Located in the Northeastern United States, Pennsylvania has played a significant role in U.S. history. Philadelphia was once our nation’s capital so there is no shortage of historical sites in the city, including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Cultural learning participants will get a true understanding of American history with a visit to Philadelphia.
Outside major cities like “Philly” and Pittsburgh on the western side of the state, Pennsylvania also has a beautiful countryside, ski resorts in the Poconos and the Alleghenies, peaceful Lancaster County, and the Delaware River, all providing many opportunities to get outside and enjoy outdoor activities, sports and recreation. Cultural activities can also be found throughout the state, including a thriving theater scene in Philadelphia and the many art museums of Pittsburgh. To learn more about Pennsylvania and the many cultural learning activities available in the Keystone State, browse our guide below or visit visitpa.com.
Historical Sites & Tourist Attractions
Add some local history to your cultural exchange experience by visiting a nearby historical site or tourist attraction when living and working in the U.S.
The Liberty Bell is a symbol of freedom for Americans, and now sits in the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. Another important site in the park is Independence Hall, the site of significant moments in American history like the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and later the U.S. Constitution.
The Amish Village allows visitors to experience Amish culture by touring 12 acres of the village grounds. The Amish community has been living in Lancaster County for almost 300 years and preserves a traditional way of life.
Re-enact the famous scene in the movie Rocky on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, then check out the Rocky Statue, originally created for Rocky III.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History is one of the leading natural history museums in the United States. In addition to its many exhibits and collections, the museum hosts educational programs, tours and special exhibitions.
Opened in the late 1800s when Pittsburgh was a major manufacturer of steel and coal for the country, the inclined railway was a transportation wonder at the time and still gives visitors and Pittsburgh residents amazing views of the city and its famous three rivers. There are two functioning inclines in the city: The Duquesne Incline and the Monogahela Incline.
Visit the National Aviary to see over 500 birds from across the globe, including eagles, penguins, falcons and much more!
Gettysburg National Military Park marks the site of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. The battle is often considered the turning point of the war and it inspired President Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech, the Gettysburg Address. Park visitors can take a tour, view field exhibits throughout the park or attend educational talks and lectures.
In Harrisburg, the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts has an IMAX Theater, Science Center and Performance Center to share artistic and educational activities, exhibitions and events.
Arts & Culture
The United States offers a wide variety of cultural learning opportunities through the arts. Dance, music, theater, opera, art museums and festivals are just some of the options available to international visitors who wish to learn more about the U.S. and its culture.
Pittsburgh has a vibrant art and culture scene, especially the downtown area of Pittsburgh.
The Andy Warhol Museum is located in Warhol’s birthplace, Pittsburgh, and is the largest museum in the U.S. dedicated to a single artist. The museum displays Warhol’s paintings, drawings, films, photographs, sculptures and prints in its permanent collection, along with the work of other artists that have been influenced by Warhol.
The Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh is known for its collection of American and European art from the 16th century to today. Educational programs, classes and other events are also held at the museum throughout the year.
Other art and cultural museums in Pittsburgh include:
- The Mattress Factory
- Frick Art & Historical Center
- Benedum Center for the Performing Arts
- Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
- Pittsburgh Opera
- Pittsburgh Symphony
- Pittsburgh Public Theater
The Rodin Museum in Philadelphia has over 140 pieces of art from the French artist, Auguste Rodin, including bronzes, marbles and plasters.
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) has an extensive collection of American art, along with special exhibitions, tours, and gallery lectures and talks.
Other art and cultural museums in Philadelphia include:
Sports & Recreation
Many Americans are passionate about sports – and not just baseball and football! Get a glimpse into this part of American culture by watching or participating in a favorite U.S. sport or recreational activity in your local area.
There are many sports teams (and many sports rivalries) in Pennsylvania, including professional and college-level teams.
Professional Sports in Pennsylvania
Professional sports teams in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia include:
- Philadelphia Flyers (hockey)
- Philadelphia Eagles (football)
- Philadelphia Phillies (baseball)
- Philadelphia 76ers (basketball)
- Pittsburgh Penguins (hockey)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (football)
- Pittsburgh Pirates (baseball)
College Sports in Pennsylvania
The Penn State Nittany Lions are a well-known college football team with a strong fan base. They play in one of the largest sports stadiums in the world, Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA, and have a long history of successful football seasons.
The University of Pittsburgh football team, the Pittsburgh Panthers, is a popular team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Villanova Wildcats are the athletic teams of Villanova University. Some of the leading sports teams at Villanova include men’s basketball, women’s basketball and men’s lacrosse.
The Temple Owls are the popular teams of the Philadelphia-based Temple University (Bill Cosby is an alumni).
The United States is home to a variety of landscapes and climates to suit all types of outdoor activities. The courageous traveler can find extreme sports and outdoor adventure tours, while others may want to keep both feet on the ground in a national park or forest. Whatever your interests, take advantage of the many outdoor activities available during your time in the United States.
Bear Creek Mountain Resort is a resort with winter and summer activities, including skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, hiking, mountain biking and kayaking.
Ski and snowboard fans can find more information on Pennsylvania ski resorts by visiting Ski PA.
