If you’re looking for the best things to see and do in Gettysburg, you’re in the right place!
Perhaps no small town in America has been defined by a singular event more so than Gettysburg, which found itself at the epicenter of the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil, from July 1-3, 1863.
Out of respect, out of curiosity, or out of the desire to walk on legendary ground, people began flocking to Gettysburg nearly as soon as the guns there fell silent, and battle-related tourism continues to be a huge part of the Gettysburg story in modern times.
And catering to the modern-day Gettysburg tourist are dozens of museums, tours, restaurants, and Civil War-themed attractions, all putting their own spin on the legacy of the battle.
What follows is a list of what I feel are 10 of the best things to see and do in Gettysburg, based upon my own personal experiences visiting the town.
This IS NOT meant to be a comprehensive list of every worthwhile thing to see and do it Gettysburg; it is meant to be a manageable list of essential places to visit if you’re new to the Gettysburg experience.
For each of the 10 destinations mentioned, I’ll give you a brief description of the attraction; click on the blue text links if you want to see more detailed information about that attraction.
1. The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center
There is no better place to begin your visit to the battlefield than the The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center.
This beautiful facility is privately owned & operated by the Gettysburg Foundation (in partnership with the National Park Service), and provides visitors with a broad-based overview of the Battle of Gettysburg via three separate but complimentary attractions.
- “A New Birth of Freedom” is a 20-minute film, narrated by Morgan Freeman, that provides context as to the causes of the Civil War and how the Battle of Gettysburg helped shape the outcome of that war.
- The Gettysburg Cyclorama is a 360-degree, hand-painted canvas created in 1884, depicting Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.
Originally displayed in Boston in 1884 and relocated to Gettysburg in 1913, the cyclorama was the IMAX of the late 1800s, and the Gettysburg Cyclorama continues to be a popular attraction to this day.
- The Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War features 12 exhibit areas, 9 short films, and artifacts from one of the largest collections of Civil War relics in the world.
Taken together, these three attractions at the Visitor Center will provide you with a better understanding of what you’re looking at as you tour the sprawling Gettysburg battlefield.
2. The Gettysburg Battlefield
There is no larger or more important site in Gettysburg than the battlefield itself.
The National Military Park at Gettysburg covers roughly 6000 acres, and contains more than 1,300 monuments.
There are lots of ways to tour the battlefield, from taking a guided bus tour, to hiring a private guide, to simply driving around and exploring it on your own.
The battlefield and roads are open daily thirty minutes before sunrise to thirty minutes after sunset.
3. Soldiers’ National Cemetery
The Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg is some of the most hallowed ground in Pennsylvania.
Cemetery Hill, near the site from which Union forces repelled Pickett’s Charge on Cemetery Ridge, was in the months after the Battle of Gettysburg transformed into the final resting place for over 3,000 fallen Union soldiers.
At a ceremony dedicating the newly-created cemetery on November 19, 1863 (4 months after the Battle of Gettysburg), President Abraham Lincoln delivered what is considered to be one of the most iconic speeches in American history, what later became known as the “Gettysburg Address”.
4. The Seminary Ridge Museum
The former Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg, now the Seminary Ridge Museum, served as both an observation post and a hospital during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Several floors of interactive exhibits and artifact displays highlight the role the seminary played in the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Cupola Tour takes you up into the very top of the Seminary, where you can experience the same commanding view that made it a valuable observation post during the battle.
5. Downtown Gettysburg Walking Tour
The town of Gettysburg itself was a warzone during the Battle of Gettysburg, and taking a guided walking tour of the town is a great way to learn about the civilians’ experiences before, during and after the 3 day battle.
In addition, you’ll learn more about President Lincoln’s visit to Gettysburg for the dedication of the National Cemetery.
Walking tours can be tailored to cover a variety of subjects, from the Colonial Period in Gettysburg up to the current time.
6. The Shriver House
The Shriver House gives you a unique perspective on how the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War affected the Shriver family, who built this beautiful brick home in Gettysburg in 1860.
Some of the rooms are decorated as they would have been prior to the war reaching Gettysburg.
While other rooms show what the house looked like after it was commandeered by Confederate soldiers and used for, among other things, a sniper’s nest.
If you want to get an intimate look at the Battle of Gettysburg from a civilian perspective, the Shriver House is a must-see.
7. The Jennie Wade House
The Jennie Wade House is a shrine to the only civilian casualty during the Battle of Gettysburg, 20 year-old Jennie Wade.
Guides in period attire recount the story of how Jennie was kneading dough in the kitchen when a rifle bullet pierced two doors and claimed her life.
Jennie Wade is laid to rest across the street from where she was killed, at Evergreen Cemetery.
8. Children of Gettysburg 1863 Museum
The Children of Gettysburg 1863 museum does an admirable job tackling the formidable task of explaining the Battle of Gettysburg in terms children can understand.
Kids can literally see themselves in the shoes of children during the Civil War, and many of the exhibits incorporate touchable elements to keep them engaged.
The museum doesn’t gloss over anything, but it does present the Battle of Gettysburg and its aftermath in terms that would not be scary to a majority of children.
If you have kids in your group, the Children of Gettysburg 1863 museum should be a must-see during your visit.
9. Gettysburg Beyond the Battlefield Museum
Gettysburg’s newest history museum tells the stories of local residents before, during, and after the epic Civil War battle that took place there.
The Gettysburg Beyond the Battle Museum is an engaging collection of exhibits, artifacts, short films, and immersive experiences that illustrate the history of Adams County, as well as insight into what the townspeople of Gettysburg dealt with during the battle and in the days, months and years afterwards.
10. Dobbin House
The Dobbin House is a dining tradition in Gettysburg, located in a building constructed in 1776!
The basement of the Dobbin House is where you’ll find the Springhouse Tavern, featuring casual dining in a colonial atmosphere.
Upstairs you’ll find the Alexander Dobbin Dining Rooms, featuring a fine dining experience in six historic rooms.
You can also take a free tour of other areas of the Dobbin House, including a secret space that served as a hideout for runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad.
I’ve eaten at a lot of colonial-themed restaurants in PA and around the country, and I can honestly say the Dobbin House in Gettysburg is one of my favorites!
So there you have it – 10 of the best things to see and do in Gettysburg!
And if you didn’t see your favorite Gettysburg destination on this list – don’t worry.
I’ve got LOTS of other Gettysburg-related attractions yet to write about in the coming weeks and months!
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10 Must-See Attractions in Franklin County is your guide to some of the best things to see and do just west of Gettysburg.
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