While there’s no shortage of fun places to explore within the city, the list of Philadelphia day trips you can take is long and varied. Within only a few hours you can be up in the mountains or “down the shore” with your toes in the Atlantic Ocean. The arts, food, history, the great outdoors, or shopping: there’s a place to steal your heart just outside of Philadelphia if only just for a day.
These Philadelphia day trips are, roughly, no more than three hours away. There are different ways you can get to each spot, whether it be by car, local train (SEPTA regional rail), or long-distance train (Amtrak). If you’re looking to really keep to a budget, consider an inexpensive long-distance bus service like MegaBus. Today, many can be clean and comfortable in addition to offering modern amenities like wifi that make any day trips from Philadelphia easy and painless.
Pennsylvania Day Trips from Philadelphia
Jim Thorpe & Pocono Mountains
Active and outdoor types will love the Pocono Mountains. In the summer months, you can camp, hike, bike and white water raft. In the winter, you can ski to your heart’s desire. And year round you can stroll the streets of charming small towns, many of which have architecture from the turn of the century. Be sure to visit Jim Thorpe where you can unwind, dine outside, and go for a ride on the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway.
While it’s an easy Philadelphia day trip, it’s extremely tempting to make a weekend of it at one of the many bed and breakfasts that dot the region.
Lancaster & Pennsylvania Dutch Country
While Philadelphia is modern urban, just a short drive outside the city is Lancaster County. If you’re looking for quiet and rural, head to Pennsylvania Dutch Country to see Amish farms on the rolling countryside. Horses and buggies go up and down the rural highways that have family-owned farm stands with fresh produce that likely grew only yards away. But if you’re looking for cool and hip, head to downtown Lancaster City. The city is full of small shops and restaurants that you just won’t find anywhere else not to mention a historic farmer’s market. Be sure to check out Passenger Coffee!
Read More: Get to Know President Buchanan’s Wheatland
Hershey & Harrisburg
It’s a somewhat odd pairing: Harrisburg and Hershey. Harrisburg is the capital of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Hershey is home to the chocolate and candy company of the same name. Visitors to Harrisburg will find no shortage of history and political spots of interest, whether it’s the lavish and architecturally spectacular State Capitol Building or the State Museum of Pennsylvania.
Harrisburg’s Midtown neighborhood is up-and-coming and very hip. From an incredible bookshop to a fantastic market, there are a lot of great ways to spend a day.
But if you’re looking to let loose, Hershey Park is a more than 100 acre amusement park that includes ZooAmerica, a wildlife park. Be sure to take a break between rollercoasters to check out Hershey’s Chocolate World where you’ll get an inside peek on how the company makes their famous chocolate products.
During the late summer months, nearby Manheim hosts the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.
Bethlehem & Allentown
Billy Joel’s Allentown might have been working class, but this region of industry has had a resurgence in recent years. There are all kinds of modern, cosmopolitan amenities like the Allentown Art Museum, Sands Bethlehem Casino and minor league baseball.
The nearby SteelStacks revitalizes the one-time home of Bethlehem Steel with a 10 acre arts and entertainment venue that hosts concerts and festivals. But visitors can still relive the past. SteelStacks includes the Hoover Mason Trestle, a former railroad turned into a walkway that runs along the blast furnaces of Bethlehem Steel.
In nearby Nazareth, you can visit historic Martin Guitar for a tour of their factory and museum.
Scranton, aka the Electric City, is no longer the city of coal but the city’s heyday is still visible. It’s hard to miss the beautiful 1900s architecture of so many of the city’s buildings. After you’ve strolled the city streets, you can tour a coal mine, visit any of the city’s countless museums or indulge in some outdoor exploring and activities. Fans of the American version of the television show The Office might even recognize a view local spots!
On the one hand, Doylestown is a charming and colorful small town with lovely architecture and tons of cool Mom & Pop shops and restaurants. I recommend Siren Records. On the other hand, it’s home to some not so small town spots. Henry Chapman Mercer’s Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, a factory that still makes beautiful handmade tiles and houses, and the Mercer Museum, a history museum, are in incredible larger-than-life historic buildings that are poured-in-place concrete. Elsewhere you can enjoy an art museum named after Pulitzer Prize-winning writer James A. Michener, the 60-acre homestead of Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl Buck, or the farmhouse that Oscar Hammerstein bought in 1940 and then died in twenty years later.
