The warmer months aren’t the only time to walk picturesque main streets and visit historic sites in Pennsylvania. This winter, visit these 10 small towns for holiday cheer, historic fun, and leisurely strolls through winter wonderlands.
Lititz is a tiny town located in Pennsylvania German Country, and the Moravian influence is undeniable. You’ll want to spend much of your time in Lititz’s historic downtown, host of numerous community events in winter such as Christmas caroling and a Christmas candlelight tour of the 1792 Johannes Mueller House. But on any winter day you’ll be able to enjoy downtown Lititz’s locally owned shops and art galleries. Be sure to treat yourself with a visit to the oldest pretzel bakery in the country, the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, owned by the Sturgis family since 1861.
A gem of the Laurel Highlands, Ligonier is a small town that is both historic and happening. Fort Ligonier, namesake of the town, was an important site during the 18th century French and Indian War, when many battles occurred in southwestern Pa. And after you’ve explored the fort and walked in the footsteps of Col. George Washington, you can head downtown for a restorative cup of coffee or hot chocolate. The town’s quaint downtown has dozens of fun shops and restaurants to keep you warm while you wander around the historic town square.
You can visit Bedford, located roughly two hours east of Pittsburgh, to wander around a historic downtown or to relax the day away at a spa. Back in the day, Bedford was a destination for those who believed that the town’s springs had healing properties that could cure ailments. While the springs may not have special powers, you can still enjoy a peaceful time at Bedford spas like the Omni Bedford Springs Resort. Numerous presidents have stayed at this historic resort — James Buchanan was there so often he even called it his “summer White House.”
Admittedly less fancy than a resort, Bedford is also home to one of the best roadside attractions in the state: a giant coffee pot. This structure, built in 1927, is roughly 18 feet tall. It originally was the home of a restaurant next to a gas station. Today, it’s been restored and serves as a museum.
Situated in NEPA, Honesdale is a cute small town that prioritizes the local, including its bevy of small businesses and artists. During winter, these shops provide a welcome respite from the cold, though Honesdale’s natural winter display is gorgeous. It’s so gorgeous, in fact, that songwriter Dick Smith penned the lyrics to the holiday standard “Winter Wonderland” with Honesdale in mind. The Honesdale native was thinking of his childhood winters when he wrote “In the lane, snow is glistening/A beautiful sight/We’re happy tonight/Walking in a winter wonderland.” You can enjoy the winter wonderland by cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or hiking in the surrounding Pocono Mountains.
New Hope can be found on the Delaware River in Bucks County and is a short trek for urbanites. The small town is less than an hour from Philadelphia and less than two hours from New York City. While summer is a lovely time to visit New Hope and walk along the Delaware Canal Trail, New Hope in winter can be just as arresting. As you admire the view of the river in wintertime, you can munch on delicious cookies from a bakery like Factory Girl Bake Shop or catch a scenic ride on the New Hope Railroad. One special attraction in New Hope is the Bucks County Playhouse, a theater converted from a grist mill that has hosted its share of famous stars. In winter 2023, you can buy tickets to see Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at the playhouse, as well as a number of other exciting shows.
This is a tiny town to visit before venturing into one of Pennsylvania’s natural wonders: the Pine Creek Gorge, otherwise known as the Pa. Grand Canyon. But Wellsboro is a wonder in itself. With the gas lamps lining downtown, it resembles something out of a Dickens novel. Wellsboro leans into this, hosting the Dickens of a Christmas holiday celebration each year. You can join the fun by donning Victorian-era garb and using your best singing voice for Christmas caroling. After the revelry in downtown, visit the nearby Leonard Harrison State Park to gaze at the gorge via overlook or take a winter hike in the woods.
A visit to the Pocono Mountains isn’t complete without stopping to enjoy all that Stroudsburg has to offer, which includes access to scenic hiking trails — the town is not far from the stunning Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area for wintertime outdoor activities — as well as stellar shopping, eating, and art browsing in the historic downtown. In February, Stroudsburg hosts Winterfest, a festival featuring towering ice sculptures.
Millvale may be just minutes from Pittsburgh, but this borough along the Allegheny River has an energy all its own. Dozens of shops you’re unlikely to find elsewhere — like one of the last video stores — dot the business district, which is also home to a popular record store (Attic Record Store) and music venue (Mr. Smalls Theatre). You can also visit the Maxo Vanka murals within St. Nicholas Croatian Church to experience the unmatched art of Croatian American artist Maxo Vanka.
The historic town of Mifflinburg in the Susquehanna River Valley is a cozy borough that is home to the oldest outdoor Christmas market in the United States. Each holiday season, locals and visitors peruse the Mifflinburg Christkindl Market in mid-December for a taste of the German holiday tradition. Besides Christmas, Mifflinburg is known for its history as “Buggy Town” because it was a major center of horse-drawn carriage manufacturing. While the Mifflinburg Buggy Museum is closed during winter, the museum is still hosting a number of holiday activities. During the Christkindl Market, the buggy museum will host workshops, show historic and handmade Christmas decorations, and sell traditional German snacks.
The charming town of North East is not found in northeastern Pa., but just northeast of Erie in northwestern Pa. This small town sits by Lake Erie, which might have you thinking it’s best to visit in the warmer months. However, Lake Erie is beautiful in wintertime, and is an ideal spot for nature lovers seeking scenic views. In addition, like any fun small town, North East has a vibrant downtown area full of small shops and restaurants, including wineries and restaurants that are part of Lake Erie Wine Country. There are a handful of wineries in North East, like Arundel Cellars & Brewing Co., where you can sip quality wine while warming up by the fireplace and enjoying live music.
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