Pennsylvania is a state in the eastern United States. It is known for its Revolutionary War-era historical sites like Valley Forge, its large cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, its farming regions, some occupied by the Amish, and a (once)-strong industrial history. With equally large swaths of cities and towns as fields and mountains, Pennsylvania is a rich and varied state, as well as a worthy travel destination. Pennsylvania is bordered by the states of New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and Ohio. The main cities are the aforementioned Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, along with other smaller cities such as Allentown, Erie, Reading, Bethlehem, and Scranton.
|Alleghenies and Susquehanna Valley |
|Erie Region |
|Pennsylvania Dutch Country |
|Pennsylvania Wilds |
|Philadelphia Region |
|Pittsburgh Region |
|Poconos and Endless Mountains |
- Harrisburg — the state capital
- Allentown — largest city of the Lehigh Valley, third largest city in state
- Erie — home to Pennsylvania's slice of Lake Erie, great for boating and beaches
- Hershey — Birthplace of Hershey's chocolate
- Lancaster — a relatively large city right at the heart of Amish country; the birthplace of the battery-powered watch, and a good shopping destination for Amish goods
- Philadelphia — "The City of Brotherly Love," with lots of history and cheesesteaks
- Pittsburgh — "The Steel City," a scenic, multicultural, major city
- Scranton/Wilkes-Barre — coal region towns perhaps best known for TV's The Office
- Williamsport — host to the annual Little League World Series
- Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
- Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
- Gettysburg National Military Park — the site of the most famous battlefield on U.S. soil, which saw the bloodiest battle and the turning point of the Civil War
- Johnstown Flood National Memorial
- Lehigh Valley
- Poconos and Endless Mountains
- Raccoon Creek State Park
- Steamtown National Historic Site
- Penn State University — the third-largest "city" in the state, but only when the Nittany Lions football team is playing
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a geographically diverse state with a Great Lake on one shore and a major seaport on the other. The climate of Pennsylvania is pleasant, with cold, often snowy winters, mild to hot, humid summers, and gorgeous green springtimes, and most notably, spectacular displays of colorful autumn foliage.
Pennsylvania hosts a number of vital cities, from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia houses the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, two major national historical landmarks. The interior of the state has a number of subcultures worth exploring, including the famous Amish countryside, a religious community.
Pennsylvania is also home to a diverse group of people, with ethnic enclaves of black, Hispanic, and Southeast Asian populations in its major cities.
Pennsylvania is also diverse in that the Eastern and Southeastern parts of the state are urban and densely populated, while much of the rest of the state is rural and/or mountainous.
Most Pennsylvanians speak American English, although pound-for-pound its variety of regional dialects and accents is richer than any other state in the Union: the Western Pennsylvania ("Pittsburghese"), Central Pennsylvania, Northeastern Pennsylvania, Southeastern Pennsylvania (centered in Pennsylvania Dutch Country and heavily influenced by that language; see below), and Philadelphia dialects are all audibly distinct from each other. Travellers may well notice these different speech patterns, but it's highly doubtful they'll present any communication problem for anyone with a workable level of English proficiency.
Reading, Allentown, and Philadelphia all have sizable Spanish-speaking populations, and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have their share of Asian, European, and other languages too. Again, this should not pose a problem for English-speaking travellers, as most of these people speak English in addition to their native language.
Finally, though there are now smaller clusters in other states too, Pennsylvania remains the home of the large majority of speakers of the famous Pennsylvania Dutch (Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch) dialect of German. Although widescale non-Amish use of the language faded circa 1950, there are pockets of young people who are learning the language as a way to preserve their heritage.
Pennsylvania is a densely populous state in a densely populous part of the country, with many roads in and out. Interstate highways lead most traffic into the state. Major national interstate highways leading to Pennsylvania include I-95 S from New England, I-95 N from the American South, and I-70 E, I-80 E & I-90 E from the American West and Midwest. Specifically, clockwise from north of Harrisburg:
- from Montreal & Ottawa to Scranton & Harrisburg: I-81 S.
- from Boston to Scranton: I-90 W to I-84 W.
- from Boston to the Lehigh Valley & Harrisburg: I-84 W to I-91 S to I-95 S to I-287 W to I-78 W.
- from Boston to Philadelphia: I-84 W to I-91 S to I-95 S.
