You probably know the chocolate-inspired town of Hershey is located in Pennsylvania, and you might know a thing or two about Pennsylvania Amish Country. But did you know you can see Albert Einstein’s brain on display in Philadelphia, or that you can visit an International Dark Sky Park in the northern part of the state?
Better still, many of the best things to do in Pennsylvania are free. It doesn’t cost anything to listen to sonorous rocks ring with the strike of a hammer in Bucks County, attend the nation’s largest free-admission music festival in Bethlehem or explore the whimsy of Randyland in Pittsburgh.
Cue the “Rocky” theme song and read on to discover the most fun things to do in Pennsylvania.
The “Rocky” Statue and Steps
(J. Smith/Courtesy of Visit Philadelphia)
Get your picture with the “Rocky” statue, originally created for a scene in “Rocky III,” before lacing up and running the 72 stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, just like Rocky Balboa did in the first film. Once you get to the top, turn around and catch your breath while you take in the views of Independence Mall in Center City. If you really want to go the distance, sign up for the Rocky Run, which includes a 5K, 10K, and the 13.1 Italian Stallion Challenge hosted in the city each fall.
(Courtesy of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts)
Milton S. Hershey established his famous chocolate company in 1894, but he didn’t stop there. He used his fortune to build Hersheypark, ZooAmerica, The Hotel Hershey and its chocolate-themed spa, Milton Hershey School for underprivileged children, and other local attractions. (It’s no wonder the town is named for him.) While you can’t tour the original chocolate factory, you can learn about it on a free indoor ride – in a Hershey’s Kiss-shaped car – at Hershey’s Chocolate World or on a visit to The Hershey Story museum.
There’s more to Hershey than chocolate, though – that’s why it’s one of the best places to visit in Pennsylvania. See a concert at Hersheypark Stadium, try a falconry experience and sip craft beer at Tröegs Independent Brewing. There are so many things to do in Hershey that it’s worth a weekend (or more) to enjoy it all.
Explore Gettysburg National Military Park
(Courtesy of Gettysburg National Military Park)
In 1863, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War was fought in Gettysburg. Today, visitors can explore the storied battlefields at Gettysburg National Military Park via a variety of guided tours. Plan to spend a day or two here so you can explore the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, where you’ll find the impressive Gettysburg Cyclorama: a large oil-on-canvas painting that depicts the final Confederate assault, considered a turning point in the war. Be sure to also check out the newly opened World War II American Experience museum, among other local attractions.
(Courtesy of Jin Wu)
In 1995, a man named Randy Gilman purchased a series of rundown buildings in the North Side of Pittsburgh and turned them into eye-popping art installations. Known as Randyland, the eclectic project has not only revamped the space but also helped to breathe new life into the area that surrounds it. The photo-worthy attraction is free to visit (though donations are welcomed), and Gilman himself will likely be on-site to greet you – Randyland is also his home.
Carnegie Science Museum
(Courtesy of Carnegie Science Center)
One of the most-visited attractions in Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Science Museum is especially fun for those interested in space exploration. Opened in late 2022, the exhibit “Mars: The Next Giant Leap” provides visitors with a realistic look at what life on this planet might look like while also covering important issues like sustainability and climate change. The adjacent Buhl Planetarium and Observatory is also a highlight, with a variety of shows and experiences that transport guests to outer space. Other exhibits and experiences at the Carnegie Science Museum include “Vikings: Warriors of the North Sea,” with more than 140 Viking artifacts; “Robot Hall of Fame”; and “Bricksburgh,” where kids of all ages will enjoy hands-on building fun.
There are three other Carnegie museums in Pittsburgh as well: the Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History and The Andy Warhol Museum.
The Andy Warhol Museum
(Courtesy of Jin Wu)
Andy Warhol’s famous artwork is on display throughout this five-floor museum in Pittsburgh, the late artist’s hometown. Expect to see his famous consumer product paintings of Campbell’s soup cans and Coke; celebrity portraits including Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe; and even work from Warhol’s mother, Julia Warhola, who also had an eye for art.
The museum also features rotating exhibits and special events including art workshops for kids and theater performances. Previous patrons say you’ll learn a lot of little-known facts about Warhol during your visit. For instance, did you know he was a collector, putting together more than 600 time capsules in the latter part of his life?
