Winter Day Trips and Getaways near Philadelphia
There's so much to do at North Jersey's American Dream, it can feel overwhelming. Kids can enjoy a DreamWorks-themed water park, Nickelodeon-themed amusement park, miniature golf, an NHL-sized ice skating rink, an indoor ski facility, shops, restaurants, and more. Add to that a bevy of shopping options and restaurants, and there's something for everyone.
Annapolis and Anne Arundel County in Maryland offer boutique shopping, outdoor live performances, and candlelight tours on historic cobblestone streets. Go window shopping on Main Street, Maryland Avenue, and City Dock, or visit the state's largest outlet mall at Arundel Mills. Take a Jolly Express cruise on the water, or catch a holiday performance or other live event.
Baltimore's Inner Harbor offers more than just the National Aquarium. Check out the Maryland Science Center and spend some hours immersed in interactive learning in the Port Discovery Children's Museum. The American Visionary Art Museum features art from dozens of lesser-known artists with creative ways of viewing the world and will undoubtedly inspire artists of any age.
Known as "Christmas City USA" during the holidays for its traditional Christkindlmarkt and overall festive vibes, Bethlehem is one of the best family-friendly day trips near Philly even after Christmas is over. Take a princess character carriage ride through the historic downtown area, which is marked by a vibrant arts scene. The ArtsQuest Center is home to the city's famed Steel Stacks as well as the Banana Factory Arts Center. The National Museum of Industrial History has 18,000 square feet of hands-on interactive exhibits, and within walking distance, families will find Kids Quest at Wind Creek Casino– a massive space dedicated to children ages 6 weeks through 12 years, with karaoke, a climbing wall, craft-making and more.
Ski Hunter Mountain, the second-highest peak in the Catskills. Photo courtesy of the mountain
With more than 600,000 acres to cover, the Catskills region offers families well over a day's worth of exciting adventures. The area is packed with prime outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and skiing, or head indoors to splash and slide at Kartrite Resort & Indoor Waterpark. Climb aboard the Catskill Mountain Railroad for scenic views, or participate in a family craft-making session at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
Cooksburg and the nearby Cook State Forest make the perfect getaway for those who enjoy nature. Rent a cabin and go hiking in the forest, or learn about maple production. Cook Forest State Park has been dubbed "The Best Old-Growth Forest in America", and is home to some of the tallest trees in the Northeast.
There's no shortage of games at the Strong Museum of Play. Photo courtesy of the museum
The furthest reaches of the Finger Lakes region can be roughly 5 hours away, but with an early start, we think it's worth the drive. Go hiking in the numerous state parks, visit the Rochester Museum and Science Center, the Rockwell Museum, or the highly-rated Strong Museum of Play. Ithaca is closer––a college town with sprawling streets of shops and restaurants, plus oodles of waterfalls, which display their frozen beauty in the winter season.
The hip meets the historic in Frederick, Maryland, with Civil War-era buildings, cutting-edge cuisine, and tons of specialty shops, galleries, and museums. Get your history on by visiting the Monocacy National Battlefield, or museums such as the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, or the Brunswick Heritage Railroad Museum, where you can operate a scale model train.
This seems like a nontraditional winter getaway, but Gettysburg is a great opportunity to take in some history. Located about three hours from Philadelphia, Gettysburg is rich with museums. Often called "The Gateway to the Battlefield," Gettysburg National Military Park Museum is a must-see. The museum has 11 galleries, filled with amazing artifacts from the pivotal Civil War battle. After you’ve filled your day with education, check out Liberty Mountain Resort. Located in nearby Carroll Valley, there are slopes, lessons, and an ice skating rink.
Happy Valley doesn't just mean Penn State and State College. It also includes Bellefonte, Boalsburg, Philipsburg, and all of Centre County. You can go ice skating at Tallyrand Park in Bellefonte, or snow tubing and skiing at Tussey Mountain Ski Resort. Celebrate the New Year at the First Night celebration in State College, with a holiday market, ice sculptures, and musical performances. Be sure to stop by the Penn State Arboretum after dark in the winter, which is lit up with Christmas lights. Fun indoor activities include painting your own pottery at 2000 Degrees, enjoying an indoor trampoline park at Get Air, and climbing the rock walls at Climb Nittany. Younger kids will enjoy the Slinky Action Zone in Duncansville.
