Pennsylvania Amish Country Tour
Pennsylvania’s Amish Country is many things: a day in the country, a history lesson, landscapes. Most of all, it is a hint that a simpler life is possible.
Lancaster County is the heart of Amish Country. It is 2.5 hours southwest of New York City and just over 1 hour west of Philadelphia. The distance, however, is best measured in centuries.
The Amish are an ultra-conservative Christian sect who live as their ancestors did in 1500s Europe. They are expert farmers and craftsmen/women who do not use electricity, cars, public schools, modern clothes, social security or most things we consider essential. They rely solely on their families and communities.
By the roadside, women and children sell quilts, jellies, jams, breads, shoofly pies and whoopie pies. Several towns in the area have memorable names: Paradise, Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse.
Narrow byways counterpoint wide plots of land blanketed with corn, alfalfa hay and tobacco. The countryside sews low-hanging, summer aromas into your nose: fresh-cut grass, leather, straw, barns, fresh bread, soil.
Horse hooves rhythmically tap out gentle rural music to accompany the scenery, click-clack-click-clack-click-clack. Shyly, sincerely, an Amish family smiles and waves from a black, horse-drawn buggy.
Across the road, another Amish farmer tills his field, guiding his horse and cart down straight rows. Two women sit facing backwards on the cart, their legs jangling above the same soil their grandmothers cultivated 400 years ago.
In general, the Amish avoid contact with the “English” world. This does not mean they refuse to watch Benny Hill reruns or drink tea at 4 p.m. “English” is Amish slang for anyone or anything from the “outside” world. If you’re not one of them, you are “English.”
The Amish came to Pennsylvania in the 17 and 1800s fleeing European persecution and uncertainty. Pennsylvania was not a random choice. William Penn, Pennsylvania’s pacifist Quaker founder (and an authentic Englishman), began inviting persecuted religious minorities to his new colony beginning in the 1680s.
First among these were members of his own Quaker sect, followed later by others such as the Amish. Penn’s Frame of Government, a set of rules for his colony’s government, specifically insisted on religious freedom and influenced the creation of the U.S. Constitution over 100 years later.
Ironically, by steadfastly refusing to call attention to themselves, the Amish have achieved the exact opposite. The “English” come in all manner of modern vehicles to see the Amish and their customs up close: wide-brimmed hats, bonnets, lanterns, old-timey beards, horse-drawn carriages and traditional farming methods.
But beyond this novelty, beyond the Amish’s surface appearance, I suspect something else, perhaps unconsciously, attracts people.
Maybe we’re in awe that such a radically different worldview not only survives, but thrives in today’s frenetic world. Strip away the Amish’s appearance and you are left with a group of people for whom God, family, community and self-reliance are supreme.
Don’t most of us “English” strive for some or all of these things? Are we as successful? Do their uncluttered, back-to-basics lives remind us of our own ancestors, who would have more in common with the Amish than with us? Isn’t visiting Amish Country like watching a black and white photograph (i.e. the past) come to life in color?
Visit Lancaster County for the answers.
Pennsylvania Amish Country Tour Options
Option #1: Organized Tour By Bus Or Airplane
All tours are led by professional tour guides and allow you to experience Amish life up-close.
Option #2: Tour Amish Country In Your Own Car (With the help of a local)
The tour by Old Order Amish Tours is another option to consider if you would rather drive your own car. The tour is led by a friendly and knowledgeable, non-Amish local.
Here’s how it works:
- You’ll drive to a meeting point in Ronks, Pennsylvania, just east of Lancaster. (Lancaster is the main town in Pennsylvania Amish Country).
- The tour director drives her own car. You will follow her in your own car (or your rental car).
- Each car on the tour is provided with a long-range walkie-talkie radio.
- Points of interest are narrated over the radio. You can ask questions at any time over the radio.
- You’ll stop at Amish stores, a one-room schoolhouse and an Amish homestead.
- You’ll travel down country roads you wouldn’t find on your own.
** For more day trip ideas no matter where you are or where you’re going, please see our Things To Do page.