Eat all you can at a smorgasbord
Eating at Shady Maple Smorgasbord is a rite of passage in Pennsylvania. Located in the heart of Amish Country, this all-you-can-eat buffet offers a variety of hearty options, including meat-carving stations and an extensive selection of desserts. Pennsylvanians say the restaurant lives up to the hype, and that even though there’s often a wait – particularly on weekends – it doesn’t take long to get in. Perhaps less legendary but equally delicious is the nearby Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant & Smorgasbord, also in Lancaster County.
(Courtesy of Dutch Wonderland)
If you have young kids, a visit to Dutch Wonderland should be on your list of things to do in Pennsylvania. This “Kingdom for Kids” became an instant classic when it opened in 1963, offering local families a place to play together. Today it offers more than two dozen year-round attractions, with rides and shows geared toward families with children ages 12 and younger. Located in Lancaster, the park offers (tame) roller coasters, a water play area, parades and dining venues. Kids especially dig Exploration Island, where they encounter 20-plus lifelike dinosaurs. Sixty years since its opening, the amusement park continues to receive rave reviews from families in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond.
The Cartoon Network Hotel
(Courtesy of The Cartoon Network Hotel)
The one-of-a-kind Cartoon Network Hotel is located right next to Dutch Wonderland and within easy striking distance of other Lancaster attractions. The playful hotel features themed guest rooms and suites including a Powerpuff Girls Dream Suite. Suites sleep six or eight people and are equipped with kitchenettes, dining areas and living spaces, while guest rooms can accommodate up to two or four people (depending which one you choose). The hotel is also home to a restaurant, a coffee shop and an arcade – plus an indoor pool and an outdoor pool with a hot tub, slide, splash pad and concessions. Recent guests say their groups – especially the kids – loved the hotel.
(J. Fusco/Courtesy of Visit Philadelphia)
At Independence Hall in Philadelphia, you can take a free guided tour to stand in the room where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed. You can also see surviving copies of both documents at the “Great Essentials” exhibit, take a “bell-fie” with the famous Liberty Bell, and get the same cancellation on your postal stamp that Ben Franklin used when he was postmaster.
Stroll through Valley Forge National Historical Park
During the Revolutionary War, George Washington’s Continental Army camped out in Valley Forge, where they rested, trained and emerged a fighting force. The former encampment, now known as Valley Forge National Historic Park, features several historic monuments and memorials, as well as original buildings, including Washington’s Headquarters, from that time. Take a ranger-led tour of the park or explore on your own – there are myriad hiking and biking trails and places to enjoy a picnic lunch.
Eastern State Penitentiary
(M. Fischetti/Courtesy of Visit Philadelphia)
This hauntingly abandoned prison-turned-attraction is a must-visit in Philadelphia. Considered the world’s first true penitentiary (a prison for those convicted of serious crimes), Eastern State Penitentiary remains a Gothic masterpiece, with vaulted, sky-lit cells and a Jewish synagogue. Its most notorious inmate, Al Capone, spent his first prison sentence here, and his cell is one of the prison’s many interesting exhibits. Past visitors say the Eastern State Penitentiary is better than Alcatraz in San Francisco. Visit at Halloween for an extra spooky experience.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
(J. Fusco/Courtesy of Visit Philadelphia)
Now an award-winning artist, Isaiah Zagar started mosaicking as a form of therapy to cope with mental struggles in his late 20s. His project, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, aims to heal and inspire others through the power of art. Spend an afternoon getting lost in this whimsical maze of mosaics and sculptures. You can explore on your own, or opt for a guided tour such as this South Philly Markets, Mosaics, Magic Tour. No matter how you experience the Magic Gardens, you won’t be disappointed.
Like other funiculars constructed in the 19th century, the Duquesne Incline (along with its sister, the Monongahela Incline) was built to transport cargo and people up and down Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington in the 1800s. Today it’s still used as a mode of transportation, but is more so a popular tourist attraction and ride, especially since it affords some of the best views of Pittsburgh’s skyline, including the confluence of three rivers. The view is especially breathtaking at night.
