Amish Family

Guide to Discovering Amish Country in Pennsylvania

In the heart of rural America is Amish Country, Pennsylvania, where you can gain some small experience to a way of life that has remained mostly unchanged over the last few hundred years. The distinctive culture of the Amish showcases a slower pace lifestyle, values of faith and hard work, and a step back in time to a simpler way of living.

Who are the Amish?

Amish Person
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

The Amish, or Pennsylvania Dutch, are a group of communities with traditional Christian values who prefer separation from the rest of the world. Originally part of the Mennonite community in Switzerland, they splintered over religious beliefs before immigrating to America. Later, they were also joined by similar German-speaking groups as well, with multiple groups continuing to separate and combine over the centuries throughout parts of America. Amish country in Pennsylvania is the second largest concentration of Amish in the entire world, with the largest being in Ohio.

They are widely known and recognized for their plain clothing like brimmed hats, suspenders, and bonnets, simple living, and slow acceptance of modern technology and conveniences. You won’t be going back to the stone-age when you visit Lancaster county as of course these people are aware of their proximity to more modern cities, daily visitors stopping here for tours to view the rural livelihood and beautiful landscape scenery and to enjoy a more direct experience of the culture.

Like all communities some families may be more observant of the formalities than others who have slowly accepted things such as cars, electricity, and motorized and mechanical tools to help assist their farm life and other occupations. You will see multiple horse drawn carts and buggies as you explore the area.

Where is Amish Country?

There are several regions within the United States with large Amish populations. Aside from Lancaster, Pennsylvania there are large communities in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Northern Indiana, New York, Wisconsin, and the largest in the world being in Ohio. All of these areas are similar in that they are mostly farmland, have quaint small towns, focus on the traditional lifestyles and religious views, and value their privacy. You can find many tour options that will take you through these different parts of the country to have this experience but you won’t find many differences so choosing to do one in whichever state you are visiting should be enough.

Amish Village

Amish Village
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

The first stop should be The Amish Village. This property really gives you a basic introduction to the Amish lifestyle. Choosing to take the beginning tour inside the house will give you a quick history of the Amish here. You will learn about things such as the homelife in the kitchen with gas powered appliances, typical clothing worn by the entire family, and the living arrangements, as the average family numbered around 7 members.

Amish Village Farmhouse
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

Once you step out, you will see the rest of the property. There is a barn filled with farm animals such as pigs, goats, and mules. Outside you will see chickens roaming so don’t get too close. Cross over the small covered bridge where you will see the marketplace filled with souvenirs and locally preserved jams and jellies. Next is the blacksmith shop where you can see the tools used in everyday life for both farmers and craftsmen. Finish up at the single class schoolhouse and see how Amish children are educated today.

You only need to spend a short time here, around 90 minutes to really get a feel for how similar the Amish life is both in the past and present.

Wander around the towns of Strasburg and Intercourse, PA

Strasburg Pennsylvania
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

Strasburg is the small town located at the heart of Amish Country. It has historic charm as many of the original buildings that were constructed between the late 1700s-1800’s survived. It’s also filled with train-based attractions such as The Railroad Museum and National Toy Train Museum. You can even take a short scenic ride on an old steam train to see the landscapes. The local Sights & Sound Theatre produces live plays based on Bible stories. Even if religious messages is something you are not preference to, the high quality sets and costumes to make it more interesting.

Don’t let the sexual pun of this town name fool you. Intercourse is a little less “authentic” as it is a little more modernized and updated to attract tourism. There main attraction is the Kitchen Kettle Village shopping center which is filled with numerous boutique shops of clothing and arts and crafts, eateries of local cuisines and desserts, and even an inn to stay overnight. You can take other Amish farmland tours from here as well, either by van or buggy to the local markets and other farmhouses.

Pick up Some Amish Made Crafts and Goods

Amish Crafts
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

They aren’t just all farmers. Other occupations you can find here are craftsmen, tailors, carpenters, builders, and other small business owners like hardware and equipment suppliers. After completion of their education, informal focus is given to these fields with hand’s on training with the family or apprenticeships to prepare them for the adult Amish world.

