roadways connect its various cities and towns efficiently.
Public Transportation: In urban areas, public transportation systems are a convenient option. SEPTA in the Philadelphia area and the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh offer buses, subways, and light rail services. Intercity bus services like Greyhound and Megabus connect major cities.
Train Travel: Amtrak provides rail service connecting major cities in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg, with other cities in the Northeast and across the country. The Keystone Service and Pennsylvanian are popular routes for intra-state travel.
Biking: In cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, biking is a popular and eco-friendly way to get around, with bike-sharing programs and designated bike lanes available.
Ensuring a safe journey while traveling in Pennsylvania is crucial. Here are some key safety tips:
- Road Safety: Always obey traffic laws, speed limits, and seatbelt regulations. Be aware of changing weather conditions, especially in winter, as roads can become slippery.
- Public Transportation: Stay alert and keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded areas. Check the schedules and routes in advance, as service can vary, especially on weekends and holidays.
- Pedestrian Safety: Use crosswalks and pay attention to pedestrian signals when walking in cities. Be cautious while crossing streets, as traffic can be heavy.
- Biking: Always wear a helmet, follow traffic rules, and use bike lanes where available. Be visible to drivers, especially at night, by using lights and reflective gear.
By staying informed and cautious, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable travel experience in Pennsylvania.
Best Times to Visit Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s diverse geography and range of activities mean that the best time to visit can vary depending on what you want to experience. Here’s a seasonal breakdown to help you decide:
Spring (March – May): Spring is a beautiful time to visit, as the state bursts into color with blooming flowers and green landscapes. The weather is pleasantly mild, making it ideal for outdoor activities like hiking and sightseeing. This season is also less crowded, allowing for a more relaxed exploration of popular sites.
Summer (June – August): Summer is peak tourist season, especially for families due to school vacations. The weather is warm and sunny, perfect for visiting theme parks like Hershey Park, enjoying outdoor festivals, and exploring the state’s many lakes and rivers. However, be prepared for higher temperatures and occasional humidity, particularly in urban areas.
Autumn (September – November): Fall is arguably the most picturesque time to visit Pennsylvania, especially for leaf-peeping in the Pocono Mountains or the Laurel Highlands. The weather is cool and comfortable, and the fall foliage creates a stunning backdrop for outdoor activities. This season also features various harvest festivals and events.
Winter (December – February): Winter in Pennsylvania is cold, but if you enjoy snow sports, it’s a great time to visit. The Pocono Mountains offer skiing, snowboarding, and other winter activities. The holiday season also brings festive markets and events, particularly in cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. However, travel can be more challenging due to snow and ice, so be prepared for potential winter weather conditions.
Each season in Pennsylvania offers its own unique charm and set of activities. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure, cultural experiences, or just a scenic getaway, you’ll find a time of year that suits your interests in the Keystone State.
Accommodation Options: Best Hotels in Pennsylvania
The Rittenhouse Hotel, Philadelphia: An iconic luxury hotel located in the heart of Philadelphia, offering elegant rooms and fine dining, with close proximity to major attractions like Rittenhouse Square.
Omni Bedford Springs Resort, Bedford: A historic resort offering a blend of colonial charm and modern amenities, set in a picturesque natural setting. Known for its spa and golf course.
The Hotel Hershey, Hershey: A historic hotel offering luxury accommodations with unique chocolate-themed amenities, close to Hershey Park and other local attractions.
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Farmington: A luxurious resort set in the Laurel Highlands, offering a range of activities including golf, spa, and adventure sports.
The Inn at Leola Village, Leola: A boutique hotel in Lancaster County that offers a unique experience with its beautiful rooms, spa, and fine dining, set in a converted Amish farm.
Fairmont Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh: A modern and eco-friendly hotel located in downtown Pittsburgh, offering luxurious accommodations with stunning city views and top-notch amenities.
Hotel Monaco, Philadelphia: A chic and stylish boutique hotel in the heart of Philadelphia, known for its vibrant design and excellent service.
Lancaster Arts Hotel, Lancaster: A boutique hotel featuring unique art-focused decor, located in a historic building in downtown Lancaster.
The Lodge at Glendorn, Bradford: A luxury retreat set in the Allegheny Mountains, offering a rustic yet elegant experience with outdoor activities and fine dining.
These hotels in Pennsylvania offer a range of options from luxury to boutique experiences, catering to various tastes and preferences, and providing excellent bases for exploring the state’s rich offerings.
