7 easy Philadelphia escapes you can get to in 3 hours or less
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.
From Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross House to the art collection at The Barnes, Philadelphia is home to enough A-list attractions to keep you busy for a whole summer’s worth of weekends. However, as we Philadelphians know (until recently, I lived there for more than 20 years – and I still come back regularly), sometimes you just need to get away.
The good news for those living in and around The City of Brotherly Love — or anyone visiting for an extended stay — is that there is an extraordinarily rich array of options in the region for a quick escape. And I do mean extraordinary. There aren’t many other U.S. cities that have classic beach towns, mountain retreats, a historic amusement park, a gambling mecca and one of the nation’s most famous battlefields, all within a few hours’ drive.
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Below, I list my seven favorite getaways from Philadelphia, all reachable in less than three hours. Some can be done as day trips, but all make for wonderful long weekend escapes, too. I encourage you to plan for a stay of at least a night or two at each.
Note that I didn’t even bother to list New York City, which is just 98 miles away and, some might argue, the ultimate weekend getaway for Philadelphians. It’s such a major destination that TPG already has an entire New York City guide devoted to it.
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1. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Distance from Philadelphia: 2 hours and 30 minutes
What to do: If, like many Americans, you descend from someone who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg (two of my great-great-grandfathers were there), this is somewhat of a pilgrimage site. Even if you have no connection to the battle, though, it’s a fascinating destination. The events that took place over three days in 1863 in this rural town west of Philadelphia changed the course of history.
Often referred to as the turning point of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg took place all around the town, and much of the battlefield is preserved within the National Park Service-run, 6,000-acre Gettysburg National Military Park. Before you do anything, stop in the Visitor Center for its must-see museum, 20-minute movie and iconic, recently restored Cyclorama — a massive, 360-degree painting depicting Pickett’s Charge that dates to 1883. While viewing the Cyclorama, you’ll get commentary on the battle and a sound and light show. Then head out to the battlefield, preferably with a licensed guide who will hop in your car for a two-hour tour (guide fee: $75 per car).
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Other top Gettysburg stops include the National Park Service-owned David Wills House, where President Abraham Lincoln put the finishing touches on the Gettysburg Address, and the nearby National Military Cemetery, where he delivered it. For a respite from Civil War history, the area also is home to Eisenhower National Historic Site, the home and farm of President Dwight Eisenhower.
Where to stay: History buffs will have a hard time passing up the Brickhouse Inn, in downtown Gettysburg (rooms from $119 per night). Not only is the two-building, 14-room bed and breakfast just steps away from the Culp’s Hill section of the Gettysburg battlefield, one of its two buildings — the 1838-built Welty House — was occupied by Confederate sharpshooters during the conflict (and has the bullet holes to prove it). For those looking to earn-or-burn miles, the immediate vicinity also includes several chain hotels, including a Courtyard, Holiday Inn Express and Wyndham.
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2. Ocean City, New Jersey
Distance from Philadelphia: 1 hour and 20 minutes
What to do: There are quite a few wonderful beach towns within striking distance of Philadelphia, but none we love more than Ocean City. With a two-and-a-half-mile wooden boardwalk lined with kiddie rides, miniature golf courses, a go-kart track and arcades, it’s like a throwback to family fun circa 1950. Plus, there’s the beaches — all eight miles of them, wide and pristine.
Families are, indeed, the focus. A barrier island that bills itself as America’s Greatest Family Resort, Ocean City is, notably, a “dry” town — there are no bars and no liquor stores once you cross the bridge from the mainland. That keeps the rowdy crowd away, and the evening scene is all about strolling the boards with the little ones in tow.
Between games of skee-ball and a ride on the iconic Giant Wheel at Gillians Wonderland Pier (one of the East Coast’s largest Ferris wheels), be sure to grab a “cut” at Manco and Manco Pizza, a tub of caramel corn at Johnson’s Popcorn and a twist of frozen custard at Kohr Bros. Then head over to Shriver’s for a box of its famous saltwater taffy (and to watch the taffy made in the back). The oldest business on the boardwalk, it’s been a fixture of Ocean City since 1898.