From December 1777 to June 1778, the Continental Army was encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, just west of Philadelphia. 12000 troops, including General George Washington, spent a cold, hard winter. Their challenges were many and as they fought to survive, they also trained. By the time spring rolled around and they left Valley Forge, the ragtag bunch were transformed and shortly thereafter the American Revolutionary War began to take a turn in favor of the colonists. Today, visitors to Valley Forge National Historical Park can tour the various encampment sites, explore recreated log cabins or see General Washington’s headquarters. But there are also miles of trails to walk, run, bike or even ride your horse. You can explore history or simply be in history. And during those winter months, you can get a real taste of just what the soldiers experienced all those years ago.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of history, the Valley Forge neighborhood makes for a great Philly day trip.
You can take a stroll along the Delaware Canal or go shopping for antiques in historic New Hope. The city, which sits right on the Delaware River is a stone’s throw from Lambertville, New Jersey. The town’s cool, hip vibe is perpetuated by dozens of art galleries, wineries, playhouses and more. Go for lunch and enjoy the afternoon.
Gettysburg is a place that instantly conjures images of battlefields. It’s difficult not to associate the city with the historic battleground that is now a National Park that is undoubtedly worth visiting. But there’s more to the town and the surrounding area. There’s no shortage of outdoor adventures for those looking to be active. But when you’re ready to relax, head to one of the many craft breweries and vineyards.
In nearby Carlisle, massive car shows and events are held throughout the year. Check out Chryslers at Carlisle, it’s a favorite of my husband.
The suburbs of Philadelphia are nearly as sprawling as the city itself. And across the dozens of towns that are just a short distance away there’s something for everyone and every taste if you’re looking for some day trips from Philadelphia.
During the warm summer months, visitors to my hometown of Media can enjoy Dining Under the Stars where the downtown streets shut down and restaurants serve diners al fresco. In Ardmore, among the town’s many foodie options my favorite is enjoying Japanese comfort food and picking up some Japanese groceries at Maido. In Chadds Ford you can visit the Brandywine River Museum of Art to enjoy a wonderful collection of art with a special focus on the Wyeth family. Consider going for a canoe or kayak trip down the Brandywine River, too.
Or perhaps you just want to indulge at The Malvern Buttery in some good coffee and fresh baked pastries or classic English comfort food and tea at A Taste of Britain in Wayne. There are no shortage of great local spots to visit and enjoy for day trips from Philadelphia. And each town has its own special charm.
New Jersey Day Trips from Philadelphia
There’s little that needs to be said about Atlantic City. At Atlantic City you can gamble with a view of the ocean. But there’s no shortage of other ways to enjoy a day, including live shows, a stroll along the boardwalk or a visit to the Atlantic City Aquarium.
Just across the Hudson River from New York City, are dozens of towns with a lot to offer. In Edgewater, you can visit Mitsuwa Marketplace, a Japanese grocery store and food court. Meanwhile, in Frank Sinatra’s hometown of Hoboken, you’ll find brownstone buildings with unique and fun independent shops. From Jersey City you can access historic spots like Ellis Island. Also, be sure to check out the Liberty Science Center, a fun hands-on science museum that’s perfect for families. These towns all make great day trips from Philadelphia.
If someone says they’re going “down the Shore,” you know they’re from Philly. Visitors can enjoy the Atlantic Ocean from any of dozens of beachside towns for day trips from Philadelphia.
At the very southern tip of the Jersey Shore is Wildwood, rich with a 2-mile oceanfront boardwalk, aquarium and a lighthouse. Ocean City is known for its classic amusement parks, including Gillian’s Wonderland Pier from 1929. In Brigantine you can take in the state’s tallest lighthouse, Absecon, or simply enjoy the miles of beaches. While many Jersey Shore communities are a throwback to the ’50s and ’60s, it’s the Victorian era that reigns supreme in Cape May, the country’s oldest seaside resort.
Whether you’re looking for family friendly, quiet and relaxing, or simply a place to explore, there’s a Jersey Shore spot for you. Just be sure to pick up some saltwater taffy for the ride home.
