15 Best Things to Do in Pennsylvania
There are so many exciting ways to experience Pennsylvania. While the state is predominantly known for its ties to important historical landmarks, like the Gettysburg Battlefield and Independence Hall, those are just the beginning of things to see and do in the Keystone State.
Adventure seekers can explore the vast outdoors, from hiking in one of Pennsylvania's national and state parks to biking, kayaking, or tackling class IV rapids on the Youghiogheny River. The city scenes are fun to enjoy in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where you can take in ballgames and sightseeing tours, as well as visit famous and quirky museums.
If you are in search of quiet serenity for a weekend getaway, you will appreciate the hundreds of miles of rural roads and scenic byways that meander through small towns and Amish County, with views of century-old covered bridges and the scenic countryside.
Start planning your visit with our list of the top things to do in Pennsylvania.
1. Tour a Civil War Battleground at Gettysburg National Military Park
One of the top reasons that people visit Pennsylvania is for its historical landmarks, like the Gettysburg National Military Park. The Gettysburg Battlefield is a profound place to visit given its importance as a major turning point of the Civil War during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Taking a tour with a ranger-led program is a good way to experience the highlights of Gettysburg and find out more in-depth history about the site. There are free hikes that offer an overview of the battle, and interactive tours where you can become a part of living history, with props that help reenact specific moments.
The best time to visit is from April to October and during the weekends, when living history actors have encampments on the battlefield that you can tour along with demonstrations of Civil War artillery.
Address: 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm
2. Walk the Eerie Halls of Eastern State Penitentiary
The rustic and mysterious appeal of Eastern State Penitentiary is what makes it such a unique experience in Pennsylvania. This historic and notorious Philadelphia prison is a thrilling place to visit for its history; architecture; and stories about former inmates, including Al Capone.
The prison was built in 1829 and closed in 1971. Time seems to stand still inside the haunting interior of the prison, now defined by its crumbling cell blocks and long mysterious corridors with rusted gates.
Tours through the prison reveal a history about law enforcement reform and the corrections facilities as they operated in the 1800s through the present day. You can take a daytime tour, or for the brave, a nighttime tour.
Address: 2027 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Official site: www.easternstate.org
3. Stand in the Birthplace of American Freedom
A visit to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia offers a unique and profound insight into America's independence. There are several locations to visit in Independence National Historical Park, making for a fun and educational day.
Start at Independence Hall and tour the location where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Make your way to the Great Essentials Exhibit in the West Wing, where you can see the U.S. Constitution and other documents on display.
Congress Hall is another building in the park worth visiting, as it served as the congressional home from 1790 to 1800, when Philadelphia was temporarily the capital of the United States. Make your way to the Liberty Bell Center and the Benjamin Franklin Museum to round out your visit.
Address: 143 S. 3rd Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Official site: www.nps.gov/inde/index.htm
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Philadelphia: Best Areas & Hotels
4. Drive the Backroads in Amish Country
The rolling Pennsylvania countryside is peaceful and picturesque, especially in Amish Country. Fill the car with gas and head out to the quiet roads that take you through Lancaster County, where you will be among the oldest Amish settlement in the United States.
Take a meandering scenic drive past the working farm fields, traditional Amish homes, clothes drying on the line, and the horse and buggies that are sharing the road. Enjoy the slower pace of life in this tranquil part of Pennsylvania.
You can make stops to places like the Lancaster Central Market or the Amish Farm and House for an immersive way to learn more about this preserved culture. Round out your visit in Amish Country with a stop in Strasburg for a 45-minute ride on the Strasburg Rail Road, the oldest operating railroad in the United States.
5. Experience the Architectural Greatness of Frank Lloyd Wright
The famous Fallingwater home is one of two architectural wonders designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that are tucked away in the forests of southwestern Pennsylvania. Take a tour of Fallingwater in the Laurel Highlands to experience the genius of his architecture, which incorporates the natural beauty of the outdoors into the design of the home.
Inside the home see the intricacies of how every element has a purpose: the open floor plan, art collections, and the revered cantilevered design over the waterfall. You can plan lunch at the Fallingwater Café by reserving an outdoor table, or take a lunch to-go.
