10 Great Day Trips from Philadelphia

by sockii

Whether you live in Philly or are visiting on vacation, there are plenty of reasons to get out of the city for the day and explore the surrounding area.

Philadelphia is a great city to live in - or to visit in order to explore its rich culture, history and unique attractions. But sometimes it's nice to get out of the city for the day and there are many fun things to do without traveling too far from the City of Brotherly Love. Whether you'd like to visit the beach, go antiquing, visit working farms and vineyards or explore incredible gardens, there's something for everyone all within two hours of travel from Philly - or less!

Here I've collected ten of my favorite nearby attractions and destinations that make for a fun day trip excursion from Philadelphia. Most of these do require a car to get to, although some are on regional rail lines as well. I'll share some basic visitors info and tips so you'll know when - and how - to get there. I lived in Philadelphia for over 16 years and still live nearby in New Jersey, so these are all places I've visited and have enjoyed myself. In fact the hard thing was limiting myself to a list of only 10 great day trips! Perhaps I'll have to do a Part 2 someday...

Image above: The fountains at Longwood Gardens, near Philadelphia, are one of Longwood's major attractions. Photo by sockii.

1. Longwood Gardens

Elegant landscaping and incredible greenhouses to explore
Tropical blooms inside the greenhouse at Longwood Gardens
Tropical blooms inside the greenhouse at Longwood Gardens

One of the most popular day trips from Philadelphia is a visit to Longwood Gardens, located just about an hour west from the city in Kennet Square, PA. The gardens spread over 1,000 acres of woodlands and fields and is considered one of the United States' premiere botanic gardens.

What originally began as a working farm transformed slowly, from when brothers Joshua and Samuel Peirce began planting trees for an arboretum in 1798. Wealthy industrialist Pierre S. du Pont purchased the land in 1906 to save the arboretum from being sold for lumber, turned it into his private estate and began considerable expansions on the property. He added many features including the impressive greenhouse, the fountain system, a pipe organ, and exotic plants from around the world. In his will, he left the majority of his estate toward the continued maintenance and expansions of the Gardens, so that they could continue to be enjoyed by visitors long after his death.

Longwood Gardens are open year-round and there's something to enjoy in every season: blooming spring flowers, fountain displays in the summertime, fall foliage in all colors and a Christmas light display in the winter. There are regularly scheduled concert performances, dining events, classes and workshops and family fun like summer camp and tree-houses. Hours and ticket prices vary by the season, you can find all the details on their website.

Of course you can expect the biggest crowds on weekends, and you'll want to arrive early for the best parking spaces. There is a shuttle bus that operates (with advance notice) between Longwood and the Wilmington, Delaware train station, which is a quick connection from Philadelphia's 30th Street Station via Amtrak.

You can see more pictures of Longwood Gardens in my photoset on Flickr.

2. Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library in Delaware

American history and crafts set in magnificent gardens
A Pathway at Winterthur lined by their famous azaleas.
A Pathway at Winterthur lined by their famous azaleas.

Often overlooked in the shadow of nearby Longwood Gardens, Winterthur is another beautiful estate southwest of Philadelphia just north of Wilmington, Delaware. It was once the home of Henry Francis du Pont, an important horticulturalist and collector of early American furniture and arts.

Winterthur, the house, was built in the early 20th century to replicate the feel of 18th and 19th-century European homes. du Pont continually expanded and built upon the estate, adding more rooms and eventually opening the main building to the public as a museum of Americana. Today the museum contains over 85,000 objects and is a delight to explore for anyone interested in colonial American history.

The surrounding 979 acres of the estate include 60 acres of naturalistic-designed gardens; originally the estate consisted of 2,500 acres of dairy cattle pastures and grazing land. It is interesting to contrast the gardens of Winterthur with those of Longwood; each has its own unique style and beauty. Winterthur is open year round with regularly scheduled walks, tour and talks on gardening and history. Special events include their annual Yuletide display and the Delaware Antiques Show. You can bring a picnic lunch or dine in their cafes on site, and it's a very romantic place to enjoy a date with someone you love. There are many kids activities and themed attractions for children in the gardens as well!

Explore Naturalistic Gardens and a Vast Collection of Americana and Antiques

Books on Winterthur's History and Exploring the Estate

Useful guides before you visit...or to remember the experience afterward!

Reprint of 1985 first edition. With 200 illustrations including 100 in color. With forewords by Ruth Ellen du Pont Lord, Pauline Louise du Pont Harrison and Thomas L. Graves, Jr...