If you stand along Philadelphia riverfront and look across the water, there you will find Camden, New Jersey. Popular attractions in Camden include the Adventure Aquarium and the battleship USS New Jersey. If you’re feeling particularly energetic, walk to Camden via the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. If you’re not looking to go too far, this is one of the closest day trips from Philadelphia.
Delaware Day Trips from Philadelphia
Just over the state line in Delaware, Wilmington has a lot to offer. The city’s downtown area is full of historic buildings like Hotel Du Pont (where you won’t want to miss the afternoon tea!) and a riverfront trail.
The areas surrounding Wilmington are just as rich in arts and cultural offerings. Check out the Delaware Art Museum or any of the estates that keep the Du Pont family legacy alive, such as Nemours Mansion and Gardens, Winterthur, Mt. Cuba Center, or nearby Kennett Square, PA’s Longwood Gardens.
If you’re looking for high speed fun, Dover is just the place for you. Enjoy Dover International Speedway and Dover Downs Casino as well as the fantastic and moving Air Mobility Command Museum. But when you’re ready to slow the pace, there are breweries and historic spots to explore. Dover is the capital of the First State, after all, and you can explore the buildings were it all started.
Be careful, you could drive right through Historic Odessa. The collection of preserved 18th and 19th-century buildings is so nestled into the surrounding residential area you could miss it. And that’s part of the charm. Visitors can tour the buildings and walk the lovely properties while learning about the history of the area. While you’re there, enjoy a thoroughly modern lunch or dinner in historic surroundings at Cantwell’s Tavern Restaurant.
Be sure to return for another day trip from Philadelphia to Historic Odessa at the end of the year when they put on their Christmas best for special tours and exhibitions.
More Philadelphia Day Trips
New York City
Philly is often referred to as the sixth borough of New York City due to the nearby proximity. While New York City is really far more than a mere Philadelphia day trip, there’s still a lot you can see in a single day. Pick a neighborhood and focus on that area for the day. Try the Upper East Side for its art museums like the Frick Collection. Or explore some free things to do in New York City.
If you’re driving to the Big Apple for your day trip from Philly, I recommend parking on the New Jersey side and taking the train or the ferry into NYC.
Hidden in the Chesapeake Bay along the Maryland-Virginia state line, is Smith Island. It takes a ferry ride of nearly an hour to reach the island, but it’s well worth it for anyone looking to unwind and relax. On Smith Island you’ll find the freshest crabs you’ve ever tasted, the tallest cake you’ve ever seen and quite possibly the friendliest people you’ll ever come upon. As far as the day trips from Philadelphia go, Smith Island is a bit farther away but it’s a place worth experiencing at least once.
Baltimore‘s Inner Harbor is a popular must-see that’s jam-packed with museums, ships, concert halls and sports arenas. Take in a ballgame or explore the National Aquarium. Also on display in the harbor is USCGC Taney, the last warship still floating after the attack on Pearl Harbor. There’s also art museums, a lighthouse and plenty more. While you’re there, be sure to have a pit beef sandwich (you’ll make John Waters proud) and a crab cake.
If history is more your thing, check out nearby Fort McHenry. There you can see where Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that became the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
The nation’s capital is rich in spots to see. And similar to New York City, DC is one of the prime day trips from Philadelphia. In the spring, visitors flock to the capital to see those famous Washington, DC cherry blossoms. But there’s plenty to experience the rest of the year, too.
From the White House to the National Monuments, you could spend all day walking the National Mall. Or, you could spend a day exploring the Smithsonian Museums which are free to enter. Avoid some of the crowds at the most popular museums and check out the Freer|Sackler Asian Art Galleries. You could also spend a day exploring the 446 acres at the National Arboretum. Or how about an afternoon at the newly developed waterfront at Washington’s Wharf DC? There’s really no shortage of options on this day trip from Philadelphia.
Just a hop skip and a jump from Washington, DC, there are plenty of small towns and suburbs in Virginia worth a day trip (or longer)! Alexandria is a richly historic town that’s extremely dog-friendly and right on the waterfront. Think cobblestone streets and colonial-era neighborhoods that can rival Philadelphia and Boston for their charm and importance. George Washington’s Mount Vernon is also nearby making Alexandria a home base for your explorations.
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All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own.