History, chocolate, and the great outdoors await you in and around Pennsylvania’s vibrant capital.
(The next installment in the series,, “The ABCs of Future Travel”, designed to inspire you to start planning your next trip.)
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania welcomes visitors of all ages and interests with a seemingly endless array of first-rate activities and experiences. Of course, that could be said of the entire state. From the intensity of American Civil War history to the calming effect of rolling countryside. From the honest simplicity of Amish culture to the electricity of modern cities bustling with non-stop action. From the exhilaration of outdoor activities to mouthwatering adventures in the wonderful world of chocolate. There is something to interest and excite everyone who is willing to indulge the senses in all Pennsylvania has to offer. But when planning your trip, don’t deprive yourself of the magic to be found in and around her dynamic capital city of Harrisburg. In fact, make it your home base during your visit.
The Pennsylvania State Capitol Building
I recommend beginning your Harrisburg visit with a free guided tour of the Pennsylvania Capitol Building. While admiring its stunning interior design, you’ll learn how this famous landmark was conceived, and how it evolved into an artistic and architectural masterpiece.
Soaring 272 feet into the Harrisburg skyline, the 629,898 square foot State Capitol Building is the main edifice in the Pennsylvania State Capitol complex. It houses all three branches of the Pennsylvania Government: the offices of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, both houses of the State Legislature and the State Supreme and Superior Courts. Although this 1902 structure wasn’t the first incarnation of Pennsylvania’s legislative center, this capitol building/art palace was the one that endured.
Standing in the fourth floor rotunda, be sure to gaze upward at the magnificent dome and the four massive columns that support it. If the dome looks familiar, it’s because it was patterned after the one crowning St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Ornately carved wood accents, extravagant amounts of Vermont marble, bronze light standards with cut glass globes, and home grown art work grace the rotunda with captivating creations everywhere you look.
After drinking in the magnificence of the rotunda, explore the State House and Senate Chambers and the State Supreme Court, also located on the fourth floor. Stained glass windows, walls adorned with murals and paintings, sparkling two-ton chandeliers, cast bronze statues, ornately carved wood with gold leaf accents, and an intricately carved original clock will vie for your attention. But you’ll find the combined effect of art and craftsmanship even more stunning than the individual components.
Before you exit, be sure to take in the picture tiles on the floor of the building’s expansive lobby. You can even stand on the plaque marking the spot where President Theodor Roosevelt stood during the dedication of the new State Capitol Building in 1906. There he proclaimed, “This is the handsomest building I ever saw.” Most likely, you will find yourself agreeing with him.
The State Capitol is located in downtown Harrisburg on North Third Street, across the street from the Pennsylvania State Museum.
Reservations Line: (800) 868-7672
The National Civil War Museum (insert )
The National Civil War Museum is one of the world’s largest museums solely dedicated to the history of the American Civil war. The conflict raged from 1861 to 1865, resulting in the most devastating loss of life and destruction of property in the nation’s history. Here you can view the realities of the war through the eyes of those who lived and died throughout its course.
The self-guided museum tour begins at the second level observatory, which affords a spectacular view of the river valley and four counties. The well-orchestrated, and sometimes graphic, exhibits take you, in chronological order from the pre-war years of 1850, through the war itself, 1861-1865 and up to 1876.
As you move through the exhibits, printed information and videos, as well as sensors activating recorded story tellers, period music, and battle sounds, add relevant information and context to what you are seeing. Display cases holding original artifacts once belonging to key players before, during and after the Civil War include Robert E. Lee’s bible and a lock of hair from Stonewall Jackson’s horse. In addition to items belonging to the famous, you’ll see poignant examples of every-day items owned and used by soldiers and civilians alike, who had little in the way of possessions upon which to rely for their survival. These exhibits, as well as many others, paint an objective, yet deeply disturbing, picture of the many aspects of this bloody four year conflict.
The National Civil War Museum opened to the public on February 12, 2001, Abraham Lincoln’s 192nd birthday. Along with its permanent galleries, the museum regularly features special exhibits. Be sure to check the National Civil War’s website to see what will be on display during your visit.
National Civil War Museum
1 Lincoln Circle at Reservoir Park
Harrisburg, PA 17103
Marvelous Midtown Harrisburg
Midtown Harrisburg is a shining example of how a city can take a not-so-nice section and transform it into a safe gathering place for families, hipsters, art and book lovers, as well as shoppers. Here are just a few of the delights you’ll find in Midtown:
- Midtown Scholar Bookstore Café: When in Midtown, be sure to drop into this unusual book lovers’ dream for a cup of something hot and a look around. The shop’s atmosphere is warm and friendly, so don’t be intimidated by the floor to ceiling shelves packed to the gills with an impressive collection of new, used, academic, and rare books. Among the 200,000 volumes, you’ll find an eclectic assortment of things to read and purchase, including a wide variety of children’s literature. The shop frequently hosts book signings, live music, and other events, so be sure to check out their website.