When it comes to the goods, you can see the high-quality and attention to detail the Amish have in everything they make. They make everything from furniture and leather goods to handcrafted soaps and candles. These may be simple when compared to the more modern items you find in high-end shopping centers and boutique shops, but it reflects the lifestyle and values of the community.

These aren’t factory made either. Items such as quilts and other textiles are hand-stitched, methods being taught and passed down through the generations. Families run these businesses so you may see children and relatives working the front desk and register.

You can find these being sold at local markets, specialty stores, and even some online retailers. This helps support the tourism economy and is a wonderful gift for friends and family.

Scenic Drive Through the Countryside

Mostly the entire countryside is scenic open fields, covered bridges, and picturesque farms. It’s really a perfect place to take a drive through, buggy ride, or even a nice bike ride. Find roadside stands where fresh produce is offered, sometimes for free as a gesture of goodwill to any passerby. Pull over to the side of the road and watch the sustainable practices of farming and livestock. Maybe you will get the opportunity to watch “barn-raising”, quilting circles, and other social gatherings allowed to be viewed by outside visitors. You never know what might happen.

Have Lunch With an Amish Family

A rare experience you can have is eating a traditional meal with an Amish family. It’s family-style dining so everyone shares their meals around a large table and enjoying each other’s company. All the food is fresh grown right on the farm or locally sourced. It’s hearty and simple, compromising main entrees such as fried chicken and meatloaf with vegetables and fruits.

If you decide not to have a family meal, you can find plenty of restaurants and markets that serve the same foods, either buffet style or individual plates. It’s a culinary adventure that will make you realize how good traditional home cooked meals can be.

General Rules While Visiting the Amish

Visiting the communities can be a rewarding experience but it is important to follow some rules to be respectful of the people and their way of life. Remember, you are considered an outsider no matter if you are from the U.S. or abroad.

Photography – Many of the Amish are uncomfortable with having their photo taken, especially up close and personal. They don’t wish to be seen as vain which goes against their religious practices. You can take photos but do so from a fair distance away. If you want to get a closer shot, ask permission before just snapping with your camera. Some are happy and friendly enough to oblige you. If they refuse, simply accept their answer and not try to convince them.

Politeness – The Amish are generally a friendly people as long as you are respectful. This mean’s being polite in your interactions with them. Try to use devices such as cameras and phones as little as possible while around them. Avoid controversial topics of religion and politics. Don’t be too familiar with them so no physical contact unless they initiate it first. Always say “please” and “thank you” every single time. It will go a long way.

Support Local Economy – There are many different ways you can support the local businesses while you are visiting. Maybe purchase a small souvenir or have lunch at a local restaurant as you are passing through. A little goes a long way here. Remember to bring cash as some places do not use credit card services.

Dress Modestly – You’re not expected to be completely covered with long sleeves and dresses for women and pants for men. But Amish clothing is simple, focused on darker colors, and without excessive patterns and prints. To respect the community you are entering try to follow the same guidelines. T-shirts and shorts are ok but be aware of having too much skin exposed.

Best Time to Visit Amish Country

Spring to Fall is the best time to visit Amish Country and Pennsylvania in general. The mild temperatures of the spring brings vibrant famers markets and festivals in Lancaster. Many of the shops and farms will reopen after the winter so there will be an increase in visitors.

Summer has everyone outside for plenty of activities. It’s the most popular time of the year for visitors as this is when most farms offer tours, plenty of buggy rides, and craft fairs. Just bring plenty of sunscreen and water to stay hydrated.

Fall means bringing in the harvest so you will see a lot of related harvest celebrations. There are corn mazes, being able to give a helping hand in picking the seasonal produce, and beautiful fall foliage on your scenic drives.

Spend a single day or several here in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The Amish culture after all that has happened continues to thrive next to modern society and will go onward into the future as they maintain the Amish way of life.

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