11 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 see and 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 tourists and bring this momentous event in our history to life. And a trip to Gettysburg can be an economical one for a family: along with Battlefield Park, the historic Rupp House and the Gettysburg Museum of History are among the free things to do in Gettysburg. The best time to visit is spring or fall, when the weather is mild enough to enjoy walking outdoors, but without the summer vacation crowds.
For ideas on the best places to visit, see our list of the top attractions in Gettysburg.
See also: Where to Stay in Gettysburg
1. 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.
2. Battlefield Tour
The best way to see the battlefield and understand what happened here is to take a tour with a licensed battlefield guide. You can take a tour in your own car with a battlefield guide to explain the history or join a two-hour Gettysburg Battlefield Bus Tour with a guide who will point out the significant sites of each phase of the three-day battle.
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.
3. Museum and Visitor Center
The best place to begin 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
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. Little Round Top
The rocky hill known as Little Round Top was the scene of what is considered to be the most decisive encounter of the Battle of Gettysburg. One of the best vantage points of the battlefields, Little Round Top is also one of the most evocative, as you can not only get an overview of the scene, but experience the rough, rock-strewn terrain these men fought in.
On the second day of the battle, Confederate troops launched an assault against the Union left flank, which was repulsed in a bayonet charge by men of the 20th Maine Regiment. That charge saved General Meade's Army of the Potomac, winning the Battle of Gettysburg and turning the tide of the entire war. The boulders of the adjacent rock-strewn area, known as Devil's Den, was a position for sharpshooters.
6. Gettysburg Civil War Reenactment
Each July, on the anniversary of the battle (July 1-3), history re-enactors in authentic Confederate and Union Army uniforms take on the roles of those who fought here, from generals to common foot soldiers of both armies, firing cannons and authentic weapons. Historic lectures, demonstrations, replicas of military encampments, military band concerts, and displays of artifacts and period antiques are all part of the three-day commemoration of the battle, an event which has become a major annual tourist attraction in Gettysburg.
Address: 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
7. Eisenhower National Historic Site
Not all the Gettysburg historical sites concern the famous battle. 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, who 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.
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. Jenny Wade House
Despite the staggering losses to both armies in the battle that surrounded and filled the small town of Gettysburg for three days, only one civilian was killed. Twenty-year-old Jenny Wade was in her home, when a stray bullet went through two doors before hitting her as she kneaded bread in the kitchen. The Jennie Wade House Museum looks much as it did when she lived here, and is authentically furnished throughout. Guides in period costumes discuss civilian and domestic life during the Civil War, and how it impacted Gettysburg. In front of the house is a statue of Jenny Wade.
Address: 548 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
10. 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. An eye-catching statue of Lincoln stands outside the house. You can take the Freedom Transit Shuttle here from the visitor center.
Address: 8 Lincoln Square, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
11. 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 served as 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
Gettysburg is not very big, and it is quite easy to get around. That said, crowds on holiday weekends and during Gettysburg's frequent special events can make traffic and parking congested. Fortunately, three handy Freedom Transit lines connect downtown and the major hotel centers with the battlefield Museum and Visitor Center. As all hotels offer free guest parking, in busy times it may be a good idea to use public transport and leave your vehicle at your lodgings. We recommend these convenient hotels in Gettysburg, handy to the top historical sites, museums, and tourist attractions:
- Luxury Hotels: On historic Lincoln Square, a few steps from the David Wills House and the Freedom bus stop, the Inn at Lincoln Square is a beautifully decorated boutique hotel. Pieced quilts, four-poster beds, wainscoting, and fine architectural details characterize guest rooms, each of which has a refrigerator and microwave. A highlight of a stay is the fresh-baked muffins at breakfast.
The all-suite James Gettys Hotel, in a historic property close to Lincoln Square, offers tastefully decorated suites, each with a comfortable sitting room and kitchenette. Breakfast is included, and several dining options are nearby.
Federal Pointe Inn, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member is in a nicely repurposed 19th-century, red-brick school, within walking distance of downtown Gettysburg. High-ceilinged rooms add a historic note, as do the Gettysburg battle artifacts decorating the pleasant common rooms. Afternoon tea is served, and there is a fitness center.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Best Western Gettysburg opened in 2017, near museums, shopping, and restaurants. Complimentary hot breakfasts are served overlooking the battlefield park, and all rooms and suites have refrigerators and microwaves. There's also an indoor heated pool, and fitness equipment.
Hampton Inn Gettysburg also has an indoor pool and complimentary breakfasts, and the spacious suites have gas fireplaces. This family-friendly inn is in a cluster of commercial buildings and restaurants on Rte 30, just outside of the town center.
For a little more space in a countryside setting, The Lodges at Gettysburg are set on 63 acres, and each private lodge comes with a fully equipped kitchenette and private porch. Suites have fireplaces, and all lodges have secure high-speed internet.
- Budget Hotels: Days Inn by Wyndham Gettysburg is just outside of town on Route 30, with an outdoor pool and fitness facility. Spacious family rooms have refrigerators and microwaves, and breakfast is included. The complimentary hot breakfast buffet is served in an 1880 Victorian Cottage.
The family-run Quality Inn Gettysburg Battlefield is an especially good value for families, with a seasonal outdoor pool and an indoor pool with a hot tub, and generous-sized rooms with three double beds.
Shoppers and pet-owners will especially like Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, a pet friendly hotel adjacent to The Outlet Shoppes at Gettysburg. There's a pool, and family-sized rooms have microwaves. It's a five-minute walk to the outlets and several dining options.
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Where to Go near Gettysburg: Along with those in historic Philadelphia, there are a lot of tourist attractions in Pennsylvania. For even more suggestions, check out our page on the Best Weekend Getaways in Pennsylvania.
Exploring the Great Outdoors: You'll find abundant top-rated national and state parks in Pennsylvania, and hikers should refer to our list of the best hiking trails in Pennsylvania. If water-related sports are more your style, see our pages on fly fishing regions and white water rafting and kayaking destinations in Pennsylvania.