Gettysburg is one of the most visited Civil War Battlefields and east coast travel destinations in the United States. Visitors from around the world come to learn about this pivotal country-dividing battle through its’ many things to do in Gettysburg; on and off the battlefield, all while enjoying the grandeur of the Pennsylvania countryside.
There’s so many tours and attractions in Gettysburg that I guarantee that you’ll want to return again and again. Because trust me, it’s not possible to do everything in just a few days.
And when you leave Gettysburg, you will have a much deeper appreciation of our Country’s progression and how we changed for the better.
So, let’s start building your Gettysburg itinerary, starting with these educational yet fun things to do in this Civil War battlefield town.
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Top Things to Do in Gettysburg
Tours, Attractions & More!
Did you know that Gettysburg National Military Park encompasses nearly 6,000 acres with over 26 miles of roads connecting major battlefield landmarks?
Over 1,300 monuments, markers and memorials pepper the battlefield and beyond. Also, 400 cannons and numerous historic houses blend in with the new.
This Civil War town holds a plethora of history dating back to even before the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. This battlefield town is waiting for you to come explore!
For those with families, this is a fantastic educational vacation destination for younger generations. It provides a much greater in-depth perspective of how the Battle of Gettysburg became a tipping point of America’s Civil War. They’ll learn the history that reshaped our Nation; starting with ridding our country of segregation and racism.
For that, this hallowed Pennsylvania town is not a one-and-done or even couple-day getaway. This is one of those travel destinations where you need to spend a whole week or even two to get the full experience. And even then, you’ll yearn to come back again!
In fact, after visiting Gettysburg, we’re already planning our next return trip to do the things we missed.
This visitors’ guide is loaded with information that will help you plan your visit to Gettysburg from start to finish.
Getting Around Gettysburg
Each time we’ve visit, we try a couple different ways to explore Gettysburg. Doing so, gives us a different perspective whether it’s touring via by foot, bicycle, bus or Segway. And we encourage you to do the same.
But, if you aren’t afforded the time nor money to do all of those, we at least suggest taking the Self-Guided Audio Auto Tour.
Th driving tour gives you a glimpse of the Battle of Gettysburg right from the seat of your own car. There are designated points of interest where you can get out of the car to explore further. You’ll literally feel the hallowed ground beneath you.
My other suggestion is to spend the money on the 2-hour Gettysburg Battlefield Bus Tour.
You and your family will visit sites from the Battle of Gettysburg with a guide who tells you about the phases of the 3-day battle, which was a turning point in the American Civil War.
Especially if you’re a history or war buff, you surely don’t want to miss this chance to learn about a pivotal piece of the United States’ past.
So, let’s go through our checklist of the best things to do in Gettysburg to make your visit more than just a few memorable teaching moments.
Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center
We totally recommend starting your visit at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. This is also where you can pick up your free park map and guide. The Park Rangers are very knowledgeable and eager to help direct you to points of interest, great hikes, and bike trails.
They’ll show you the layout of the battlefield and surrounding grounds. It’s also the best time to get your National Park Passport stamped at the Ranger information desk.
This is also the best starting-point of your Gettysburg experience.
You’ll experience Pickett’s Charge coming to life in the massive circular Cyclorama painting through a spectacular sound and light show.
Also, learn about this pivotal battle of the Civil War by watching the Gettysburg Film and Museum’s incredibly moving video; A New Birth of Freedom.
The museum, film, and cyclorama painting are actually owned and operated by the Gettysburg Foundation. Its’ purpose is to preserve Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site, and to educate the public about their significance.
Although the building is free to enter, there are fees for the museum, film, and cyclorama painting.
Then, step inside the amazing Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War that will bring the past to life with educational interactive exhibits, original artifacts, and short videos.
Before heading out the door to begin exploring Gettysburg, check out the visitor center gift shop. It has a fantastic collection of books, maps, and guides for adults and souvenirs for he kids.
There’s also a great photo-taking stop to get a couple great family photos next to the Abraham Lincoln sculpture on the park bench and the granite sign.
Do know, while exploring the National Battlefield costs nothing, all commercial tours are subject to individual fees.
And lastly, you must leave your backpacks in the car. Bags and packs are not permitted in the Museum and Visitor Center. Exceptions are medical and/or first-aid packs, camera bags, or baby bags. All visitors will be subject to a bag search at the entrance.
Gettysburg Heritage Center & Museum
At the Gettysburg Heritage Center and Museum, discover the Battle of Gettysburg from the perspective of the people who lived in the area during the war.
