(We made the decision to leave Groundhog Day off this list to make room for others – Punxsutawney Phil is a celebrity and if you do not already know him, you cannot possibly be a true Pennsylvanian.)
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Kutztown Folk Festival (Kutztown)
This nine-day festival is one of the most unique in the nation and has earned some well-deserved media coverage for its celebration of the region’s Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. As the oldest continuously operated folk festival in the country, Kutztown draws visitors from across the globe.
The internationally famous quilt sale and auction will introduce you to some of the finest fabric art around. Thanks to the participation of the local Pennsylvania Dutch community, this festival gives you the opportunity to explore a fascinating culture and get a peek into the daily life of these hardworking men and women. The Pennsylvania Dutch are renowned for their craftsmanship and incredibly delicious traditional comfort food – both of which are found in abundance here. Admission for adults is only $14 ($5 for kids) and tickets are available through their website.
2. The Firebird Festival (Phoenixville)
What better way to celebrate the borough of Phoenixville than to throw a party to honor of the mythological creature that shares their name? This cultural festival showcases local artists, musicians, and performers and there are local food vendors offering all kinds of delicious treats.
This isn’t your average street fair…the festival culminates with an enormous bonfire and the ceremonial burning of a giant wooden bird. You truly will not see this anywhere else!
3. The Odunde Festival (Philadelphia)
The Odunde Festival attracts nearly 500,000 people each year, and for good reason; it is the largest African American street festival in the country! The tradition originates from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, West Africa and the festivities honor a wide spectrum of cultural experiences.
The festival takes up 12 city blocks and draws visitors from around the globe. You will find live music from African and Caribbean performers, traditional dances, educational and networking events from the African American Museum, a procession to the Schuylkill River, a marketplace filled with hundreds of unique local and international vendors, and some of the best traditional African, African American, and Caribbean food around! Local restaurants and food trucks that you won’t find at any other festival come out to prepare delicious dishes for the hungry crowd and offer a wonderful opportunity to try tasty treats that you may have never even heard of before!
Admission is free and everyone is welcome to come celebrate the beauty, heritage, and community at this fun festival filled with all around good vibes.
4. Pennsylvania Firefly Festival (Tionesta)
From noon to midnight, this unique festival offers the chance to witness something that truly feels otherworldly: the incredible lightshow put on by more than fifteen species of fireflies in the Allegheny National Forest region. Before sunset, you will find exhibits, music, arts and crafts, delicious food, and activities for kids, but the real magic happens once darkness falls.
We suggest you bring a camp chair or picnic blanket because you are in for a show you won't soon forget. In 2012, a new species of fireflies was discovered here that has the incredible ability to blink in synchrony; that is, they all blink at exact same time. The event is free and run by volunteers, so donations are much appreciated to help sustain this tradition. Sit back, relax, and marvel at the awe-inspiring beauty of nature.
5. The 9th Street Italian Market Festival (Philadelphia)
This weekend festival celebrates the nation’s oldest outdoor market with traditional food and wine, artisan vendors, live music and entertainment, family events, the annual Procession of Saints, and an excellent Half Ball Tournament that is sure to delight (and, in true Italian fashion, leave you very, very full)! You can take tours of the Italian Market (which dates back to the mid-1800’s) all year long, but on the third weekend in May, but the Philadelphia 9th Street Italian Market Association goes all out to give visitors an authentic Italian cultural experience.
The star of the show is absolutely the food – there are so many delicious treats, it’s almost impossible to choose what to try first! All of the live concerts during the two-day festival are free, so the sights, sounds, and tastes of this event make for a fun-filled and family-friendly experience!
6. The Hamburg-er Festival (Hamburg)
You better come hungry to this food-filled festival celebrating both the town of Hamburg and one of America’s favorite foods! With over 30 different hamburger stands, you will leave this fun festival a burger connoisseur!
Aside for the delicious burgers and the Professional and Amateur Burger Eating Competition, you will also find non-stop concerts across five stages, children’s activities, contests, raffle prizes, local arts and crafts merchants, as well as the Beer and Wine Patty-O and the Budweiser & Burgers Beer Garden to quench your thirst! Admission is free, but the on-street parking fills up quickly so there are $5 parking areas nearby.
7. Musikfest (Bethlehem)
MusikFest isn’t just a festival…it’s an extravaganza. Where else can you find a FREE ten-day music festival featuring more than 500 different shows on 14 different stages? Nowhere. This is the largest free music festival in the country!