- from New York City to Scranton: I-80 W.
- from New York City to the Lehigh Valley & Harrisburg: I-78 W.
- from New York City to Philadelphia: I-95 S.
- from Baltimore to Philadelphia: I-95 N.
- from Baltimore to Harrisburg: I-83 N.
- from Baltimore to Pittsburgh: I-70 W.
- from Washington, DC to Philadelphia: I-95 N.
- from Washington, DC to Harrisburg: I-95 N to I-83 N.
- from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh: I-270 W to I-70 W.
- from West Virginia to Pittsburgh: I-79 N.
- from Columbus & Indianapolis to Pittsburgh & Harrisburg: I-70 E.
- from Cleveland to Pittsburgh: It's close, but complicated.
- from Cleveland & Chicago to Erie: I-90 E.
- from Toronto & Buffalo to Erie: I- 90 W.
Also, U.S. Routes 219, 15, and 220 (soon to be I-99) all enter the state at alternative points from both the north and south.
State-operated Welcome Centers and Comfort Facilities are located just inside the borders at all major crossings into Pennsylvania.
Amtrak offers a total of nine different passenger train lines in or across the state of Pennsylvania. A fair amount of these run between New York and Philadelphia, continuing to points south, such as Charlotte, and New Orleans. The Pennsylvanian crosses a large swath of the state during its journey from New York to Pittsburgh, and the Keystone travels from New York to Harrisburg. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are also each connected to Chicago and Washington D.C.
An inexpensive and quick rail option to the Philadelphia region from New York City as well as its airports, is to take a New Jersey Transit train from Port Authority in lower Manhattan to Trenton Transportation Center in New Jersey. At Trenton, transfer onto a SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority) train to Center City Philadelphia.
Most areas in Pennsylvania are serviced by Greyhound Bus service. Bus service from New York to areas in Eastern Pennsylvania, like Philadelphia, the Lehigh Valley, and the Poconos, is very easy, quick, and inexpensive. A convenient way to find bus service to Eastern PA in New York is at Port Authority Bus Terminal in lower Manhattan. To Philadelphia, some options include Chinatown buses, Megabus, and Greyhound. To the Lehigh Valley, some options include Trans-Bridge and Bieber Bus. To the Poconos, some options include USA Coach and Mertz.
The two major airports in Pennsylvania are Philadelphia International Airport (PHL IATA) and Pittsburgh International (PIT IATA). Philadelphia is a major hub for American Airlines, and both are served by all major carriers and have low fare service by Southwest; Philadelphia also has service from Frontier. Philadelphia is also one of the Northeast's major international termini, with flights to an array of European destinations.
Regional airports in Pennsylvania include Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. All of these airports are served by American Airlines, Delta and United.
In addition to the Interstate highways that enter Pennsylvania and travel throughout:
- The Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76) is a toll freeway that is the main east-west route between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with state capital Harrisburg along the way. Take note of the four tunnels through Appalachian ridges.
- The Turnpike's "Northeast Extension" (I-476, also toll) reaches north from Philadelphia to Allentown and Scranton. Another tunnel is found along it.
- U.S. Route 322 travels diagonally from the Philadelphia area to just below Erie. Many portions have been converted to freeway, but numerous small towns still lie directly on the way.
- U.S. Route 22 is an alternative, more mountainous path west through Altoona and Johnstown to Pittsburgh.
- U.S. Route 6 is a long, rural, scenic drive across Pennsylvania's "Northern Tier". Go west from the northern Poconos through the valley of Scranton and its suburbs, follow the Susquehanna River through the "Endless Mountains", spend three hours through state and national forest land, and end near Lake Erie.
- U.S Route 30, also named the Lincoln Highway, is a section of the first coast-to-coast paved road in the United States. The highway is especially nice in the central part of Pennsylvania where it passes agricultural areas and is the main street of many small historic towns. Many of these towns have attempted to capitalize on their location on the Lincoln Highway by preserving original structures and opening them as visitors' centers.
- Interstate 80 runs east and west throughout the northern area of the state.
There also exists a wide network of state highways and municipal roads that reach into the mostly forested and farmed rural areas. The more mountainous of these areas should be traversed with caution by visitors as they can be drastically winding, narrow, or steep (or all three!) in parts.