The Delaware Water Gap is a National Recreation Area and popular spot for outdoor activities like tubing, boating, kayaking, swimming, hiking, camping and fishing. The area attracts residents and visitors from Pennsylvania but also nearby New York and New Jersey communities as well.
Pennsylvania borders Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes. Many outdoor activities are available on the lake during all seasons, including fishing, camping, sailing, swimming and boating. During winter, Erie experiences heavy snowfall thanks to the “lake effect” so winter activities like snow tubing, ice skating, cross-country skiing, ice fishing and snowshoeing are common.
Outdoor Activities in Pittsburgh
There are many fun ways to experience the great outdoors in the middle of the city, including kayaking, bike rentals or by visiting one of the parks within the city – Frick, Highland, Riverview or Schenley Park.
Venture Outdoors also offers many opportunities to get outside with over 500 programs available to kids, adults and groups.
One of the best ways to experience cultural exchange is through food and cooking. Visitors will enjoy exploring the regional specialties and local cuisine during their time in the United States.
Many ethnic and cultural groups that have migrated to the state have left their mark on Pennsylvania cuisine. Food in Pennsyvania include Polish, English, Ukrainian, Italian, German, African American and Scotch-Irish. For example, Italian immigrants created the iconic Philly cheesesteak, a sandwich with thinly sliced steak, melted cheese and often onions and peppers.
The Pennsylvania Dutch community originally migrated from Switzerland and Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries and established a distinct culture in southeastern Pennsylvania. Their cuisine, which is still eaten today, includes foods like Chow-chow, pot pie, Scrapple, shoo-fly pie and pretzels.
Find a nearby farmers’ market for fresh fruit and vegetables and homemade products.
For a unique and local perspective on American cultural, be sure to check out festivals and events near your cultural exchange program location. These events are a fun and interesting way to interact with locals and to learn more about American culture by experiencing it firsthand.
If you’re near Punxsutawney on February 2nd, don’t miss the Groundhog Day festival. Each year the public waits to see if a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil will “predict” the weather; if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter, but if there is no shadow, we will have an early spring. Other activities during the event include live entertainment, food vendors, cook-offs, craft sales and the Groundhog Ball.
Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival is a multi-day music festival held in both May and August in Gettysburg, PA. The festival includes arts and crafts, vendors, food and, of course, live music. Camping is also available at the festival.
Experience American history and the October 4, 1777 battle against the British Army at the Revolutionary Germantown Festival. Battle reenactments, tours, historical costumes and food are available at the daylong event.
Watch outdoor movies at the Awesome Fest Summer Series, which celebrates a favorite piece of American culture, the drive-in movie theater. The organizers show a mix of classic, independent and new Hollywood movies from June to August on a large outdoor screen – for free!
See historic areas of Philadelphia and celebrate one of the most popular holidays in the U.S. at the Independence Day Parade. Many other events are also held around this time, including concerts, food events, and much more!
Search for upcoming festivals and events on the Visit Philly events page.
Employers may be able to assist with housing during your time in the United States, but this is not always possible for all participants. When looking for housing during your cultural exchange program, consider the cost of the accommodation, the distance to your work place and the amount of time you will be in the United States.
It’s also important to avoid fraudulent housing. It is highly recommended that you secure short-term housing upon arrival (e.g. in a hostel) and conduct your housing search once you are in the U.S. Never give your financial information to a stranger over the Internet. Browse the Housing Information guides for InterExchange participants below for more tips and advice.
General Housing Information
- Housing information for Work and Travel USA participants
- Housing information for Career Training USA interns and trainees
Pennsylvania Housing Resources
Some examples of housing and accommodation resources for Pennsylvania participants include:
Public transportation options can be hit or miss, depending on your location in the United States. Buses are a common transportation option for short and long-term travel in the U.S., while some areas will also have trains, subways and other options.
Visit the American Public Transportation Association website for a complete list of public transportation options in your local community.
Many Amtrak trains run through areas of Pennsylvania, including major cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Bus companies operating in Pennsylvania and to other areas of the United States include:
Philadelphia and Southeastern Pennsylvania is served by SEPTA, which includes regional rail, buses and trolleys.
Port Authority of Allegheny County serves Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas with buses and light rail services.
Public buses are available from CAT Transit in Harrisburg and surrounding areas.
Visitors and residents can take a bus or trolley through downtown Erie.
Health & Safety
Participants in Pennsylvania can utilize the following resources in case of an emergency or extreme weather event in their area:
Emergency Management Agencies
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) www.fema.gov and www.ready.gov
- Pennsylvania FEMA updates on Twitter @femaregion3
Help Your Community
Interact with others and expand your skill set by volunteering in your local community. Volunteer organizations are often looking for short-term volunteers or for individuals to help with a single event, making it a great option for InterExchange participants who wish to add to their cultural exchange experience during their time in the United States.
Volunteers of America – Pennsylvania is a non-profit organization that works across the state of Pennsylvania.
Pittsburgh Cares helps individuals find the right volunteer opportunity in the Pittsburgh region according to their interest or time availability.
Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley regularly adds volunteer listings to its website. Opportunities include on-going activities and one-time projects.
Bucks County Alive is a community website that lists many organizations in the Bucks County region with volunteer opportunities. Visit the website to browse the list of organizations.
Find volunteer opportunities with United Way in Erie County and help out in the local community while learning new skills and meeting new people!
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