They say there’s no place like home for the holidays, and if you’re coming home to Lancaster County this season, you’ll find an amazing array of holiday-themed attractions and events to help you catch that holly jolly spirit. From light displays to festive train excursions and living history experiences, you’re bound to find some holiday fun to delight you and your family!
Read on for some of the best local attractions and holiday happenings throughout Lancaster County and the surrounding region. There are also tons of one-time events like shopping bazaars and food fairs taking place throughout the month of December, but we’re highlighting ongoing opportunities for seasonal excitement so you can plan ahead.
Explore a Winter Wonderland
The Lancaster County area is home to an impressive number of immersive shopping villages, theme parks, and other properties that transform into magical winter wonderlands for visitors to wander through – on foot or in their vehicles (or even by zipline)! Many of these venues are focused on light displays, but you’ll also discover delicious treats to warm you, chances to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, and plenty of fun surprises along the way.
At Kitchen Kettle Village, a favorite stop for both tourists and locals alike in Intercourse, you’ll discover beautiful lights decorating the buildings, caroling singers and brass bands providing the sounds of the season, and dozens of opportunities to eat tasty treats like cookies, s’mores prepared with freshly roasted marshmallows, and samples of all the baked and canned goods Lancaster County is known for! Check out the full calendar of special events that await you from now through the weekend before Christmas!
If theme parks are more your speed, Lancaster’s Dutch Wonderland and nearby Hershey’s world-famous Hersheypark both feature dazzling light displays, holiday entertainment and shows, and rides. While Dutch Wonderland and its holiday-themed Dutch Winter Wonderland are a bit more geared toward families with younger children, Hersheypark’s Christmas Candylane will delight just about everyone. Both parks feature visits from Santa, and Hersheypark even hosts Mr. Claus’s reindeer, as well, including Rudolph!
Looking for lights? Sometimes just hopping in the car on a frosty evening and driving around the countryside to spot lovely twinkling lights is a fun activity. And there are also tons of locations around Lancaster County that offer specific holiday light shows to add to your itinerary. From Clipper Magazine Stadium in downtown Lancaster to the Star Barn Village in Elizabethtown, you’ll discover acres of beautiful illuminations.
All Aboard for Christmas Nostalgia
It’s true that trains have a special connection to holiday nostalgia, as we think back to model train sets zooming around beneath Christmas trees of our childhoods. In Lancaster County, which is a destination for railroad enthusiasts all year long, the holidays bring both inspiring train layouts with scores of hidden Santas to search for (at the Choo Choo Barn in Strasburg), and thrilling rides on actual trains that have been decked out for the season!
The Strasburg Rail Road has several Christmas Trains to delight kids of all ages. A ride with Santa is in store on Santa’s Paradise Express. Or, celebrate the Christmas Eve classic story aboard The Night Before Christmas Train, which can be combined with a delicious feast as an add-on to your ticket.
Meet the Ghosts of Christmas Past
Not really ghosts, but living historians revive the past at places like Wheatland, Rock Ford, Landis Valley, and the Ephrata Cloister for all to enjoy. Learn about Christmas traditions of the 18th through the 20th centuries at the diverse array of historical attractions in and around Lancaster.
Yuletide at Wheatland is a local favorite, as our nation’s 15th President James Buchanan’s Lancaster mansion is festively decorated to represent holidays from the mid-19th century through the 1920s. Costumed tour guides take visitors through various rooms of the house and share stories of splendid holiday celebrations past.
Another grand Lancaster house, Rock Ford Plantation, the 18th century home of Revolutionary War General Edward Hand, celebrates yuletide with both daylight and candlelight tours just after Christmas Day. See reenactors playing period-appropriate musical instruments and observe festively set tables and even dancing during the candlelight tours!
While visiting grand homes offers one version of holiday celebrations throughout history, Lancaster County’s less “fancy” folks had different holiday traditions that are equally fascinating. Visiting Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum or the Ephrata Cloister during December lends views into how Pennsylvania German farmers and a unique religious sect would have marked Christmas and New Year’s.
Visit with Santa
It may go without saying, but there are lots of opportunities to meet with, dine with, and even “scoot” with the Jolly Old Elf himself in Lancaster County! While Santa Claus is scheduled to make appearances at many of the attractions we’ve already talked about, you’ll find that the man in red is the main draw at a few very special locations. At the Turkey Hill Experience in Columbia, kids can share ice cream with Santa. Or, head back to Kitchen Kettle Village to enjoy breakfast with Santa and Yummie the gingerbread man at The Kettle Café.
Want to have fun with Santa in a whole new way? Those with a valid driver’s license (needed to drive – passengers do not need to be licensed) can join him on a fun “scoot” through Amish country. It’s true! According to Strasburg Scooters, Santa has traded his sleigh for a 50cc Scoot Coupe, which he’ll use to lead a fun tour around quaint back roads in search of something called “Amish Christmas Lights.” Get ready for a unique experience full of fun and photo opportunities!
Don’t forget that a visit to Lancaster County at any point in the year will surely show you why the area is the official best place to retire in the USA. Fun is just around almost every corner, no matter the season!
And, if you’re looking for a fantastic place to call home in retirement, you’ll want to visit our local independent retirement communities this holiday season to see festive campus lighting and learn more about all we do to celebrate “the most wonderful time of the year.”