Experience Free Family Fun in Lancaster, PA
Lancaster, PA, is a city with its roots firmly in the country, its undeniable charm springing from farm stands and petting zoos, Amish quilt shops and sweet-smelling bakeries, red-brick buildings in the city and red barns in the nearby fields. It's the kind of place where your family will happily find pleasure in the simple things, which means you don't need a big budget to enjoy some of Lancaster's top tourist attractions. Here are five free things to do there that your whole family will love.
First and Third Fridays Downtown
The city of Lancaster hosts free special events on the first and third Fridays of the month. Head downtown on the first Friday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. to join hundreds of others visiting art galleries, shops and museums, all staying open late for the event. Live music is often featured, too. The third Friday of the month is Music Fridays. All year long, outdoor areas and local downtown venues present free live music performances, while restaurants, stores, galleries and other businesses extend open hours. During summer months, Music Fridays include free evening concerts at Binn's Park. The concerts move to indoor venues for fall and winter.
The 23-acre Hersey Farm, located in the countryside just outside Lancaster, features a restaurant, inn, bakery and shops, but everyone is welcome to enjoy its scenic grounds and walking trails for free. A mile-long trail passes through woodlands, around a large pond and past the farmhouse and barn. In spring and summer the farm is especially pretty with blooming flowers in the gardens, while in fall the color-changing foliage of the woods makes for beautiful seasonal scenery. Young children will be especially pleased to see the farm animals, including goats and chickens, as well as the ducks in the pond. There's also a children's playground on the property.
Countryside Driving Tour
In addition to seeing the sights of the city of Lancaster, many visitors like to use it as a base for exploring the scenic countryside of Lancaster County, which is part of Pennsylvania's Amish Country. A distinctive feature of the county's countryside roads is historic covered bridges, 28 of them in total, including many dating back to the 1800s. You'll also see Amish farmlands and will likely pass Amish buggies on the roads. You might want to make impromptu stops at roadside quilt shops, bakeries and craft stands. Fresh, just-off-the-farm produce is also sold at stands during the growing seasons, generally from early spring until late fall.
Lancaster Central Market
Lancaster Central Market, at Penn Square in the heart of downtown Lancaster, is more than a shopping destination. Dating back to the 1730s, it's a historic landmark with a rightful claim as the oldest farmers market venue in the United States. The old red-brick building is imbued with history, and many of the family-owned stands trace their heritage at the market back for over a century. Entrance is free, although it might be difficult to resist making a purchase or two from the abundance of locally grown produce, freshly baked breads, farm-fresh cheeses and flowers and unique arts and crafts. The market is open year-round on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Mascot Roller Mills and Ressler Family Home
The Mascot Roller Mills and Ressler Family Home, about 15 minutes outside Lancaster, is a historic grain mill that provided local families with flour from 1865 to 1977. The well-preserved milling equipment is still operational and in use today, with craftsmen grinding corn every day in demonstrations for visitors. Stroll alongside Mill Creek, which flows through the property, and see the water flow through the mill's turbines to become its only power source. Next to the mill is the old miller's house, built in 1855 and furnished as it was in the early 1900s, offering a glimpse of the past. You can also spend time exploring the gardens and a restored barn. Admission to the Mascot Roller Mills and Ressler Family Home is free, and the property is open Monday through Saturday from May to mid-October.
A writer of diverse interests, Joanne Thomas has penned pieces about road trips for Hyundai, children's craft projects for Disney and wine cocktails for Robert Mondavi. She has lived on three continents and currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is co-owner and editor of a weekly newspaper. Thomas holds a BSc in politics from the University of Bristol, England.