Continue your Frank Lloyd Wright excursion by heading to Kentuck Knob, which is less than seven miles away. This National Historic Landmark demonstrates Wright's Usonian architecture, characterized by its hexagon shape. The home blends into the mountainside and is constructed out of native materials like sandstone.
For a truly unique experience, you can plan a Frank Lloyd overnight at Polymath Park and stay in a Frank Lloyd Wright home with dinner at the Tree Tops restaurant.
Address: 1491 Mill Run Road, Mill Run, Pennsylvania
Official site: www.fallingwater.org
6. Ride the Rapids on the Yough
Experience the thrill of whitewater rafting on the Youghiogheny River, or the Yough, as the locals refer to it. The river runs through Ohiopyle State Park, one of the state's largest and a favorite among outdoor enthusiasts.
First-timers to rafting should opt for the Middle Yough which is a nine-mile section with mild rapids. The Lower Yough is ideal for beginners and intermediate rafters, or kayakers who want to tackle the 7.5-mile section of class III and IV rapids.
Experienced rafters will enjoy the challenge of the Upper Yough, which is ready to greet you with class IV and V rapids. There are several outfitters on the river that offer guided rafting and kayaking.
Those who want to kayak the rapids independently should head to The Loop, which is a one-mile circular section of rapids, making it easy to launch and take watercraft out of the water.
7. Find Your Green Thumb at the Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens
The Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh has been inspiring gardeners for more than 125 years. The stunning facility has more than 15 acres of gardens and experiences that take you through a range of landscapes and environments.
The centerpiece of the conservatory is the stunning glasshouse, which features a palm court with Dale Chihuly glass creations; the Serpentine Room, with exhibits that change throughout the year; and a Desert Room with many varieties of cacti.
There is a lot to explore, so be sure to spend some time in the outdoor gardens to see the unique displays, like the rooftop edible garden with herbs and vegetables.
This complex is considered one of the greenest destinations in the world for its efforts in promoting and practicing sustainable landscapes. You can take a guided or self-guided tour, then stop for a snack at the café. There is even a garden center, where you can buy plants to take home and test your own green thumb.
Address: One Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Official site: www.phipps.conservatory.org
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Pittsburgh: Best Areas & Hotels
8. Get a Chocolate Fix in Hershey
You will want to pack your sweet tooth and breathe deep in Hershey, where everything from the stories and tourist attractions to the lampposts on the streets revolve around the decadence and joy of chocolate.
Take a ride on the Hershey Trolley Works for the best way to get the lay of the land in this small Pennsylvania town. This is an entertaining and educational way to learn about the history of Milton Hershey, the town, and the chocolate brand that made it famous.
Plan some time to visit the interactive Hershey Story Museum, where you can pull back the wrappers on Hershey's most iconic chocolate bars, find out the history of each, enjoy delicious samples, and make your own creations in the Chocolate Lab.
The Hersheypark is a favorite with kids and families, offering rides and entertainment, and Hershey Gardens is a fragrant botanical experience that has been blooming for more than 80 years.
9. Drive through Historic Covered Bridges
There are more than 200 covered bridges in Pennsylvania, making for a fun self-guided exploration through the state. More than half of Pennsylvania's counties have them, meaning that planning a road trip around discovering these historic and picturesque bridges would make for an exciting Pennsylvania getaway.
Lancaster County has 29 covered bridges, the greatest concentration of them in the state. Bucks County is credited with being the birthplace of the covered bridge and has 12 remaining. Somerset County in southwest Pennsylvania has approximately 10 covered bridges remaining.
All the covered bridges are more than 100 years old. They are located near creeks and oftentimes lovely waterfalls, making for stunning photographs.
10. Hit the Beach at Presque Isle State Park
A sandy beach may not come to mind when you think of Pennsylvania, but Presque Isle State Park has the state's only surf swimming beach, which is a favorite summer spot for visitors. The shoreline of Lake Erie at the state park beach is great for swimming, outdoor water sports and recreation.
