The third-largest city in Pennsylvania behind both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Allentown lies in the Lehigh Valley along the winding river of the same name. Once an important industrial center, it has reinvented itself in recent times. It’s now known for its family-friendly attractions, sports events and local amusement park.
One of the first cities in the country to support American independence, it actually ended up hiding the Liberty Bell from the British during the American Revolutionary War. Afterwards, the opening of the Lehigh Canal saw the Queen City become a mining and manufacturing hub with its thriving industries helping to spark America’s Industrial Revolution.
Deindustrialization hit hard, however, in the seventies until the massively successful revitalization of the Central Business District in 2014 did much to reverse the city’s fortunes. Nowadays, visitors will find plenty of things to do in Allentown with its rich history, attractive outdoor areas and top-class concerts and sporting events in its modern PPL Center.
14. Liberty Bell Museum
For those interested in learning more about the history of the States, the Liberty Bell Museum is simply a must. As well as housing an exact replica of the iconic bell, its enthralling exhibits relate how the original came to be hidden under the building’s floorboards during the Revolutionary War.
Set right in the city center, the small museum occupies part of Zion’s United Church of Christ where American patriots hid the bell from the British in 1777. Aside from learning about the little-known story, you can peruse interesting displays on topics like freedom, liberty, patriotism and colonialism.
Old flags, uniforms and hand-painted murals are also on show alongside memorabilia of the popular Pip the Mouse puppet. After snapping some photos with the famous bell, guests can actually ring it and hear it reverberate around the room.
13. Mack Trucks Historical Museum
If vintage vehicles that interest you, then head to Mack Trucks Historical Museum. At the company’s customer center on the southwest outskirts of town, you can explore all kinds of amazing old artifacts, equipment and antique trucks.
Although the massive manufacturing company now has a relatively small presence in Allentown, its headquarters were based here for just over a century. Since 1984, visitors have been able to learn all about its innumerable makes and models at the museum and see thousands of historical photos and old engine parts.
The highlight though is of course wandering around all the shiny trucks and semi-tractors, artillery models and open-air buses. Both its excellent audio guide and tours with former engineers or retired mechanics provide yet more information on all the towering trucks before you.
12. Allentown Art Museum
Yet another of the city’s cultural institutes that is well worth stopping by is the exquisite Allentown Art Museum. Located right next to downtown, it boasts a wide range of fantastic paintings, photos, sculptures and prints with much of its focus being on local artists.
Established in 1934, its extensive collection of 19,000 or so artworks occupies a grand neoclassical-style building and a more modern addition that almost doubled its available floor space. Its light and airy galleries display not just Japanese textiles and eclectic curiosities but Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces that date back centuries.
Loads of American artists also feature alongside their European and Asian counterparts, with a room designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright counted among the museum’s standout sights.
11. Model Train Exhibit
A fun, family-friendly place to visit, the Model Train Exhibit sprawls across a large part of Merchants Square Mall. Every half an hour, its trains come to life and trundle along the over 18,000 feet of track that takes them past elaborate cityscapes and intricately detailed little landscapes.
In total, the enormous exhibit has more than forty model trains with countless cars, buses and pedestrians dotted about its streets. Impressively enough, over a thousand different structures decorate the railroad display, ranging from ski areas and ice skating rinks to a drive-in movie theater and operating amusement park.
During the show, around 30,000 lights illuminate the skyscrapers, sky and structures with thunder, rain and lightning only adding to the striking scene. After watching or waiting for it to begin again, you can always stroll around the shops selling comics, collectibles and antiques in the mall.
10. Lehigh Valley Zoo
Another firm favorite with families is the lovely Lehigh Valley Zoo which lies thirty minutes’ drive northwest of Allentown. Tucked away on the almost endless Trexler Nature Preserve, are everything from kangaroos and cockatoos to bobcats, bison and penguins for guests to marvel at.
The preserve was founded in 1906 to protect bison, elk and white-tailed deer populations, and the zoo was only opened in the seventies. Since then, it has expanded considerably with over 300 exotic animals representing more than a hundred species now inhabiting its spacious enclosures.
You’ll therefore see beautiful birds, reptiles and animals from as far afield as Africa, Asia and Australia. Feeding sessions and live otter and penguin shows also often take place with playgrounds and picnic areas scattered here and there.
9. Allentown Rose Gardens
A peaceful, picturesque place to spend some time, the sweet-smelling Allentown Rose Gardens can be found in Cedar Creek Park. Despite its proximity to both the West End Theater District and Allentown Fairgrounds, the scenic grounds are an oasis of calm in the city.
Lovingly landscaped, the gorgeous garden’s meandering paths take you past pretty flowerbeds, pavilions and alongside reflective lakes. Due to all the stunning natural beauty on show, it’s a very popular spot to walk, cycle and take photos of the flowers.
While it is a treat to visit at any time of year, the best period is usually around June and July as this is when thousands of colorful roses are typically in bloom.
8. Coca-Cola Park
For an exciting sporting spectacle, the award-winning Coca-Cola Park is certainly the place to go. The home of the city’s Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the minor league ballpark lies just ten minutes’ drive northeast of downtown.
Routinely praised for its excellent sightlines, superb atmosphere and wide array of food options, the intimate arena first welcomed fans in 2008. While the concession stands, stores and mascot all stick true to the ‘pig’ theme, an iconic Coca-Cola bottle shoots out fireworks when home runs are scored.