Otherwise known as the “Niagara of Pennsylvania,” Bushkill Falls encompasses 300 breathtaking acres in the Pocono Mountains. Wooded trails, bridges and walkways take visitors past eight cascading waterfalls; on the roughly 2-mile Red Trail, you can see all of the waterfalls at once. Bushkill Falls also offers play areas, fishing opportunities and dining options, and it’s open April to November, weather permitting. As you’re planning your visit, note that there are a lot of stairs to navigate.
Hit the rocks at Ringing Rocks County Park
(Courtesy of Visit Bucks County)
Bring a hammer or two to Ringing Rocks County Park in Upper Black Eddy. When struck, the park’s boulders ring like a bell. It’s unclear why the sonorous rocks (their technical name) ring, though one geologist theory is that the rocks were under high pressure when they formed, leaving them resistant to breakage. Located in Bucks County, Ringing Rocks County Park is a scenic spot to go for a hike or bike ride (and see the area’s largest waterfall) before enjoying a picnic lunch. Wear sturdy shoes for your visit since you’ll be climbing across a field of rocks.
(Courtesy of Sesame Place)
The first “Sesame Street”-themed park in the U.S. is located in Langhorne, about 25 miles northeast of Philly, and features pint-sized rides like Big Bird’s Tour Bus, the Flying Cookie Jars and the Sunny Day Carousel. There are also water attractions, live shows, parades and character meet-and-greet experiences to enjoy (including dining with Elmo). Visit during one of the park’s seasonal events, such as The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular or A Very Furry Christmas Celebration, for a special experience. Park patrons recommend visiting later in the day to avoid long lines.
Catch a show at the Bucks County Playhouse
(Courtesy of Bucks County Playhouse)
Just 70 miles southwest of New York City, the Bucks County Playhouse hosts a variety of musicals and plays. Broadway greats including Grace Kelly, Dick Van Dyke, Bob Fosse, Liza Minelli and Audra McDonald have all performed on its stage. Book tickets to an upcoming show and enjoy dinner at the on-site Deck Restaurant and Bar or another one of New Hope’s lovely waterfront restaurants along the Delaware River. The charming town of New Hope alone is worth a visit, especially for those seeking a romantic getaway in Pennsylvania.
Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle
(Courtesy of Kevin Crawford Imagery LLC)
Once the home of archaeologist and tile maker Henry Chapman Mercer, Fonthill isn’t a true castle, but it certainly resembles one. Take a guided tour to see it for yourself, and be sure to look for “Rollo’s stairs,” where Mercer’s beloved dog, Rollo, left his paw prints in wet concrete during construction. A short drive from Fonthill, the Mercer Museum (located at 84 S. Pine St. in Doylestown) is a Smithsonian affiliate with some 50,000 artifacts, most of which are associated with early American trades and crafts.
The Franklin Institute
(J. Fusco/Courtesy of Visit Philadelphia)
This Philadelphia museum honors Benjamin Franklin’s work as a scientist and inventor through interactive exhibits, both permanent and rotating. Noteworthy exhibits at the Franklin Institute include “Electricity,” where you can insulate yourself from a static charge; “Changing Earth,” where you can deliver a weather forecast on TV; and the visitor-favorite “Giant Heart,” where you can climb inside a life-size beating heart. The museum continually receives rave reviews for being fun for all ages.
Longwood Gardens encompasses more than 1,000 acres in Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Creek Valley, with something new and beautiful to explore each season. At Christmas – which many people agree is the best time to visit – you can ogle thousands of poinsettias and other pretty flowers while listening to holiday tunes, stroll through a half-million lights, gather around a fire pit, and just enjoy the magic of the season. Longwood Gardens also hosts theater performances, concerts, classes, workshops and themed events throughout the year. A full-service restaurant, a cafe and a beer garden are also available on-site.
Honor history at the Flight 93 National Memorial
During the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, 40 people lost their lives when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Somerset County, about 75 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Shortly after the flight departed Newark, New Jersey, for San Francisco, four Al Qaeda hijackers took control of the cockpit with intentions to crash the plane in Washington, D.C. Aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the crew and passengers banded together to divert the plane, potentially saving thousands of lives. The plane was successfully diverted from D.C. but crashed in Pennsylvania instead, killing everyone onboard.
