Pennsylvania is a beautiful and historical state filled with rolling and mountainous landscapes, cities where the United States of America were founded and incredible stories to go alongside them. Pennsylvania was the second state to be welcomed into the Union, falling 5 days behind Delaware on 12th December 1787. Despite not being the first state in the Union, Pennsylvania has accomplished many firsts since its inception.
The state is home to the first library founded in America in 1731, the first medical school in 1765 and the first daily newspaper in 1784. The state is very welcoming with friendly locals in every town and city, and a culturally diverse atmosphere. When driving around Pennsylvania, particularly through its smaller and more rural towns expect to see historical touches wherever you go; from its traditional covered bridges to regular reenactments of infamous battles and buildings from the states founding days, there is plenty to discover.
Aside from history, Pennsylvania is a vibrant state with must-visit cities including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Scranton. In its cities you will find quirky art scenes, delicious restaurants, underground music and a homely feel throughout. Pennsylvania also has staggering natural beauty throughout. A stretch of the Appalachian mountains runs through Pennsylvania, and beloved weekend getaway destination The Poconos offers mountainous landscapes and ski resorts. Pennsylvania has a lot to offer, so here are 15 things that make this state so unique.
- What is Pennsylvania Known For?
- Plan Your Trip
- 1- Philly Cheesesteak
- 2- Declaration of Independence
- 3- Hershey’s Chocolate
- 4- Pennsylvania Dutch
- 5- Gettysburg National Military Park
- 6- Appalachian Mountains
- 7- Taylor Swift
- 8- The Poconos
- 9- Fallingwater
- 10- Liberty Bell
- 11- Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers
- 12- Amish Culture
- 13- Lake Erie
- 14- Allegheny National Forest
- 15- Shoofly Pie
What is Pennsylvania Known For?
1- Philly Cheesesteak
The Philly Cheesesteak is perhaps the most iconic food found in Pennsylvania.
Taking its name from its origin city of Philadelphia, this sandwich has a popular history with Philly residents and those from further afield.
Brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri created the original cheesesteak in the 1930s as a way to entice new customers to their hot dog stand with tasty new flavours.
The original cheesesteak did not have any cheese, and instead favoured grilled beef and onions served in a toasted roll.
Cheese, specifically provolone, was officially added to this sandwich in the 1940s, creating the now famous Philly Cheesesteak.
Following the Olivieri Brother’s success Geno’s, a now famous Philly Cheesesteak shop with eye-catching signs, opened in 1960 immediately opposite the original stand.
The two stands have been in friendly competition since, and while Philly Cheesesteaks are available across the city, head to one of the originals for a true taste of Philadelphia.
2- Declaration of Independence
Pennsylvania has a long history dating back to the birth of America as we know it today.
In Philadelphia, the Declaration of Independence was signed in its State House on August 2nd 1776.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence at the nearby Declaration House before taking his final copy to the State House for 56 members of the newly formed Second Continental Congress to sign, including the likes of John Hancock, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
The state and indeed city is immensely proud of this historical moment, and has 3 copies of the declaration of independence, one of which is displayed in Independence Hall.
The official Declaration of Independence is in the National Archives located in Washington D.C.
- Revolution and the Founders: History Tour of Philadelphia
- Philadelphia History, Highlights and Revolution Walking Tour
3- Hershey’s Chocolate
Hershey’s Chocolate is an iconic American chocolate brand and one that hails from Pennsylvania.
Milton Snavely Hershey, the founder of Hershey’s, began making chocolates and candies aged just 14, before undertaking an apprenticeship with Joseph Royer, a master confectioner from Lancaster.
Following an unsuccessful candy start up in 1876 and a venture in selling caramels from a cart, Hershey founded his now world-famous company in 1894.
The 1900s saw significant leaps and bounds for Hershey, with his first chocolate bar selling in 1900, and his factory completed in 1905.
Milton founded the small town of Hershey, PA in 1903 where his factory would then be built.
In Hershey, he also built homes for his workers and places for them to relax.
Today a visit to Hershey, PA includes trips to Hersheypark, an amusement park with Hershey-themed rides, a museum dedicated to the chocolate and its history, and a school founded by Milton and his wife.
Hershey’s are now sold across the United States and are available world-wide in American sections of grocery stores, with their famous Kisses being one of the most popular chocolates in the US.
Recommended tour: 1–Day Tour to Philadelphia and Hershey’s Chocolate World
4- Pennsylvania Dutch
The Pennsylvania Dutch are a group of people living in rural Pennsylvania whose origins date back to the 17th century.
During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, groups of Germanic people fled Germany in a bid to escape religious and political persecution and settled in Pennsylvania.
Many groups of Pennsylvania Dutch still reside in the southwestern corner of the state where their ancestors first made their homes.
Today, those who are descended from these settlers still speak a unique blend of German with unusual additions and pronunciations.
It is believed that the majority of Pennsylvania Dutch-speakers are Amish, with those who have adopted a more American way of life speaking it less and less.
The Pennsylvania Dutch culture embodies strict rules that have allowed their culture and heritage to remain strong even in the 21st century.
