One of the best ways to understand and learn about America’s history is to see the sites firsthand and watch it come alive in person. That’s what visitors to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, can expect when exploring this famous small town. The Battle of Gettysburg, which was a three-day battle fought in July 1863, was a victory for Union forces that stopped Confederate General Robert E. Lee's second invasion of the North. More than 50,000 American men died during this battle, making it the largest and bloodiest battle of the American Civil War. Because of the events that took place in this small town, Gettysburg landed on the map as a place tourists have flocked to in order to learn about Gettysburg’s historical significance and to appreciate the many artifacts and events that the town offers to preserve this history.
“Gettysburg, as a destination, has something for everyone who comes through,” says Carl Whitehill, director of communications at Destination Gettysburg. “For those who are interested in history, as the home of the American Civil War’s bloodiest battle, Gettysburg offers ample opportunities to get up close and personal with the battle and to discover the effects it had on our nation’s history.”
Today, visitors to Gettysburg can see glimpses of the town’s past all around. In fact, in addition to a number of historical sites that tourists can visit, many of the town’s buildings are also steeped in history, as many were already standing during the Battle of Gettysburg and some have even hosted U.S. presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower. In addition to its history, Gettysburg offers a bustling downtown filled with small businesses, a growing arts scene, ample family-friendly places and activities, and so much more. There’s truly something for everyone in this vibrant town.
Those planning a visit to Gettysburg should map it out ahead of time to ensure they don’t miss anything. Whitehill recommends starting with an orientation program like the Gettysburg Diorama or the National Park Service Museum and Visitor Center program to help first-time visitors understand the history of the Civil War and how it impacted the town. “A tour of the battlefield, be it with a licensed guide or a self-guided program, is a must,” says Whitehill. “In addition to guided walking tours, there are many other ways to see the battlefield—from horseback to bicycle to Segway tours.” Also, visitors should check out the town’s many historic sites and landmarks around Gettysburg, from the Eisenhower National Historic Site to the Gettysburg National Cemetery, the site of the immortal words of President Abraham Lincoln that would eventually became known as the Gettysburg Address. The history buff in the family will also enjoy museums like the Shriver House Museum and the Jennie Wade House, both of which depict what life was like for civilians during the Battle of Gettysburg. Visitors can also go on a tour through the streets of the town to learn about the events of 1863.
While many visitors travel to Gettysburg to soak in the history, it doesn’t take long for them to realize that there’s so much more to the town. A walk downtown is a must to check out the shops and boutiques featuring original artwork, fashion, home décor and handcrafted items. Artifact at 777, for example, sells items that all have a story, a connection to the history of the town and other Civil War locations, such as Civil War artifacts; relics found in Gettysburg, Antietam and other sites and battlefields; pottery fragments and artifacts from ancient sites; and a variety of fossils, quartz and mineral pendulums. Families with young children who visit this town can enjoy a number of fun activities, including the Explore & More Hands-On Children’s Museum, the Land of Little Horses Farm Park, Catoctin Wildlife Preserve & Zoo and the Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve. After a day of sightseeing and fun outdoors, be sure to enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants in town. From farm-to-table dining, casual dining, small-plate offerings, period-era foods and fresh-baked treats, there’s a place to satisfy all taste buds and cravings.
The summer is a particularly eventful time to visit Gettysburg. For example, in early July, re-enactors from across the nation travel to the town to re-enact the bloodiest three days of the American Civil War. “Step back in time and interact with the past at the Living History Village and activity tents, field demonstrations and, of course, watch the three-day battle unfold before your eyes,” says Whitehill. “This event gives guests a chance to see, in real-time, the events that took place and a chance for hands-on participation that will give them a new appreciation of the Battle of Gettysburg.” Also in July is the 19th Century Baseball Festival, in which teams from all over play the game like it was played in 1863, with authentic wool uniforms (and no gloves) and following the game’s original rules.
In addition, the Adams County Irish Festival in July celebrates Irish culture with music, dancing, food, drinks and merchandise, and blueberry and peach festivals are sweet ways to enjoy the fruits of summer. Gettysburg Brew Fest in August and the Wine & Music Festival in September offer the over-21 set a chance to have fun and enjoy live music while sampling wines and beers. The wine festival features hundreds of local wines from more than 25 Pennsylvania wineries. While summer is a great time to visit Gettysburg, the many sites and offerings available in this town make it a year-round destination that is sure to please people of all ages. “While the town of Gettysburg is rich in history, it’s also just as rich in culture,” says Whitehill. “Gettysburg is becoming known as a hotspot for foodies because of the many incredible restaurants, breweries, wineries and markets that pride themselves on locally grown and handcrafted items. Because of the idyllic nature of Adams County, visitors who venture just outside of Gettysburg will be met with scenic vineyards, wooded trails and the quaint countryside that South Central Pennsylvania is known for.”
After visiting Gettysburg, fly to the other side of the U.S. to visit scenic San Francisco, California. On the way, consider making a pitstop in the Lonestar State to enjoy the best Texas Hill Country Wineries, or head to Utah to see the Mighty Five. No matter where you go, you'll make incredible memories.