Pennsylvania is a state rich in history with incredible nature, busy big cities, and friendly small towns. The state is divided into eleven regions, each with their own unique atmosphere and demographic. From Pennsylvania Dutch Country to Lehigh Valley to the Poconos, there are so many towns to discover. All perfect for travelers who love to venture into unknown territory and see aspects of Pennsylvania that most of the world never gets a chance to.
Many visitors (and Pennsylvanians themselves) love to cover the state with a good old-fashion road trip. Pennsylvania roads will lead you through beautiful forests, lakes, waterfalls and small towns known for welcoming any visitor who comes by, no matter how long the pit stop.
See sights of famous Civil War battles, take a factory tour, ride along an old-time railroad, explore peaceful Amish country, and taste gourmet mushrooms all within the borders of this interesting state.
Here are the best small towns to visit in Pennsylvania:
1. New Hope
On the beautiful Delaware River, New Hope is a town aptly named for its bright future. New Hope was once an industrial town but is now home to a thriving artist community with over 200 arts and crafts galleries to browse. There are also a variety of antique shops and family-owned restaurants to spend your time in. With its beautiful landscape and lively residents, it’s easy to understand why tourism is New Hope’s primary industry.
Outside of the main center, you can walk along the river and the picturesque Delaware Canal or see the canal from the comforts of a boat ride.
Though you could easily spend a few days in New Hope, this town makes a great day trip from Philadelphia.
2. Jim Thorpe
Jim Thorpe is a small town named after the Olympian James Francis Thorpe, the first Native American to take a gold medal back home to the United States. Set on the foothills of the Pocono Mountains, many who visit often compare Jim Thorpe to the small towns that you can find in Switzerland, so be sure to bring your camera!
This small town is laden with Victorian style venues that host boutiques, restaurants, theaters, and other cultural exhibitions.
You can also use Jim Thorpe as a base to take a train ride on the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway. Some other museums and exhibits that are a must-see include the Old Jail Museum, the Bear Mountain Butterfly Sanctuary, DeFeo’s Manor and the Asa Packer Mansion.
Despite its small size, Lititz has a huge personality and rich history that spans back to the early 1700s. The town was started by Pennsylvanian Germans but then established by Moravians, who fought for religious freedom in Lititz. Today, small emblems like the Moravian star placed throughout the town stand as a nod to its interesting past.
Foodies will love Lititz’s Wildbur Chocolate Company’s Candy Americana museum and the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, where you can try your hand at creating these iconic twists. There are also unique cafes, tearooms, retro ice cream shops, and delicious restaurants to choose from.
York is the Factory Tour Capital of the world, a small town that offers factory and historical tours, farm-to-table dining, and beautiful scenery.
All year-round, York hosts free factory tours that show visitors an inside view of a Harley-Davidson factory, Bluett Bros. Violin workshop, George’s Furniture Inc. factory, Renvonah Pretzel bakery, Snyder’s of Hanover baked good factory, a soap factory, Martin’s Potato Chip factory, and the world-famous Hershey’s Chocolate World. There are also farm and winery tours. You’d need to spend multiple days here to see them all!
York also has a thriving arts scene, where you can view glassmaking, live performances, and local galleries.
This interesting town of just 14,000 residents has beautiful historical buildings, boutique shops, restaurants serving hearty fare, and most interestingly, an active antique collectors community.
Bloomsburg should be a stop on any antique enthusiasts’ hunt for old treasures. Within a few miles from one another, visitors can dig through the shops of Ward’s Antiques, Hoffman’s Antiques, McCarty’s Tattered and Torn, and the incredible Red Mill shop. There is also Bill’s Old Bike Barn, a collection of two-wheelers of all types. In simplified terms, there’s so much that’s quirky and interesting in Bloomsburg.
During your time in Doylestown, stop by these three points of interest created by Henry Chapman Mercer, an archeologist and amateur architect. First, visit Fonthill, a 44-room concrete palace inspired by Mercer’s trips to Europe as a young professional. Then, make your way to the Mercer Museum, where Henry Mercer displayed and protected his beloved belongings found all throughout the globe. The museum pays tribute to the American Arts and Crafts movement and to how American life was before the Industrial Revolution. Finally, head to the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, a museum housing ceramics created in the region.
Aside from Mercer’s influence, Doylestown is a friendly small town that has many other museums, studios, and an art-deco theater that screens independent and foreign films on a regular schedule.
History buffs must visit Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, an iconic site and small town that is a strong cultural tie to American history, especially during the Civil War. It is the site where the Battle of Gettysburg took place and where Abraham Lincoln gave his inspiring Gettysburg Address speech.
Today, visitors can see the Gettysburg National Battlefield for themselves and learn more about all that happened inside of the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Visitors will love its rich historical sites, accommodating locals, and interesting tours that take place. You can browse the many souvenir shops and even take a haunted tour that introduces you to the ghosts lingering in Gettysburg from the Civil War.
