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Pennsylvania is a state bursting with contrasts, from the big city bustle of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, to the impenetrable beauty of the Pennsylvania Wilds, a densely forested area at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. There’s also the area known as Dutch Pennsylvania, of which Lancaster is a part. Back in the 19th century, communities of settlers from Germany arrived here and built their own towns and villages, bringing their Amish beliefs along with them.
The result is a friendly and welcoming county that’s defined by its close relationship to the natural world, but with busy downtown Lancaster at its centre. Although it’s often overshadowed by its bigger neighbours, including Harrisburg and Allentown, Lancaster is a wonderful place to spend a few days or weeks. Just make sure to book a Lancaster hire car; as with much of the US, public transport can be erratic and a rental car will prove invaluable.
Lancaster has its own tiny airport, but it’s only served by one commercial airline. Probably the easiest way to get to the area is to fly into Harrisburg International Airport, which is about 40 minutes’ drive west on the PA-283. Philadelphia International Airport is another good option, about two hours east via the US-1.
The main providers of rental cars in Lancaster are Alamo, Hertz and National. Each has an easy pick-up and drop-off point at Harrisburg International Airport and a selection of models, including SUVs, compact city cars and comfortable saloons.
It’s probably best to start in Lancaster City, where you’ll find seven square miles of quality restaurants, galleries and shopping. Start your day with breakfast at Lancaster City Market, an open-air market that’s stood here since the 18th century, before heading to President James Buchanan’s Wheatfield. This historic house museum is dedicated to the US’s 15th president, who was born a few hours east in Cove Gap, and died in Lancaster in 1868. He remains the only president from Philadelphia and is proudly celebrated by the locals.
For most visitors, part of this area’s intrigue is its thriving Amish population. To get to know their way of life, you should take a tour of the farmlands by horse and buggy (easily arranged at the town’s tourist office) before sitting down to eat an authentic Dutch Pennsylvanian meal. Expect chicken pot pie, apple dumplings and shoofly pie, a delicious dessert made from molasses. Rest assured that all tours are organised with the consent of the Amish community, and their way of life is treated with respect.
Lancaster is an easy city to navigate with a car rental, thanks to its relatively compact size and handy grid system. Make sure to drive on the right, and keep an eye out for local speed limits. Be aware that undertaking is permitted in the US on multilane highways – so long as you’re watching out for it, you’ll be fine.
Itching to start your own Lancaster and US adventure? Start with this Lancaster city guide, and use the Expedia search tool to track down the best car hire in Lancaster, deals on flights and hotels, and to discover all the most popular attractions and activities.
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