Essential Tips for Travelers in Pennsylvania
Traveling through Pennsylvania can be a delightful experience, and a few essential tips can help make your journey smoother and more enjoyable:
- Plan According to the Season: Pennsylvania’s weather can vary greatly by season. Pack appropriately for the time of year you are visiting, especially if you plan on outdoor activities.
- Explore Beyond the Cities: While cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are must-sees, don’t miss out on the small towns and countryside, which offer their own unique charm.
- Utilize Public Transportation: In major cities, public transportation can be an efficient and cost-effective way to get around. Consider using buses, trains, or subways to avoid city parking fees and traffic.
- Stay Connected: Check if your accommodations offer free Wi-Fi. This can be especially helpful for international travelers to avoid high roaming charges.
- Be Prepared for Taxes and Tipping: Sales tax in Pennsylvania is 6%, and it’s customary to tip 15-20% in restaurants and for services.
- Check Out Free Attractions: Many museums and historical sites offer free admission or special discounts on certain days.
Tips for Budget Travelers
For those traveling on a budget, Pennsylvania offers numerous ways to enjoy the state without breaking the bank:
- Visit State Parks: Pennsylvania has a wealth of state parks that are free to enter. They offer a variety of activities, from hiking to picnicking.
- Look for City Passes: Cities like Philadelphia offer city passes that include discounted entry to multiple attractions.
- Stay in Hostels or Budget Hotels: Consider budget-friendly accommodations like hostels or choose hotels outside the city center for better deals.
- Eat Like a Local: Enjoy affordable and hearty meals at local diners, food trucks, and markets. Pennsylvania Dutch country is particularly good for inexpensive, home-cooked meals.
- Use Rideshares or Public Transportation: Save on transportation costs by using rideshare apps or public transportation, which is generally reliable in the urban areas.
- Attend Free Events: Look for free events in the cities and towns you visit. Festivals, concerts in the park, and local markets can offer free entertainment.
- Travel Off-Peak: If possible, travel during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) for lower prices on accommodations and attractions.
By planning wisely and taking advantage of these tips, travelers can enjoy the richness of Pennsylvania without spending a fortune.
Local Customs and Etiquette in Pennsylvania
Understanding local customs and etiquette can enhance your experience in Pennsylvania, helping you blend in with the locals and appreciate the state’s unique culture:
Friendly and Polite Demeanor: Pennsylvanians are generally known for their friendly and polite nature. A warm greeting and a smile go a long way, whether you’re in a big city or a small town.
Tipping Culture: Tipping is customary in the United States and Pennsylvania is no exception. In restaurants, bars, and for services like taxis and hairdressers, a tip of 15-20% is standard.
Respect the Amish Community: In areas like Lancaster County, you may encounter Amish communities. It’s important to respect their culture and privacy. Avoid taking photographs of the Amish people without permission, as it goes against their beliefs.
Queueing: Whether it’s at a store, public transport stop, or tourist attraction, waiting your turn is important. Queue jumping is frowned upon and considered impolite.
Sports Enthusiasm: Pennsylvanians are passionate about their sports teams. Wearing local team merchandise can be a conversation starter, but be aware that sports rivalries, especially in football and hockey, are taken seriously.
Conservative in Rural Areas: While urban areas like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are quite progressive, rural areas of Pennsylvania can be more conservative. It’s wise to be respectful of local views and customs when traveling in these regions.
Environmental Respect: Pennsylvanians take pride in their natural landscapes. When visiting outdoor sites, maintain respect for the environment by not littering and staying on marked trails.
Historical Significance: Pennsylvania is rich in American history. Showing interest and respect for historical sites and landmarks is appreciated.
Traffic Etiquette: In cities, be mindful of jaywalking laws. In rural areas, be aware of horse-drawn carriages and give them the right of way.
By keeping these customs and etiquette tips in mind, you can ensure a respectful and enjoyable visit to Pennsylvania, embracing the local culture and traditions.
Safety Tips in Pennsylvania
While Pennsylvania is generally a safe place to visit, adhering to certain safety tips can help ensure a worry-free trip:
Weather Awareness: Be aware of the weather conditions, especially if you’re visiting in winter or summer. Winters can be harsh with snow and ice, so dress warmly and be cautious on the roads. In summer, stay hydrated and protected from the sun.
Urban Safety: In cities, as in any urban areas, it’s important to stay aware of your surroundings. Avoid walking alone at night in unfamiliar areas and keep your belongings secure, especially in crowded places.
Wildlife Caution: When hiking or visiting rural areas, be aware of local wildlife. While encounters are rare, it’s wise to know how to react if you come across animals like bears or snakes.
