For over 100 years, the Pennsylvania Farm Show has been held annually in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The country’s largest indoor agricultural fair, at 24 acres in size, the PA Farm Show draws half a million visitors each January to learn more about the state’s agricultural industries.
Living in Harrisburg just a few miles from the Farm Show Complex, I make a point to get to the show[ every year. If I’m being perfectly honest, I’m a bit too citified to fully appreciate the Pennsylvania Farm Show, but it’s certainly a great way to learn more about the culture of Pennsylvania.
If you are thinking about visiting the show, I thought I’d put together a few of my top tips for attending the Pennsylvania Farm Show to make sure you get the most out of your visit.
When is the Pennsylvania Farm Show?
The Pennsylvania Farm Show is open for eight days in the first half of January each year. In 2019, the Pennsylvania Farm Show will be held from Saturday, January 5 through Saturday, January 12. The grounds are open daily at 8am and close at 9pm in the evening (except for Sunday at 8pm and the last Saturday at 5pm).
In addition, the Friday before the show opens is a preview day from noon through 9pm. On this day, only the food court is open to visitors. However, if you simply want to eat some of the delicious Farm Show food, this is a great time to visit.
There is no charge to enter the Pennsylvania Farm Show, but most nearby parking costs money (see below for more details).
What is there to do at the Pennsylvania Farm Show?
At 24 acres in size, there’s a wide variety of things to do at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
Probably the most well-known attraction at the show is the annual butter sculpture. Each year, a new design is caved out of approximately 1,000 pounds of butter and honors something about Pennsylvania and the state’s industry.
Located near the Maclay Street Entrance in the Main Hall, this sculpture is always a popular site to see.
The rest of the Main Hall is filled with a combination of vendors (primarily selling packaged foods made in PA), informational tables for various state agencies and advocacy groups, and many of the competition winners.
The Pennsylvania Farm Show features 10,000 competitive exhibits, many of which are on display in the Main Hall including the best alcoholic beverages, art competitions, and championship foods.
Adjacent to the Main Hall at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex are eight halls and arenas that are dedicated primarily to animals. In these exhibitions, visitors can do everything from petting a bunny to watching horse pulling competitions and livestock auctions.
My family always enjoys walking through these areas and looking at the prize winning rabbits, ducks, and chickens. There are also usually rabbits out for petting.
Nearby, there are also large animals like horses, cows, and alpacas in their stalls. It’s always a good time to walk through these halls to see these beautiful animals up close.
One of the newest highlights to the PA Farm Show in Harrisburg is the Calving Corner. Introduced in 2018, this area offers the chance to see more than a dozen cows give birth in front of a large crowd (and of course their owners and a team of veterinarians).
Throughout the week, a variety of competitions, exhibitions, and events are held in the Small Arena, Equine Hall, and the New Holland Large Area. These range from live stock auctions to square dancing competitions. A full schedule of events can be found on the Farm Show’s website.
One of the yearly highlights of the Pennsylvania Farm Show is the rodeo held on several nights of the show. This is one of the few ticketed events during the Farm Show, so make sure to get tickets in advance if you are interested.
The final area of the Farm Show Complex is the Giant Exhibition Hall. This large area contains displays of farm equipment, including some very large tractors. This area is a lot of fun to explore and many of the tractors are fun for kids (and adults) to climb around on.
Food at the Pennsylvania Farm Show
The Giant Exhibition Hall is also where the majority of the Farm Show’s food can be found. For many people, myself included, one of the main highlights of the Pennsylvania Farm Show is the delicious food.
The most popular food item]\ is the Farm Show milkshakes. Offered by the PA Dairyman’s Association, the milkshake is offered in chocolate, vanilla, or a combination of both flavors. Lines can be long for the milkshake, and while it might be a tad overrated, it’s still a must-try treat if you’re visiting the Farm Show.
Throughout the hall, there are dozens of food options to choose from. One of my favorites is the deep-fried mozzarella cubes which are also sold by the PA Dairyman’s Association. These come four to an order and are quite delicious when paired with marinara sauce.
Truly, though, you can’t go wrong with any of the food at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. Other great options include the blended mushroom burgers, honey waffles, fried pickles, potato donuts, and apple donuts (no one said the food at the show was healthy).
The food lines can get very long on weekends or during meal times on weekdays, especially for the most popular foods. This combined with a surprising lack of tables and chairs can make for a bit of a chaotic experience.
If you want a more peaceful time, or just don’t want to wait in a super long line for food, the food vendors in the Main Hall typically have much shorter lines. While many of the iconic foods can’t be found here, you can get a Farm Show milkshake on this side of the complex.
Parking at the Pennsylvania Farm Show
There are several official options for parking at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. The show’s official lots are both located a short distance from the complex and require a shuttle ride to access the event. In 2019, parking at the Pennsylvania Farm Show costs $15 and the shuttle to and from the complex is included.
Some of the surrounding businesses offer parking within walking distance for a charge as well. Fewer of these auxiliary lots are open on weekdays, but if you’d rather not deal with a shuttle, they are a good option. Look for these near the Burger King and Popeyes at the intersection of Cameron and Maclay Streets.
If you don’t mind walking, you can also head across the train tracks on Maclay Street and into the residential area of Harrisburg to find free parking. Be prepared to walk, though, and know that these parking spots are in one of the higher crime areas of the city.
Top tips for visiting the PA Farm Show
My top tip for visiting the Pennsylvania Farm Show is to, if at all possible, avoiding visiting the show on Saturday or Sunday. On the weekend, the complex is packed with people, making moving from hall to hall challenging.
Because of this, parking is harder to find, lines for food are much longer, and you’ll have trouble seeing everything at the show.
Of course, the weekends are also when the show has its biggest events such as the rodeo, appearances by celebrity chefs, and more, so there are benefits to attending during busier times.
If you must visit on the weekend, try to arrive at the Farm Show as early as possible as things pick up as the day goes on. This is also true of weekdays with the show picking up somewhat after kids are out of school of for the day.
If you are only interested in the food, the Friday before the official opening date features free parking. While only the food hall is open, it’s a great time to get a taste of the show without having to worry about large crowds or paying for parking.
If you can’t make it to the Pennsylvania Farm Show, but live in PA, PCN carries many of the events on TV and offers a nice look at the show.
Hotels near the Farm Show Complex
Looking for somewhere to stay during the Pennsylvania Farm Show? There are several hotels near the complex.
The closest is Staybridge Suites, which practically shares a parking lot with the Farm Show. If you want to be within walking distance of the show, this is the only choice, which means it likely fills up quite quickly leading up to the show.
Another option, if you plan to visit on a weekday, is to stay at a hotel downtown (such as the Harrisburg Hilton or the Crown Plaza, and take the free shuttle to the complex that is offered Monday-Friday between 11am and 2pm.
While you will likely need to catch a taxi back to your hotel, this is another potential option that’s worth considering.
What do you think of the Pennsylvania Farm Show? Let me know your experiences and top tips below in the comments section.