When visiting Lancaster, Pennsylvania, you will most likely share the road with the Amish and their horses and buggies. You will see these people in the neighborhoods, at the bank, and at the store. You will visit their bakeries for delicious baked goods. But will you take the time to learn more about their unique lifestyle?
Lancaster, located in southeastern central Pennsylvania, is about an hour east of Harrisburg, the state capital. Lancaster is known for delicious Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, professional shows, shopping, and the Amish lifestyle.
I visited Lancaster several times before I made a point to learn more about the Amish lifestyle. I usually visited the area to take in a show or browse The Shops at Rockvale. When I took the time to learn more about the Amish, I found that I had subscribed to several mistaken ideas about them.
The best way to learn is to take an authentic Amish tour to immerse yourself in the culture.
On my most recent visit to Lancaster, I enjoyed a tour sponsored by The Amish Farm and Home. The deluxe tour I took consisted of several tours bundled together. Each of the tours can also be purchased separately.
The Amish Farm and House and AAA Buggy Rides provided free admission. All opinions remain my own.
1. Amish House Tour
For the house tour, we were in a group of about 10 people -- just the right size for fitting into some of the smaller rooms. Our guide for this tour was very knowledgeable about the Amish lifestyle and answered our questions as we toured a home where the Amish used to live.
The house on the tour was similar to what I had envisioned. The Amish do not use a lot of decorations, and the walls are mostly bare except for useful items such as a coat or hat rack. Often there is a homemade quilt hanging on the wall. Some homes have hardwood floors.
The Amish do not use public electricity. They feel that it is a connection to the non-Amish world, and they wish to remain separate. Everything runs by other means, so when you go by most Amish homes, you will see a large propane gas tank outside. The Amish use propane, natural gas, or diesel generators to run their refrigerators, washers, and stoves.
Battery-powered lamps are used to generate light -- very few Amish still use candles for lighting. Not using public power keeps things they feel are negative influences -- televisions, the Internet, and radio -- out of their homes. They also believe that too many labor-saving devices may deprive children of character-building opportunities to work.
Their bedrooms are sparsely furnished. You might see a bed and dresser made of beautiful wood and wooden racks along the wall for clothes, and there might be a cradle or a sewing machine in the room as well. Because the Amish don't believe in acquiring too many worldly possessions, they don't need closet space. Most Amish homes have very little or no closet space.
The Amish dress modestly and simply. Amish women wear only solid colors and make most of their own dresses. These dresses have full skirts that provide full coverage. Aprons are typically worn over the dresses, and they also must be a solid color.
Amish women also wear head caps, or kapps. They begin wearing these when they enter their teen years. They wear white kapps to church and black ones at home. They generally wear bonnets over the kapps when they leave home to do business.
Everyone wears plain black shoes. Some Amish men may wear dark brown shoes while working in the fields. The shoes are plain, without logos or embellishments.
Men wear plain dark trousers, often black. They do not use zippers, so everything has buttons. They wear solid button-down shirts and suspenders. They are not permitted to wear belts, since they are considered a flashy accessory. In the summer, they usually wear straw hats.
The house tour lasted about 45 minutes. We had to climb one flight of stairs to access the bedrooms in the home.
2. Amish Farm Tour
You’ll need a map of the 15-acre farm to take the self-guided farm tour. There are barns, sheds, and several other outbuildings, and I saw horses, cows, pigs, goats, chickens, and sheep.
You will notice that there are no rubber tires on the wagons or other equipment. The Amish see rubber tires as something that could promote laziness and vanity, and so they are prohibited. The wheels on their equipment are made of steel.
The Amish have a strong work ethic. They feel that hard work is essential to serving their community and God.
The tobacco leaves drying in the barn stood out to me. The Amish grow it, and once a year they have a tobacco auction. People from all over the country come to Lancaster to buy their tobacco.
The other thing that surprised me was the fact that approximately 60 percent of the Amish no longer pursue farming. Many own businesses of some sort or work for another company. While farming is no longer their primary occupation, they still attempt to maintain aspects of the rural lifestyle they had before.
You can spend as much time as you’d like on the 15-acre farm. We spent about an hour and a half there. Most of the area is flat with some small uphill grades.
3. One-Room Schoolhouse Tour
As you walk the farm, you will come upon a one-room schoolhouse. You can go inside and look around. From grades one through eight, the Amish study in one-room schools. Ninth-grade students pursue apprenticeships. After that, they go to work full time. Teachers are usually young females who have completed the eighth grade but have no additional training.
A pot-bellied stove heats the one-room schoolhouse. A traditional blackboard is in the front of the classroom, and coat racks are in the back of the room. There is no running water, but there is a water pump on the front lawn.
This was a quick 15-minute visit.
4. Amish Business Tour
Next, we took a bus around the area to visit local Amish businesses, view some of the farmland, and learn a bit more about the Amish lifestyle. We watched an Amish farmer work a field full of crops. Horses pulled the machinery with steel wheels.
One thing you will notice about most Amish homes and businesses is that they are very well manicured. The grass is always trimmed, beautiful flowers have been planted, there are no weeds, and nothing is out of place. As you pass by the homes, you’ll usually see people outside working in the yards.
We stopped at the Bird-in-Hand Bake Shop. They had everything from homemade pies and whoopie pies to cakes, cookies, and homemade hamburger and hot dog rolls. The shop also sold some crafts and other Amish items.
Across the parking lot was a petting zoo. We walked over and enjoyed watching the goats.
Then we were off to an Amish quilt shop. Riehl’s Quilts and Crafts had every color quilt you could imagine, plus quilted pillows, wall hangings, and a variety of other items. Their quilts and crafts are homemade by more than 100 local family craft businesses.
Our guide was very knowledgeable about the area and the Amish lifestyle, providing tidbits of information throughout the tour. The tour lasted an hour and a half. You must be able to get on and off the bus to participate.
5. Horse And Buggy Ride
Another way to get a taste of the Amish lifestyle is to take a horse and buggy ride. This is an excellent option if you only have an hour or two in the area. We enjoyed a horse and buggy ride with AAA Buggy Rides.
Our tour started at the Kitchen Kettle Village. On the 55-minute tour of the magnificent backroads, we got to see Amish farmlands and cross an authentic covered bridge in the horse and buggy.
Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about Amish culture and the horses pulling our buggy.
There is one large step to get into the buggy; then, you are seated and enjoying the picturesque view as you ride.
6. Night At An Amish Farm
Another excellent way to experience the Amish lifestyle is to spend a night at an Amish farm. The Verdant View Farm in Paradise provides its guests a glimpse of Amish life on a working farm in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The rooms are in a farmhouse, and breakfast includes some Amish favorites. They also provide a farm tour on which you can milk a cow, play with goats, check out a chicken coop, and learn about homestead farming.
What To Know Before You Go
Driving in the area on the country roads, you will be sharing the road with Amish buggies. Please do not honk your horn and scare the horses. Wait until it is safe to pass, and then be sure to give the horses and buggy plenty of room.
Don't request to take a photo of Amish people. Most will be polite but refuse. The Amish do not believe in having their pictures taken except in certain situations. They will not look directly at the camera. Please be respectful of this.
Don't trespass onto private property because you want a closer look. Respect Amish property and their privacy. You can get a good sense of their lifestyle through the guided tours and attractions in the area.
The Amish are kind people, but they get tired of waving at visitors all day. Don't be offended if an Amish person doesn't wave back at you. They have work to do and frequently won’t stop to wave at the people passing by.