The Pennsylvania Dutch of Lancaster County is the oldest and second-largest Amish community in the United States, numbering about 37,000. The population has more than doubled in size in the past 20 years.
The largest Amish community in the U.S. is centered in Holmes County in the northwestern part of Ohio with a population of 59,000. The main concentrations of Amish are in Millersburg but areas like Berlin, Charm, Sugarcreek, Dover, Canton, and New Philadelphia are also populated with their ancestors. The Amish are also spread over Tuscarawas and Coshocton counties.
Recent figures also revealed that 42 percent of the Amish in the U.S. live in Ohio.
Another large concentration of the Amish is centered in Elkhart and Lagrange Counties in northwestern Indiana which includes Shipshewana, Wakarusa, Middlebury, Bristol, Goshen, and Nappanee. They are known for their involvement in RV manufacturing.
The story of the Pennsylvania Amish community dates back to the 16th century Reformation in Europe when the Anabaptist movement spurred the creation of three “plain” communities: the Amish, Mennonites, and Brethren. Although these spiritual groups have similarities, the Amish are the most conservative, emphasizing humility, family, community, and separation from the non-Amish world which includes a reluctance to adopt modern conveniences such as electricity.
The groups differ primarily in matters of dress, language, forms of worship, and the extent to which they allow modern technology and the forces of the “outside world” to impact their lives. Most Brethren and Mennonites dress much like their American neighbors. Other Mennonites, Brethren, and Amish Mennonites wear distinctive Amish clothing but may make use of “worldly” conveniences such as cars, electricity, and telephones. On the other hand, Old Order Mennonite and Old Order Amish groups are more restrictive in their views of modern technology with the Old Order Amish being the most conservative of Lancaster County’s “plain” groups.
These groups were part of the early Anabaptist movement in Europe which took place at the time of the Reformation. The Anabaptists believed that only adults who had confessed their faith should be baptized and that they should remain separate from the larger society. Many early Anabaptists were put to death as heretics by both Catholics and Protestants and many others fled to the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany. Here began the Amish tradition of farming and holding worship services in homes rather than churches.
In 1536, a young Catholic priest from Holland named Menno Simons joined the Anabaptist movement. His writings and leadership united many of the Anabaptist groups who were named Mennonites. In 1693, a Swiss bishop named Jacob Amman broke from the Mennonite church. His followers were called the “Amish.” Although the two groups have split several times, the Amish and Mennonite churches still share the same basic beliefs concerning baptism and basic Bible doctrines. The Amish and Mennonites both settled in Pennsylvania as part of William Penn’s “holy experiment” of religious tolerance. The first sizable group of Amish arrived in Lancaster County in the 1720s and ’30s.
Arriving in Amish Country allows you to step back in time to enjoy a slower, more peaceful pace—one where the horse and buggy remain a primary form of transportation. Always a vital part of Lancaster County culture, the Amish are involved in agriculture as well as an array of businesses and cottage industries.
Lancaster County is undeniably beautiful and simplistic in its own charming way. Many times, people end up visiting Amish Country because they’re passing through on their way to or from other destinations. As a stand-alone destination, though, is this traditional Pennsylvania region worth visiting?
The answer is an emphatic yes. However, a more detailed answer includes what travelers are looking for during their authentic Pennsylvania Dutch experience.
Why Visit Amish Country?
As awkward as it might seem, many people are drawn to Amish communities simply due to the fact that they’re often so different than the daily, modern lives of others. The Amish live by tradition and their communities are also shaped by such.
Visiting Lancaster County, specifically, offers a glimpse into a life that’s far simpler without many of the luxuries (often seen as distractions or just plain unnecessary) that most people have grown to rely on. The way of life in Lancaster County is simple and without the desire for many modern means of technology. The result for most is a trip that’s relaxing, laid-back, and peaceful.
What to Do in Amish Country?
In short, Amish buggy rides, attractions, tours, crafts, and home-cooked meals throughout Pennsylvania Dutch Country. With that being said, some visitors might associate simple with boring—but this is certainly not the case. Of course, those visiting Lancaster County in search of theme parks and nightlife will be disappointed. However, those with realistic expectations of the Amish way of life and how bountiful it can be in its simplicity will be pleased with their decision to visit this area. From the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch food to the sights and sounds of the Amish community, visitors will walk away having developed a greater appreciation for a different way of life.
The first thing on the list for those visiting Lancaster County is to spend some time exploring (and learning about) this beautiful land. Rolling hills and farms as far as the eye can see are part of the landscape and it’s worth planning some time to take it all in. Visitors can take an authentic buggy ride which is still a mode of transportation, enjoy a modern scooter ride on a guided countryside tour, and visit traditional Amish landmarks to learn more about this unique way of life.
Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy Rides: Book a private tour with Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy Rides and experience authentic Amish life with an Amish guide. A buggy ride is an ideal way to learn about life on a real working farm. The company has seven different routes from which to choose with the farm tour being the most popular. Buggy rides are available Monday to Saturday 9 am- 6 pm and Sundays from 10 am- 4:30 pm.
Amish Village: The Amish Village provides an authentic look at today’s Amish lifestyle while surrounding you with beautiful Amish farmland. Explore the 12-acre village taking a guided tour of a historic Amish homestead and learning about Amish culture while touring Amish countryside. The Village is centered around an Amish farmhouse originally built in 1840.
The Amish Farm & House: Opened to the public in 1955, The Amish Farm and House is Lancaster County’s original Amish educational farm museum. Amish Farm & House offers a variety of guided Amish countryside bus tours, guided farmhouse tours, group tours, and self-guided farm tours (included with the purchase of a bus or farmhouse tour ticket).
Strasburg Scooters: Enjoy a guided scooter tour through the back roads of Lancaster County as you follow your guide on a ride full of surprise stops hidden throughout the countryside. A variety of tours are available from several locations with varying rates. TripAdvisor’s #1 rated tour in Lancaster County.
The Amish Experience (at Plain & Fancy Farm): The Amish Experience at Plain & Fancy Farm includes a theater experience and interactions with the Amish community to learn more about their way of life. 2021 is their 62nd year presenting guided tours of the Amish farmlands, tours of Lancaster County’s only officially designated “Heritage Site” Amish House (Fisher Family Homestead) and One-Room Schoolhouse, and the Amish Experience theater five-screen production of Jacob’s Choice.
Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery: The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery is located in historic Lititz in the middle of beautiful Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Founded in 1861, Julius Sturgis was America’s first commercial pretzel bakery. Today, visitors can tour the original bakery, get a hands-on lesson in pretzel twisting, enjoy delicious hand-twisted soft pretzels, and shop for unique treats and souvenirs in the bakery store.
Wilbur Chocolate: A sweet, historic brand iconic to downtown Lititz, Wilbur Chocolate has a new location—right across the street from the former store. Parking, easy access, and a better shopping experience await guests. But, more importantly, the smell of chocolate from the candy kitchen greets you while you enjoy a free chocolate sample. Watch candy makers creating confectionery favorites and enjoy interesting displays of tins, packaging, equipment, and more from days gone by. You will find a large variety of chocolate specialties, signature Wilbur Buds, and packaged gifts to purchase.
My mother’s people are Old Order Mennonite—horse and buggy Mennonite, very close cousins to the Amish. I grew up in Lancaster County and lived near Amish farmland.