Speed limit signs are almost exclusively posted in miles per hour, "mph". Seatbelts use is mandatory, and a second ticket and fine will be issued to those who are pulled over for speeding, etc. if not worn. Pennsylvania has not yet enacted a ban on hand-held cell phone usage while driving, except for commercial truck drivers. The cities of Philadelphia, Allentown, Bethlehem, Erie, Harrisburg, and Wilkes-Barre have enacted bans. Texting while driving is illegal statewide.
As conditions go, Pennsylvania has two seasons according to an old joke: winter and construction. In the rural majority of the state, large snowfalls render the most minor of roads impassable, but the major thoroughfares like Interstates are comparatively well plowed and salted. Still, car travel anywhere should be done with extreme care in the winter, especially by those unfamiliar with the visited area.
Likewise, the jest rings true in the remainder of the year. Look out for occasional paving, line painting, or road widening projects on freeways that restrict travel to a single lane. Bridge repair or any major redesign may force detours that are typically marked clearly. Speed limits in work zones are always reduced and State Police will impose double fines for breaking them. Proceed carefully around PennDOT (state transportation department) crews, who are easily visible in fluorescent yellow attire.
Wild animals, most notably deer, can be a problem when driving on rural Interstates and highways. Pennsylvania currently has an overpopulation of deer, so try to avoid them crossing the road. They are unpredictable animals and panic when scared, so stopping is usually the best option until it has cleared the road.
Although uncommon, hitchhiking is fairly well-received, especially in more rural areas. Keep in mind that it is always illegal to hitchhike on highways closed to pedestrians, so it's better to find a rest stop or a gas station right off the highway.
There is a quite a lot to see in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia is a historic city with a neighborhood full of mostly 18th- and early 19th-century buildings downtown, and was the nation's capital before Washington, D.C. was constructed, with historical buildings to match. It also has a world-class art museum and Fairmount Park, a huge park designed in great part by Vaux and Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in New York, and is in general a great city. On the other side of the state, Pittsburgh has a great skyline and some of the most beautiful university buildings in the country, and its geographic position at the confluence of three rivers, with hills rising steeply from their banks, is quite striking. Closer to the center of the state, Harrisburg is a much smaller city with some pleasant buildings and a great Capitol with a park next to it. Not far from there is the battlefield site in Gettysburg. In the southeastern part of the state, between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, is the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, which includes Amish farming towns where the vehicle of choice is still the horse and buggy. Pennsylvania is also a state of much rural land, with small towns, forests and some gorgeous waterfalls. People counting the distance from New York City and Philadelphia strictly by miles may be shocked at how wild the northeast of the state is.
- American Industry Tour — Pennsylvania was the heart of the Industrial Revolution, with the mighty steel mills of Bethlehem and Pittsburgh.
- Underground Railroad — follow in the footsteps of Harriet Tubman by boarding the legendary freedom train north to Canada. For slaves escaping from Delaware and beyond, Philadelphia was a first step on the road to liberty.
Pennsylvania has many attractions throughout the state, from amusement parks, historic sites, beaches along Lake Erie, world-class casinos, campgrounds and more!
Pennsylvania is home to some of the country's well-known amusement parks, such as:
- Kennywood. Pittsburgh
- Hersheypark. Hershey
- Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom. Allentown
- Sesame Place. Philadelphia
- Knoebels. The largest free-admission theme park in America
- Sandcastle Water Park. Pittsburgh
- Waldameer Park and Water World Erie
- Camelbeach Waterpark. Tannersville
- Conneaut Lake Park.
Pennsylvania recently legalized casino gambling. Some of the following casinos are also horse-racing facilities, while others stand alone.
- Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack. Chester (Philadelphia area)
- SugarHouse Casino. Philadelphia
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course. Harrisburg
- The Meadows Racetrack, Casino & Bowling. Pittsburgh area
- Mohegan Sun. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
- Mount Airy Casino Resort Golf. Poconos
- Parx Casino & Racetrack. Philadelphia
- Presque Isle Downs & Casino. Erie
- Rivers Casino. Pittsburgh
- Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem. Allentown/Bethlehem (Lehigh Valley area)
Pennsylvania has Zoos of all sizes.
