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Pennsylvania Headliners

For almost as long as America has existed, Pennsylvania has been making headlines.

Anchored by Philadelphia in the east and Pittsburgh in the west, Pennsylvania is among the most populous states in the country and has been at the center of some of America’s most pivotal events. Groups that tour the Keystone State can relive dramatic scenes from American history, spend some time with famous candy-makers, take in world-class faith-based musical theater and see some of the best museums in the country.

If your travelers haven’t spent much time in Pennsylvania, this tour itinerary is designed to introduce them to the highlights of the state, in both the major cities and the smaller communities in between. This trip starts in Philadelphia and continues to Lancaster, Hershey and Gettysburg before finishing in Pittsburgh. Five days should be the perfect length of time to see these sites and cover the roads between them. Adding an extra night at the beginning or the end to see more of Philadelphia or Pittsburgh would be a great option as well.

Birthplace of America


In a sense, America was born in Philadelphia. It was here, in 1776, that our Founding Fathers drafted the Declaration of Independence and announced the creation of a new nation.

Today, groups visiting Philadelphia can immerse themselves in these historical events in a number of ways. No first-time trip to the city would be complete without a stop at Independence National Historical Park, located in the historic city center. This site preserves Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was written, and is also the home of the world-famous Liberty Bell.

A number of other attractions nearby round out the historical experience. City Tavern is a re-creation of a restaurant frequented by the Founding Fathers, complete with period costumes and Colonial recipes. And an organization called Historic Philadelphia hosts a number of tours and evening light shows throughout the historic district.

While you’re there: Philadelphia enjoys a collection of world-class museums to rival any other major city in the country. The National Constitution Center focuses on stories of human freedom, and the Franklin Institute is an interactive science museum in a Greek Revival building. And don’t miss the Philadelphia Museum of Art, an encyclopedic museum whose exterior was made famous in the film “Rocky.”

Pennsylvania Dutch


A short drive west from Philadelphia, Lancaster and surrounding York County are home to one of the oldest Amish communities in the country, colloquially called the Pennsylvania Dutch. There are still thousands of Amish in the area, and visiting groups have a wide variety of ways to interact with them and learn about their lifestyles.

A good place to start is Amish Village, a 12-acre site that offers a historic look at the Amish lifestyle. Visitors can see the 1840 farmhouse as well as a village store, a smokehouse market, a blacksmith shop and a one-room schoolhouse with an Amish teacher. Another attraction, the Amish Experience, is located at Plain and Fancy Farm and features a theater that shows the critically acclaimed film “Jacob’s Choice.”

Groups can work with the local convention and visitors bureau to arrange numerous personal interactions, including horse-and-buggy rides and visits to Amish homes and businesses.

While you’re there: Sight and Sound Theatre has earned a reputation throughout the tourism industry for producing some of the best live musicals outside of Broadway. All the shows are based on biblical stories and feature professional actors, stunning larger-than-life sets and original musical scores. The Lancaster theater is now showing “Samson.” Beginning in 2017, it will mount a new production: “Jonah.”

A Sweet Experience


There’s no more famous name in chocolate than Hershey, and in the Pennsylvania town named for this candy empire, groups have a number of ways to indulge in some sweet experiences.

Much of Hershey’s candy comes from central Pennsylvania, and Hershey’s Chocolate World is a re-creation of a candy production factory. Groups can take a tour of the chocolate line, where the popular Create Your Own Candy Bar experience allows visitors to dream up their own confectionary products. Chocolate experts offer special candy-tasting experiences for visitors; the attraction also features a 3-D show, a bakeshop and a dessert creation.

Younger groups could spend a whole day roaming freely at nearby Hersheypark, an amusement park that offers a variety of shows, rides and other attractions. There are 65 rides at the park, as well as live entertainment and special events during the spring, Christmas and Halloween.

While you’re there: Nearby Harrisburg is not only the capital of Pennsylvania, but also home to one of its most moving museums. The National Civil War Museum presents the events of the Civil War from the points of view of both the Union and Confederate armies using hundreds of artifacts, high-definition videos and life-size mannequins.

An Urban Battlefield


Many cities throughout the eastern United States saw battles during the Civil War, but perhaps none were so deeply affected as Gettysburg, where, in July 1863, more than 50,000 soldiers were either killed or wounded during three days of battle that took place in the city streets and nearby farms.

The Gettysburg National Military Park preserves much of the battlefield and has more than 1,300 monuments and markers dedicated to different military units that fought there. Groups should start their tours at the visitor center, which features historical displays and an educational overview of the battle, before heading out on a guided tour to explore the battlefield.

Though farms outside the city saw much of the action, there was fighting in the streets of Gettysburg as well, and numerous historic homes and buildings in town can help visitors understand the personal experiences of residents who lived through the battle and its aftermath.

While you’re there:  Historical re-enactors in Gettysburg can share first-person stories, which travelers don’t always get from museum exhibits. Destination Gettysburg can help group leaders arrange meals or other interactive programs with actors who represent figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.

Carnegie Art


One of the “Men Who Built America,” Andrew Carnegie made a fortune in Pennsylvania in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and many of Pittsburgh’s pre-eminent cultural institutions were his gifts to the city. Groups can see two of the most famous Carnegie museums — the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History — located in the same building.

Considered by many in the art world to be the first contemporary art museum in the United States, the Carnegie Museum of Art features more than 30,000 objects from the 20th and 21st centuries. Visitors will see painting, sculpture, print, drawings and photographs, as well as a variety of works in video and digital imagery.

The adjacent Carnegie Museum of Natural History was founded in 1895 and features 20 exhibition halls full of displays and artifacts. Its most famous exhibit, “Dinosaurs in Their Time,” is filled with original fossils of numerous dinosaurs.

While you’re there: Pittsburgh’s geography is defined by the confluence of three rivers, and visitors get a panoramic view of the city by riding the 110-year-old Duquesne Incline up Mount Washington, a hill overlooking downtown. The cable-car system was first built to carry steel workers but now transports visitors to see the rivers, bridges and lights of downtown, surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.