9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Gettysburg
Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania, where a three-day Civil War battle in 1863 took the lives of 51,000 people, is now the Gettysburg National Military Park. Considered the turning point in the Civil War, Gettysburg is also famous as the scene of President Abraham Lincoln's best-known speech, the Gettysburg Address. Among the many things to do as you visit this historic national park are museums in the visitor center and elsewhere, a tour of the battlefields, and the "Summer White House" of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Although a battlefield might not seem like a place to take kids while you're on vacation, several of the attractions are designed to interest young people and bring this momentous event in our history to life. And a trip to Gettysburg is not all history; the attractive downtown offers shopping for hand-made local crafts, antiques, and unique gifts.
See also: Where to Stay in Gettysburg
1 Museum and Visitor Center
The best place to begin your visit is at the visitor center and its museum for an overview that puts the battle and this war in context. Here, you'll learn more about what caused the Civil War and how Gettysburg was that conflict's most decisive moment, as heavy casualties crippled the Confederacy and turned the course of the war in favor of the North.
A highlight of the museum is the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama, painted in the late 1880s by the French artist Paul Philippoteaux. The dramatic painting is enhanced by audio and visual effects that put visitors in the center of the fury of Pickett's Charge, on the third day of the battle. In the museum's 11 galleries, you'll see artifacts and displays about the battle, the war, and its aftermath, as well as interactive exhibits and theaters with videos and voice accounts by military leaders, common soldiers, and civilians.
Address: 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
2 Battlefield and Monuments
Nearly 1,400 monuments and statues are placed across the huge battlefield, making it one of the largest collections of outdoor sculpture in the world. Most of these monuments stand where the particular units fought, with small square stones indicating the lines of the unit's formation. While today's monuments commemorate both armies, at the beginning, Union veterans objected to any recognizing of the South. It was not until 1886 that the bitterness of the war had subsided enough for Confederate memorials to be accepted, and the first was erected at Culp's Hill commemorating the 2nd Maryland Infantry.
Highlights among the monuments mark the prominent positions and battles at Seminary Ridge, Cemetery Ridge, and Oak Ridge. On Seminary Ridge, the primary Confederate position on the west, one of the most prominent is the North Carolina Memorial, depicting five soldiers advancing in Pickett's Charge. Atop the ridge stands the Virginia State Memorial, with a young bugler and color bearer surrounded by five fellow soldiers. Above them as though still commanding the ridge is General Robert E. Lee on his horse Traveler, cast in bronze by Louis Tiffany & Sons. Facing them on Cemetery Ridge, held by the Union lines for the final two days of battle, is the Pennsylvania Memorial, the largest and most complex of the park's monuments and the only memorial recording the names of all the soldiers from the state who fought here, engraved on 90 bronze tablets at its base. On Oak Ridge, the site of the opening day's battle before the Union army fell back to Cemetery Hill, is the Eternal Light Peace Memorial. It was dedicated in 1938 by more than 1,800 Civil War veterans of both armies to "Peace Eternal in a Nation United" on the 75th anniversary of the battle.
3 Battlefield Tour
The best way to see the battlefield and understand what happened here is to take a tour with a licensed Battlefield Guide. There are two choices: a two-hour tour in your car with a battlefield guide or a two-and-a-half-hour bus tour led by a licensed guide. You can also follow a self-guided driving or walking tour of the battlefield using a CD audio tour or the detailed guide book from the museum shop. A full walking tour will take about four hours. Even if you have been here before, you'll find the guided tours different each time, as each guide offers individual insights and perspectives.
4 Soldiers' National Cemetery
Less than six months after the Battle of Gettysburg, the Soldiers' National Cemetery was dedicated to honor the more than 3,500 Union soldiers who fought and perished here. President Abraham Lincoln was asked to give a few remarks at the ceremonies on November 19, 1863 and delivered his famous Gettysburg Address, one of the shortest and most memorable speeches in history. The first monument was erected in 1869, honoring the 1st Minnesota Infantry, which suffered staggering casualties here on July 2, 1863.
The cemetery, designed by landscape architect William Saunders, forms a wide semicircle, its sections divided by state. It is on Cemetery Hill, the Union battle line, and includes a large part of the battlefield. It was one of the first national cemeteries and includes the graves of the fallen in later wars, as well.
5 Eisenhower National Historic Site
The home of President and Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower is the only one they ever owned, bought after his retirement in 1950, following a 30-year Army career. The house is furnished as it was when Eisenhower used it in the 1950s as his weekend retreat and a place to entertain and meet informally with foreign dignitaries that included Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, and Nikita Khrushchev. Among its decorations are Mamie's collections, White House artifacts, and gifts from foreign countries. A decorative arts tour, a collection of Eisenhower's paintings (he used to set his easel on the porch to paint) and a farm tour are special features here, along with a scavenger hunt for young visitors. A shuttle bus leaves from the National Park Visitor Center, where you can buy tickets.
6 Gettysburg Civil War Reenactment
Each July, on the anniversary of the battle (July 1-3), re-enactors in authentic uniforms take on the roles of those who fought here, from generals to common foot soldiers, firing cannons and authentic weapons. Historic lectures, demonstrations, military band concerts, and displays of artifacts and period antiques are all part of the three-day commemoration of the battle.
Address: 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
7 David Wills House
Following the battle, Gettysburg lawyer David Wills was active in local work to care for the wounded and bury the dead, and he led efforts to create a National Cemetery as a burial place for Union soldiers killed in battle or who died later of their wounds. It was at his downtown home that Lincoln stayed the night before delivering the Gettysburg Address, and where he prepared that famous speech.
The Wills House Museum illustrates life in Gettysburg after the battle and how local people were left with the tasks of cleanup and caring for the wounded. This house became a center for those efforts, and as you tour its rooms, you'll see exhibits on the Gettysburg Address and Wills' work in helping families looking for loved ones who were at the battle. Wills' office and the bedroom where Lincoln stayed and worked on his speech are restored to their 1863 appearance. You can take the Freedom Transit Shuttle here from the visitor center.
Address: 8 Lincoln Square, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
8 Shriver House Museum
The restored 1860 home of the Shriver family takes you back to the tense days when Confederate sharpshooters commandeered their house and knocked two holes through its brick wall, so they could fire at Union troops on nearby Cemetery Hill. Costumed interpreters bring to life the world of the Shriver children as you tour the authentically restored rooms, see the sharpshooters' "nest," and learn how modern investigative techniques were used to authenticate what happened here. During the restoration, medical supplies were found, confirming that it was also one of the houses used as a hospital for wounded soldiers.
Address: 309 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
9 Sachs Covered Bridge
One of Gettysburg's most popular scenic sights is the red Sachs Bridge, a 100-foot-long covered bridge spanning Marsh Creek. During the Civil War, the bridge was used by both the Union and Confederate Armies and was a major escape route for the Confederate army as it retreated to Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg. It is built in the style known as Town Truss and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is open to pedestrians only.
Address: Waterworks Road, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Where to Stay in Gettysburg for Sightseeing
We recommend these convenient hotels in Gettysburg near the top historical sites, museums, and monuments:
- Federal Pointe Inn, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member: 3-star hotel, 19th-century redbrick manor, large rooms, fitness center, afternoon tea.
- Hampton inn Gettysburg: mid-range pricing, short drive to attractions, indoor pool, complimentary breakfast, spacious suites with gas fireplaces.
- Best Western Gettysburg: affordable rates, convenient location, modern decor, indoor heated pool, fitness equipment.
- Days Inn Gettysburg: budget hotel, clean rooms, outdoor pool, fitness center.