The brave crew and passengers are now honored at the Flight 93 National Memorial, where the Tower of Voices, a 93-foot-tall musical instrument, rings with 40 wind chimes representing each crew member and passenger. While the memorial can’t be labeled “fun” like the rest of the recommendations on this list, visiting the historic site is an essential experience in Pennsylvania.
Enjoy a beach day at Presque Isle State Park
If you’re looking for a beach in Pennsylvania, head to Presque Isle State Park, a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula on Lake Erie. Presque Isle has 13 beaches and as such is a popular spot for swimming. It’s also popular for fishing and boating (including boating tours), as well as land-based activities such as biking and hiking. If you enjoy bird-watching, be on the lookout for endangered, threatened or rare bird species, which are known to migrate to this area. Visitors comment that the park is clean and the views are spectacular.
(Christopher Little/Courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy)
Frank Lloyd Wright’s widely acclaimed Fallingwater house is located in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. Designed for the Kaufmann family (owners of the largest department store in nearby Pittsburgh) in 1935, the architectural masterpiece is tucked into the woods atop a cascading waterfall, beautifully marrying art and nature. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is open for a variety of tours, including guided architectural tours and forest-to-table dinners. Visitors agree Fallingwater is a must-visit in Pennsylvania, even if you don’t know much about architecture or have an interest in it.
Stargaze in Cherry Springs State Park
Pack a red light flashlight and prepare to see the night sky as you’ve (likely) never seen it on the East Coast. Located in Potter County, Cherry Springs State Park is one of the darkest destinations on the Eastern Seaboard, with very little light pollution. A Dark Sky Park, Cherry Springs affords visitors the rare opportunity to see constellations, asteroids and more with the naked eye. You might even spot the northern lights, though it’s less likely.
The best (and essentially only) way to experience Cherry Springs State Park is by camping overnight. Keep in mind that there are just 30 campsites on-site, so advance reservations are a must. Travelers rave about their experiences at Cherry Springs and recommend taking advantage of the park’s stargazing programs, which include nightscape photo workshops and private guided star tours. For the clearest views, plan your visit between April and October.
Betsy Ross House
(George Widman Photography/Courtesy of Visit Philadelphia)
It’s never been confirmed that Betsy Ross created the first American flag. However, she remains the person most widely credited with sewing the first stars and stripes inside her tiny Philadelphia home in 1777. Today visitors can visit the Betsy Ross House to learn who the late upholsterer, businesswoman and patriot was; travelers can also see her burial plot here. If you’re planning a visit with children, inquire about the audio tours for kids, which feature a series of mysteries to solve. Previous visitors say the actors, including “Betsy” herself, and other staff are wonderful.
Elfreth’s Alley Museum
(R. Kennedy/Courtesy of Visit Philadelphia)
After you tour the Betsy Ross House, take a short walk to the Elfreth’s Alley, the nation’s oldest continually inhabited residential street. While many people pass through for photos, Elfreth’s Alley also offers a small museum (at house numbers 124 and 126), where you can learn about the artisans and tradespeople who helped build our country. If you’re interested in guided tours of Elfreth’s Alley, the Betsy Ross House and the Old City, consider the Old City Historic Walking Tour or the Historic and Revolutionary Philadelphia Tour.
Hike through Ricketts Glen State Park
If you enjoy hiking, Ricketts Glen State Park should be on your list of things to do in Pennsylvania. The park has 22 named waterfalls – the largest of which stands 94 feet tall – along its aptly named Falls Trail. The trail runs 7.2 miles in total, so grab your dog (the park is pet-friendly), pack a picnic lunch and plan to spend a whole day here. Afterward, retreat to one of the park’s tent or cabin campsites. It’s best to wear sturdy sneakers or hiking shoes since the trails are admittedly difficult in some areas. For a unique experience, consider a guided ice hiking tour in the winter months.
Museum of the American Revolution
(J. Fusco/Courtesy of Visit Philadelphia)
The Museum of the American Revolution tells the story of our nation’s founding through captivating and interactive exhibits that include “George Washington’s War Tent” and “Revolution Place,” where kids ages 5 to 12 can join the Continental Army and see what life was like at a military encampment. Rotating exhibits have included various versions of the first, 13-star American flag and an installment dedicated to Alexander Hamilton and his connections to Philadelphia. The museum’s newly unveiled special exhibit about James Forten, a Black founding father, is set to be on display through November 2023. Previous visitors appreciate the museum’s chronological path, adding that it’s one of their favorite museums in Philly.
