When you’re hosting an out-of-state friend who has never been to PA before, you want to show them the sights that scream Pennsylvania. We can help.
What would it be like to see Pennsylvania through the eyes of a first-time visitor? When you’re hosting an out-of-state friend who has never been to PA before, you want to show them the sights that scream Pennsylvania. We can help.
Note, however, that Pennsylvania is a big state. Eastern PA and Western PA are not only rather culturally different, they’re also…pretty far apart. Who hasn’t chuckled at their innocent, out-of-state friend saying something like, “I’m visiting Pittsburgh next weekend, can I see you in Philadelphia for dinner?” (Unless they’re an I’ll-drive-five-hours-to-see-you-for-one-meal-well-ten-hours-round-trip kind of friend.)
All that’s to say, your friend visiting PA for the first time is going to have to come back again to see everything. Whenever they travel to see you, refer to this list!
The second-biggest city by population in Pennsylvania, though to its proud residents, Pittsburgh is second to none. Certainly not one of the larger cities in the US—it doesn’t even break the top 50, coming in at 67th—Pittsburgh still has a lot for visitors to do. After all, in 1907, Pittsburgh was the sixth largest city in the US The industrial decline and thus population decline that occurred later in the century didn’t deprive Pittsburgh of its big city amenities, such as world-class arts and science museums, huge urban parks, and thriving dining scene.
To get a feel for Pittsburgh, a first timer may want to ride the Duquesne Incline (an old form of commuting up and down a mountain) to get a spectacular view of the Pittsburgh skyline, visit museums like the Carnegie Museum of Art, and enjoy some regional food, like Pittsburghers’ favorite pierogies.
See Punxsutawney Phil
If you want to visit Punxsutawney in the early morning hours of February 2 each year, you can see the “Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle” push a groundhog named Phil into the sky like a terrified baby Simba and decide whether the groundhog has seen his shadow or not. If he does, that’s six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow, we’ll have an early spring. What, people believe in things like astrology and economics, don’t they?
Outside of February 2, you can still visit the groundhog that became famous after the premiere of Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day.” Phil’s Burrow at the Groundhog Zoo is Punxsutawney Phil’s year-round home, where you can watch him and his groundhog friends make zero predictions. And if you can’t make it out to Punxsutawney, you can even book Phil on Cameo!
The most famous of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes—and perhaps of all architecture—is just about an hour from Pittsburgh in the mountains of the Laurel Highlands. Fallingwater was originally built as a vacation home in nature for the Kaufmann department store family; Wright designed the house to merge with the natural world surrounding it. The house is built over a waterfall, so that the sound of the falls can be heard while in the home.
A popular tourist site, no one lives here, but you can book a tour to view Fallingwater and its grounds.
Hike or Bike the Great Allegheny Passage
The Great Allegheny Passage, or the GAP trail, is a 150-mile trail that stretches from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md. It’s popular with both bikers and hikers and is a beautiful way to introduce a friend to the natural areas of Southwestern PA. Plus, while traveling the GAP—or just parts of it—one can also learn a lot about PA history. The GAP is a rail trail, meaning the trail was converted from old railroad tracks. In fact, it was the first trail to be inducted into the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.
Since the GAP follows old railroad lines, the towns you’ll pass through have strong industrial histories, such as coal, paper, lumber, and steel production. Beautiful Ohiopyle sits on the Youghiogheny River, which was once flanked by active coal mines and is now a dream for white water rafters. And Meyersdale, another trailhead of the GAP, hosts a museum focused on the area’s history of industry and the old Western Maryland Railway. That railway, of course, became the GAP.
Many people heading to Pennsylvania for the first time are likely visiting Philadelphia, the biggest city in Pennsylvania and the sixth largest in the country. Like any big city, Philly is home to several bucket list items you may want to help a first-time visitor conquer. Obviously, one should eat a Philly cheesesteak, the famous sandwich made with thin slices of steak and melted cheese on a hoagie roll. The best cheesesteak in the city is often debated, and though Pat’s and Geno’s are the most famous, you may want to try a wide selection of sandwiches to determine a winner—you know, for science.
Philly visitors also should visit the Rocky statue and run up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art like the character did in the 1976 movie. And finally, since Philadelphia has a lot of historical importance beyond the invention of the cheesesteak and the movie “Rocky,” you should check out the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and other historic sites connected to the birth of the US
Anthracite Heritage Museum and Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour, Scranton
Pennsylvania has a long history of coal mining, and while that industry has been declining for decades, one can learn all about how the state was developed—and how it helped power the rest of the country—by visiting the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton.
The museum itself tells the stories of coal miners in Northeastern PA, colloquially referred to as NEPA. These miners were often European immigrants who faced harsh labor conditions to build lives in the US.
Visitors can also tour a real coal mine that originally began operating in 1860. During the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour at the Anthracite Heritage Museum, you’ll travel 300 feet below the ground to learn what it was like to work as a coal miner back when the mine was open.
Visit Amish Country, Lancaster
The largest Amish community in the U.S. is located in Lancaster County, and while this religious community is generally private, there are many ways you can appreciate their unique way of life with respect. For one, there are several Amish markets located in and around Lancaster County, where you can buy traditional Amish goods, like baked goods and quality furniture. You can also take a trip to The Amish Village, which offers tours of a traditional Amish farmhouse to help visitors learn about the Amish way of life.