While many people know that Philadelphia enjoys an enviable proximity to New York City to the north and Washington, DC to the south, it’s worth considering the beautiful places that lie to the city’s other directions. Head due west, and you’ll encounter historic sites and the scenic farmlands and rolling hills of the Amish country. To the east, the broad sandy beaches of New Jersey. And you could also head north and south, but not nearly so far, to find lovely state parks or charming towns. There’s plenty to do and see for anyone who wants to venture outside of Philly, and here are some of the top day trips.
New Hope, Pennsylvania — New Hope’s known as a cool suburb (in fact, it was named one of Matador Network’s coolest towns in America in 2018), and it definitely lives up to that reputation. This Delaware River town, with gorgeous, old architecture and dogwood trees, might be quieter than the city, but it’s definitely not boring. New Hope has several niche small businesses, specializing in anything from lingerie to Irish imports to magic. You can grab a meal at the Bowman’s Tavern or the vegan-friendly Lambertville Station Restaurant and Inn. There are also art galleries, rumors of a haunted inn (the Logan Inn), and an impossible-to-miss big red barn that hosts local theater. Interestingly enough, two of its biggest communities are bikers and drag queens, and they get along swimmingly. New Hope is only an hour’s drive from the city, and can easily be combined with visits to Lambertville in New Jersey, just over the bridge, and the ridiculously quaint Peddler’s Village.
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania — Lancaster County, an hour and 40 minutes away by driving from Philadelphia, makes an ideal day trip for nature lovers. Lancaster’s beautiful, rural landscape, full of farmlands, hills, and maple and pine trees, has plenty of campgrounds for anyone needing a break from urban life. Lancaster is also known for its large Amish community, where modern dress and technology are shunned. You can explore Amish life through tours of Amish villages, led either by the Amish or ex-Amish community members; buggy rides; and farmers markets that sell Amish-made furniture, quilts, toys, and produce.
Sea Isle City, New Jersey — Philadelphians love “going down the shore.” Sea Isle City is one of the closest New Jersey beaches, only an hour and 20 minutes away by driving, and accessible via Greyhound bus. The long, yellow sand beaches are the perfect place to chill, while the mild waves are great for cooling off or surfing. Just pay attention to weather alerts, as sometimes there are dangerous rip currents. When the sun goes down, head to the promenade, which borders the far edge of the beach. There are shops, an arcade, and dinner options at Sea Isle’s popular seafood restaurants or the Sunset Pier bar and restaurant.
Brandywine Creek State Park, Delaware — Only 40 minutes from Philadelphia, this park is a peaceful getaway from the city. With 1,000 acres of hills, woodland, and meadows, it’s an ideal spot for hikers who want to explore the 14 miles of trails. The Brandywine Creek is filled with bass and trout, so it’s a popular fishing spot. There’s even a disc golf course, which is $8 for out-of-state visitors. When it’s summer, bring a tube to lazily drift along the Brandywine Creek. In the winter, trade the water tube for a toboggan, and sled down one of Brandywine’s hills. It’s popular during the fall and winter months, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania — It’s no secret that Philadelphia has some of the US’ most important historic sites. If you’re visiting to experience some of that history, don’t just limit yourself to the city boundaries. Valley Forge, a 35-minute drive away, is the spot where George Washington’s army suffered through a harsh winter during the Revolutionary War. Exhibits include group tours of the encampment, Washington’s headquarters, and artillery park with real Revolutionary-era cannons. In addition to the history, Valley Forge is also a park with 19.5 miles of hiking trails and 21 miles of biking trails. After checking out the history, you can unwind by hiking or biking; you can rent bikes over the weekends in spring and fall, and every summer day, at the Encampment Store. Pick up food before you go and enjoy a picnic at the park; there are several designated picnic areas and even grills for a cookout.