hershey gardens, harrisburg - day trip from philadelphia

From murals to music to roast pork, there’s plenty for the budget-conscious traveler to enjoy in Philadelphia. But in case you’re in town for an extended visit, we encourage you to hop on a train or get behind the wheel for a some nearby exploration. Here are three great day trips under a two-hour drive, whether you love art or history, tapas or beer:


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For the Art Lover: Downtown Lancaster
80 miles from Philadelphia

This part of Pennsylvania is known for its Amish community, and there are plenty of opportunities to interract, from Amish-run B&Bs like Beacon Hollow Farm to roving mud sales featuring Amish-made crafts, antiques, baked goods, and even livestock. Many don’t realize, however, that this part of the state is a boon for art lovers. Who would have guessed that a 20-square-block area would encompass a 160-year-old theater, a symphony orchestra, a performing arts center hosting everything from film festivals to chamber music, and not one but three art museums? You can also make a day out of tracking down a series of poetry-themed public art installations around town, commissioned by Poetry Paths and created by local artists.


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When it’s time to fuel up, try the chicken pie with smoked tomato jam at Aussie & The Fox ($18). And no meal at Penn Square Grille is complete without a small plate of thick-cut bacon ($9). Other hotspots include the Federal Taphouse, where thirsty travelers can choose from 100 beers on tap (from $5), and the Miesse Chocolate Factory, which offers a half-hour tour and samples for just $5. For a taste of the area’s industrial history, stop by the converted Cork Factory Hotel and have a meal at the on-site restaurant, The Cork & Cap (entrees for $9 at lunch and $18 for dinner). 

For Foodies & History Buffs: Indie Harrisburg
110 miles from Philadelphia

Once the sole turf of Penn State coeds, Harrisburg is now populated by professionals who frequent the indie eateries in town. In the absence of big restaurant chains, restaurants like Char’s at Tracy Mansion, housed in an elegant 1913 home, and Home 231, dedicated to serving foods produced by small regional farmers, bring lots of character and creative flavors to the table (dinner entrees from $29 and $19 respectively). Other local favorites include Mangia Qui, known for Mediterranean fare (from$9) and creative cocktails (from $10) in a hip atmosphere. Broad Street Market — a 154-year-old market that brings together the best of organic produce, local meat, and baked goods — isn’t the prettiest, but it’s where the locals shop to avoid higher supermarket prices. Need a drink? The Appalachian Brewing Company, one of the largest microbreweries in the nation, serves up classic and seasonal craft beers like Chocolate Avenue and Rutty Buck Pumpkin Ale, alongside a selection of housemade sodas (flight of eight samples for $10.).

For history buffs, where better to geek out than the State Capitol, a grand institution of sweeping staircases, colorful frescos, and gilded moldings? Right next door, the State Museum of Pennsylvania ($5) houses an impressive collection of four million artifacts, paintings, and dioramas that explore definitive moments in the state’s heritage, like the colonial period and the industrial era, as well as the region’s natural, geological resources. Delve even further into history at The National Civil War Museum, which prides itself on giving equal attention to both Union and Confederate narratives.

For the Sweet Tooth: Grown-Up Hershey
95 miles from Philadelphia

Families come from near and far to visit the chocolate-themed amusement park during vacation months, but there are plenty of ways for grown-up sweet tooths to enjoy the area. It’s a bit of a splurge, but The Spa At The Hotel Hershey offers respite for true chocoholics. Retreat into the hotel’s Moorish chambers for treatments like the foaming chocolate milk bath, a coconut sugar scrub with chocolate fondue wrap, or a cocoa bean husk exfoliation. The spa’s signature menu also features rose-, Cuban-, and farm-themed treatments, all inspired by different elements of Hershey’s heritage. (From $120 for 50-min treatments.) The Hershey Gardens, with 23 acres and 11 themed gardens of blooms and butterflies, are an immediate mood-lifter. Or if retail is your preferred mode of therapy, spend an afternoon at Tanger Outlets, which houses the likes of J. Crew and Banana Republic Factore Store.

Of course, there’s more to the region than sugar and shopping. Just down the road from Hershey Park, Troegs Brewing Company has combined the best of traditional English and new American techniques to produce 11 delicious beers. The best way to enjoy them? At a tasting café, which boasts a “snack menu” worthy of any full-service eatery — think pork rinds with rhubarb sweet and sour sauce ($5), fried oyster sandwiches ($12), smoked salmon pupusas ($14), and duck confit ($14). For more libations, venture out to the Hershey Harrisburg Wine Country, which features 15 award-winning, family-owned wineries.

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