Not only part of the Appalachian and Great Lakes regions but the Mid-Atlantic too, Pennsylvania certainly has lots of different sides to it. Located in the northeast of the United States, it boasts beautiful countryside and farmland, as well as some marvellous mountain ranges and a small, scenic segment of Lake Erie coastline.
While much of the state is rural, the large and lively cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have plenty of interesting tourist attractions to check out. As it played an important role in the Civil War and Revolutionary War, there are also a number of fascinating historic sites scattered about the Keystone State to visit. With everything from Amish farms and state parks to ghost towns and gardens to explore, there are plenty of things to do in Pennsylvania.
In this post, we'll cover:
15. Phipps Conservatory
Set in the northwest corner of Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park, the Phipps Conservatory and its beautiful botanical gardens make for an impressive sight. Built in 1893, the superb steel-and-glass Victorian-style conservatory has 14 fantastic flora exhibits to explore, with gorgeous plants and flowers wherever you look.
Each boasting their own delightful design and lush layout, the rooms are pleasant and peaceful to wander around; a Tropical Forest Conservatory is be found alongside an Orchid Room and Palm Court. In addition to its extensive assortment of exotic plants, there is also attractive architecture on show, with a handful of sculptures and waterfalls dotted about.
Outside is just as alluring in terms of what Phipps Conservatory has to offer: a gorgeous Japanese Courtyard Garden lies right next to an educational and entertaining Children’s Discovery Garden.
14. Indian Echo Caverns
A stunning show cave, the incredible Indian Echo Caverns are found not far from Hummelstown in the southeast corner of the state. Long a popular attraction, the captivating caves have been visited by millions of visitors since they first opened to the public in 1929.
Long before that, however, the caves were likely used by Native Americans for shelter and storage. Numerous archaeological findings have been unearthed in the fields and farms around its entrance. Visitors can learn all about its fascinating past during a tour of the commercialized caverns with their awe-inspiring rock formations.
In addition, there’s a picnic area, playground, and petting zoo for guests to use, and souvenirs can be purchased in the adjoining gift shop.
An interesting, atmospheric, and somewhat eerie place to visit, the near-ghost town of Centralia has been almost abandoned since 1962. This was when an underground coal fire was discovered burning under the once-thriving mining town.
Since then, its population has dwindled from more than a thousand to fewer than five, with dilapidated houses and decaying buildings now lining its graffiti-strewn streets. As well as visiting the one remaining church, visitors can drive around its quiet and overgrown roads and spy wisps of smoke escaping from cracks in the ground.
Often used as a model or inspiration for fictional ghost towns and representations of Hell, Centralia has featured in numerous films and TV shows over the years. Well worth visiting for its apocalyptic look and feel, Centralia can be found in the east of the state in Pennsylvania’s Coal Region.
12. Dutch Wonderland
Home to exhilarating rollercoasters and rides as well as a castle and slides, Dutch Wonderland is a fun and festive theme park that is sure to delight all the family. Lying just to the east of Lancaster, the ‘Kingdom for Kids’ is particularly suitable for families with small children.
Sprawling over a huge site, the amazing amusement park is entered through a large stone imitation castle façade, which is sure to astound and excite little ones. Once inside, a festival of sights, sounds and smells greet you, with colorful rides and attractions everywhere you look.
In addition to its 32 rides, there is a wonderful water park to enjoy, and shows and games are regularly put on for the children. After having met its costumed characters Duke the Dragon and Princess Brooke, visitors can check out the shops and eateries that lie next to Dutch Wonderland.
11. Valley Forge National Historical Park
Set on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Valley Forge National Historical Park offers a fascinating look at the vital role the site played in America’s War for Independence. It was here in the cold, harsh winter of 1777-1778 that General George Washington and his Continental Army camped and suffered untold hunger and hardships for six long months.