- Philadelphia Zoo. Philadelphia
- Erie Zoo. Erie
- Lehigh Valley Zoo. Schnecksville
- Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium. Pittsburgh
- Hoagie — A sandwich made of a long loaf of bread filled with various meats, cheeses, vegetables, seasonings, and sauces. Commonly referred to as a "hero" or "submarine sandwich" beyond the Philadelphia Region.
- Cheesesteak — A famous sandwich famously native to Philadelphia — A hoagie roll filled with chopped steak, melted cheese, and (optionally) onions.
- "Primanti's" Sandwich — A sandwich of hot meat, french fries and vinegar cole slaw on sliced Italian bread, local to the Pittsburgh Region. A common offshoot is putting french fries on your salad, as well.
- Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine: scrapple, funnel cake, shoofly pie, whoopie pie, apple butter, root beer, soft pretzels, etc.
- Hershey's Chocolate — The iconic candy company is headquartered in the eponymous town of Hershey.
- Tastykakes — Prepackaged pastries and cakes, local to the Philadelphia Region.
- Birch beer and Sarsaparilla (softdrinks).
- Yuengling The oldest brewery in the United States still produces this eponymous, locally-cherished beer. Yuengling is available in almost every bar and beer distributor in the state, but is seldom found outside of the Mid-Atlantic region. Tours are available at the brewery in Pottsville. The locals traditionally order a Yuengling Lager with the term, "Lager." It is one of the best domestic macro beers you can get in the US. Yuengling also produces several other beers that are worth trying.
However, Pennsylvania is home to many other beers. It is birthplace of Rolling Rock — "#33". Serious beer drinkers probably know Pennsylvania for its wide selection craft breweries. Hundreds of fine ales are produced each year. Some great labels that every visitor should try include Yards, Sly Fox, Victory, Lancaster, Troegs, Philadelphia Brewing Company, and Stoudts.
State liquor laws
Pennsylvania's alcoholic-beverage laws are not only restrictive but confusing. There is a good reason that the last thing you usually pass before driving across the state line from most neighboring states is a liquor store.
- The drinking age is 21 as it is in every other state.
- Pennsylvania is a liquor-control state, meaning that all hard liquor is sold in state-run stores, along with most wine (although wineries in-state can sell directly to visitors). Outside the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metropolitan areas, these are often located only in select communities like county seats, so that most residents of smaller towns have to drive considerable distances to get there (which is, of course, the point). The union that represents liquor-store employees is a powerful political force within the state and has worked hard to frustrate any attempt to even partially privatize the stores, much less abolish liquor control entirely.
Buying beer is particularly complex as it depends on the quantity being ordered. If you want to buy any amount less than 12, you can purchase it at a bar or restaurant with a carryout license (note: not all bars and restaurants that serve beer have carryout licenses); in order to buy more you must leave with the beer, put it in your car (in some cases even take it home, or pretend to, first), and then re-enter and buy more, up to 12.
If you want a case of at least 24 beers, or a keg, you must buy it from a licensed beer distributor. Again, you are limited to purchasing two cases at a time and must leave the building and re-enter to purchase more. However, buying in bulk this way is often cheaper than buying from a bar or restaurant.
Convenience stores and drugstores cannot sell beer at all, as they do in most neighboring states. However, some of the former have created "cafe" areas within them that are legally separate from the store and can thus sell beer.
- This is further complicated by additional restrictions counties and municipalities are allowed to impose, and often do. The borough of S.N.P.J. near the Ohio state line in Lawrence County was specifically created so members of a local fraternal organization could get a liquor license for their clubhouse and serve drinks on Sundays, which the surrounding township would not permit. The combination of the state's laws and these local restrictions mean that much of the interior of the state, particularly the north central region, is dry or very close to it.
Pennsylvania has many country inns in the Northeast and some grand old hotels in big cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. And naturally, you'll also find branches of national chain hotels and motels at various price points throughout the state. As there are many universities in the state, you may also want to inquire about whether you can stay in a dorm during intersessions or in the summer, as you might be able to save money that way.
Outside of Greater Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the Lehigh Valley, crime is not a major problem in Pennsylvania. Gang activity is high in the larger cities, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown and Reading. You know you are in a rough area when you see graffiti, abandoned houses and vehicles, and shoes tossed over telephone wires, known as shoefiti, to mark that drugs are for sale. Street drag racing and prostitution are also problems in the state's urban areas.
