14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Harrisburg, PA
Author Anietra Hamper has traveled throughout Pennsylvania exploring the vast experiences available, from the outdoors to small towns and the state's top attractions.
The capital of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg is a historic community adorned with 18th- and 19th-century buildings and picturesque views of the Susquehanna River, where many of the town's activities are centered.
Those who spend a week in Harrisburg or make it part of a weekend getaway will understand why the sites here are some of the top places to visit in Pennsylvania. Harrisburg's location makes it easy to extend the trip with a short drive east to explore the highlights of Hershey, the state capital's chocolate-inspired neighbor.
Discover the best places to visit in the city with our list of the top tourist attractions in Harrisburg.
1. Walk the Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex
One of the top things to do when you are visiting the capital city of Harrisburg is to visit the stunning Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex. The capitol building is one of the most impressive in the United States and the hallmark of the Harrisburg skyline. It ranks consistently as one of the top attractions in Pennsylvania and is worthy of your time.
The dome on this National Historic Landmark is a 1/3-scale Renaissance-style replica of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Your visit to the Capitol will entice you with more than 475 rooms and four floors adorned with artwork, statues, murals, and a grand staircase in the main rotunda designed after one in the Paris Opera House. Free tours are available.
If you prefer to explore the complex on your own, you can download a self-guided tour app that walks you through the key areas of the complex explaining the history and architecture of each, including the House and Senate Chambers, the Supreme Court, and the Rotunda.
If time permits, stop by the neighboring Finance Building, which also features bronze statues, elaborate sconces, and painted murals.
Address: 501 N. 3rd Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Read More: Best Weekend Getaways in Pennsylvania
2. Explore the National Civil War Museum
As one of the largest museums dedicated to chronicling the American Civil War, the National Civil War Museum is a must-see during your visit to Harrisburg. This museum opened in 2001 and is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. Exhibits showcase perspectives from the war with an in-depth look at one of America's most important conflicts.
There are priceless artifacts, weapons, manuscripts, and memorabilia including items from General Robert E. Lee and President Abraham Lincoln. There are more than 21,000 war pieces in the museum archives. If you are a history buff, you will want to plan your visit around one of the regularly scheduled lectures or events, like civil war dancing, that are hosted at the museum.
Address: One Lincoln Circle, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
3. Visit the State Museum of Pennsylvania
Visiting The State Museum of Pennsylvania is one of the most interesting things to do on your trip to Harrisburg because it follows Pennsylvania's history from the beginning of Earth and the dinosaur period through to the modern day, showcasing exhibits about Native Americans, astronomy, the Civil War, and industry, as well as the state's wildlife.
It is a comprehensive look at Pennsylvania through time but you do not need to be from the state to enjoy its many elements. One of the permanent exhibits features the largest Civil War painting on a single canvas: The Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett's Charge. You will also want to see the restored Marshall's Creek mastodon skeleton and catch a show in the planetarium.
This museum is great for families with young children because of its Curiosity Connection, specifically designed for ages 1-5, which is an interactive hands-on exhibit for kids that introduces them to the museum experience.
Address: 300 North Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
4. Walk through the Fort Hunter Mansion and Park
A visit to Fort Hunter Mansion and Park will take you through history, but also through a beautiful 40-acre park on the banks of the Susquehanna River. While you can walk through the site on your own, your best bet is to take a guided tour as there is so much information to learn.
You will walk through this Victorian mansion and get a glimpse of what life was like for affluent Americans in 1725. The mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and was not only a private residence but also a war hub for frontiersmen. There are more than 10 buildings on-site and remnants to see from the Pennsylvania Canal Trail.
Address: 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
5. Play on City Island
Spend at least one of your days in Harrisburg playing at the City Island Complex. It is a 63-acre island and park in the middle of the Susquehanna River. In the Civil War era, the island was used by Union soldiers as a resting point before they crossed the river to defend the city from the Confederate Army.
Archaeologists have discovered that the island was used even earlier as evidenced by the artifacts they excavated belonging to the Susquehannock and Iroquois tribes during early settlement days.
Today, the island is used for entertainment and recreation, with attractions that include a golf course, ball field, small-scale steam train, a minor-league soccer stadium, batting cages, walking trails, and perhaps the best view of the Harrisburg skyline.
A popular way to enjoy City Island is by taking a cruise on the Pride of Susquehanna Riverboat (more information below) to watch the city activity from the water. If you have a packed itinerary and only have time for a quick stop at the park, plan on taking a picnic lunch to one of several pavilions that offer a great skyline view.
6. Embrace Culture at the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts
For a unique hands-on attraction, you will want to plan a trip to the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts. There are three floors with exhibits and experiences that range from science and movies to live performances of dance, music, and theater. There is even an art gallery and areas for kid-focused entertainment.
Some of the highlights include a four-story cinema screen, which runs Hollywood movies; hands-on exhibits and presentations for all age groups in the Harsco Science Center; a live show in the Sunoco Performance Theater; and competitive video gaming in the Esports area, where you can go up against people in-person or online.
The Whitaker Center is located in downtown Harrisburg, so it can easily be worked into a day in the city with nearby shopping, dining, and hotels.
