Around Town: 10 Things to Do in Columbia

Around Town: 10 Things to Do in Columbia

“If you’ve never seen anything quite like it before…you probably saw it in Columbia.”

  • Source: LNP / LancasterOnline, 2023

• Hidden Treasures

Four enormous Antique Centers—all with ample free parking—have made Columbia an epicenter for Lancaster and York County treasure hunters. Professional “pickers” also know to check out the town’s numerous nostalgia, collectibles and second-hand stores, as well as a fantastic Locust Street comic book shop and the Columbia Library’s well-stocked “book nook.” The challenge is not to find a bargain…it’s to leave town empty-handed.

• Artistic License

The creative juices of Columbia artists and craftspeople are flowing like never before. Several former “industrial” properties are now artist cooperatives and gallery spaces, including Switchboard Studios, Kindred Collection, Keystone Artisan Werks, Thistle & Sage Creative and Garth Gallery, which boasts a second-floor coffee salon. Art lovers like to say, “If you’ve never seen anything quite like it before, you probably saw it in Columbia.”

• Walk and Chew at the Same Time

A busy day of shopping and exploring doesn’t always leave time for a long meal. But that doesn’t mean you have to throw yourself on the mercy of a food court. Downtown Columbia features three pizza parlors, an old-style malt shop, a couple of superb coffee houses, multiple vendors at the restored 1862 Market House, a popular BBQ joint, a first-rate bakery and classic booth-and-counter service at Hinkle’s. All offer sit-down fare or grab-and-go—and there are additional options within a couple of blocks.

• Raise a Glass

Visitors in search of libation used to be out of luck in Columbia, which was (and still is) known for its many members-only clubs. That is no longer the case! Columbia Kettleworks and Starview Brewery make and serve their own beers, while Lancaster Distilleries is slated to open its Tap Room on November 22. For pub-style traditionalists, Bully’s and Union Street are go-to spots for food and drink.

• Experience “Winter-Worthy” Ice Cream

True dessert lovers don’t care a lick about ordering a scoop or two when the mercury plummets—if the ice cream is first-rate. And it is. Hinkle’s and Coffee & Cream are Columbia institutions, while the ice cream freezer at Andy’s Meat Market ranks among Columbia’s best-kept secrets. If you’re an “all-you-can-eat” type, the Turkey Hill Experience beckons.

• Small World

Two floors of elaborate model train exhibits draw thousands to the Columbia Historical Preservation Society every year. The town’s history is on display throughout the repurposed church structure—including the second floor, where Columbia has been lovingly recreated in miniature in an eye-popping, 1,000 sq. ft. working train layout.

• Old School Tik-Tok

Those who claim that “time is just a concept” might change their tune after an hour or two at the National Watch & Clock Museum. The finest museum of its kind in America (and likely the world), it features thousands of extraordinary timekeeping artifacts dating back more than 500 years. 

• R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The recently restored Zion Hill Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 150 African-Americans who lived and died in Columbia—dating back to the Civil War—making it one of the most important cemeteries in the Northeast.  A quiet stroll through Mount Bethel Cemetery, in the heart of town, is literally a walk through Columbia history, while Mount Laurel Cemetery offers sweeping views from high above the Susquehanna. All told, more than a dozen Revolutionary War veterans and over 400 Civil War veterans are among the 700-plus war veterans interred in Columbia—along with five of the hometown-hero “Bridge Burners” who stopped Lee’s army from crossing the Susquehanna in 1863, and the railroad executive who introduced organized baseball to the Susquehanna Valley.

• The Wright Stuff

Columbia was established in 1726 by the Wright family, who continued to influence its culture and growth well in the 19th century. With more than 900 historic structures still intact, Columbia is a walking museum. And there is no better place to start than the Wright’s Ferry Museum, which celebrates the life of Susanna Wright—one of the most extraordinary and inspiring women in Pennsylvania history. 

• Everything You Wanted to Know About Coal Mining (but didn’t know to ask)

The lifeblood of Columbia is the Susquehanna River, and the Columbia Crossings Trails Center captures this dynamic is dramatic fashion. In addition to spectacular views at one of the river’s widest points, it currently boasts a fascinating free museum exhibit on the legacy of the coal industry in the region. In addition to offering public restrooms and lots of parking, Columbia Crossings also marks the beginning of one of Pennsylvania’s most popular walking-hiking-biking venues, the 14-mile Northwest River Trail.