A stone's throw from Hershey, Harrisburg has more to offer than just the state Capitol, where tours are available. In the winter, check out the National Civil War Museum, boasting over 4,000 artifacts, or the PA National Fire Museum. Or, take a tour through Indian Echo Caverns, where guides teach kids all about the beautiful rock formations.
When visiting Hersheypark, consider a stay at The Hotel Hershey. Photo courtesy of Hersheypark
Sure, Hersheypark is fun in the summer, but it is well worth visiting in the winter as well. Make sure to check out The Hershey Story Museum. Offered most weekends, the 45-minute Chocolate Lab experience is a great way to learn about chocolate and to make your own sweets. Besides the retail store, you can create your own candy bar, and enjoy the famous Great American Chocolate Tour ride.
Pennsylvania Dutch Country has become synonymous with Amish life, teaching its traditions at places like the Amish Farm and House. In addition, you can visit historical sites like the 1719 Museum, race indoor go-karts at the Carlisle Sports Emporium, or enjoy hands-on activities for children and adults at The Lancaster Science Factory.
Located just outside of our nation's capital, the National Harbor has lots of shops, fun attractions, restaurants, and hotels for an overnight stay. Through December, a breathtaking 54-foot tree lights up the Waterfront District, not far from The Capital Wheel Ferris wheel, with climate-controlled gondolas that rise 180 feet above the Potomac River. Tee up the good times at Topgolf, or immerse the kids in history at Mount Vernon, a 12-mile drive from the harbor.
About three hours from Philadelphia, this charming town contains historical landmarks and lots of kid-friendly fun. Learn how New Canaanites lived and worked over 200 years ago at the Tool Museum, one of more than 8 different sites on the campus of the New Canaan Museum and Historical Society. Explore the beauty of nature at Bristow Park and Bird Sanctuary, or at the New Canaan Nature Center, which features a Children's Play Garden with a boxwood maze. End your trip with a sweet visit to the PEZ Visitor Center in Orange.
Make your way to the top of Cape May Lighthouse. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
A drive to the beach probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind for a winter sojourn. However, the Jersey Shore is beautiful during its quiet season—and that quiet appeal should not be underestimated. In addition to tranquil beaches and prime birdwatching, winter in Cape May, for example, offers plenty of fun for the whole family. The town's quaint shopping district and popular restaurants will be, well, a lot less populated. Not every business is open, but kids have easy access to all the popcorn and fudge you allow them to eat. With no long lines to wait in, there's plenty of time to visit the historic Cape May Lighthouse, which was built in 1859. The beach adjoins Cape May Point, with excellent walking trails and a particularly fine beach to stroll.
The famous tree at Rockefeller Center comes down in early January. Still, you can grab a pair of skates and enjoy the time-honored rink. Even without the Christmas fanfare, there is plenty to do in Midtown. As the largest toy store in New York City, the new FAO Schwarz is a must-see family destination. From there, it's a short walk to Central Park, where the small but lovely zoo is open daily. If it's not too cold, catch a ride on the Central Park Carousel. Typically, the carousel is closed when the temperature dips below 40 degrees, so call ahead to check.
About five hours from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh has many things to do for families. Kids can learn at some of the museums found throughout the city, including the Carnegie Science Center, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, and the Senator John Heinz History Center, which is an affiliate of the Smithsonian.
Eternal summer awaits at the Poconos' Kalahari Resort. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
Get ready for great skiing and snow tubing as you hit the slopes in The Poconos. Of all the winter day trips near Philly, the Poconos has the most winter sports in one spot. Big Boulder, Blue Mountain, and Jack Frost are just a few resorts for some classic winter fun. Why not take a ride in a horse-drawn sleigh at Daisy Field Farm? Wrap up with a blanket and enjoy the winter wonderland. It’s not all snow, though. Check out Kalahari Resorts to warm up in the 84-degree indoor water park.
What child doesn't love a train trip? Photo courtesy of Strasburg Rail Road Company
We doubt there's a more train-centric town in the country than Strasburg. There's never a bad time to visit the fabulous Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. It's a must-do for train enthusiasts, boasting a world-class collection of old steam engines and railway artifacts. Stewart Junction, the museum's education center, offers plenty of hands-on and interactive exhibits, including model trains and a LEGO Building Zone. After admiring all the real-life trains, pop over to the National Toy Train Museum for miniature versions of the real thing.
This article was updated in 2021 by writer Alyce Wilson.