About an hour north of Philadelphia, quiet Bucks County offers five mandatory offerings: farm-fresh, beautifully prepared food, cozy lodging, eclectic shopping, breathtaking scenery (prime for outdoorsy activities), and deep-rooted history—with a big dash of culture. An expansive 622 miles square and edged by the Delaware River, its two main towns, New Hope and Doylestown, have all the comforts you need in a manageable size. Head out on its pastoral lanes, and you’ll come across covered bridges, wineries, rambling farmhouses, grazing horses, woodsy parks, and glimmering lakes. This is a captivating place to come for a weekend getaway—and dream of staying forever.
Visit Mercer Mile
One of Doylestown’s most eccentric characters was archaeologist Henry Chapman Mercer, responsible for three of its most fascinating sites. The Harvard-educated millionaire and arts-and-crafts advocate devoted the late 19th and early 20th centuries to preserving preindustrial tools of the past. As such, he built the six-story, concrete Mercer Museum and filled it to the gills (even hanging from the ceilings and walls) with wacky, intriguing odes to the past, including a gallows, vintage dental equipment, Conestoga wagons, a whaleboat, and cigar store figures. Mercer lived a mile away in Fonthill Castle, a crazy mix of medieval, gothic, and byzantine styles that he designed himself—and built without blueprints (explaining the dead-ends and uneven stairs). Just like the museum, it’s all poured-in-place concrete—even some of the built-in furniture pieces are concrete—and maybe not the warmest abode in town. That said, it’s a showplace for his tiles, both from around the world as well as those made in his own kilns. Mercer founded the nearby Moravian Pottery & Tile Works, which still reissues handmade tiles and offers tours that delve into the factory’s tile production.
See Where Washington Crossed the Icy Delaware
You probably know the iconic scene of General George Washington crossing the ice-choked Delaware River on the cold Christmas night of 1776, thanks to Emanuel Leutze’s iconic painting, which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The fascinating story of how that crossing was achieved—including 2,400 of his Continental army, cannon, horses, and wagons—and how it resulted in a victory that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War, is told at Washington Crossing Historic Park. Three main sites have been preserved in two different sections. The troops encamped for three weeks in the park’s upper section, about 2.5 miles south of New Hope. Officers resided in the Thompson-Neely Farmstead here, with soldiers camping on the property’s frozen fields. Nearby, the Thompson-Neely Grist Mill provided much-needed flour to hungry troops. The actual crossing site, 5 miles farther south, has a visitor center with exhibits—and panoramic views of the fabled river. Here, too, a barn holds replicas of the Durham boats used to make the crossing, as well as the McConkey’s Ferry Inn, where Washington and his troops enjoyed Christmas dinner.
Bike or Hike Through Nature
Bucks County’s bucolic rolling hills harbor a collection of parks offering idyllic nature escapes. In what may be the biggest coup for residents and visitors alike is Delaware Canal State Park, which preserves a historic, 60-mile-long towpath that wanders past islands, pocket woods, historic buildings, and small towns. Hop on a portion to stroll, bike, or run along the riffling river. At Tyler State Park in Newtown, take to the trails by bike, hiking boot, or horse to explore woods and historic farmland. Its various sections are divided by Neshaminy Creek. And Core Creek Park, in Middletown Township, has lakeside picnic areas, canoeing and hiking on Lake Luxembourg, and biking and hiking on woodsy trails. Other notables include Peace Valley Park, Nockamixon State Park, and Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, with nearly 1,000 native plants, a meadow, a pond, and a creek. You can also hike the woodsy, trail-laced grounds of Fonthill Castle.
Browse Antiques and Craft Shops in New Hope
Just four streets comprise the little town of New Hope on the Delaware. Still, here you’ll find an abundance of shops occupying historic buildings that purvey all kinds of fun, eclectic fare: antiques, handcrafted products, stone jewelry, leather hats, hand-made porcelain bowls, meticulously designed drawer pulls, natural jerky, handcrafted bath salts, and the list goes on. Just the names themselves are enticing: Love Saves the Day (collectibles), Cockamamie’s (antiques), and Exquisite Earth (jewelry), for example. Another option is Peddler’s Village, about 5 miles west of New Hope, where 65-plus craft and gift shops sit among landscaped gardens and brick pathways. It’s especially fun when it’s all decked out during the holidays.
Take a Self-Guided Covered Bridge Driving Tour
There’s something exceedingly nostalgic about covered bridges, and in Bucks County, you’ll find 12 of these historic structures that will zip you back to another time. Fifty covered bridges once sprinkled the county, with the last one being built in 1875, part of the trading network to transport goods produced by local mills. Today, Visit Bucks County has put together two self-guided driving tours, a 58.2-mile one focusing on the county’s Eastern Half, and the other, a 37.9-mile loop showcasing the Western Half. Each bridge is special in its own right, but Uhlerstown Covered Bridge, with windows on both sides, is the only one in the county that crosses the Delaware Canal; and Loux Covered Bridge is uniquely painted white. Van Sandt Covered Bridge is an easy-access one located just south of New Hope.