If visiting areas of Pennsylvania Dutch origins you may find locals taking part in their culture through the food they make, their artworks, woodworking and of course their churches and other religious sites.
5- Gettysburg National Military Park
One of the most infamous battles of the American Civil War was the Battle of Gettysburg.
Often seen as a turning point in the war, Gettysburg saw a victory for the Union alongside the bloodiest battle of the war which lasted from July 1st to July 3rd 1863.
Today Gettysburg is a National Military Park with an onsite museum, and the opportunity for visitors to explore the land where the battle was fought.
Inside the museums are artefacts from the battlefield including bullets, guns, military uniforms worn by both sides and cannons.
Throughout the parkland are many statues of famous generals and soldiers from the battle, and markers identifying key landmarks including Little Round Top.
- 2-Hour Gettysburg Battlefield Guided History Bus Tour with a National Park Guide
- Civil War Ghosts of Gettysburg Tour by US Ghost Adventures
- 21 Landmarks In Pennsylvania
- 22 Things To Do In Pittsburgh At Night
- 20 Things To Do In Philadelphia At Night
- 20 Day Trips From Philadelphia
- 20 Things To Do In Bethlehem PA
- 20 Things To Do In Harrisburg PA
- 20 Things To Do In Scranton PA
- 20 Things To Do In Erie
- 21 Pennsylvania National Parks
- 20 Things To Do In Lancaster PA
- 20 Things To Do In Altoona
- 20 Pennsylvania Cities
- 20 Things To Do In Wilkes-Barre
- 20 Things To Do In York PA
- 20 Things To Do In Jim Thorpe
- 20 State Parks in Pennsylvania
- 20 Things To Do In Reading
- 20 Things Pennsylvania is Famous For
6- Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachian Mountains is a vast mountain region spanning from Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada down into Alabama in the US.
A stretch of the Appalachian Mountains runs through Pennsylvania with the Allegheny Plateau of the mountains resting in the northern and western areas of the state.
The plateau is rich in thick hardwood forest which sees many logging companies heading to this remote area of Pennsylvania to gather resources.
Other natural resources along the Allegheny Plateau include coal which is mined throughout the region.
Despite the industry associated with the area, the Allegheny Plateau and Appalachian Mountains are beautiful landscapes for hiking and climbing.
Within the Allegheny Plateau region of Pennsylvania are national and state forests, state parks, dramatic lakes and of course plenty of mountains.
The best time to explore the Allegheny Plateau is from late spring to early autumn as the landscape here experiences harsh winters, making hiking and climbing dangerous.
7- Taylor Swift
Music icon Taylor Swift was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1989.
Despite a move to Tennessee when she was 13 to pursue her music career, Taylor Swift’s PA origins have highly influenced her today and remain an important part of her life.
When she was just 11 years old, Taylor sang the Star-Spangled Banner in-front of thousands of people at a Philadelphia 76ers basketball game, which then prompted her to pick up a guitar and begin writing songs.
Taylor Swift grew up on a Christmas tree farm in Reading in a beautiful Georgian Colonial home.
During her time growing up in Pennsylvania, Taylor labelled herself as ‘weird’, as she preferred to stay home writing songs and playing music instead of attending parties with her classmates, an act that became the normal way of life when she moved to pursue music.
Despite much of her early music and of course career success dating from after she left PA, Taylor is still very much in touch with her roots, with references to her childhood home appearing in some of her early songs.
8- The Poconos
A popular vacation destination for many American’s are the Pocono Mountains, often referred to as the Poconos.
The region stretches across four counties in Pennsylvania and is nestled on the borders of both New Jersey and New York.
Within this spectacular natural region of PA there are 150 lakes, plenty of mountain and forest hikes, and luxury resorts to extend your stay.
The Poconos are pleasant year-round, offering a variety of different activities as the seasons change.
During fall the weather is cooler but the landscape is dramatic with the forest turning rich oranges and reds and many festivals including the Hawley Harvest Hoedown.
Winter reveals many opportunities for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and hiking, while in spring and summer the lakes offer boating and kayaking, and family-friendly activities like paintball.
The Poconos are ideal for those looking for an adventure getaway with more than 126 hiking trails across the region, 30 golf courses and 170 ski trails during winter.
Recommended tour: Private Mount Pocono Observation Air Tour
Fallingwater is one of the most iconic architectural structures in North America, and one that is synonymous with the connection between nature and art.
Frank Lloyd Wright, an American architect originally from Wisconsin, designed the house in 1935.
Fallingwater is considered one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s best works and one that embodies his architectural philosophy.
This iconic structure is nestled among the forested landscape and mountains of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
The building was designed to rest above a natural waterfall, giving it a dramatic appearance.
Local sandstone was used in its construction, with wood from nearby forests in its interior.
Fallingwater was designed for the Kauffman Family, who owned the largest department store in Pittsburg, and who used the home for vacations.
Today Fallingwater is owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and is preserved as a museum with tours available.
Surrounding this iconic home is a 5100 acre nature reserve offering many pleasant strolls through the forested landscape.
