Few places on American soil are as hallowed as Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, witness to some of the worst fighting of the Civil War in July 1863. But, Gettysburg is so much more than the Battlefield, with picturesque vistas throughout the area.
It’s location in Pennsylvania also makes it a convenient destination for a long weekend from many points along the East Coast, including the population centers around Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Baltimore. We recently had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Gettysburg and had an amazing time.
When looking at a place like Gettysburg for a long weekend, going with a hotel with a historic flair helps to immerse you in the setting. Luckily, Gettysburg has several options that are updated and accommodating. The Gettysburg Hotel, located right in the middle of town, is a convenient and beautiful location for your visit. It was founded in 1797, and still retains the historic charm of a hotel that was built and added to over the years—including modern updating that will make you very comfortable.
You will be able to walk to historic sites, downtown shopping, and dining. Built in 1896, The Federal Pointe Inn is another choice in this category of historic buildings modernized to become comfortable hotels for guests. Its location also lends itself to exploring on foot. Gettysburg also boasts several charming historic bed and breakfasts. Chain hotels in various locations are also available.
There are many things to explore in Gettysburg, but the main attraction is the history of the battle that took place here during the Civil War. The National Park Service has an impressive visitor center and museum to serve as your introduction to learning the history of what took place here. I recommend starting your visit here where there are various options to purchase to view the historic Cyclorama depicting Pickett’s Charge in the battle, touring the very in-depth museum, or taking a shuttle tour around the Battlefield. The Cyclorama presentation is the best introduction to the battle, and the painting itself is an impressive work. The museum presents many sides of the battle from the Federals, the Confederates, the townspeople, and the aftermath. It is filled with artifacts from the battle that are fascinating, along with very engaging panels of information. My kids enjoyed the hands-on and interactive elements of the museum as well. For all of us (ages 7-70) it brought the various aspects of the battle to life for us.
Touring the Battlefield is something you can do on your own, there are CD guides available in the Visitor Center shop, or you have several options for a guided tour. You can have someone guide you individually, you can take a shuttle tour, or you could be part of a small group. Any way you choose to go there is a lot of ground to cover, and it helps to have some guidance to understand where you are and what took place there.
The numerous monuments around the Battlefield are visually stimulating as well as historically interesting. We enjoyed exploring all of those, along with climbing the observation towers to get a bird’s eye view of the area. During different times of the year you may encounter battle re-enactments—note that during the anniversary of the battle in early July the town can become crowded, so if you want to visit for that make your arrangements early.
The Visitor Center does offer some food options, which are both convenient and pretty good if you are in a pinch to grab something fast between touring the museum and visiting the battlefield.
But, the Battlefield isn’t the only historic site to see in town. As part of the Battlefield, you will want to visit the cemetery and the spot where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the famous Gettysburg Address. The National Park Service also operates the Eisenhower Farm and offers a shuttle to the site. The days and hours of the Eisenhower Farm are limited, so you’ll want to plan your visit accordingly, but the Farm offers a glimpse into the life of one of our 20th Century Presidents and World War II heroes. The décor in the farm is as it was when Dwight and Mamie were in residence.
Throughout town, you will find relic shops and museums, along with other houses, churches, and schools that were involved in the 1863 battle. If you are interested in digging deeper some offer tours. Several guided tour options on foot are available through town, away from what is typically thought of as the Battlefield—topics include slavery and the Underground Railroad, the Civilian Experience during the battle, and, of course, the very popular ghost tours. Spending your evening on a ghost tour is a great way to wrap up one of your days in Gettysburg—if you aren’t afraid!
If you are looking for more than just history, you will find some great shopping in the downtown area. There are shops filled with original works of art, antiques, salvage pieces, souvenirs, and much more. Browsing through these shops is a great way to spend an afternoon. Just make sure you have room in your luggage for your finds!
Another great way to end a day is with a great meal, and Gettysburg offers several delicious dining options. We dined at the Dobbins House Tavern which has both a formal dining room and a more casual setting. Both are filled with historic charm and character, and that is reflected in the menu as well. We sampled several dishes and appetizers, and everything was locally sourced, freshly prepared, and absolutely delicious. For an authentic dining experience that keeps you in that historic setting, I highly recommend dining at Dobbins House Tavern. But, that is not the only great dining in town. One Lincoln, which is adjacent to the Gettysburg Hotel, offers a great menu with tasty options. There is an Irish Pub, a Brew Pub, a Distillery, and many other choices. If you are looking for a hearty breakfast before beginning your explorations try Hunt’s Battlefield Fries, The Ragged Edge Coffee House, or the Ugly Mug Café.