Philly-Area Day Trip…Brandywine Valley!
I’ve lived in the Philadelphia area for 15 years and love so many things about my chosen hometown, including how easy it is to get out of the city. The Brandywine Valley is located only 45 minutes south of Philadelphia, yet once you arrive you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to a countryside paradise. From its charming towns to its wineries and outdoor spaces, the Brandywine Valley offers something for every traveler and is certainly worth a visit even for those located a bit further in the New York City and Washington D.C. areas. I’ve be covering a few of my favorite area stops in this post.
- Stop 1: Wineries
- Stop 2: Longwood Gardens
- Stop 3: Terrain Garden Cafe
Where to stay: For those visiting from the Philadelphia area, the Brandywine Valley is an easy day trip, but for those coming from a bit further or those who may want to make a weekend of it, my favorite option for accommodation is one of the many bed and breakfasts in the area. Many are located in historic homes and provide a peaceful retreat for your escape from the city. This website is an excellent resource to find your perfect Brandywine Valley B&B.
Start your day out by sampling some local PA wines at Penns Woods Winery, which opens at 11 am Friday through Sunday and at 12 pm Monday through Thursday. Pennsylvania’s cooler climate allows PA vintners to produce quality white and ice wines. You’ll find some reds at the wineries of the Brandywine Valley, but often the grapes used for these wines are imported, so I’d suggest sticking to white and ice wines. Penns Woods also offers cheese platters to enjoy with your tasting. Order one and grab a table outside to enjoy views of the vineyard while you snack. Afterward, perhaps enjoy a quick game of cornhole before moving on to your next stop!
Another great winery option is Chaddsford Winery, which opens daily at 11 am. This winery hosts several festivals with live music through the summer months, so check their website to see if any of them are happening during your visit. Chaddsford does not sell food, but you can pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the winery’s beautiful grounds. Pick up a bottle of wine to enjoy later with dinner.
The area is also well-known for its antiques. Next door to Chaddsford Winery is the Pennsbury-Chadds Ford Antique Mall which contains over 100 local vendors and is definitely worth a stop!
Next, head to my favorite spot in the Brandywine Valley, Longwood Gardens. Longwood is a 1,000 acre botanical garden that contains miles of trails, beautiful flower and plant displays, impressive fountains and a 4 acre greenhouse. While it’s enjoyed by over 1 million people per year for its beauty, Longwood is also an important educational center for the studies of botany and gardening and home to 9,000 species of plants.
Longwood Gardens began to take its current form in the early 1900’s. It was known at that time as Peirce Farm and was purchased by Pierre S. du Pont of DuPont Chemical company as a countryside retreat. Du Pont had traveled extensively through Europe and drew much of his inspiration for the gardens from the grand gardens and palaces he’d seen there. He was also very interested in new technologies seen at the world’s fairs and expositions, specifically those related to water pumps and fountains. Pictured below are the newly constructed fountains, which replaced du Pont’s original fountains which had been operational from the 1930’s through 2014. There are several fountain shows set to music throughout the day plus an illuminated fountain show in the evening.
The conservatory, pictured below, is essentially a 4-acre greenhouse that contains impressive plant and flower displays in several different climate zones. 5,500 of Longwood’s 9,000 plant species are located here. Definitely don’t miss the orchid room and the rainforest area – my two favorites! Pictured below is the interior courtyard of the conservatory, which contains an impressive waterlilies display.
In addition to its impressive plantlife, Longwood is also home to some impressive musical instruments. The largest residence pipe organ is located in the conservatory, and a 62 bell carillon tower, inspired by one du Pont had seen in France, is also located on the property [pictured below].
One of the newer additions to Longwood is an 86 acre meadow which contains a restored farmhouse. I’ve yet to hike all of the trails in the meadow, but I just became a member of the Gardens recently, so I am planning to explore all of it in the near future!
If you’re hungry while visiting the Gardens, there is a great cafeteria on-site (be sure to try to local Kennett Square mushroom soup), as well as an outdoor beer garden and a fine dining restaurant called 1906. You will likely need reservations for the latter which can be made at the link I included, so plan in advance.
While summer is certainly a beautiful time to visit Longwood, there are several festivals and special events held at the Gardens throughout the year, making it a great place to visit any time of the year. Some of my favorites are the wine & jazz festival (summer), beautiful holiday light displays during A Longwood Christmas (winter), and a light and sound art installation in the gardens called Nightscape (autumn). There is also an indoor special orchid display during the winter months, a chrysanthemum festival in the fall, and a grand tulip display (240,000 tulips!) in spring.
After getting your miles in at Longwood Gardens, satisfy the appetite you’ve worked up at the always-delicious Terrain Garden Cafe! The cafe is actually located inside a home and garden store, Terrain, which is owned by the URBN Group (their other brands include Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie). I would allot some time for wandering around the store before dinner!
I suggest making a reservation at the link I included above, as the cafe can get pretty crowded, especially if it’s partially cordoned off for a special event (they host weddings here.) Hopefully you took my advice and picked up a bottle of wine earlier at Penns Woods or Chadds Ford wineries, as the cafe is a BYOB. The cuisine is simple and farm-to-table with a focus on meats, dairy and produce from local farms.
A few last notes:
- Getting there: The Brandywine Valley is an easy drive from the Philadelphia area, located on Route 1 off of Route 476. This link gives average travel times to Longwood Gardens from cities such as New York and Baltimore.
- Transportation: You will need a car to travel around the Brandywine Valley. If you are planning to make a weekend of it and would like to spend a day wine tasting, there are private car services that you can schedule. Information can be found here.