As with most locations in the United States, a major cause of injury and death in Pennsylvania comes from automobile accidents. Drivers can be down-right hostile on some of the more notorious urban freeways, such as the Schuykill Expressway in Philadelphia (usually it's a parking lot anyway), route 22 in Allentown, the 376 in Pittsburgh and on the Interstate 95 corridor in the southeast section of the state. The roads in Pennsylvania are notoriously bad, so be careful.
Road rage can be a problem during rush hour, so if you aren't familiar with the highway system, stay out of the left hand lane. The key to safe driving is to stay defensive, you are in unfamiliar areas and while you may feel wronged, it may be the norm.
Motorcyclists are not required to wear helmets in Pennsylvania, but it is still advised.
Rural mountain roads can sometimes be steep, and impassable in times of heavy snowfall. In many parts of the state, especially around Pittsburgh, steep cliffs reside next to major roads, and rock slides can occur, though rare. When traveling in the central to western part of the state, it is best to stay on main roads and highways. If you're canoeing, skiing, or doing any other outdoor activity, take necessary precautions.
Be sure to stay out of abandoned mines and quarries. As this industry falls out of the state's economy, mines and quarries are left abandoned. If you explore one, you risk the dangers of unstable supports, unstable ground, rats, snakes and other animals, forgotten explosives, blasting caps, explosive methane gas, and pockets of "blackdamp" or air without enough oxygen to support life.
Exploring the woods alone can be dangerous, due to the large deer and other wild animal population. Use insect repellent to avoid disease, wear long clothing, and do not wander onto someone's property.
Flooding and snow are the most common natural disasters. Flash flooding can be a problem. Tornadoes are rare but experienced, and earthquakes are almost unheard of. Hurricanes coming up the Atlantic can strike, so be prepared. Temperatures in the summer can reach 100 degrees in places, so bring water and sunscreen. Thunderstorms are common in the summer.
If you are not from Pennsylvania you can buy any 1.4g (Class C / Consumer Grade) fireworks from an outlet for transport out of state, however, Pennsylvania residents can only purchase "Safe and Sane" fireworks (those that do not leave the ground or explode) without a permit. All brick and mortar stores will have additional information, but tents and other temporary sales locations may or may not have correct information. Local laws vary greatly and many campsites prohibit their use outright, so you will need to check before you use them in-state. Fireworks stores and tents tend to be located in border areas but can be found throughout the state.
You do not need a permit to carry a firearm openly throughout the state, except in the city of Philadelphia. Gun laws are fairly loose compared to other states. Carrying concealed, however, requires a state license to carry, issued by county sheriffs (or city police) with various policies and levels of strictness. Licenses for non-residents are available, the county with the most favorable non-resident license policy is Centre County. (Sheriff's Office, Bellefonte, PA) Carrying a handgun in a vehicle is considered concealed carry, and therefore requires a license. If in possession of a handgun, remember that both New York State and New Jersey share very lengthy borders with Pennsylvania, and both have some of the strictest gun laws in the nation.
Drugs, including marijuana are illegal in Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, the punishment for under 30 grams of marijuana is only a $25 fine, or $100 if caught smoking in public. Elsewhere, you can expect a heightened punishment.
During periods of hunting season, persons entering the woods are advised by the PA Game Commission to wear "blaze orange".
- New York - The Empire State borders Pennsylvania to the north and west, making the Catskills and New York City easy daytrip options.
- New Jersey - The Garden State borders Pennsylvania to the east, offering everything from the glitz of Atlantic City to the migratory birds of Cape May.
- Delaware - Pennsylvania's southeastern neighbor was the first state to ratify the Constitution (hence its nickname of the "First State") and offers an urban experience in its northern parts while providing a rural experience to the south.
- Maryland - Located to the south of Pennsylvania, Maryland offers "America in Miniature" with everything from history to nature to modern cities.
- West Virginia - Pennsylvania's southwestern neighbor is the only state in the USA to lie completely within a mountain range (in this case, the Appalachians).
- Ohio - The Buckeye State is Pennsylvania's western neighbor, offering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
- Washington, D.C., just beyond Maryland, is not too far from south-central and southeastern parts of the state and contains more history and attractions.