See artifacts and historical documents, plus interactive and 3-D displays to learn about the events that took place in this historic town before, during, and after the battle.
You can also shop for souvenirs and more at the on-site gift shop.
Gettysburg National Military Park
Because it’s spread out, it may take you a few days to see all of the monuments and battle grounds.
If you try to cram it all in one or two days, you may get overwhelmed at the monstrosity of information.
So, we recommend spreading out your tour over a few days to even a couple weeks. We also encourage visitors to tour the grounds at different parts of the day to get a true feel of Battle of Gettysburg.
You may get lucky to wake up to a foggy morning and head out to get some amazing photo graphs of the monuments where the bloody battles took place.
And speaking from experience, the view from Little Round Top at sunset is absolutely magnificent! You and your travel companions will get an impressionable view of Devil’s Den and the distant scenic valley below.
Oh, if you hit it when very few visitors are around, you may even hear the moans of the spirits who still remain.
Shriver House Museum
The Shriver House Museum is dedicated to the civilian experience of Gettysburg. Tour one of the wealthiest families’ home and business in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
During those fateful days of the bloody war, the Shriver House was occupied by Confederate Soldiers in which two Soldiers were killed inside the house.
During their 1996 restoration project, live civil war bullets were recovered. Check out the Period Garden where several embedded bullet holes still remain.
Lincoln Train Museum
Through a tour of the Lincoln Train Museum, America’s story is retraced from the days of our Founding Fathers through September 11, 2001.
In the museum, you’ll get a view of America from all facets of life; from how the West was won, the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln and military war history and artifacts.
You’ll even get to ride on a recreated train car and learn from the spirit of Lincoln himself as he shares his personal account of America.
Seminary Ridge Museum
The Seminary Ridge Museum features three areas of emphasis not experienced anywhere else in Gettysburg.
It includes the First Day Battle, July 1, 1863 on the exact site where the initial battle took place.
Also, you’ll see and learn about the Civil War Field Medicine Hospital and the Faith and Freedom. Definitely plan on staying at his exhibit for about two hours.
Eisenhower National Historic Site
At the Eisenhower National Historic Site, you’ll be able to see where the meetings of world leaders took place. Also, see the home and farm of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
This National Park Service Historic Site was the President’s weekend retreat and relaxation area but also, where he led efforts to reduce Cold War tensions.
Jennie Wade House Tour
While you’re exploring downtown Gettysburg, discover what live was like here during the Civil War. Enjoy a walking tour along Baltimore Street; including the Jennie Wade House.
Jennie Wade at age 21 was the sole civilian casualty of the pivotal Civil War battle. Uncover information about the Battle of Gettysburg from the perspective of the ordinary townspeople.
Listen to stories about Jennie’s life as a local in Gettysburg and how she came to be the town’s most famous resident.
The Jennie Wade House was actually owned by her sister, Georgia McClellan. It was central ground of the entire Battle.
Gettysburg Heritage Center
Through the eyes of civilian locals, experience what life was like in the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania before, during and after the battle.
At the Gettysburg Heritage Center, you’ll learn about how ordinary citizens did extraordinary things during this massive upset.
This self-guided tour shows artifacts, 3D programming and interactive exhibits along with a movie that lasts about an hour.
Gettysburg Battle Theater
At the Gettysburg Battle Theater on Steinwehr Avenue, you’ll learn about how the Soldiers progressed from Fredericksburg, Virginia to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Learn about the 3-day bloody Battle of Gettysburg through their a 45-minute multi-media presentation.
We highly encourage you to check out the fully-narrated Gettysburg Diorama in it’s aerial presentation of the Battle of Gettysburg. It’s the only place in Gettysburg where you will be able to get a complete visual overview of the 6000+ acre battlefield.
The diorama alone, is a wonder in itself because of the 20,000+ hand-painted soldiers, horses, buildings and cannons.
David Wills House
David Wills House, located downtown, is actually a part of the National Military Park. It offers visitors an incredible museum experience. The home of attorney David Wills was not just the geographical center of the battle of Gettysburg.
The David Wills House was one of the sites of the massive post-battle cleanup effort. And, it was the place where Abraham Lincoln put his final edits on the Gettysburg Address.
Gettysburg Battlefield Bus Tour
The Gettysburg Battlefield Bus Tour have been providing quality tours to Gettysburg visitors for over 40 years.
Tour attendees will travel the historic fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania aboard the famous double decker coach bus.
A Licensed Battlefield Guide will give you a really unique perspective of the three day battle.
The great thing about the battlefield bus tour is it’s open year-round. Visitors can buy tickets at most of Gettysburg’s finest lodging establishments.