$50.9  $38.0

View on Amazon

Guide to Winterthur Museum & Country Estate (Winterthur Decorative Arts Series)

Winterthur offers a rare combination of beauty, history, art, and learning. Nestled in the scenic Brandywine Valley of Delaware, the estate is the former home of three generatio...

$22.99  $19.75

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Henry F. du Pont and Winterthur: A Daughter`s Portrait

World renowned for its vast woodland gardens, its 175-room house, and its unrivaled collection of American decorative arts, Winterthur in Delaware is today among the most belove...

$22.8  $1.26

View on Amazon

3. Valley Forge National Historical Park

Explore Revolutionary War history and enjoy great outdoor activities
Valley Forge park in snow - P C Knox estate - Library
Valley Forge park in snow - P C Knox estate - Library

Located just beyond King of Prussia, less than an hour (traffic willing) from Philadelphia, you will find Valley Forge National Historical Park. This is the site where the Colonial Army spent the Winter of 1777-1778. While the British troops enjoyed warmth and comfort in nearby Philly, the Colonials, under Washington's command, endured harsh conditions yet also critical training and rejuvenation. This encampment at Valley Forge is considered a turning point in the history of the Revolutionary War, and Valley Forge was designated the first state park of Pennsylvania in 1893.

The park consists of 3,500 acres of land with restored historic structures, recreated encampment facilities, museums and memorials. Lots of great physical activities can be enjoyed in the park, too. You can explore almost 20 miles of marked hiking trails that pass by important sites like Washington's Headquarters. Bring your bike to enjoy paved and unpaved, designated biking trails. Go birdwatching, horseback riding, take a trolley tour, or check out one of their regularly scheduled special events.

Not just for summer outdoor fun, Valley Forge is great to visit on a snowy winter day. Not only is it beautiful but you can imagine the hardship of the Revolutionary War troops encamped here.

Learn More about Valley Forge

Revolutionary War History and about the Park Itself
Valley Forge: Making and Remaking a National Symbol (A Keystone Book ®)

More than four million people a year visit Valley Forge, one of America's most celebrated historic sites. Here, amid the rolling hills of southeastern Pennsylvania, visitors can...

$26.51  $3.51

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Washington's Secret War

The defining moments of the Revolutionary War did not occur on the battlefield or at the diplomatic table, claims Thomas Fleming, but at Valley Forge, where the Continental Army...

$1.74  $19.98

View on Amazon

4. Pennsylvania Dutch County in Lancaster, PA

The heart of the Amish community
Amish wagon
Amish wagon

About an hour and a half west of Philadelphia, you can find yourself in a completely different world: that of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Lancaster, PA is America's oldest Amish settlement, and here you will still find thousands living in traditional "plain" ways. Horse-driven buggys share the roads here with modern vehicles and you can visit many small towns and farms in the area to learn about its history, enjoy hearty Amish foods and sweets, or simply relax and relish the day away from it all.

There are numerous organized tours available, from farm and factory tours to those in hot air balloons or helicopters. There is much more to Lancaster than just the Amish, however; there are vineyards and breweries, arts and cultural attractions, great shopping in boutiques and galleries, the Dutch Wonderland Theme Park and regularly scheduled events and festivals. If you have the time, it could easily be worth spending the weekend here, staying in a quaint bed & breakfast or even on an active farm.

Guides to Lancaster County Travel

Planning more than a day trip?
Lancaster County Unanchor Travel Guide - 3 Day PA Dutch Country Highlights

Lancaster County is an eclectic mix of old and new world, city and country, Amish and "English". It is an ideal place to visit for art-lovers, die-hard shoppers, historians, ant...

Only $5.99

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Lancaster County: The Best Fun, Food, Lodging, Shopping and Sights

Childhood memories of time spent with her Pennsylvania Dutch grandparents give author Allonna Smith a special affinity for the unique offerings of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania...

Only $4.18

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5. New Hope and Lambertville

Two fabulous historic towns just north of the city
Down Bridge Street New Hope PA
Down Bridge Street New Hope PA

Head about an hour north out of Philly, straight up I-95, and you have the choice between two utterly charming small towns with thriving arts and cultural communities: New Hope, PA and Lambertville, NJ. Each is a great place to spend the day shopping, dining, and just walking around in an environment so very different from Center City.