Love wilderness? Then you’re sure to love Bushkill, a small town hosting a beautiful display of thunderous cascades called the Bushkill Falls. The series of eight waterfalls is hidden in the Pocono Mountains and accessible via well-marked hiking and walking trails.
With a little manual labor and a lot of luck, tourists can get rich panning for gold in the minefields of Bushkill, an old gold mining area. If you have children, the best thing to do is to buy a bag of gems and hide it in the fields for a fun day of education and hands-on learning.
There is also dining, shopping, miniature golf, boating, and fishing to be had near the town’s main attraction.
9. Kennett Square
Try to resist the urge to say “There’s fungus among us” in Kennett Square, the Mushroom Capital of the World. Though the town is known for its mushroom production and has a festival surrounding this fresh fungus every year, there is so much more to do in Kennett Square.
Kennett Square is in the Brandywine Valley, a region known for producing gourmet food, its beautiful scenery, and a range of museums. Check out the Brandywine River Museum, the Winterthur Museum, the Hagley Museum, and walk through an incredible botanical display at the Longwood Gardens.
The community of Kennett Square is lively and social, and there is likely to be a community event taking place during your time there.
Step back in time in Strasburg, a small town that is proud of its peaceful and beautiful heritage. There’s an Amish village, an expansive maze to run through, theatres, and even a miniature horse farm to explore.
Strasburg is especially known for its train exhibitions, of which there are many. You can learn all about train history at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, the National Toy Train Museum, the Choo Choo Barn, and more. From big to small, this town has everything train related (and even a buggy ride for those of us who opt to travel without a motor).
Don’t miss riding on the train on the Strasburg Railroad, a 45-minute journey that takes passengers through peaceful Amish countryside and farm fields. The adventure stops at Groff’s Grove and Leaman Place Grove, recreational sites perfect for visitors of any age. This is sure to be a memory created to last a lifetime.
Wellsboro is renowned for hosting Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon, the Pine Creek Gorge, a beautiful natural site of lush trees surrounding deep cliffs that lead to a 1,000 feet deep gorge. The canyon is nearly fifty miles long, making it one of the state’s most prominent features. Visitors love coming during spring when the wildflowers bloom or autumn, when the trees turn to a fiery orange.
Visitors can hike, cycle, kayak, and backpack all throughout the gorge. For beginners or solo travelers, there are even guided tours with informative guides who grew up hiking throughout the area.
Though the Pine Creek Gorge is Wellsboro’s main attraction, there are also beautiful bed and breakfast stays, restaurants, and mom-and-pop shops to explore.
Johnstown is a lively small town with tons of cultural attractions. It hosts a symphony orchestra, a polka festival, a folk festival, and gallery at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art. It also has many hiking trails and recreational sites perfect for a trip that combines culture with adventure.
In the late 1800s, Johnstown suffered one of America’s greatest tragedies. An essential dam broke causing the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889, killing thousands of people. Today, you can visit a memorial commemorating the flood.
Interestingly, Johnstown has an oddity known as the Johnstown Inclined Plane, which takes up real estate in the Guinness Book of World Records as the steepest vehicular inclined plane in the world.
Truly away from it all, Milford is a small town with incredible historical architecture.
In the Milford Historic District, nearly 2/3 of the buildings have been recognized as historically significant because of its Late Victorian and Revival styles. Most notably, there is the Grey Towers National Historical Site, an ancestral home once occupied by James Pinchot, one of the country’s most recognized conservationists.
Just outside of Milford is the Raymondskill Falls, a well-groomed walking trail that leads to gushing waterfalls. There is also a bird’s eye view of the town at the Knob, a bluff that overlooks the entirety of Milford.
If you’re a photographer or just have an appreciation for stunning sites both manmade and natural, check out Milford while you’re in Pennsylvania.
Adventure travelers would be crazy not to stop in Millcreek, a section of Pennsylvania’s port town on the Great Lakes. There are clean, freshwater beaches on the edges of state parks like the beach of Presque Isle State Park that welcomes over four million visitors annually. Of course, here you can swim, boat, kayak, and fish. Millcreek is also a wonderful stop for those driving along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail.
There are also water parks, botanical gardens, sports arenas, live performances, waterfront restaurants, and two picturesque lighthouses to visit.
Locals and tourists alike love this lively town with so many activities to choose from.
Newtown is a small town renowned for its vast array of recreational and cultural activities. Located in Buck’s County, Newtown has sights like the Tyler State Park, a 9/11 memorial called the Garden of Reflection, and the eerie House in the Hollow.
Travelers who have taste buds that guide their trips will love the restaurants featured in Newtown, famous for eateries serving delicious Italian fare.
Newtown also hosts a variety of community events like parades, festivals, and performances usually centered around a holiday theme. It also hosts the United States’ oldest operating movie house called the Newtown Theatre, playing many of the latest hits as well as classic films for free!