The event is put on by ArtQuest, a community non-profit organization, and includes a diverse range of genres, bands, and artists from around the world. There are food and drink vendors everywhere you look. Is this Music Heaven? MusikFest also puts on larger paid shows throughout the week. Tickets for these can be purchased through their website, and keep an eye on their event schedule; new bands are still being added to the lineup!
8. Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia)
The Bastille Day Festival at Eastern State Penitentiary is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. Put on with help from The Bearded Ladies experimental cabaret troupe, the Bastille Day Festival features a French Revolution-themed party filled with live music, dances, and spirited reenactments, excellently wild costumes, and a beheading.
As if this isn’t already awesome enough, it also rains Tastykakes in honor of Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat cake!”
Guests are urged to dress up and bring a Super Soaker to storm the walls of the castle like-historical prison. The hour-long show is free but you can stay to explore Eastern State Penitentiary after-hours (check their website for ticket sales). If you are looking for the perfect French-themed afterparty, many nearby Fairmont restaurants, bars, and cafes feature special menu offerings!
9. AppleFest (Franklin)
With apple-pie baking contests, apple-eating contests, and a delicious apple pancake breakfast, you know this three-day festival is “all about them apples,” but anyone who has been to AppleFest knows that this event has way more than just apple-themed events.
There are more than 300 arts and crafts vendors, a farmers market, a 5K Fun Run, an antique and classic car show, tons of children’s activities, food vendors, theater shows, live musical entertainment, comedians, street performers, dancers, walking tours…even a duck race. It would be easier to list the things that this Western Pennsylvania festival doesn’t have (and the list would be quite short).
10. Christkindlmarkt (Bethlehem)
It’s hard to think about the holidays when summer is just around the corner, but we would be crazy to leave Christkindlmarkt off of our list of fantastic festivals. For five weekends in November and December, the city of Bethlehem becomes an old-world holiday festival filled with arts and crafts vendors, gifts galore, children’s activities, and beautiful performances.
Bethlehem becomes Christmas City Village – a traditional German Weihnachtsmarkt – filled with authentic German food, holiday activities, and carriage rides. Daily admission to Christkindlmarkt is only $9, but there is no charge to wander the festive Christmas City Village!
11. Mummers Parade (Philadelphia)
Yes, this event is huge, famous, and you probably know all about it, but it’s also undeniably unique and until you have actually experienced it first-hand, no photos or videos can truly do it justice. For those new to Pennsylvania or visiting our lovely state, this event is a must-see if you are looking for colorful, exuberant (and a little bit ridiculous) festivities to celebrate New Year’s Day.
Variations of the tradition can be found throughout the history of ancient Egypt, old-world Europe, and the name itself comes from Greek mythology. The Philly celebration is as old as the city itself, but was officially sanctioned and city-sponsored in 1901.
But what IS a Mummer? This depends, in part, on your division and club. There are five divisions – The Comic, The Fancy, The Wench Brigade, The String Band, and The Fancy Brigade – and many clubs within each division, but all are united in the celebration of fun, family, community, and tradition. Ten thousand vibrantly dressed citizens masquerade though the streets, providing music, theatrics, satirical comedy, and all-around entertainment for the enormous crowds that gather to watch this free event, which culminates in awards and cash prizes for the best performances.
12. PyroFest (Cooper’s Lake / Butler)
We thought we would end this list with a bang! The PyroFest Memorial Day celebration blows all others away in the most explosive way possible. This weekend event features the country’s largest firework festival and the colorful show is truly amazing. Pyrotechnics companies from around the world gather to show off their skills – quite a feat of creative engineering – and perform fireworks shows unlike any other throughout the weekend.
Festivalgoers are treated to non-stop live musical performances and various food and drink vendors are open throughout the day. One-Day passes are only $25 online, and Weekend and Camping passes are also available. There is an excellent “Kid’s Zone” filled with fun activities, and the grassy event grounds are the perfect spot to bring a picnic blanket, relax, and enjoy the exciting shows.
Fair warning: this video is 13 minutes long…but it’s absolutely hypnotizing. It wouldn’t be fair to Ricardo Caballer Ricasa, the award-winning artist behind this “pyromusical,” to cut the performance short.
Have you been to these unique Pennsylvania festivals? Do you have a favorite that isn’t listed here? Leave us a comment and share your stories!