Now a pleasant and picturesque park, Valley Forge tells the story of the exposed encampment and that of the American Revolution through interesting exhibits, films, and tours around the site. Dotted about are various statues and monuments, as well as reconstructed log cabins. Washington’s colonial home is one of the standout sights.
Besides perusing the museum’s extensive collection of artifacts, visitors can hike or bike along the many trails and paths weaving around the historical park.
10. Hershey Gardens
Perched atop a prominent hill, the pretty and peaceful Hershey Gardens overlooks the fun and family-friendly theme park of the same name. Located in the town of Hershey, it was founded in 1937 by the wildly wealthy chocolate magnate Milton S. Hershey.
Including a botanical garden and arboretum, its gorgeous grounds are filled with fantastic flowerbeds, pretty plants and lovingly landscaped lawns. Delightfully designed, the gardens are a joy to explore at any time of year as its captivating collection of colorful trees and shrubs change with the season.
Besides basking in all the botanical beauty, visitors can wander around the tropical Butterfly Atrium. A Children’s Garden allows young ones to have a hands-on experience of all the magnificent nature around them.
9. Presque Isle State Park
Nestled away in the northwest of Pennsylvania is the stunning scenery and nature of Presque Isle State Park. Set on a sandy peninsula that juts out into Lake Erie, it is sure to delight nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike with its lovely landscapes and wealth of recreation activities.
Formed some 11,000 years ago during the last ice age, the idyllic isle and peninsula hem in a beautiful bay of the same name. Lining each side of its serene shores are breathtaking beaches, with dramatic dunes, lagoons, and forests spied here and there.
The state park’s delightfully diverse habitats lend themselves to all kinds of outdoor activities, with hiking, biking, and lounging on the beach particularly popular. In addition, a selection of watersports can be enjoyed in its surrounding waters, with everything from boating and canoeing to water skiing and scuba diving on offer.
8. Bicycle Heaven (Pittsburgh)
The largest shop and museum in the world solely dedicated to bicycles, the appropriately named Bicycle Heaven can be found along the banks of the Ohio River in the center of Pittsburgh. Home to more than 4,000 models and makes, with many more in storage, its colossal collection is well worth perusing if you have the chance.
Besides boasting rare and vintage bikes from around the world, the museum also has some prop bicycles that appeared in films such as A Beautiful Mind, Fences, and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. As well as standout sights such as the futuristic Bowden Spacelanders, it also has some fun themed bikes representing bands and artists like The Beatles and Elvis.
If you want to explore Pittsburgh by bike, you can rent one from Bicycle Heaven – or even buy one if you’re going to stick around town for a bit longer.
7. Amish Farm & House (Lancaster)
Set alongside Lincoln Highway on the outskirts of Lancaster is the awesome Amish Farm & House where you can learn about the rural, religious community’s history and culture. Founded in 1955, it offers visitors an authentic and educational experience as you explore the farms, fields, houses and barns.
Fascinating to explore, the sprawling site has an old Amish-built schoolhouse for you to check out, as well as pretty paddocks and pastures full of donkeys, horses and goats. As you tour around the historic buildings with your guide, you’ll learn all about the Amish way of life and their history in Lancaster County.
In addition to delving into the farm’s nearly 300 years of history, you can sample some delicious food at the BBQ Barn and pet cute animals in the petting zoo. Before heading off, it’s well worth buying some locally produced souvenirs and going on a horse and buggy ride.
6. New Hope
Located on the border with New Jersey, the small town of New Hope lies in the far east of the state on the west bank of the Delaware River. Long a popular tourist destination, it has been both an art colony and gay resort, with Broadway shows historically tested in its theaters.
As well as the numerous art galleries and live music venues that have sprung up around town, New Hope has some interesting historic sights, with plenty of old houses and a quaint railway station on show. At Bucks County Playhouse, locals and tourists can enjoy brilliant Broadway shows and theater productions.