Address: 222 Market Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
7. Ride on the Pride of the Susquehanna Riverboat Cruise
Since the Susquehanna River is the centerpiece of Harrisburg, it makes sense that a riverboat cruise is one of the top things to do in the city. The Pride of the Susquehanna Riverboat Cruise takes you on a relaxing trip on board one of the only remaining paddle-wheel riverboats in the United States.
This riverboat is a replica of a traditional 19th-century riverboat and is an unmistakable reminder of Harrisburg's history as it cruises along the waterway. It operates from spring until fall and departs from City Island.
The paddle-wheel boat trip gives you a terrific view of the Harrisburg skyline from the water. The narrated tour is a great way to get an overview of the city. If you plan this trip during your visit, you might want to book one of the special themed tours like the murder mystery cruise, wing night, live music excursions, or the Maryland blue crab cruise, depending on what is offered at the time of your stay.
Address: 11 Championship Way, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
8. Take in the Susquehanna Art Museum
The Susquehanna Art Museum is located in the Keystone Trust Building in the heart of Midtown Harrisburg, with more than 20,000 square feet of art space and galleries for visitors to explore.
The museum features diverse collections designed to showcase various forms of culture in the community and showcase nationally and internationally recognized artists. The building itself has artistic features worthy of note, like the 27-foot high ceilings; marble floors; and the 1923 bank vault, which is fully restored.
If time permits, you might want to sign up for one of the many regular single-session classes offered by the museum.
Address: 1401 North 3rd Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
9. Walk through Time at the John Harris and Simon Cameron Mansion
If you enjoy looking at city architecture then the John Harris and Simon Cameron Mansion is a must-see. You can take a tour inside the 250-year-old mansion, which sits prominently overlooking the Susquehanna River. It was built in 1766 by John Harris, the city's founder.
The original Georgian-style home was renovated into a Victorian mansion in 1863 when it was purchased by U.S. Senator Simon Cameron who served as President Lincoln's Secretary of War. Today, the mansion is home to the Dauphin County Historical Society and is preserved for tourists to visit. You can take a guided tour or visit during one of the scheduled public programs.
Address: 219 S. Front Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
10. Relax at Wildwood Park
While Harrisburg is best known for its many historical attractions, the city has a spectacular natural side, which you can explore in Wildwood Park. It is a 229-acre park on the fringe of Harrisburg that is a prime bird-watching location.
There are more than six miles of trails as you enjoy nature with the many species of flora and fauna, a wetlands area, and undisturbed wildlife. Stop by the Olewine Nature Center to see public exhibits and discover environmental studies that are underway by naturalists. Wildwood Park is a quiet retreat away from the city and a perfect spot for a picnic during your vacation.
Address: 100 Wildwood Way, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
11. Visit the Pennsylvania National Fire Museum
The Pennsylvania National Fire Museum is a fun visit with a unique look at things we often take for granted when it comes to fire safety. The museum is housed in an 1899 Victorian-style Fire House with exhibits that highlight the evolution of fire hydrants, fire trucks, and fire alarms.
You can see everything from horse-drawn equipment and the early days of fire engines to the elaborate and modern fire trucks of today. The room housing the Gamewell alarm system dates back to the 1800s and is one of the highlights of the museum. It has the fire dispatch console that was in use during the 1979 nuclear incident at Three Mile Island.
Address: 1820 N. 4th Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
12. Cycle around the Capital Area Greenbelt
It is easy to get some exercise and see the city as you bike or walk the Capital Area Greenbelt trail. The 20-mile paved surface loops throughout Harrisburg and is an active way to see the neighborhoods of the city. The recreational Greenbelt connects many of the key sightseeing points of interest including the National Civil War Museum and several city parks and gardens.
The trail has some on-road sections but also walking-specific sections with many access points. It is fun to enjoy the Greenbelt on your own, but guided tours are also available. If you are taking a leisurely ride along the path, you can stop at the Five Senses Garden. The grounds are designed to indulge all of the senses, and it has also become a noted spot to see many butterflies attracted by the flowers.
13. Buy Local at the Broad Street Market
For a true sense of local flavor, literally and figuratively, plan a stop at the Broad Street Market to buy locally grown produce, bakery items, and other foods. There are nearly 40 vendors in the market preparing local food. Stop in for lunch or just visit to enjoy the culture inside the United States' oldest continually operated market house.
The Broad Street Market opened in 1860 as a way to help feed Union Soldiers from Camp Curtin located nearby. Farmers brought produce, meats, and other items to sell in a convenient and centrally located area. It is still a community gathering place today, which makes it one of the best spots in Harrisburg to take in the sights, sounds, and tastes of local culture.
Address: 1233 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
14. Cheer On the Home Team at FNB Field
Take in a night of baseball at FNB Field and cheer on the Harrisburg Senators. The Senators are a Minor League Baseball Team and AA affiliate of the Washington Nationals. FNB Field is one of the most active scenes in the city on game nights, and since it is located on City Island, you can make a full evening of dinner in the area and a game, or work in some outdoor entertainment that is likely happening in the park.
The baseball games come with all the extras that make a lively evening, including mascot appearances, special events for kids, and fireworks over the Susquehanna River. If you want to grab dinner at the park, you can enjoy a game hot dog at the Giant Picnic Pavilion.
Be sure to check the website before your trip to look for promotions and ticket deals for when you will be in the city.
Address: 245 Championship Way, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
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