Downtown Lancaster Delights Visitors 

While visitors to Amish Country are often seeking the quiet beauty of the surrounding farmlands, many overlook one of the area’s true treasures, historic downtown Lancaster. This unique blend of the new and the old offers much to the visitor interested in something different. Not a big metropolitan city, but a small, easy to negotiate grid of streets lined with an eclectic mix of architecture, Lancaster is well-worth a visit for its attractions, foods, history, and shopping opportunities.

Getting Started - Penn Square

The best way to begin your visit to downtown is to stop in the new Lancaster Visitors Center at Penn Square, where the friendly staff will help with all aspects of your visit. The square is a fascinating study in architectural styles. The 1874 Civil War Monument with its five statues is surrounded by several important buildings. Pre-dating the monument is the lovely old City Hall, dating to 1795, and now the home of the Heritage Center Museum (and the Visitors Center), containing two floors of permanent displays and special exhibits, open to the public free of charge. Their sister Quilt & Testile Museum has changing displays of the best antique Amish quilts, with designs and colors now famous around the world. There is also an ice cream parlor and other changing exhibits. Nearby is the Griest Building, considered the town "skyscraper" when it was built in 1924. While only 187 feet high, it remains the town’s tallest building to this day!

Just opposite of the Heritage Center is the spectacular new Marriott Hotel and Lancaster County Convention Center. The elegant interior, which integrates existing historic buildings into the design, including the Thaddeus Steves-Lydia Hamilton Smith House, is an attraction unto itself. With 299 rooms having great views of the city, and over 90,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space, this is the newest and most dramatic new landmark in the city. And don’t miss the Lancaster Newspapers "Newseum," a fascinating walk-by display of newspaper history across the street on the Queen Street side.

Central Market

Beside the Heritage Center is the majestic Central Market, the oldest publicly owned market in the nation, built in 1889. Standholders arrive early in the morning with a wide array of produce, meats, and other items. Locals can still be seen going from stand to stand, carrying their purchases in their market baskets. Out-of-town visitors enjoy the chance to browse, sample, and buy many popular local foods and crafts. Market days are Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday, and people arrive early for the best selection.

Walking Tours

The old Southern Market building, just south of the square on Queen Street, is the starting point for the Historic Lancaster Walking Tours, a great way to get an overview of the city’s rich history. Costumed guides will walk you through 300 years of history and architecture, telling you stories of some of our more engaging town residents, famous and infamous alike. People began arriving here years before Lancaster County was officially "founded" in 1729. Our city was Capital of the U.S. for a day in 1777, when the Continental Congress passed through town during the Revolutionary War. Lancaster also has a wealth of beautiful and historic churches, some of which are open to visitors daily.

Historic Homes

Certain areas of town have been set aside as historic districts, and strolling these streets will take you back in time to our Colonial days. Within city limits are two homes that are favorites of history buffs. Historic Rockford was the home of George Washington’s Adjutant-General, Edward Hand, while Wheatland was the elegant mansion occupied by Pennsylvania’s only President, James Buchanan. Both are well worth seeing and have been lovingly preserved for visitors.

Watercolors & Tobacco

Many people are surprised to learn that Lancaster was home to a famous artist, Charles Demuth, known for his watercolors of city buildings and flowers. His home and garden have been preserved, along with some of his work, and are located behind the Demuth Tobacco Shop, the oldest in the Nation. Well worth a visit, they are located about one and a half blocks east of the square on King Street.

Life Upon the Stage

Another historic landmark is the 1852 Fulton Opera House, said to be the oldest continuously operating theater in the country. Various theater groups present live stage shows in the lavish interior, which was also the site for the world premiere of the movie Witness. The Fulton is located beside the AAA office on Prince Street, one block west of the square. For those interested in other types of entertainment, the gorgeous new Pennsylvania Academy of Music, the Hole in the Wall Puppet Theater,  Chameleon Night Club, and other live theater companies make the downtown area their home. For the size of Lancaster, you will find a varied array of activities going on at any given time.

Food & Drink

Downtown Lancaster provides many wonderful dining and shopping opportunities. A wide range of restaurants, eateries, and pubs, large and small, cover an eclectic range---seafood, Italian, Asian, French, and local cuisine. Soft pretzels, bagels, sandwiches, and pastries can also be found for those interested in a light snack. A popular new addition is a micro-brewery offering Lancastrians their very own beer.

Artistic Pursuits

Browsing the streets and alleys you’ll find old book stores, clothing shops, crafts, antiques, etc. There are a surprising number of galleries within a short walking distance from the square, mainly along "Gallery Row" on Prince Street, but also at other locations throughout the downtown area. Many fascinating specialty shops are also around the city, some of the most interesting being along the 300 block of North Queen Street.

The Red Rose City

Lancaster takes its name from Lancashire, England, and with nearby York, the two towns are known as the Red Rose and White Rose cities. Lancaster remains a town proud of its long history. It is a place where farmers still come to town to sell produce to the "city folks." As in generations past, residents continue preserving their historic past while at the same time enjoying a variety of modern cultural pursuits. Best of all, most of the things to see and do are all within walking distance. Whether your interest is dining, shopping, the arts, or history, you will find all this and more in the "Red Rose City" --- Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Link to Downtown Lancaster Information:

Amish Country News Cover Article by Brad Igou (1995)





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