Midtown Scholar Bookstore Café
1302 North Third Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102
- Broad Street Market: Feeding the mind can work up a powerful appetite, but you only have to venture across the street from Midtown Scholar Bookstore Café to feed the body. There you will find the oldest – as in pre-Civil War – continuously operating covered market in the U.S. tantalize your senses with a glorious assortment of hot, cold, domestic, and international foods, as well as fresh produce, from which to choose. The market is open Thursday through Saturday.
- Midtown Cinema: Harrisburg’s independent art house theater prides itself on running quality indie and foreign movies. To go along with the films, the theater operates a snack bar featuring standard movie fare, as well as locally produced treats.
250 Reily Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102
- The Millworks: This local treasure is a combination restaurant, brewery, and art studio. Enjoy ice-cold craft beer, and scrumptious, creative foods prepared with locally sourced ingredients, while you take in the modern art and well-preserved architecture of the place. Hunger and thirst assuaged, make your way up to the second level. Wander past the 25 art studios, and you might be fortunate enough to observe some of the local artists at work. Just remember to be respectful of their space and need to concentrate on their craft.
340 Verbeke Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102
Let’s Go Daytripping
Harrisburg is replete with quality museums, art galleries, theaters, shops, and restaurants. But you don’t want to spend all your time indoors. Do you? Well, Harrisburg has that covered, too.
A perfect compliment to making the most of the Harrisburg craft beer scene is Wine Tastings in Hershey Harrisburg Wine Country. Hop in the car, enjoy the Pennsylvania scenery rolling by, and stop in at any of the area’s over a dozen award-winning vineyards and wineries. Depending on time of year, your visit may coincide with a free live music event or themed weekend.
Harrisburg is a short distance from several fine hiking trails, and an easy drive to a portion of the Appalachian Trail. Hiking not your thing? You can still get in plenty of exercise with a walk around Wildwood Park, surrounded by calming natural beauty.
Indian Echo Caverns is an attraction that takes you 440 million years back to the formation of the area’s most famous limestone caverns. Led by a seasoned tour guide, you will begin your adventure at the caverns’ entrance, which lies at the bottom of 71 stairs.
It is believed that Susquehannock Indians used the caverns as shelter from severe weather, and to store food. This is only a theory, because the tribe vanished in the 1670s.
As you travel from chamber to chamber, you will encounter stalagmites and stalactites, wall carvings, a moment of total darkness, and occasional dripping water. These, combined with your guide’s factual descriptions and spooky tales, will make the total experience interactive, informative, and fun.
The caverns maintain a constant temperature of 52 degrees, so dress in layers. Unfortunately, the caverns are not accessible to individuals in wheelchairs or with compromised mobility.
Indian Echo Caverns
368 Middletown Road
Hummelstown, PA 17036
Phone: (717) 566-8131
Meet the Neighbors
Harrisburg is an excellent home base for exploring nearby attractions. The chocoholic paradise of Hershey lies a mere 14 miles away, and the town of Gettysburg and its historic Civil War battlefield less than 40. You can spend a week in the area and still wish you could have more time to explore. Here is more information on these two destinations you will definitely want to visit while in Harrisburg.
This well-known Pennsylvania town is famous for cranking out some of America’s most beloved chocolate treats. But you will want to emerge from your chocolate-induced coma long enough to also take in some of Hershey’s enjoyable non-edible aspects.
Of course, when in Hershey, we have to talk about chocolate. Hershey’s® Chocolate World is an adventure for kids of all ages. You can design and make your own chocolate bar using authentic equipment, or learn the fine points of chocolate through an organized tasting experience, It’s all about the chocolate. And there’s no escaping it. The Hershey Trolley Works™ will take you on a narrated tour of Hershey, where you’ll hear the awe-inspiring history of the town, and Milton Hershey, the man who made it famous. Information on current hours, and ticket prices, can be found on the attraction’s website.
Although not part of Chocolate World itself, but well worth the time, is “The Hershey Story“, a family-friendly, interactive museum that takes you from Milton Hershey’s early chocolate-making days to the many contributions he made to the town and its people. This genuinely altruistic man earned a great deal of money over his lifetime, and he deeply loved his home town. So, he used the first for the good of the second. This country needs more individuals like Milton Hershey.