In between innings, live entertainment keeps the crowd engaged and kids keen for some more fast-paced action. All in all, catching an exhilarating game of the Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies is definitely worth it when in town.
7. Dutch Springs
After all the excitement, Dutch Springs is the ideal spot to either relax and unwind or soak up some sun and splash about in the water. Situated just fifteen minutes further on from Coca-Cola Park, the aqua park has all kinds of fun inflatables, watersports and ropes courses for visitors to try out.
Located in and around an old quarry, it has everything from gigantic floating icebergs and bouncy water trampolines to challenging obstacle courses, climbing walls and ziplines for people to enjoy. The well-loved recreation area is also known for its fantastic scuba diving with the wrecks of old boats and school buses lying beneath the lake’s shimmering surface.
Thanks to all its enticing attractions and relaxing lakeside picnic areas, Dutch Springs makes for a great day out for all the family.
6. Da Vinci Science Center
As educational as it is entertaining, the delightful Da Vinci Science Center houses lots of interactive exhibits and plenty of hands-on activities and experiments. Set just south of the attractive Allentown Rose Gardens, it occupies a massive modern building on the Cedar Crest College campus.
First opened to the public in 1992, the state-of-the-art center covers not just science and technology but engineering and physics too. Across two floors, you can find engaging yet accessible exhibits on topics such as forces and motion, energy and electricity. Learning through touch and play encouraged throughout.
As well as crawling through a 72-foot-long pitch-black tunnel to test your observation skills, you can also experience hurricanes and earthquakes in its simulators. Fun building areas and wet water tables also feature video games, aquariums and animation stations.
5. PPL Center
Another great place to catch a game or enjoy a concert is at the phenomenal PPL Center right in the heart of the city. Besides being home to the American Hockey League’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, it puts on a wealth of thrilling shows, sporting events and entertainment during the year.
Part of a much larger redevelopment project that completely reimagined the center, the enormous arena was completed in 2014. While the Phantoms’ season usually lasts from early October through to mid-April, there are way more events to attend if you’re not interested in a fast-paced and frenetic ice hockey game.
In addition to indoor football, basketball and even midget car racing, the multi-purpose venue hosts stage productions and symphony orchestras. Over the years, big name acts from Bon Jovi and Elton John to Michael Buble, Shania Twain and Santana have performed at the centre.
4. Allentown Farmers Market
A colorful and chaotic affair, the Allentown Farmers Market has dozens of stands and stalls packed with fresh fruit, vegetables and food products for visitors to peruse. Held each Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Allentown Fairgrounds, its lively yet laid back ambience attracts hordes of locals and tourists alike.
Since being established in 1953, it has grown and grown with more than sixty friendly farmers and vendors now hawking their wares each week. Next to stalls piled with fresh fruit and veg are others that specialize in baked goods and artisanal products or cheeses, meats and seafood.
The bustling market also contains numerous bistros and food stands that sell tasty treats and dishes from all around the globe. Phone accessories and old antiques are also sold here as are handmade art pieces, wines and gifts.
3. America On Wheels Museum
At the opposite end of town from the fairgrounds, rose gardens and science center is the incredible America On Wheels Museum. Besides boasting an impressive array of vintage vehicles, it has loads of interesting exhibits to explore on the history of wheeled transportation in the country.
Overlooking the Lehigh River, the magnificent museum occupies what was once an old dilapidated industrial area. Crammed within its three galleries are roughly 75 bicycles, motorbikes, automobiles and trucks for guests to amble around. Informative plaques explain all their fine features, when they were made and what they were used for.
While seeing all the amazing old cars, bikes and trucks is already a treat, the highlight is of course its historically important gas-powered carriage that dates back to 1889. One of the first vehicles of its kind in the States, it could only be driven at night so as not to scare horses during the day.
2. Allentown Fish Hatchery
Although it may sound like a somewhat unusual attraction, the Allentown Fish Hatchery is actually one of the most popular places to stop by in the city. This is because you can feed thousands of trout teeming in the ponds while taking in the sublime scenery and nature on show all around you.
Nestled away in the lovely Little Lehigh Park not far from the city’s municipal airport, you can find the Lil’ Le-Hi Trout Hatchery. Its fresh waters contain large shoals of Brook, Brown, Rainbow and Golden Rainbow trout with the fish massing at the surface once you throw food in.
As hiking trails and cycling paths lie around the hatchery, it is a pleasant and picturesque spot to enjoy some exercise and immerse yourself in nature.
1. Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom
Located midway between Allentown and Emmaus is one of the area’s top tourist attractions: Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom. Guaranteed fun for all the family, it has more than sixty exciting rides and rollercoasters to enjoy with a wild and wet water park also on offer.
Remarkably founded back in 1884, the ever-popular amusement park sprawls across a massive area with hair-raising thrill rides lying next to calmer options for children. Aside from the almost endless Steel Force coaster, one of its standout sights is the 1923 Thunderhawk which is impressively one of the oldest rollercoasters in the world.
Playgrounds, picnic areas and Planet Snoopy can also be found dotted about next to delicious dining options and venues putting on live shows. After trying out all the rides, Wildwater Kingdom’s splash pads, pools and slides will help you to cool off and keep the fun times going.