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Strasburg Rail Road and Choo Choo Barn: Sweet Holiday Getaway

As soon as the chill of November hits, I begin dreaming of cozy, family-centric, winter weekend getaways. No trip is more sweet, kid-friendly, affordable, convenient and just plain delightful than the nearby train-and-Amish paradise of historic Strasburg, Pennsylvania and its neighboring Lancaster County villages.

Check out our recommended kid outings in this slideshow I created for you.

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Just last weekend my family and I drove the scenic hour and a half drive to Strasburg to view the Choo Choo Barn‘s magnificent holiday train display and ride Santa’s Paradise Express steam engine at the Strasburg Rail Road. (Ever since we purchased that wooden train table for our Charlie in 2004 our entire crew has been train-obsessed.)

We also experienced Dutch Wonderland’s evening Winter Wonderland and toured the Intercourse Canning Company to learn a bit about Amish culture and commerce.

We loved making a weekend of it by staying at the Best Western Plus Intercourse Village Inn. This motel is right in the heart of Amish commerce and we loved walking to the craft and antique shops. The room was expansive and comfortable for our family of five, and there are family suites available too. We loved waking up to the sound of horse-drawn carriages riding by and eating our oh-my-goodness good breakfasts side-by-side with local Mennonite and Amish families. They are further expanding this great family property in Summer 2013, adding new rooms, an indoor pool, a larger restaurant and more. Check out the Amish Country Inns Facebook Page for updates.

I cannot adequately express how fun and affordable and sweet this area and its family offerings are this time of year…you have to go!

Our family’s favorite attractions:

  • Strasburg Railroad — In addition to the Santa train reviewed above, look into the Night Before Christmas Train — it sounds so fun!
  • Choo Choo Barn — So many trains, so much imagination, we could stay here all day!
  • Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania — Dozens of real-life train cars kids can climb into, as well as rooms of train tables for toddler/preschooler/anyschooler play.
  • Dutch Wonderland — We loved this amusement park, recommended to me by Alissa Enders of Clever Compass. Admission is just $12.99 for adults and kids age 3 and up, younger kids are free!
  • The Amish Village (open March-December 7 days a week, closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; January-February weekends only) — The most interesting “field trip”, my kids were fascinated learning how Amish families live today! (“No iPads?!!”). Afterwards head to the Intercourse Canning Company for more (yummy) education.
  • Cherry Crest Adventure Farm (seasonal: open Memorial Day – early November) — Hours of awesome farm play, your kids will never be bored.

Our favorite places to eat:

  • Intercourse Village Restaurant — The best breakfasts EVER. Their oatmeal, eggs and toast, and homemade coffee cakes are magical. I don’t know what they put in that oatmeal (cream?), but all my children were licking their bowls and now highly dissatisfied with their regular instant-maple-and-brown-sugar nonsense.
  • Isaac’s Deli — Awesome kid menu, right next to the Choo Choo Barn and Strasburg Railroad
  • Good N’ Plenty Restaurant – Our favorite of the authentic Pennsylvania Dutch family-style restaurants (closed Sundays). Print these coupons if you go!

Our favorite places to stay:

  • Intercourse Village Inn (a Best Western Plus property) — Right in the heart of Amish commerce, we loved walking to the craft and antique shops and waking up to the sound of horse-drawn carriages riding by. It is an amazing value for a sweet, family-friendly hotel in the perfect area. And the best breakfast in the world at the Intercourse Village Restaurant is included with your stay!
  • Willow Valley (now a Doubletree) — Great family activities and indoor water playground (closed for repairs 12/16 – 12/25).
  • Strasburg Inn (now a Clarion) — Idyllic view, serene location. When we last stayed here in 2008 under prior management the rooms were pretty luxe for the price.

What are YOUR favorite places in the Pennsylvania Dutch country? Leave your recs in the comments!

Disclosure: The Choo Choo Barn, Strasburg Rail Road and Intercourse Village Inn kindly provided complimentary tickets and one night’s stay to facilitate this review. No additional compensation was received. All other tickets, attractions, meals, and travel expenses were covered by me, as well as my past experiences and patronage of the area since 2004.

Comments

  1. We have never done this and I have seriously always wanted to.

  2. We went there 2 summers ago and stayed at the Little Red Caboose Motel – you’ve GOT to stay there if you head up to Strasburg! The boys were thrilled beyond belief to sleep in a real caboose. The place is a hoot. And not too expensive. Plus there’s a restaurant-car you can eat in (food is so so but it’s just fun being in a real train restaurant car). In the summer they show films at night against a barn. Seriously, this place is awesome. http://www.redcaboosemotel.com/

    The toy train museum is really great too, right next to Red Caboose. http://www.nttmuseum.org/

    Loved the steam engine train. Wish we had time to go up there for Christmas this year, because I bet it’s great with Santa.

    We enjoyed taking a tour in an Amish buggy, too.

    Can you tell we loved it up there? We need to go back.

  3. I have friends who go every year. (Obviously the love it!). I haven’t been but it sounds like fun.

  4. My family and I go to Strasburg/Lancaster multiple times a year. We have done the train since 2006 and it is a wonderful experience every year. I will have to add a new discovery we have made and that us Dieners in Ronks, PA. Do not waste your money at Millers or the Good N Pkenty. Dieners is very special.

  5. We used to go to Dutch Wonderland/Hershey Park for their Winter Wonderland but haven’t been able to go the past two years. Both amusement parks are beautiful in the winter with the lights all lit up. It’s affordable as well!

  6. Jennifer Kefer says:

    We frequently make this trip as well – and it’s one of our winter favorites. We have a number of additional favorite sites in the area. First, be sure to purchase a “combo ticket” for Hershey and Dutch Wonderland. Tickets are only $20 – and good for both parks for 24 hours! The parks are only open in the evenings around Christmas-time; however, it’s the perfect end to a day. We typically explore Amish country during the day and then go to a park in the evening. You can arrive a bit early at Hershey for a tour of the chocolate factory (featuring a ride in a giant Hershey Kiss). We also love the Herr’s Potato Chip factory (in Nottingham), the Turkey Hill Icecream Experience (an incredible interactive museum with unlimited samples) in Columbia, PA, and the QVC Home Shopping Network studio tour (a bit out of the way, in Westchester, PA – but a lot of fun). Our favorite small town in Amish country is Lititz. I also highly recommend a buggy ride – I was surprised by how entertaining and informative it was.

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