Note that Ocean City, New Jersey, shouldn’t be confused with Ocean City, Maryland — another beach town to the south that primarily caters to the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. markets.
Where to stay: Most visitors stay in weekly rentals (houses, half-houses and apartments being the norm). However, short-time and overnight visitors will find a modest array of hotels and motels such as the beachfront Port-O-Call and The Flanders; current rates for the coming months start at $229 and $219 per night.
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3. The Poconos, Pennsylvania
Distance from Philadelphia: 1 hour and 30 minutes
What to do: With 2,400 square miles of lakes, rivers and woodlands, the mountain region known as The Poconos has long been one of the main escapes for Philadelphians looking to get outdoors. Just 80 miles to the north of the city, and offers such allures as the 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which offers hiking, biking, boating and camping. There’s also the National Park Service’s Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River site, which brings more outdoorsy pursuits. Both areas straddle the Delaware River.
The closest corner of The Poconos to Philadelphia is the Lehigh River Gorge area, home to Jim Thorpe, the “Gateway to the Poconos” and a hub for white water rafting, mountain biking and hiking in nearby Lehigh Gorge State Park. Other hubs include historic Milford, Hawley and Stroudsburg. In addition to hiking, biking and boating, you’ll find places to horseback ride, fish, bird watch and even zip line. In winter, there’s both downhill and cross-country skiing.
Where to stay: It doesn’t get much better than The Lodge at Woodloch in Hawley. It’s a 58-room luxury retreat, complete with a spa and dining room. With rates in June starting at $419 per person, it’s certainly not cheap, but you’ll end up feeling relaxed and refreshed. For something more budget-friendly, try the Inn at Jim Thorpe with rooms starting for just $133 a night.
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4. Hershey, Pennsylvania
Distance from Philadelphia: 2 hours
What to do: Call it the town that chocolate built. Located 95 miles east of Philadelphia, the home to the original Hershey chocolate factory offers a glimpse into the making of one of America’s iconic brands. Start your visit at The Hershey Story, located near the corner of Chocolate Avenue and Cocoa Avenue (really, we’re not making those names up). It’s an interactive museum chronicling Hershey founder Milton Hershey’s life and the picture-perfect community’s creation as a model factory town.
More Hershey indoctrination awaits at nearby Hershey’s Chocolate World, site of a famed ride telling the story of chocolate, a 4D chocolate-themed show and other diversions. The town’s biggest attraction, though, is Hersheypark, the historic, roller coaster-filled amusement park that Milton Hershey opened in 1906 as a diversion for his factory’s workers (a current offer has tickets starting at $47.95 per person; the full rate is $76.95). Hersheypark is really three parks in one, with 70 rides, a full water park and a zoo included in admission. Its newest attraction, Jolly Rancher Remix, is a revamped roller coaster that includes a blast through a Jolly Rancher flavor-infused tunnel.
If that’s not enough Hershey for you, there’s also Hershey Gardens, a 23-acre botanical park that, yes, has a tad of Hershey theming, too.
Where to stay: Sure, you could stay at one of the chain motels in the area. But why not go Full Hershey with a night at the historic, 276-room Hotel Hershey (rooms from $229 per night during the off season; much more during peak periods). Milton Hershey himself had it built on a hill overlooking the town in the 1930s. That, or keep it in the Hershey family with a night at the Hershey Lodge, which has its own indoor pool complex (rooms from $129 during the off season). There’s also the Hersheypark Camping Resort. The latter has hundreds of campsites that cost $59 for a full hookup. All of these “official” Hershey resorts come with free shuttle service to Hersheypark, extra hours inside the park, tickets to The Hershey Story and Hershey Gardens, and free chocolate at check-in.
5. Brandywine Valley, Delaware and Pennsylvania
Distance from Philadelphia: 45 minutes
What to do: The Brandywine Valley is just 35 miles south of Philadelphia, but it feels a world away. The site of former country mansions of the du Ponts and other wealthy families, it offers a pastoral, château country-like scene. Drive along scenic routes 100 and 52 between Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington, Delaware, to spectacular Longwood Gardens, designed by Pierre du Pont, and the 70-plus-room Nemours Mansion & Gardens, built by Alfred I. du Pont.
