Visiting an Amish community is like peeking into another time and place.
Roughly 270,000 Amish people live across 30 states, with notable communities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. Famous for their simple, agrarian lifestyle, the Amish eschew technologies like electricity, phones and cars. They’re known for woodworking, farming, quilting and their cuisine, which includes hearty, scratch-made dishes like pies, noodles and cheeses.
The Amish sect began in 16th-century Europe as a radical wing of the Protestant Reformation movement known as Anabaptists. Fleeing religious persecution from both Catholics and Protestants, they came to the colonies in the mid-1700s. Amish communities are called Ordnungs, and most children attend school only to the eighth grade, attend religious services in someone’s home instead of a church and remain in the community all their lives.
Most Amish communities welcome respectful guests who are curious about their lifestyle. They request no photos of their faces, but many Amish offer opportunities to see how they live and work by visiting museums, giving tours, sharing a traditional family-style meal or teaching a skill. Their lifestyle takes travelers to a simpler time, surrounded by pastoral beauty — and that’s what’s so appealing about a visit to Amish Country.
Here are four places where your groups can immerse themselves in the Amish culture.
Holmes County, Ohio
In Holmes County, Ohio, the towns of Berlin and Mount Hope attract the most visitors, though there are Amish communities throughout the state.
“With so much available farmland and an abundance of hardwoods, this was the perfect crossroads for an Amish settlement,” said Tiffany Gerber, executive director of the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau in Millersburg. “The terrain is similar to the Alps, and the area already had a number of Swiss immigrants, so Amish who settled here — especially the dairy farmers — created a symbiotic relationship.”
Visitors should start at the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center, which features a unique 265-foot circular mural known as the Behalt Cyclorama. It chronicles the history of the Amish from the 1500s to the present. It also has a barn and one-room schoolhouse that shows how the Amish lived in the pre-Civil War era.
Holmes County has several local companies, including Yoder’s Amish Home, Troyer’s Amish Tours and Amish Heritage Tours, which take groups on Amish backroads, visiting Amish homes, going for buggy rides and dining family-style.
“Many farms have small businesses where they sell baskets, candles or candy, or the children will come to the table and sing hymns,” said Gerber. “The tours give you a true glimpse into the daily life of the Amish and allow you to immerse yourself in the culture.”
Several area restaurants serve Amish food in a family-style setting: Der Dutchman, Berlin Farmstead and Dutch Valley, belonging to a family-owned restaurant group that also includes inns, shops, and theaters that celebrate Amish culture and heritage.
Lancaster County and Pennsylvania Dutch Country
Amish culture is an important part of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which has come to be known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country. (“Dutch,” in this case, is an anglicized version of the word “deutsch,” or “German.”)
“The Amish community here is sizeable and it’s an important part of our culture and heritage here,” said Joel Cliff, director of communications and advocacy for Discover Lancaster. “There are communities throughout the state, but there’s a concentration here in Lancaster County.”
Cliff suggests travel planners start with the Visit Lancaster website because it delves into Amish history and daily life. It also gives details on how guests can explore and experience the Amish community in different ways.
Groups can visit the Countryside Road Stand, featuring fresh produce, jellies and food items, or Riehl’s, a working farm with a quilt and craft shop. Amish restaurants Hometown Kitchen and Katie’s Kitchen serve hearty traditional fare like brown buttered noodles, ham balls and shoofly pie.
There are three interpretive attractions in Lancaster County: The Amish Village, the Amish Farm and House and The Amish Experience, each of which offer tours of a traditional Amish community. There are also a number of local companies that offer buggy rides to groups.
“That is a really good way to explore,” said Cliff. “In a traditional mode of transportation, you see the countryside and stop at a roadside stand or an Amish business and you learn about their lifestyle.”
More intimate tours are also available for small groups with receptive operators The Amish Experience. It can take visitors to a farm to see a variety of Amish businesses like a dairy, a buggy maker, a quilter or a furniture maker. The tours offer intimate views of Amish life.
“You get the chance to sit down and have a cup of coffee with a family and talk about their lives,” said Cliff. “People find out that they have a lot more in common with the Amish than they ever would have thought.”
Elkhart County, Indiana
Encompassing the Indiana communities of Shipshewana, Goshen, Middlebury, and Nappanee, Elkhart County is known for its Amish settlements. The towns are connected by the 17-mile Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. As groups travel from one destination to the next, they’ll get a glimpse of the area’s famous Quilt Gardens, planted with flowers to resemble quilt squares, as well as its Amish inhabitants.
The Amish were drawn to Indiana for its farmland, but there is a thriving entrepreneurial spirit there today.
“People value the quality they put into what they make,” said Terry Mark, director of communications and public relations at the Elkhart County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “Our RV manufacturers hire many Amish to do their cabinetry and they are known for their quilts, crochet and weaving, as well as their housewares, bookends and lamps.”
Visitors can start with the Menno-Hof Amish Mennonite Information Center, which explains the faith and life of the groups. Next, The Heritage Trail is a self-guided tour available on CD or PDF that takes drivers through the area with notable stops where many Amish have their wares for sale or offer buggy rides. The CVB has created day-trip or multi-day itineraries and will help with personalized trips.
For meals, Mark recommends Das Dutchman Essenhaus, a local favorite for 50 years. Serving classic Amish dishes like roast beef, potatoes, homemade noodles and 31 types of pie, the complex offers lodging and village shops, plus a pool, mini-golf and bicycle and carriage rides.
Backroads Amish tours take visitors to an Amish school or to a variety of artisan shops making baskets, noodles, jellies and leather goods. With advanced arrangement, visitors can go to a homestead for a meal or have a hands-on experience like a cinnamon-roll making class.
“These are fascinating to watch and of course have tasty results,” said Mark. “I always make sure to eat one.”
Kentucky Amish Country
There are Amish communities in some 10 counties across Kentucky, with a total of 8,000 residents. The largest settlements are in Marion (Crittenden County), Munfordville and Horse Cave (Hart County) and Casey County. The Amish in Kentucky arrived later than those in other, more well-known settlements, sometime in the mid-20th Century.
Marion, in Crittenden County, is home to the state’s largest Amish community.
“We don’t have tours that are as commercial as some states,” said Michele Edwards of the Marion Tourism Board. “We have a map for a self-guided tour for guests who want to visit Amish farms, stores and restaurants in the area.” The map details greenhouses, produce markets, bakeries and furniture and craft stores.
Christian County is home to thriving Amish communities that own businesses and welcome guests. In Hopkinsville, the tourism board’s website has a complete listing of family businesses people can drive to. All are closed on Sundays. The Amish Farmers’ Market at Oak Grove is a general store selling many Amish-made products, but there are a number of other markets in the area, like Habegger’s, Sunny Valley Country Store, R&S Grocer and Lavern’s Country Market. Other businesses include furniture making, handicrafts and quilting.