There are multiple beaches to enjoy at the park. Each features a different view and experience, and most have restrooms, shelters, and changing areas. Some of the beaches also have concessions.
Besides swimming, Presque Isle State Park beaches are popular for surfing; kite flying; and for their colorful sea glass, considered the seashells of the Great Lakes. A day at the park gives you access to other things to do, like hiking, fishing, and birding.
Address: 301 Peninsula Drive, Erie, Pennsylvania
11. Enjoy the View from the Duquesne Incline
One of the most exciting things to do in Pittsburgh is take a ride up to Mount Washington on the Duquesne Incline for the best panoramic view of the city. The cable car was built in 1877 and still makes daily trips up and down the incline, taking visitors to one of the most popular neighborhoods in the city.
Admire the restored wooden cable car as you ride 400 feet up on one of the only remaining inclines in the United States. You can find out more about it at the upper incline station, which houses information and artifacts important to Pennsylvania's history.
After you take in the unobstructed views of Pittsburgh, you can stroll around the Mt. Washington neighborhood to sample delicious fare from locally owned restaurants and bakeries, or hike on the trails at Emerald View Park.
Address: 1197 W. Carson Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Official site: http://www.duquesneincline.org
12. Philadelphia Museum of Art
Even if you have never been to Philadelphia, you probably recognize the exterior of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has been featured in hit films like "Rocky." What the museum has inside is just as spectacular. The museum draws visitors from around the world because of its diverse collections.
Some of the popular galleries feature post-Impressionist art by Manet, Cézanne, and Renoir; American art; fashion; and a sculpture garden. There are even galleries dedicated to unique works of art, like horse armor and battle helmets.
If you do not know where to start, take a guided tour that will take you to the highlights of the museum. End your visit with lunch at the museum's Stir Restaurant, which serves seasonal creations using locally sourced ingredients.
Address: 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Official site: www.philamuseum.org
13. Stargazing at Cherry Springs State Park
Pack your telescope, chairs, and blankets, and head to one of the darkest night skies in the United States at Cherry Springs State Park for spectacular stargazing. The high elevation of the park, at 2,300 feet, and the limited surrounding light makes it a popular spot to see the Milky Way.
Novice stargazers can set up for the evening at the Night Sky Public Viewing Area, which has a parking lot, walkways, and sky maps with information about what to spot in the dark skies. Experienced stargazers will want to look into the Overnight Astronomy Observation Field (registration required).
Due to the specific nature of stargazing, you will want to review the requirements for visiting, including the restriction on white lights and advice for clothing and equipment to make the most of this spectacular nighttime experience.
Address: 4639 Cherry Springs Road, Coudersport, Pennsylvania
14. Kinzua Bridge
Adventure seekers will enjoy visiting the unusual Kinzua Bridge in Kinzua Bridge State Park. The truncated railroad bridge is one of the most fascinating places to see in the Pennsylvania Wilds region.
At one time, the Kinzua Bridge was the longest and highest railroad bridge in the world at more than 2,000 feet long and over 300 feet tall. It was partially destroyed by a tornado in 2003, but its damaged appearance adds to its uniqueness.
Today, the bridge is enjoyed by visitors, who can trek out 600 feet on the skywalk overlooking the park and the dramatic Kinzua Gorge. If you have a fear of heights, you can enjoy the towering Kinzua Bridge from the ground, and walk on some of the trails throughout the park.
Address: 296 Viaduct Road, Kane, Pennsylvania
15. Pay Respects at Bicycle Heaven
Do you ever wonder where discarded bikes find a final resting place? Many of them end up at Bicycle Heaven in Pittsburgh. This quirky and fun museum has more than 6,000 bicycles from every era, along with collectors' items and rare bikes like the Bowden Spacelander, which was the first fiberglass bike ever made.
Some famous bikes that have been featured in movies live in the museum, including the bike from Pee-wee's Big Adventure. This is also the place to visit to find old bicycle parts and accessories. There is an extensive inventory of vintage pedals, crash rails, baskets, and bells that conjure up childhood nostalgia. Banana seat, anyone?
Address: 1800 Preble Ave., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Official site: https://www.bicycleheaven.org/