New Hope lies on the West Bank of the Delaware River, and was once an industrial town and frequent stop-over point for those traveling between Philadelphia and New York City. Today it is a thriving tourist destination - although mostly for tourists from both cities looking to get away from it all with a lovely visit in elegant Bucks County. There are tons of specialty boutiques, cute restaurants and bars, and regularly held festivals. All summer long there are fireworks on the river on Friday nights.  On the way to New Hope from Philly, you'll also pass Peddler's Village, a charming area with specialty vendors, holiday specials and events throughout the year. It's hard to believe you're so close to the big city.

Just across the Delaware (connected by a car and foot-traffic bridge) is Lambertville, New Jersey. It, too, is a delightful town of rich history and now teeming with galleries, boutiques, fine restaurants and more ways to spend the way. In the 18th Century, the area was a developed as a primary stopping point for ferries crossing the Delaware, passengers headed between New York City and Philadelphia. Once a factory town, it diminished for decades until seeing revitalization as an arts center in the late 20th Century. Now, many Philadelphians "in the know" prefer to head over to Lambertville over the more commercialized New Hope. Why not take a day exploring both and decide for yourself?

6. Go Antiquing in Mullica Hill, New Jersey

A charming small town in South Jersey
Mullica Hill, New Jersey
Mullica Hill, New Jersey

New Jersey has some delightful small historic towns and villages, too! About an hour south-east of Philadelphia, for instance, you will find Mullica Hill. The area was settled in the late 17th century by English and Irish Quakers. Before the American revolution, it was little more than a cluster of homes, a grist mill, and two taverns. After the Civil War, expansion continued and notable Victorian homes were built, some of which still stand today and have been restored to maintain its historic charm for residents and visitors alike.

Mullica Hill today is home to a number of wonderful independent businesses, galleries, boutiques and antique merchants. Most all of the attractions are located along its easily walkable "Main Street", making it a fun place to take a leisurely stroll and shop for unique finds. For a bite to eat, the blueplate restaurant is an excellent choice serving local, seasonal fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There's an Amish Farmers Market, Hill Creek Farm for apple picking in the fall, and several nearby wineries offering tastings and special events (I especially recommend Heritage Vineyards and Wagonhouse Winery, both within about 5-6 miles of Main Street.) Also worth noting that all restaurants in Mullica Hill are "BYOB", so stop by one of the wineries before you enjoy dinner!

Civil War Reenactment at the Mullica Hill Fall Festival

History comes alive in events for the entire family

Mullica Hill regularly hosts fun and educational events and street festivals. Their Fall Festival features Civil War reenactments (such as the one shown in the video below). There are Ghost Walks for Halloween, arts and wine fests in the spring and summer, candlelight shopping and Christmas home tours in the winter. Check out their Event Calendar for a full list of all the regularly scheduled events.

7. Explore the New Jersey Wine Trail

Vineyards and Wineries are located throughout the Garden State
New Jersey wines in my collection.
New Jersey wines in my collection.

If you don't think about New Jersey when you think of world-class wines, think again. In June of 2012, a blind taste test was held between some of France's finest wines and those from up-and-coming vineyards in New Jersey. The results of the tasting showed Jersey wines are now in serious competition with those produced in the "Old World" - three of the four top white wines were from Jersey.

The Garden State Wine Growers Association currently includes 38 wineries and vineyards around the state, many of which are located in Southern Jersey not far from Philadelphia (South Jersey has in general better climate and soil for wine grapes than North Jersey.) Most wineries have tasting rooms open on the weekends (or all week long), and you can also enjoy vineyard tours, festivals and live music at one of their regularly scheduled special events. I especially recommend a visit to Auburn Road Vineyard & Winery, which serves some of the best wines I've tasted in NJ in a charming room with lots of small plates and desserts to enjoy as well. On weekends they have specialty dinners and live music entertainment that invite you to linger for hours. It's a real escape from the city!

8. Take a Gamble on Atlantic City

The boardwalk, the games, the entertainment...AC has it all!
Atlantic City Boardwalk - New Jersey
Atlantic City Boardwalk - New Jersey

You might not realize it but Atlantic City is only about an hour's drive from Philadelphia, down the Atlantic City Expressway.  You can also take the regularly running Atlantic City Line offered by NJ Transit between 30th Street Station and Atlantic City (free shuttle buses will take you from the rail station to many of the major casinos.) With it so simple and quick to get there, you can easily enjoy the day - or an exciting evening - in AC.

