7 reasons why you should spend winter in central Pennsylvania

7 reasons why you should spend winter in central Pennsylvania

Winter can be a time of cozying up by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book, but it can also be a time to brave the cold in search of a fun night with friends and family. Whatever your winter inclinations may be—whether it’s crafting indoors or strolling through the snow to gaze at thousands of twinkling holiday lights—this guide has recommendations for everyone.

two female students in winter gear stand outside in the snow wearing skis.1. Icy activities

For those with an adventurous spirit, there are plenty of thrill-seeking ways to spend a snowy day. Those close to Messiah University’s campus can bring their sleds and saucers (or cardboard boxes if you’re in a pinch) and ride down Cemetery Hill. If you prefer skiing and snowboarding, Roundtop Mountain Resort awaits with its exhilarating slopes that you and friends can enjoy. Fans of ice fishing can trek to Pinchot Lake or Lake Marburg when the water freezes over. And when temperatures plummet, take a guided hike to Ganoga Falls at Ricketts Glen State Park and marvel at views of frozen waterfalls.

2. Light shows

No one celebrates Christmas quite like Hersheypark. Every year starting in mid-November, the amusement park is decked out in over five million holiday lights. Their light show, NOEL, features more than 250,000 of them twinkling in time with holiday music classics. If you don’t want to face the cold, you can drive through wooded trails and take in the sights of over 600 animated displays while listening to a curated holiday radio station at Hershey Sweet Lights. Looking to save cash? Holiday Lights at Gring’s Mill has free parking and admission. After strolling through the light display, guests can enjoy live music, time by the fire pit, and local treats. Other noteworthy mentions include Christmas Magic at Rocky Ridge County Park, a half-mile walk-through display featuring hot chocolate and cookies, the Holiday Light Show at Shady Brook Farm, and “A Longwood Christmas” at Longwood Gardens.

A white tent sits outside on a patio at a holiday market.

3. Holiday Shopping

As the year-end holiday season approaches, shopping becomes the national pastime. While picking out presents at a mall (or, let’s be honest, at home in fuzzy slippers on Amazon) is perfectly acceptable, it can’t compare to bundling up and scanning stacks of handmade goods at a holiday artisan market. Christkindlmarket in Dillsburg and Miracle on 24th Street Holiday Makers Market in Camp Hill showcase dozens of vendors selling one-of-a-kind goods, from handmade soaps to jewelry. To revive tired shoppers, they provide food and live musicians. For those seeking refuge from the weather, Kitchen Kettle Village offers an array of unique indoor shops to purchase gifts for others—or yourself.

4. Festivals and farm shows

If there’s one good thing about crowds, it’s the shared body heat— an essential at outdoor festivals like the Carlisle Ice Art Fest! Boasting over 100 ice sculptures and live ice carving demonstrations, there’s always something to look at. When you need a break from oohing and ahhing, hop on a carriage ride through town. Venture into Harrisburg to explore the Ice & Fire Festival, where dozens of ice sculptures await alongside food trucks, fire pits, s’mores, an ice slide, fire dancers, an artist market and a chili cook-off to top it off. If you’re ready to leave the city behind, take a trip to the PA Farm Show. Celebrating Pennsylvania’s agricultural excellence, this event features everything from a 1,000-pound butter sculpture to sheep shearing competitions and a rodeo.

5. Cozy dining

Cupcakes sit in a glass case, decorated as a reindeer and Christmas trees.While the best cure for the cold is to stay out of it completely (preferably under a blanket next to the fireplace), the second best is to warm up with a hot drink or meal. Grab a hot chocolate or coffee at New Holland Coffee Co. or Cracked Pot. With a constant rotation of new seasonal drinks, there’s always something different to try (like delicious sugar cookie lattes and peppermint cold brews). For a bite to eat, check out Elizabeth’s, an American Bistro, offering seasonal veggies and comforting dishes like pork chops and salmon that strike a balance between elevated cuisine and home-cooked nostalgia. For a more casual dining experience, make your way to The Table in Harrisburg. Their melty grilled cheeses and warm bowls of tomato bisque are sure to warm you up. End your day with a dessert at the Pennsylvania Bakery, which has a selection of seasonal treats that span all the holidays (Santa cupcakes for Christmas, football-themed Boston crèmes for the Superbowl, and heart-shaped brownies for Valentine’s Day).

6. Theatre performances

Looking for a few hours to unwind without resorting to screen time? Choose from several adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” at theatres like Totem Pole Playhouse and Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre. If you’re in the mood for something less festive, The Trust Performing Arts Center is staging “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” For a unique holiday experience, head to the PA Renaissance Faire after Thanksgiving for Yuletide, an interactive holiday celebration. Immerse yourself in a world of carolers, improv shows and captivating renditions of beloved Christmas stories by talented actors.

Students dressed in all black stand on stage during a Christmas concert. The lights behind them are green and red.

7. Concerts

Not into theatre? Opt for a concert to enjoy instead! The Giant Center is welcoming a particularly festive act this December: the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. For a more traditional performance, drop by the Candlelight Christmas concert at Messiah University to watch The Susquehanna Chorale perform beautiful arrangements of classic carols. If your December is packed, mark your calendars to go see the performances at Winter Jam in March. This concert is full of Christian artists like Cain and Crowder, and it’s relatively inexpensive.

Central PA invites you to explore all of the delicious food, enchanting holiday markets, and festive light shows it has to offer. As winter sweeps across the region, get ready to experience a whole new side to the heart of Pennsylvania.

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