The Hershey Story
63 West Chocolate Avenue
Hershey, PA 17033
One of Milton’s most spectacular gifts is Hershey Gardens, a 23-acre feast for the senses. Immerse yourself in profusions of brightly colored seasonal flowers, an interactive children’s garden, a butterfly house, and more. Open yourself up to the pleasant, relaxing experiences surrounding you in this oasis untouched by the confusion and stress that is the world in which we live. You will find yourself feeling more peaceful and centered when you leave than when you entered.
170 Hotel Road
Hershey, PA 17033
If you’re an automobile enthusiast – and even if you’re not – The Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Museum in Hershey will transport you back in time with an unforgettable experience. Follow the fascinating displays of shiny antique cars decade by decade, spanning over 80 years. You’ll find, however, that cars aren’t the only residents occupying this 71,000 square foot museum.
AACA, a Smithsonian Affiliate, offers a treasure trove of permanent and temporary exhibits. Displays featuring motorcycles, an assortment of busses (including those yellow ones we used to ride to and from school), along with all manner of memorabilia. will keep visitors of all ages engaged for at least an hour and probably longer. One of the most fun vehicles we saw was a prohibition-era mobile bar, cleverly concealed in a hearse. This is a prime example of when the going gets tough, the tough get clever.
AACA Museum, Inc
161 Museum Drive
Hershey, PA 17033
717-566-7100 – Ticket Counter ext. 100
Gettysburg is a treasure-trove of Civil War history, due to the pivotal three-day battle that raged there in July 1863. Not to mention Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address later that year.
Allow yourself at least two hours to visit the actual battlefield in order to absorb the horrific events that took place on this hallowed ground. There are several ways to tour the site; by bus, with a Licensed Battlefield Guide driving your car, you driving your car with an audio tour, on scooters, on horseback and in a horse-drawn carriage. The area abounds with museums and restored buildings, each with its own unique story.
A must-see is the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, a 139,000 square-foot facility containing 11 state-of-the-art exhibit galleries. Civil War-era weapons and uniforms are on display, along with other artifacts. The Cyclorama painting, as seen from the perspective of Union troops on Cemetery Ridge, comes to life via a powerful narrative. The sight and sounds put you right in the middle of the battle that turned the tide in favor of the Union and caused the war to drag on, ravaging the country for two more painful and bloody years.
Gettysburg National Military Park
1195 Baltimore Pike, Suite 100
Gettysburg, PA 17325-2804
But Gettysburg has much to offer besides it’s painful Civil War history. Outdoor activities include picturesque hiking and biking trails, as well as several golf courses. Enjoy fresh air activities for every age and fitness level.
Shopaholics can brows antique stores, hunt for gifts and raid the outlets. The Amish Market in Hanover, a short 17 miles from Gettysburg, will keep the most ardent shopper busy, delighting in handmade items such as furniture, candles, bird feeders and other crafts, as well as fresh produce and scrumptious prepared foods.
Discover the agricultural aspects of the area by taking a leisurely drive along the Gettysburg Wine and Fruit Trail. In the process, tour one or more of the area’s wineries. You can sample and purchase some surprisingly good wines onsite or at one of the tasting rooms located in the town of Gettysburg.
If you fancy prowling the night seeking spirits, other than the liquid variety, there are several tours and supernatural investigations available. Due to its Civil War History, the number of soldiers who died there, and the horrific ways in which many of them died, Gettysburg is alleged to be especially haunted. So be prepared to be spooked.
Gettysburg area restaurants and bakeries produce mouth-watering edibles to suit every taste and budget; from fine dining to traditional local fare. Try some traditional Pennsylvania sausage, pirogies and sauerkraut, along with some local beer.
With a population of approximately 50,000, Harrisburg is an ideal venue to explore, play, and learn at a slower pace than in a juggernaut of a state capital such as Atlanta. In Harrisburg, you can partake of all the city has to offer, visit historical and recreational sites, and enjoy the great outdoors, all without the stress of overwhelming crowds, heavy traffic, and the annoyance of packing and unpacking.
We found the folks friendly, the food and entertainment options plentiful, and the convenience unbeatable. Harrisburg is a city you can visit in a day, but you will want to stay longer.
Note on Covid19: Travel is beginning to resume, but countries, states, provinces, and municipalities are reopening at different rates. The rules may vary from place to place. Be sure to check the website belonging to venues, restaurants, events, or accommodations you plan to visit before finalizing your plans.