There’s also Winterthur, the massive, 982-acre country estate-turned-museum built by Henry du Pont. It houses what’s considered the premier collection of American furniture and decor as well as a superb garden that Henry du Pont designed himself.
The Brandywine Valley also is Andrew Wyeth country. You can visit the famed 20th-century artist’s studio (where he worked until just before his death in 2009) and the nearby Kuerner Farm, which inspired many of his works. Then learn more about him and his father, the painter N.C. Wyeth, at the Brandywine River Museum of Art. N.C. Wyeth’s former residence and studio also is open for tours.
Where to stay: Listed on the National Historic Register, The Inn at Montchanin Village & Spa is the classic place to stay in the area. Eleven carefully restored buildings dating from 1799 are home to 28 guest rooms and suites with four-poster beds and, in some cases, cozy fireplaces. The buildings once housed workers from nearby DuPont powder mills. Rates start at $161 per night.
6. Lambertville, New Jersey
Distance from Philadelphia: 50 minutes
What to do: Located just 41 miles north of Philadelphia, this historic riverfront town is the place to go when you’re on the hunt for cool furniture and decor. Along with its cross-river twin New Hope, Pennsylvania, it’s loaded with small craft, vintage, art and antique shops. It’s also easy to reach from Baltimore if you’re coming from that direction.
Be sure to time your visit around an opening of the giant outdoor Golden Nugget Antique Flea Market, which is just outside of town and usually open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Additionally, don’t miss The People’s Store, which has more than 40 dealers on three floors. Lambertville is also where you'll find Rago, one of the nation’s best-known auction houses specializing in 20th-century design. You can build an entire weekend around a pilgrimage to one of its famed mid-century modern auctions.
Founded in 1705, Lambertville is a charmer lined with well-preserved federal townhouses and Victorian homes. So is New Hope, just across the Delaware River via a walkable bridge. If you’re heading that way, and you’re a theater fan, check out Bucks County Playhouse, which opened in a former gristmill in 1939 and has put on performances ever since.
Where to stay: Filling a restored 19th-century train depot, the 46-room Lambertville Station offers waterside dining, as well as lodging (rooms from $199 per night). Or head across the river to the recently renovated Logan Inn in New Hope. First established as an inn in 1727, it’s one of the oldest continuously run inns in the country (rooms from $150).
7. Atlantic City, New Jersey
Distance from Philadelphia: 1 hour and 20 minutes
What to do: If Ocean City, N.J., is the place to go for kiddie fun at the beach, Atlantic City is its counterpart for adults. Instead of kiddie rides and miniature golf, the big allures of its boardwalk are the giant casinos loaded with adult-only gaming areas — there are nine across Atlantic City in all.
Just 62 miles from Philadelphia (and one barrier island up the coast from Ocean City), the famed gambling town also offers such adult diversions as dance clubs, comedy clubs, lounges with bottle service, bars galore (unlike Ocean City, this is definitely not a dry town) and, yes, “gentleman’s clubs” where stripping is the shtick and bachelor’s parties are big business.
Not that families aren’t welcome. Kiddie rides aren’t completely absent from the boardwalk (you’ll find plenty over at Steel Pier). And you can’t make a trip to this area without a stop at Lucy the Elephant in nearby Margate, a six-story-high marvel of 1880s novelty architecture that has delighted both adults and children for generations. Plus, there’s the golden sand beach.
Where to stay: The 2,000-room Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is the place for a Las Vegas vibe. The MGM Resorts property boasts oodles of slot machines and table games, a 2,400-seat event center that draws the likes of Pearl Jam and Gwen Stefani, a sprawling spa, retail shops, and lots of dining and nightlife. Rates start under $100 a night during the off season, and as a member of MGM’s M Life Rewards program, you can enjoy status matching with World of Hyatt and earn 5 Hyatt points per dollar spent on your stay.
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There's no shortage of fabulous road-trip destinations within a three-hour drive of Philadelphia. As eagle-eyed Philadelphians will have noticed, I didn’t even try to be all-encompassing. In addition to the destinations above, there are plenty more great getaways in the region, from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (aka Amish Country) to Cape May, New Jersey, to explore.
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