Gettysburg Ghost Tour
There are other ‘more fun’ things to do in Gettysburg in the way of entertainment and tours. One of which is to take a Ghost Tour.
Check out these amazingly unique ghost tours in Gettysburg:
- Ghosts of the Battlefield Self-Guided Driving Tour
- Devil’s Hour Investigation – Small Group Gettysburg
- Evening Investigation – Small Group Gettysburg
- Ghost Tour: History and Haunts
- Haunted Secrets of the Civil War Ghost Tour
- Ghosts of the Battlefield Self-Guided Driving Tour
- Gettysburg Ultimate Late Night Ghost Tour
- Hunted Walking Tour at Gettysburg
- Civil War Ghosts: Haunted Gettysburg Ghost Tour by US Ghost Adventures
Gettysburg Scavenger Hunt
Another of the more fun things to do in Gettysburg is a Gettysburg Scavenger Hunt. This kind of entertainment ‘tour’ is a very unique, one-of-a-kind, immersive adventure.
They provide your very own remote, interactive, live host to assist and encourage you along. Their specially hand-crafted adventures are equal parts tour, creative challenge, detective hunt, and social experiment!
Scavenger hunters get to discover in an alternate reality, favorite hidden gems off the beaten trail and creatively interpret fun art, history, and culture clues; all for points!
Enjoy fame and glory while appearing on their website’s international leaderboard; no matter what their score.
And scavenger hunters get to essentially race other teams in other cities, even if they don’t have competitors who have signed up in their city!
Get ready to meet local authors, experience the favorite hangouts that are only known by locals, discover unusual oddities, and more!
Don’t skip visiting the Lincoln Cemetery,located in the heart of Gettysburg on Long Lane. Though it’s one of the least-visited historic sites in Gettysburg, it’s one of the most emotional.
Lincoln Cemetery exists as the final resting place for 30 United States Colored Troops who fought shoulder to shoulder with white Soldiers in the Civil War. As well, notable African-American citizens of the borough are also buried there.
Though just a dot on the Gettysburg map, the reason it exists will put a shameful lump in your throat,.
The larger, prestigious Soldiers’ National Cemetery was established in 1863. Sadly, due to segregation of that era, only white Soldiers were given honor to be buried there.
As a result, African American community leaders established the Sons of Goodwill Cemetery four years later in 1867.
It will put into perspective, how the African American Soldiers were viewed and what they endured during that time period in our Nation’s dark side of history.
Unfortunately, visitors can’t get inside the cemetery for closer views of the gravestones. But, you can walk the fence-line perimeter to pay respects to the Fallen.
Street parking is available right across from the Lincoln Cemetery. Make sure you check out the Monumental Stories and placards also.
Gettysburg National Cemetery
After the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, tens of thousands of war-tattered bodies peppered the farmlands and town. Work commenced quickly to bury the Fallen.
Hurriedly, they bodies of the Fallen were buried the dead in shallow graves right on the battlefield where they fell. They were crudely identified on makeshift wooden grave markers. But, it didn’t take long for erosion from rain and wind to expose the graves.
Which was reason the town’s citizens called for the creation of a Soldiers’ cemetery for a proper burial of the Fallen Union Soldiers.
Notably, only a few Confederates remain interred at Gettysburg National Cemetery. In the 1870s, Southern veterans’ societies eventually relocated 3,200 Confederate remains to their own cemeteries in Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas.
Between 1898 and 1968, sections were added to for Fallen Veterans from the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
The cemetery’s annex is located due north of the historic original 17-acre property. Today, more than 6,000 veterans lay at rest in Gettysburg National Cemetery.
This is a self-guided walking tour only. It’s a place of reverence and respect. No bicycles or motorized vehicles are permitted inside the cemetery.
Also, this is not the place to let your children run freely, talking loudly, yell or scream. These hallowed grounds are reverent and should be left as quiet as possible.
Personally, I think the best time to visit Gettysburg National Cemetery is at the end of the day before they close the gates at sunset. There’s just something about saving this as your finale to your Gettysburg experience.
It’s the perfect time and place to reflect all the lessons and experiences you’ve gained from your memorable visit to Gettysburg,
Wrapping up our things to do in Gettysburg
As you see, there’s a ton of things to do in Gettysburg that will beg you to visit and return again. These are just the main attractions to visit. There’s more smaller notables that you’ll learn along the way.
We hope this guide helps you plan your itinerary to one of the most interesting and historic destinations in the United States. Coupled with learning about the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War, this experience will make an incredible impression that you’ll talk about for years to come.
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