(Courtesy of Woodloch Resort)
All-inclusive rates at Woodloch Resort include overnight accommodations; two or three meals daily, depending on your plan; and access to a plethora of amenities, activities and events, including seasonal festivals. At The Lodge, rates cover luxury accommodations, three gourmet meals per day, and access to all of the spa’s facilities, including hydrotherapy pools, fitness studios and more. Guests of Woodloch Resort are welcome to make reservations at the spa up to 14 days in advance.
Attend Musikfest for free
(Jesse Faatz Photography/Courtesy of DiscoverLehighValley.com)
Musikfest, the nation’s largest free-admission music festival, takes place in Bethlehem every August. Stroll throughout town to hear live music across a variety of genres during the 10-day event. Ticketed shows for big-name acts are available, too.
Just as good as the music is the food and drink, with favorites including “Aw Shucks” Roasted Corn: corn on the cob dipped in a vat of butter, doused in parmesan cheese and sprinkled with Aw Shucks, a seasoning blend of 13 herbs and spices (which you can purchase to take some home). You’ll also find a variety of local artisan vendors. What makes this festival even more special is that parts of it are hosted amid the famous SteelStacks (formerly Bethlehem Steel), an attraction in itself and a sight to behold, especially when lit up at night.
Koziar’s Christmas Village
Speaking of Christmas, Koziar’s Christmas Village is another iconic experience in Pennsylvania. Though visitors agree the family-owned park – first opened in 1948 – is a bit outdated, they maintain that it’s a magical place for families. Outdoor and indoor holiday light displays include a toy train attraction that’s especially appealing to kids.
Plan to visit this attraction on a weeknight, as weekends see the most crowds (and thus it can be difficult to maneuver a stroller). Previous visitors also recommend arriving at least 30 minutes prior to opening; otherwise, you’ll likely get stuck in a traffic line to the parking area. Koziar’s Christmas Village is open from early November through early January annually.
Dine in The Catacombs
(Courtesy of Bube’s Brewery)
Founded by German immigrant and brewer Alois Bube in 1876, Bube’s Brewery landed a spot on the map for its crisp, German-style lagers, a popular style of beer during this era. Today, it’s known for a variety of beers plus several dining venues including The Catacombs, an underground, completely candlelit restaurant. Previous patrons say the food is good and the service even better. Bube’s Brewery is located in Mount Joy, about 15 miles northwest of Lancaster.
The Mütter Museum
(J. Fusco/Courtesy of Visit Philadelphia)
Operated by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, The Mütter Museum houses tens of thousands of anatomical and pathological specimens from dead people. Permanent exhibits include Albert Einstein’s brain, the conjoined liver of Siamese twins and an entire display of wet specimens, including tumors and cysts. Visitors agree this one-of-a-kind museum is a must-visit when in Philadelphia. Due to the nature of the exhibits, it is recommended for visitors ages 10 and up.
Browse the King of Prussia mall
(Courtesy of Simon)
If you enjoy shopping, you’ll love King of Prussia – one of the largest shopping malls in the U.S. Stretching across 2.8 million square feet of space, the King of Prussia mall features more than 450 stores, from luxury to budget finds, plus a wide variety of restaurants, from grab-and-go options to fine dining. King of Prussia is located about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center
(Courtesy of Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center)
Of course, the ultimate experience in Punxsutawney is to witness the groundhog make his annual weather prediction on Feb. 2. But if you can’t be there for the famous event, you can still visit the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center, which is geared toward kids, according to reviews. You can also stop by Gobbler’s Knob, where Phil takes the stage every year. Punxsutawney is a small town in the Pennsylvania Wilds, about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
Why Trust U.S. News Travel
Amanda Norcross is a native and resident of Pennsylvania. She grew up near the Pocono Mountains, went to college in Philadelphia and currently resides in Bucks County. Norcross used her personal experiences, along with those of friends and family who live in PA, to put together these recommendations.