Recommended tour: FALLINGWATER – America’s UNESCO World Heritage Masterpiece!
10- Liberty Bell
One of the most important pieces of American history resides in Pennsylvania.
The Liberty Bell is preserved in Philadelphia at the Liberty Bell Centre.
Formerly called the State House Bell, the Liberty Bell was installed in the Pennsylvania State House in 1751.
The bell originated at the Whitechapel Foundry in London before being shipped to the states.
When the bell was first rang, a crack formed resulting in the entire bell being melted down by local metalworkers and reformed.
A second and larger crack formed in the bell during the 1840s and during the repair process, the crack was widened in order to stop it spreading further.
This unusual repair did not save the bell, as a further crack appeared running through the word ‘Liberty’, causing the bell to be taken down and displayed rather than rung in order to prevent it being damaged further.
Liberty Bell Centre has displayed this important bell in a glass case overlooked by Independence Hall where it once proudly hung.
11- Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers
Only 23 of the 50 states in the USA have NFL teams, 7 of which have more than 1 team.
In Pennsylvania, the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both have NFL teams, creating a rivalry known as the Battle of Pennsylvania.
Despite this rivalry, there is a more intense rivalry within the divisions with other out of state teams as the Philadelphia Eagles play in the NFC East, and the Pittsburg Steelers are in the AFC North.
Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburg Steelers were both established in 1933.
Uniquely, during World War II, the two teams combined due to a player shortage, becoming known as the Steagles.
The Eagles have won 2 Super Bowl, defeating the New England Patriots in 2018.
The Steelers on the other hand have six Super Bowl titles, their most recent being in 2009, making them one of the most successful NFL franchises in history.
Book tickets to the Philadelphia Eagles Football Game at Lincoln Financial Field here.
12- Amish Culture
Pennsylvania is well known for the Pennsylvania Dutch, and the Pennsylvania Amish.
The Amish community in Pennsylvania dates back to the 16th century following the Reformation in Europe, which later saw many Germanic peoples arrive in the state becoming Pennsylvania Dutch.
The Amish are a conservative group of people who have a reluctance to adopt modern amenities such as electricity.
The Amish community in Lancaster County is the oldest in the United States with around 30,000 people living this unique way of life.
Within this culture the people follow Anabaptist practices where only adults can be baptised, as they believe that accepting God should be a conscious choice.
In Amish villages across the county expect to see people dressed traditionally and shunning the influence of the wider world including mass media, technological advancements and even the personal desire for individualism.
A visit to Lancaster County will open up the history and culture of the Amish, including authentic Amish tours and experiences.
Recommended tour: Premium Amish Country Tour including Amish Farm and House
13- Lake Erie
Lake Erie is one of the Great Lakes of North America.
The lake has shores in Ontario, Canada and the states of Michigan, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.
This beautiful expanse of water is 241 miles (388 kilometres) long and at its widest spans 57 miles (91.73 kilometres).
One of the best ways to explore the Pennsylvania stretch of Lake Erie is by visiting the town of the same name.
From the town of Erie you can board historical vessels, pirate shops or modern-day boats on tours of the lake, some of which offer an dining option or sunset cruise.
To explore the lake at your own pace hire a pontoon boat, kayak or even jet ski.
The shores of the lake offer pleasant walks along the waterfront and into the woodlands.
Recommended tour: Lake Erie Smallmouth Fishing Charters
14- Allegheny National Forest
When spending time in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Plateau make time to visit the Allegheny National Forest.
The forest covers 514,029 hectares of land that has been protected as a National Forest for 100 years.
Within the national forest are seven campgrounds to extend your stay, many boat launches that are open year round allowing visitors to take to the waters of Kinzua Bay, Sugar Bay and the Allegheny River, and plenty of hiking trails.
During winter when conditions are snowy some of the hiking trails transform into cross country ski trails and trails for snowshoeing.
There are also plenty of opportunities for orienteering and taking to trails on bikes or ATVs.
When visiting the forest keep your eyes peeled for its native wildlife which can be seen if you are silent and alert.
Allegheny National Forest is home to black hears, wild turkeys, salamanders, raccoons and river otters.
15- Shoofly Pie
Shoofly Pie is an unusually named and beloved dish within Pennsylvania.
Shoofly Pie was created by the Amish living in Lancaster County, PA, who wanted a sweet treat to enjoy with their morning coffee that wouldn’t crumble and fall apart.
The desert is based on a cake from Philadelphian cake dating from 1876 named the ‘Centennial Cake’.
The pie consists of a pie shell filled with sweet molasses and topped with a crumb.
There are two distinct types of Shoofly Pie, a wet bottom and a dry bottom pie.
Wet bottom Shoofly Pies are often found in Lancaster County and feature a wetter filling more akin to a molasses-flavoured custard.
Dry bottom Shoofly Pies are more akin to a soft gingerbread or cake inside which is easier to hold and eat, with many believing the dry bottom version is the original.
Shoofly Pie is sweet, crumbly and buttery, and the perfect dessert to try with a warm cup of coffee as the Amish intended.
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