Take a walk along the boardwalk and enjoy the beach, or try your luck in the casinos for a few hours. Catch a concert or other special event - I actually prefer to see concerts at Atlantic City venues like Boardwalk Hall or the Borgata over comparable concert halls in Philadelphia. Then enjoy a great meal in one of AC's excellent restaurants - or maybe a legendary sandwich from the White House Sub Shop.

What's coming up in Atlantic City?

Events, concerts and more...don't miss the excitement in AC!
And visit Golden Nugget this Friday, Jan. 23, where Mike Gill from ESPN 97.3-FM will broadcast his show live to celebrate the Nugget’s Big Game Super Bash contestAs we...
Beloved among his show-biz peers, late entertainer Frankie Randall helped Steve Wynn lure away Ol ’ Blue Eyes On the night Frank Sinatra jumped ship from Atlantic City...
A concert collaboration will feature works by Morten Lauridsen and Ola Gjeilo</i><br/><img src="http://media.atlanticcityweekly.com/images/Ola-Gjeilo-im...
Christine McVie rejoins classic band after a prolonged absence How much of a difference can one band member make? In the case of Christine McVie, she single-handedly t...

9. Explore the beaches of South Jersey...WAY South!

From Fortescue to Cape May At Fortescue Beach
Cape May NJ
Cape May NJ

If the crowds and buzz of Atlantic City is too much for you, then head a little further south down into the real rural tip of New Jersey. It doesn't get much more rural and isolated than Fortescue in Cumberland County. Route 55 will get you there in a little over an hour from Philly, or you can take more scenic farm roads and watch how the landscape transforms from large tracts of sod and ornamental farms into a fisherman's paradise.

Fortescue itself is only home to about 400 - and even less since Hurricane Sandy caused significant damage to this coastal area. However, fisherman still flock to its rustic, quiet beach where you're likely to find more Horseshoe Crabs than humans. So bring your fishing gear or just enjoy the peace and tranquility for a while (this is not a beach for swimming). On your way back to Philly, stop in for some terrific Jersey shore crabs and seafood at the Bull on the Barn Bayshore Crab House - a real Jersey experience!

If Fortescue is a little too rustic for you, how about Cape May? Located down at the very southeast tip of New Jersey, about 90 minutes from Philadelphia, Cape May is a charming shore town complete with gorgeous Victorian architecture, quaint restaurants and of course great beaches. The Cape May Chamber of Commerce website has lots of current information on upcoming events and a downloadable visitor's guide.

Photos from a day at Fortescue

April 2013
In early spring, the beach at Fortescue is just about deserted. Even in the summertime it never gets too busy.
In early spring, th...
Horseshoe crabs...fisherman hate them, but they actually are very important to the local ecology.
Horseshoe crabs...f...
Nothing much around but sand and marshland.
Nothing much around...
Although recovery efforts have been made, many homes in Fortescue suffered severe damage in Hurricane Sandy and still si
Although recovery e...
It's hard to miss the Bull on the Barn Crab House!
It's hard to miss the Bull on the Bar...
What the Jersey shore does best: crabs!
What the Jersey shore does best: crabs!

10. Cowtown Rodeo and Flea Market

Check out one of the country's oldest continually operating rodeos!
All's Quiet at the Rodeo
All's Quiet at the Rodeo

Head down to Pilesgrove, New Jersey and you might feel like you're actually in the heart of Texas - at least on summer Saturday nights when it's time for the Cowtown Rodeo! Every Saturday during the season you and the family can enjoy a full, authentic rodeo experience that draws fans and competitors from across the country. Seven professional rodeo events are held every week: bull riding, bareback bronco riding, saddle bronco riding, steer westling, girls barrel racing, team roping and tie down roping. Get a seat on the bleachers close to the action and you won't believe the skills and fearlessness of the cowboys and cowgirls in action.

There is, of course, lots of great fair foods available like pulled pork sandwiches, water ice and ice cream - or you can bring your own (food and drink!) On Tuesday and Saturday mornings and afternoons, Cowtown is also a busy (and slightly bizarre) flea market. You can buy everything at the market: local produce, discount housewares, jewelry and handbags, perfumes and even (don't ask me why) Mexican wrestling masks.

You can stay on top of current events and upcoming special nights at the rodeo by following Cowtown's Facebook Page.

Get a Glimpse of the Cowtown Rodeo!

An introduction to the event from the general manager - and some of the cowboys
Updated: 01/29/2017, sockii
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