After having explored its antique and arts and crafts shops, visitors can cross the river and check out its twin town of Lambertville. Further downstream, you’ll find Washington’s Crossing Park, a historical site where you can watch war reenactments of the Continental Army crossing the Delaware River.
Set in the town of the same name, Hersheypark is a fun and family-friendly theme park that has been entertaining guests ever since it opened in 1906. Founded by Milton S. Hershey as a leisure park for the employees of his chocolate factory, it’s now one of the most popular attractions in the state.
Home to more than 70 hair-raising rides, rollercoasters, and attractions, it has various themed areas to explore, such as Pioneer Frontier and Kissing Tower Hill. In addition, there is a superb water park and zoo for visitors to enjoy, while frequent fireworks displays and performances only add to the ambience.
After having gone on all the rides, it’s worth stopping by Hershey’s Chocolate World, which is adjacent to the park. Here you’ll find shops and restaurants as well as loads of chocolates and candy bars to taste and even try making.
4. Eastern State Penitentiary
Opened in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary was used right up until 1971 before being turned into a museum and tourist attraction. Nowadays, visitors can take tours around its hulking great ruins to learn about the famous facility and the notorious criminals it once housed.
When it was built in North Philadelphia, the imposing penitentiary stood as a symbol of modernity and progress as it was dedicated to reform rather than punishment. Over the years, famed figures such as Al Capone and Willie Sutton were held within its cells, which are laid out in an innovative wagon wheel design.
Exploring its crumbling cell-blocks is an eerie yet interesting experience as you learn all about its fascinating past and prisoners. Also, there are a number of excellent art installations on display in the penitentiary. Nighttime tours around the National Historic Landmark are a fun but frightening affair.
3. Fallingwater House
Designed and built by the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the fantastic Fallingwater House can be found in a pretty and picturesque part of southwestern Pennsylvania. Partly built over a beautiful waterfall with woods all around it, the beautiful building is widely considered to be his most majestic and memorable masterpiece.
While the serene and secluded scenery certainly looks stunning, the house itself exhibits some astounding architecture and a dynamic and daring design. Showcasing strong horizontal and vertical lines, its futuristic features and harmonious relationship with nature it saw it once labelled as the ‘best all-time work of American architecture’.
Built between 1936 and 1939 to be the summer home of Liliane and Edgar J. Kaufman, the famous Fallingwater House can now be visited and viewed on tours. It lies around one hundred kilometers to the southeast of Pittsburgh.
2. Liberty Bell Center
Set in the center of Philadelphia, this charming yet contemporary centre houses one of the nation’s most important symbols and sights – the Liberty Bell. An icon of American independence, the cracked and chipped bell is a very popular tourist attraction; as such, there are often long queues to see it.
Protected from the elements in a glass-housed building, it was made in 1751 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the state’s constitution. On it is engraved ‘Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof’. The bell became an enduring symbol of freedom when it was exhibited around the States in the aftermath of the Civil War to mend divisions and celebrate the country’s Centennial.
After you’ve stopped by the Liberty Bell Center, it is worth visiting some of the other sights related to the American Revolution that can be found in the surrounding Independence National Historical Park.
1. Gettysburg National Military Park
One of the most popular and impressive places to visit in Pennsylvania, the Gettysburg National Military Park tells the story of the most important battle in America’s history. It was here in and around the town of the same name that the Battle of Gettysburg was fought from July 1 – 3 1863, with victory for the North marking a significant turning point in the American Civil War.
Dotted about the expansive park are various monuments and memorials dedicated to the fallen and the influential figures who decided its outcome. As well as taking a tour of the largest land battle ever fought in North America, visitors can explore the fields and forests in which they fought.
The undoubted highlight in Gettysburg, however, is its magnificent museum which houses an astounding array of Civil War artifacts and archaeological findings. In addition to perusing its extensive collection of cannons, uniforms and firearms there is also a fantastic film to watch on the battle and a sensational cyclorama of the events that took place.