Ohio’s Amish country is a great place to experience something truly unique. Holmes County, Ohio holds the largest Amish community in the world, and it makes for a memorable vacation.
The Amish people are of Swiss and German descent. They immigrated to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century to avoid persecution for their religious beliefs. They speak a dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch, which is most similar to German, but they also speak English as well. Known for their plain clothes and a way of life that condemns modern conveniences such as cars and electricity, they lead humble, simplistic lifestyles that keep religion and family as their main focus. Horse and buggy is their main mode of transportation, but they also walk and ride bicycles. Their food is all homemade, and traditional foods include fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, pickled garden vegetables, fresh bread, cold salads, and plenty of cookies and pies.
A trip to Ohio’s Amish country can cost as little or as much as you like. A decent amount of your time in Amish country will be spent shopping for food, wine, décor, or other specialty items. Your budget will dictate your spending for this category. Some small shops and restaurants only take cash, so make sure to plan ahead and visit a bank or ATM before arriving.
- Hotel – An average hotel in the area can cost $100-150 per night, but more secluded or specialty B&B’s can run over $200 per night.
- Food – An Amish style buffet costs around $20-30 per person, but a more simple meal can cost around $10-15 per person. Snacks are under $5 each.
- Attractions – Attractions range from free to about $15 per person, and you can most likely only fit one or two major attractions into a day.
When to Go
The most popular season is Fall (September and October) because the days are cool and pleasant, and the leaves on the trees turn beautiful colors. Summer (June to August) is next in popularity because the weather is still pleasant and kids are on summer break. However, Amish country can be visited all year long. Most shops and attractions are open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm. Spending 2-3 days would allow you to see the most popular towns and a few major attractions, but a day trip also provides a good look into the lives of the Amish. Don’t plan on seeing much on Sunday, as most everything is closed due to the Amish tradition of dedicating Sundays to church and family.
What to Expect
The Amish community is very friendly and helpful. You will find that they enjoy learning about you just as much as you enjoy learning about them. Don’t be afraid to interact with them for fear that they will try to convert you to their ways. That’s not their goal. They simply want to continue their lifestyles and retain their own youth. With an 80% retention rate to their church, they are certainly achieving that goal. In fact, since the average Amish family has about 8 children, the Amish community is thriving.
One important aspect about traveling to Amish country is to remember that the Amish will be using the same roads as you. On windy country roads, practice extreme caution when you can’t see around a bend or hill. There might be a buggy on the other side, traveling only about 10 miles per hour. When it is safe you may pass them, but pass slowly so not to spook the horse.
Where to Go
Amish country is made up of a few small towns that are close together in distance, so it’s easy to visit more than one town in a day. Be prepared for a small-town feel. Your trip will be best enjoyed if you slow down and relish the simple things.
Possibly the most popular town in Amish country is Berlin, and for good reason. There is a quarter mile strip of shops that offer buggy rides, Amish fare, antiques, crafts, décor, fabric, leather goods, wooden furniture, and plenty of sweets. Don’t miss Boyd and Wurthmann Restaurant or Sol’s Exchange. Off the strip you’ll also find Tis the Season, a giant year-round Christmas shop, as well as cheese shops like Heini’s Cheese Chalet and Guggisburg Cheese. Across from Heini’s is Kauffman’s Country Bakery, which sells fresh-baked Amish goodies like cinnamon rolls, pies, cookies, and bread. This town is a perfect introduction to Amish country because there is so much packed into a small area.
Just a few miles East of Berlin is Walnut Creek. There is such a variety of things to do here that you won’t believe it. Shop for gourmet chocolates at Coblentz Chocolates, peruse the Victorian-style Carlisle Gifts for home décor, chow down on traditional Amish cuisine at Der Dutchman Restaurant, learn about Amish life at Yoder’s Amish Home, or feed exotic animals like giraffes and buffalo at The Farm at Walnut Creek. You can also shop until you drop at Walnut Creek Cheese. This store is more like a mall because they have multiple stores in one building that sell Amish canned goods, meat, cheese, bulk foods, baked goods, kitchen accessories, cookbooks, and there’s also a café that serves sandwiches and ice cream.
Ohio’s Little Switzerland is Sugarcreek. Its nickname is due to the traditional Swiss architecture that was incorporated when the town was built. In the town center is one of the world’s largest cuckoo clocks, and it performs every half hour. Shops located in the walkable downtown area include the Swiss Village Bulk Food Store, The Gospel Shop, Esther’s Home Bakery, Collectors Decanters and Steins, and the Secret Garden. Don’t miss the Alpine Hills Museum in the downtown area. Admission is free and it has multiple exhibits that display a typical Amish kitchen, how cheese is made, the original fire equipment for the town of Sugarcreek, and so much more. Just a couple of miles off the strip is Breitenbach Winery, Broad Run Cheese, and the impressive Dutch Valley complex, which includes a restaurant serving typical Amish foods, a gift shop, and a market.
Travel to Ohio’s Amish country and experience a slice of the simple life. Enjoy the home-cooked food, homemade crafts, and the beautiful rolling hills. In between shopping make sure to visit a museum or working farm to get a glimpse into the everyday lives of the Amish. If possible, stay for at least a couple of days to get a better appreciation for the Amish lifestyle as well as see everything the towns have to offer. Just make sure to slow down, relax, and enjoy the simple pleasures of your visit.
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