Pennsylvania, officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is considered a Mid-Atlantic state even with its northern border touching on Lake Erie. It is also bordered by Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. Additionally, it is interesting to note that the Appalachian Mountains slice through the state, while the Pocono Mountains lie in the northeast and the Allegheny Mountains in the northwest. The one flat area is the Atlantic Coastal Plain in the southeast.
Pennsylvania was settled in 1681 by William Penn as a colony for the religious freedom of his fellow Quakers. “The Quaker State” is one of Pennsylvania’s most familiar nicknames. Also called “The Keystone State” because of its central location among the 13 original colonies, it played a key role in the economic, social and political development of the United States.
Native Pennsylvanians always refer to the state as “pee-ay.” They are also immensely proud of their illustrious history and “intense” in their loyalty to their professional sports teams. Visitors come to experience some of the best art venues in the country and the many historical sites. Furthermore, skiers come to eastern Pennsylvania in the winter to experience some of the best ski resorts.
Located in the Lehigh Valley, Bethlehem is 60 miles north of Philadelphia and 90 miles west of New York City. It was once synonymous with the steel industry. Today, it has an almost pastoral atmosphere with more than 30 public parks and country roads leading to time-worn covered bridges.
Named for the Olympian who never lived there (a long story—one you are sure to hear when you visit). It was once one of America’s great 19th-century coal towns. Now it is noted for its array of architecture: From Richardsonian federal buildings to Greek revival mansions to the little stone houses that could have been plucked from coast of Ireland.
Lancaster is in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country in southeastern Pennsylvania. The Amish are an influential presence in the simplicity of their lives. Take a horse and buggy ride through the countryside, shop for the finest of Amish-made crafts, and savor authentic Pennsylvania Dutch cooking.
West Chester is in southeastern Pennsylvania and is the quintessential college town. The University of West Chester is surrounded by tree-lined streets and ivy-covered walls and all around is the buzz of the camaraderie of students and faculty. A little-known “must visit” is the American Helicopter Museum.
Cheese-steaks originated in Philadelphia in 1930 in the Italian enclave of “South Philly.” “Often imitated, never duplicated” in other parts of the country, a long sandwich roll is filled with sauteed, thinly sliced rib eye beef, onions and melted cheese (or Cheez Whiz)–a messy delight.
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In addition to cheesesteaks, Philadelphia is known for chewy, twisted pretzels sold on downtown street corners. Top with mustard for the full experience. German immigrants brought them here in the 18th century. Today, Pennsylvania leads the world in the production of soft pretzels
The Pennsylvania Dutch make this dessert with brown sugar and deliciously decadent molasses. It is so sweet that bakers need to shoo the flies away when the pies cool.
The Pennsylvania Dutch make scrapple for breakfast by pan frying the scraps and trimmings of pork mixed with corn meal and spices.
Polish immigrants brought Poland’s national dish to Pittsburgh. Traced back to the 13th century, pierogies are delicate dumplings made from unleavened dough and stuffed with fillings such as mashed potatoes, cheese, sauerkraut, mushrooms or any combination thereof.
Independence National Historical Park
Philadelphia was central to the founding of this country. The park includes Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Congress Hall, the National Constitution Center and the Benjamin Franklin Museum.
Northwest of Philadelphia, Valley Forge was the encampment of George Washington and his troops during the brutal winter of 1777-1778. Its 3,500 acres of monuments remain as testimony to the great suffering and perseverance that won our independence from England.
The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
Pine Creek Gorge in north central Pennsylvania is 45 miles long and up to 1500 feet deep. It is one of the state’s most beautiful natural wonders. There are trails for every level of difficulty to stroll, hike or bike; rapids to ride by boat; and abundant wildlife to view.
Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg was the site of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle and its turning point. There are 40-some miles of scenic roads with more than 1,000 monuments. On weekends from April to October, Civil War historians demonstrate the tactics and artillery used by both sides.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Henry Phipps, successful entrepreneur, gifted his world-class garden to the city of Pittsburgh. The garden is one of the city’s crown jewels with its 15 acres that include a 14-room glasshouse and 23 distinct gardens.
Most of the world knows of The Philadelphia Museum of Art and nearby Barnes Foundation. Along with these, Pittsburgh boasts both the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Andy Warhol Museum. Besides these, if you step off the well-trod paths, you can visit Bicycle Heaven, the Railroad Museum in Ronks, and the No. 9 Coal Mine & Museum in Lansford.
Philadelphia’s Center City Theater District has several professional theaters presenting a selection of Broadway and off-Broadway shows and original works, and the Kimmel Center is home to the city’s orchestra and its ballet and opera companies. Ronks has the Sight and Sound Theater that spectacularly brings Bible stories to life, and Phoenixville has the Colonial Theatre that features classic, art and independent films. Think the days of drive-in movies are but dim memories? Not in Pennsylvania. The state has 27 drive-ins scattered within it.
Start the year with the most celebratory parade ever—the Mummer’s in Philadelphia: 10,000 participants in gloriously flamboyant costumes playing the most exuberant music all day long! In March, there are many St. Patrick’s Day parades but Scranton pulls out all stops. In specific, there are bagpipes, string bands, high-school bands, Irish step-dancers and fabulous floats. Everyone is invited to march!
On February 2, Pennsylvanians celebrate Punxsutawney Phil, a groundhog. People gather early in the morning in Punxsutawney to wait for Phil to stick his head out of his hole. If he sees his shadow, he goes back in and there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, he comes out and we can count on an early spring. Either way, the rest of the day is festive with food, music, games and rides.
In late June-early July, the Kutztown Folk Festival celebrates the Pennsylvania Dutch heritage for nine days with the largest quilt sale in the U.S., historical reenactments and traditional music, dancing and food.
It’s appropriate that Bethlehem celebrates the Christmas season with the Christkindlmarkt, an Old World-style marketplace with an eclectic array of gifts, fine art, crafts and a place to relax with hot cocoa or apple strudel while musicians of all genres perform holiday classics. There are rides for the kids and a chance to meet St. Nicholas.
Looking to visit nearby states? Read more to find the best things to do in New York City!