As one of the United States’ original 13 Colonies, Pennsylvania played a pivotal role in the country’s birth as a nation, setting the stage for the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as well as critical events like the Battle of Brandywine and George Washington’s bitter winter with his troops in Valley Forge.
When groups travel to the Keystone State, they can expect to experience these vivid and essential examples of history, but they will also discover picturesque country roads, old covered bridges, handcrafted goods, passionate art communities and world-class museums. With so many attractions from which to choose, here are some highlights from four key regions in the state.
Art and Flavor in Philadelphia
With its proximity to New York and Washington, Philadelphia can be overlooked as a major destination, but the City of Brotherly Love has so much to offer beyond standard attractions like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
Located underneath the former Reading Terminal train shed, Reading Terminal Market is one of the oldest farmers markets in the country and features a vibrant community of more than 80 merchants. Throughout the stalls, groups can sample everything from fresh-roasted espresso at Old City Coffee to smoked fish at Wan’s Seafood and artisan breads from the Market Bakery.
In April, the city debuted the Museum of the American Revolution, which pays special tribute to many of the war’s unsung heroes, particularly Colonial women, runaway slaves and Native Americans. A few highlights include Washington’s original war tent, a replicated privateer ship and the first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence.
Following a museum tour, groups can circle the block to City Tavern, a reconstructed Colonial tavern that serves authentic 1800s cuisine. Owned by world-renowned chef Walter Staib, the restaurant was built during the 1970s over the original site of the tavern, where historic figures like Washington and John Adams once met to discuss the future of the Colonies over a glass of porter or Madeira.
“It’s not just about the location,” said Staib. “The food connects people with the Founding Fathers and their everyday lives.”
Visitors can gather around a candlelit table and savor a bite of tavern lobster pie, mallard duck sausage or Martha Washington’s chocolate mousse cake, with harpsichord music playing in the background.
In contrast to the city’s historic offerings, the Barnes Foundation contains one of the finest private collections of impressionist and early modern art in the world.
“There are very few untouched private collections left,” said Deborah Glass, one of the docents at the museum. “It’s all the vision of one man.”
Founded by Albert C. Barnes during the 1920s, the museum displays the work of masters like Renoir, Picasso, Cézanne, Matisse and Rousseau, each painting carefully placed according to wall theme, known as an “ensemble.”
Around sunset, there is no better place to survey the city than from One Liberty Observation Deck. After a 75-second elevator trip to the top, groups can view up to three states and 30 miles of cityscape. While selections from more than 600 Philadelphia-themed songs play overhead, guests can explore the city through touchscreen maps that allow them to zoom in on attractions and read about their history.
Heritage and Innovation in Lehigh Valley
With 184 years of expertise as an American guitar manufacturer, C.F. Martin and Company carries a powerful reputation in the music industry, catering to artists like Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and Ed Sheeran. At the company’s base in Nazareth, music-lovers can witness these guitars come to life through over 300 detailed processes. Led by a guide, groups walk past dozens of worktables as skilled craftspeople carefully sand, cut and coat the instruments. Along the way, guests learn about the features that make Martin guitars famous, such as X-bracing, the 14-fret guitar and Dreadnought size.
Nearby, the town of Bethlehem is a living testament to American innovation, having served at different points in time as the world’s largest shipbuilder and the world’s second-largest producer of silk. These groundbreaking feats are explored in the new National Museum of Industrial History, which opened last fall. The museum is in one of the buildings originally constructed by Bethlehem Steel, a company that defined the local community for more than 130 years and produced steel for structures like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Chrysler Building.
“We want to inspire young inventors and entrepreneurs,” said Glenn Koehler, marketing and outreach coordinator for the museum. “And part of that is understanding the basics of how machinery works.”
Groups can see pieces that were exhibited in the famous 1876 Centennial Exhibition, experience a simulated hot-air-balloon ride over active factories and admire the elegant White House Loom that manufactured fabrics for every U.S. president from Hoover to Clinton.
Down the street from the museum, the AAA four-diamond Sands Casino Resort is a one-stop shop for groups with 10 restaurants, over 20 retail shops and free nightly live entertainment, in addition to 3,000 slot machines and 200 table games.
“It’s more of a resort than a casino because we have so much variety to offer,” said Brad Decker, motorcoach marketing manager at the Sands.
Parents can drop off their kids at Cyber Quest while they enjoy the gaming area or grab a bite to eat, such as a savory steak from Emeril’s Chophouse by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse or a lobster tail pastry from Buddy V’s Ristorante, owned by Buddy Valastro from the TLC television show “Cake Boss.”