If you’re a Civil War buff or an American history major, you’re likely well versed in what happened at Gettysburg. After all, the battle of Gettysburg was a significant turning point in our nation’s history and was the inspiration for one of its most well-known speeches, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
One could say that it is not just a destination, it’s an experience. To truly experience all that Gettysburg has to offer, plan to stay for more than a day. Whether you enjoy Civil War history or not, there is something for everyone in Gettysburg. Here are 12 of my favorites, including a few lesser-known attractions.
1. Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center
Starting your visit to Gettysburg at the visitor center will allow you to choose from multiple ways to view the battlefields. Park maps, information guides, and current events packets are available free of charge. This will help you plan how and where you want to spend your time. If you choose a guided battlefield tour, plan to spend between four and six hours. Self-guided tours are also available, and well-marked. Visit the gift shop to pick up a copy of the audio tour to play while you explore.
There are several other reasons to begin your trip at the visitor center. An orientation film tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg, placing it in the context of the larger Civil War. Also inside is the stunning cyclorama painting, the largest painting in North America standing 42 feet high and measuring 377 feet in circumference, visually telling the story of Pickett’s Charge. The Museum of Civil War History is also located here, housing original photos, artifacts, uniforms, artillery, and even a few cannons in the expansive 22,000-square-foot exhibit.
2. The Eisenhower National Historic Site
This farm was the only home that General and 34th President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife Mamie ever owned. Once serving as a meeting place for world leaders, it is said to have been used as a weekend respite from presidential duties in the White House, a place to relax during a time when there was great effort to reduce cold war tensions.
Sitting adjacent to what was once a battlefield, the farm and grounds have spectacular views of South Mountain. Self-guided walking tours of the farm grounds and professionally guided tours of every room inside the home are on tap, from the sunroom where the President entertained world leaders, to the First Lady’s entirely pink bathroom. For an added bonus, the garage on-site houses vintage cars once driven by the late President.
3. The Jennie Wade House and Museum
During the Battle of Gettysburg, only one civilian casualty occurred. Jennie Wade, a young 20-year-old resident of the town, was struck and tragically killed while inside her home on July 3rd, 1863. Guides dressed in period clothing take you room by room through the original house, where the Wade’s found themselves directly in the line of fire as union troops retreated just south of town.
The historic house still contains the original furniture, doors, and masonry walls where bullet holes can be seen, showing the gunfire path on that tragic day. Guests even get to tour the stone-walled cellar where Jennie’s remaining family hid for safety after her heartbreaking demise.
4. Civil War Ghosts Walking Tour
Do you believe in ghosts? Whether you do or not, this guided walking tour of carefully selected stops is fun for all. Guides will safely navigate guests through the darkened streets, unfolding tales of mystery, terror, and tragedy. Documented stories of paranormal and ghostly hauntings are told along the way during the hour-long tour.
This experience is wheelchair accessible and guides will allow you to bring service animals along. Due to the outdoor nature of the experience, it is weather dependent. If poor weather cancels the tour, you will be offered a different date or a full refund on previously purchased tickets.
5. Little Round Top
This otherwise seemingly insignificant hill in Gettysburg is the site of many lost lives. Union troops from Maine, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan fought through overwhelming odds against Confederate troops, mostly from Alabama. The goal was clear: whoever dominated that hill could control the countryside to the west for miles.
Today, visitors can climb the hill and explore the numerous monuments along well-maintained walking paths. Views from the top provide an eye-opening understanding of how incredibly difficult the vast, open terrain was for Union soldiers to hold while battling with Confederate sharpshooters hiding in the rocks of nearby Devil’s Den. Little Round Top is one of the most popular sites to visit at Gettysburg National Battlefield Park
6. Historic Round Barn and Farm Market
Home to one of the first commercial apple orchards in Adams County, Pennsylvania, the historic round barn is one of only a handful of true round barns remaining in the United States. The spectacular structure was built by the Sheely family in 1914 and took over seven months to complete without high-tech machinery, using only ingenuity, manpower, and the most basic of tools. As originally constructed, it could house 50 cattle and 16 horses or mules.
Today, the ground floor of the barn boasts a farm market that operates spring through fall, selling in-season homegrown produce, jams and jellies, apple butter, and even pumpkins. The second floor of the barn is also available for rental use as a wedding venue, corporate event or meeting space, or family reunion space.
7. Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium
If the heaviness of civil war history becomes too much, take a trip to the Gettysburg area’s most unique attraction, Mr. Ed’s. This larger-than-life display of over 12,000 elephant figurines, circus paraphernalia, toys, and souvenirs delights young and old alike. It all began when Ed was given an elephant figurine as a wedding gift. Gathering a few more on his honeymoon, he began a collection that in his words, “just got out-of-hand.” Now on display for all to enjoy, the priceless collection can be viewed free of charge.
While you are there, don’t forget to stop by the candy emporium to sample one of over 20 varieties of homemade fudge, including specialty flavors like blueberry cheesecake and bananas foster. Several varieties of roasted nuts are available to purchase, along with old-time candies you might remember from childhood like Mary Janes, pop-rocks, and Bit O’Honey.
8. Strawberry Hill Nature Center
Located just 10 miles outside of downtown Gettysburg on over 600 acres, the center is a nature lover’s paradise. Part of the larger Michaux State Forest, the preserve is known as a “Stewardship Forest”. A forest stewardship program assures that the area is sustainably managed through the primary values of watershed protection, recreation (hiking and trail management), and wildlife habitat.
You’ll find miles of hiking trails here, from an easy one-miler for hikers of all ages and abilities, to a six-miler for the more advanced trekkers. Not a hiker? No problem! You can book a private meet and greet with Strawberry Hill’s Animal Ambassadors, including turtles, snakes, and a barred owl, or picnic by the pond. Kids will love the outdoor playground built just for them, especially the real-life teepee. Restrooms and drinking water are available on site. The park is open dawn to dusk.
9. Dine at the Historic 1776 Dobbin House Tavern
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Dobbin House was originally built for Reverend Alexander Dobbin and his family to begin their new life in America. Today the restaurant is known for its candlelit elegance, superior food in abundance, and gracious style of service known to bring back the sights and sounds of centuries ago.
As a premier Gettysburg attraction, the Dobbin House also contains a smaller and more intimate dining experience in the Springhouse Tavern, the Abigail Adams Ballroom for larger gatherings, and a Country Curiosity store where you can find both an eclectic collection of old-time wares, and new treasures. For those who want to stay a little longer, there are several bed and breakfast rooms available.
10. Tour the Mason Dixon Distillery
A century-old repurposed furniture factory provides the backdrop for distilling and hand bottling small-batch spirits in a ‘grain-to-glass’ process, founded by a father and son team. Once inside the meticulously restored 100-year-old building adorned with brick walls and original hand-hewn beams, you’ll discover the quality that goes into every small-batch produced. All liquor is made on site, using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.
Inside the tavern, the seating arrangement is akin to a German beer hall where you won’t find a TV, but where conversation fills the room. A menu of comfort food from around the world is also available and locally sourced. They even keep a large garden out back–talk about local!
11. The Gettysburg Diorama
In what is touted as a “must-see attraction”, this diorama presents the Battle of Gettysburg in a fully narrated and utterly unique light and sound experience. This is the only place in town where you can see a depiction of the entire 6,000-acre battlefield at one time, with over 20,000 hand-painted soldiers, horses, and cannons telling the tale.
A 30-minute light and sound show plays out in front of you, depicting the entire three-day battle, from the first shots to the last moments. In what will inevitably be a stirring and educational experience for the whole family, the birds-eye view of the battleground enables visitors to gain perspective into the scope of the historical events that took place here. It is truly one of my most favorite stops in town.
12. The Appalachian Brewing Company (ABC)
If you’ve worked up an appetite after all of your touring the town of Gettysburg, you’ll want to stop here. With a rotating list of craft brews, and a menu to suit all tastes and dietary restrictions (including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free), ABC is sure to please everyone in your party.
There are two outdoor dining spaces, one adjacent to the restaurant and one in the shaded area to the side, known as the beer garden. Full service outside won’t have you heading inside for your next beverage and comes with a bonus to dining outdoors–your furry friend is welcome too. They will even bring your four-legged companion a water bowl of their own while you dine.
Experiencing Gettysburg is something you will not soon forget. History abounds as you travel along each thoroughfare, past monuments both large and small etched with stories of victory and sacrifice. A town whose history is sure to evoke emotions across a wide spectrum that will surprise and delight its visitors. If you ever get the opportunity to visit, Gettysburg will undoubtedly leave quite an impression.
Last Updated on August 26, 2020