Standing along the eastern banks of the Schuylkill River, Reading (pop. 88,495) is most famous these days as the childhood home of pop superstar Taylor Swift. Ornately turreted row houses line 5th Street (US-222 Business) through the residential districts, downtown holds a number of well-maintained businesses and signs from the first half of the 20th century, and a photogenic 72-ft (22-m), 110-year-old pagoda offers panoramic views from the summit of Mt. Penn, east of town.
For history buffs, two worthwhile places to visit sit southeast of Reading along the Schuylkill River. The closer of these is at Birdsboro, 10 mi (16.1 km) from town and a mile south of US-422. The Daniel Boone Homestead (610/582-4900, Fri.-Sun., tours $7, self-guided tours $3) marks the site where the great frontiersman was born in 1734.
Well worth the winding 6-mi (9.6-km) drive south of Birdsboro via Hwy-345, the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (daily summer, free) preserves intact an entire iron-making community that thrived here from the colonial era until the mid-1880s. Park rangers fire up the furnace and demonstrate the primitive foundry (melting aluminum rather than iron to take the “heat” off the ancient tools), and exhibits trace the iron-making process—mining the ore, making charcoal, and fabricating the finished product, which here at Hopewell was primarily pig iron and stoves.
South of Reading, US-222 runs along the western edge of the Amish- and Mennonite-influenced Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The heart of this region is due east of Lancaster, but the area north of Lancaster also holds a number of related sites often missed by visitors. The most appealing of these is the Ephrata Cloister (632 W. Main St., 717/733-6600, daily summer, $10 adults), just west of the town of Ephrata. Founded in 1732 by a communal society of religiously celibate German pietists, the Ephrata Cloister consists of nine log, stone, and fachwerk buildings dating from 1734 to 1837 and which housed dormitories, bakeries, and a printing shop where the commune produced some of the finest illustrated books of the colonial era.
If you happen, or can manage, to be in Ephrata on a Friday, there’s no more authentic Dutch Country experience than the once-a-week Green Dragon Farmers Market (955 N. State St., 717/738-1117), a chaotic complex of some 400 different fresh fruit and vegetable sellers, sausage and hot dog stands, pizza places, and bakery outlets, covering 30 ac (12 ha) in seven buildings, just over a mile north of town. Many people here are truly Amish, so respect their second commandment and resist the urge to take their photo.
West of Ephrata, 8 mi (12.9 km) north of Lancaster via Hwy-501, the delightful though tiny town of Lititz (pop. 9,458) is dominated by the huge Wilbur Chocolate Candy Store (45 N. Broad St.), which liberally perfumes the air with the smell of hot chocolate. Lititz, which is packed full of stone buildings and carefully tended gardens, also holds the nation’s oldest operating pretzel factory, the Julius Sturgis Pretzel House (219 E. Main St.), where you can twist your own. Lititz also holds a huge 4th of July party every year—well worth planning a trip around.