Driving Caution: Observe speed limits and traffic laws. Be especially cautious when driving on rural roads, as they can be narrow and winding. Also, watch for deer crossings, particularly around dawn and dusk.
Emergency Numbers: Know the basic emergency numbers. In the United States, 911 is the number for police, fire, and medical emergencies.
Hiking Safety: When hiking, stick to marked trails and be prepared with adequate water, food, and appropriate clothing. Inform someone of your hiking plans, especially if venturing into less-traveled areas.
Avoid Trespassing: Respect private property and do not trespass. This is particularly important in rural areas and near farms.
Recreational Water Safety: If participating in water activities, wear life jackets and follow all safety guidelines. Be mindful of water conditions and currents, especially in rivers and lakes.
Crowd Safety: In crowded events or tourist spots, keep an eye on your personal belongings and be aware of your environment.
Following these safety tips can help you navigate Pennsylvania safely, whether you’re exploring bustling city streets or the tranquil beauty of its natural landscapes.
Shopping Tips in Pennsylvania
Shopping in Pennsylvania offers a diverse experience, from large malls in urban centers to unique boutiques and markets in smaller towns. Here are some tips to enhance your shopping experience:
- Research Local Markets: Pennsylvania is home to numerous farmers’ markets and flea markets, especially in rural areas and small towns. These markets are great for finding local produce and handmade goods.
- Explore Urban Shopping Districts: Cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have vibrant shopping districts with a mix of high-end stores, local boutiques, and vintage shops.
- Outlet Shopping: Pennsylvania has several outlet malls, such as The Crossings Premium Outlets in the Poconos and Philadelphia Premium Outlets, where you can find designer goods at discounted prices.
- Antique Shopping: The state is known for its antique shops, particularly in areas like Adamstown, dubbed the “Antiques Capital, USA.”
- Be Mindful of Sales Tax: Pennsylvania has a 6% sales tax, but clothing and shoes are generally tax-exempt, making it a great place to shop for apparel.
Souvenirs to Bring Home from Pennsylvania
Bringing home a souvenir is a wonderful way to remember your trip. Here are some quintessentially Pennsylvanian items to consider:
- Amish Handicrafts: Items like quilts, handcrafted furniture, and other handmade goods from Amish Country are unique and hold cultural significance.
- Local Snacks: Pennsylvania is famous for snacks like pretzels from the Pretzel Capital of the World (Reading) and potato chips from snack food producers in Hanover.
- Philadelphia-Themed Items: Souvenirs featuring Philly icons like the Liberty Bell or “LOVE” sculpture.
- Pennsylvania Dutch Treats: Items like Shoofly Pie, apple butter, or whoopie pies are delicious reminders of your trip.
- Sports Memorabilia: With passionate sports culture, Pennsylvania is a great place to pick up memorabilia from popular teams like the Steelers, Eagles, Penguins, or Phillies.
- Local Art and Pottery: Pennsylvania’s rich arts scene offers a variety of locally made art, pottery, and glass.
- Pennsylvania Wines: The state has a growing wine industry, and local wines can be a tasteful souvenir.
- Hershey’s Chocolate: From Hershey, the Sweetest Place on Earth, Hershey’s chocolates and related merchandise are popular souvenirs.
- Historical Replicas or Books: For history buffs, replicas from historical sites or books about Pennsylvania’s rich history can be meaningful souvenirs.
- Craft Beer and Spirits: With a booming craft brewery and distillery scene, local brews and spirits make great gifts for enthusiasts.
These shopping tips and souvenir ideas can help you make the most of your Pennsylvania shopping experience, bringing a piece of the Keystone State back home with you.
Resources and References
- VisitPA – The official tourism website of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, offering a wealth of information on attractions, events, accommodations, and travel tips across the state.
- Discover Philadelphia – This site is a valuable resource for exploring Philadelphia, with details on local attractions, dining, events, and accommodation options in the city.
- Visit Pittsburgh – A complete guide to visiting Pittsburgh, featuring information on attractions, events, accommodations, and dining in the city.
- Explore PA History – A great resource for history enthusiasts, offering detailed information on Pennsylvania’s historical sites, landmarks, and heritage trails.
- PA State Parks – The official site for Pennsylvania State Parks. It provides information on park locations, activities, amenities, and reservation details for camping and lodging.
- PA Wines – A guide to Pennsylvania’s wine regions and vineyards, perfect for those interested in wine tasting and vineyard tours. The site includes information on wine trails and events related to Pennsylvania’s burgeoning wine industry.