Attend a World-Class Play at Bucks County Playhouse
This down-home theater opened in 1939 in a historic grist mill and is always a fun evening out. It’s far from glitzy, but know that this isn’t just any old small-town theater. Future star actors cut their teeth on its esteemed stage—Grace Kelly, Walter Matthau, Dick Van Dyke, Robert Redford, Rob Reiner, Alan Alda, Liza Minnelli, John Lithgow, and so many more. Also, plays hoping for Broadway are tested out here first, with one of the most famous being Neil Simon’s "Barefoot in the Park" in 1963.
Check Out Underground Railroad Stops
Enslaved individuals fleeing north toward freedom before the Civil War found shelter in several hidden locations in Bucks County, including churches, taverns, and private farms. Today you can visit some of these sites, including an African Methodist Episcopal church in Bensalem that served as a safe station; the immaculately restored Continental Tavern, which offers tavern fare; and the 1780 Wedgwood Inn in New Hope, where a network of underground tunnels hides beneath a hatch in the property’s gazebo. Two driving tours organized by Visit Bucks County—one in Upper and Central Bucks County, and the other in Lower Bucks County—link the most interesting sites.
Sip Your Way Through the County
Every good destination has its share of wineries and breweries, and Bucks County is no exception. The Bucks County Wine Trail links eight wineries, offering tasting experiences, beautiful settings, and special events; you can drive yourself (responsibly) or arrange a driver—or target one or two. Family-owned Buckingham Valley Vineyards and Winery, in Buckingham, is one of the state’s oldest farm wineries (founded in 1966) and is the county’s only winery producing Methode Champenoise sparkling wine; while Rose Bank Winery, in Newtown, sits on land once owned by William Penn and includes a 1719 stone manor house and 1835 barn. The Bucks County Ale Trail connects more than 20 breweries, each producing unique craft brews; most offer food as well. For starters: Doylestown Brewing Company has been brewing for more than 70 years, with its flagship RS Lager based on an old PA lager dating from the late 1800s; while Vault Brewing Company in Yardley, housed in a 19th-century bank, has a rotational on-tap selection that uses unexpected seasonal ingredients.
Pair Dinner with Delaware River Views
Local restaurants reap the benefits of Bucks County’s rural location—with the freshest products on hand to whip into tantalizing dishes. Add a panoramic view of the Delaware River, and you’ve found an idyllic combo—and the options are plentiful. The Yardley Inn has porch seating on which to enjoy contemporary comfort food. Both intimate Nektar Wine Bar and chef Jose Garces’ Stella, both in New Hope, serve small dishes to share, while Francisco’s on the River in Washington Crossing features Mediterranean and Italian eats. And if you don’t need a river with your fine dining, head to the Restaurant at Barley Sheaf Farm for award-winning seasonal fare overlooking flowery gardens.
Admire Local Art
It’s no surprise that this exceedingly picturesque county has long been an artist magnet. You’ll find the works of local artists—much of it depicting Bucks County scenes—hanging in inns and restaurants and being sold in galleries throughout the county. Though if there’s one place to see the most stellar works, head to the Michener Art Museum, which displays a small but enviable collection of Pennsylvania Impressionists (Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber, Fran Coppedge), a fountain-graced sculpture garden, as well as a serene room designed by local furniture maker George Nakashima. The museum is named after James Michener, the Pulitzer-Prize-award-winning novelist who grew up in Doylestown. When the town set about opening an art museum in 1988, he lent it his name. One room near the entrance is dedicated to Michener and includes artifacts, including his old typewriter. The museum occupies the old county prison, and while the interior is completely modern and state of the art, the old stone walls surrounding it add to the ambiance.
Sleep In an Enchanting Inn
One of the reasons Bucks County is such an ideal getaway is its wealth of beautifully tended inns, B&Bs, and hotels. Many occupy historic houses, including Pineapple Hill Inn B&B just south of New Hope. Built as a stagecoach stop in 1812, the genteel manor house sits on 5 acres of landscaped grounds and includes a yummy breakfast. And then there’s the brand-new River House at Odette’s in New Hope, a modern boutique hotel filled with local art, lots of warm wood and river rock, and unobstructed Delaware River. Inspired by Odette Myrtil, a French-American actress who established a cabaret restaurant on the spot, River House artfully displays artifacts from the original building and presents live cabaret performances in the two-story piano lounge. Playwright George S. Kaufman owned the 1740 Inn at Barley Sheaf Farm in Holicong, now a luxury hotel, restaurant, and spa on 100 acres.