Harrisburg is Pennsylvania’s historic capital city, located along the banks of the Susquehanna River 105 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The city has played a significant role in American history, particularly during the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution.
Today, Harrisburg’s historic background, cultural diversity and scenic riverside location make it a great vacation destination. Or, when time is in short supply, Harrisburg can be the home base for event-filled day trips.
A major Harrisburg tourist spot and sports venue is City Island. Significant during the Civil War, the 63-acre island now is home to City Island Beach, Riverside Village, the City Island Railroad, miniature golf, three boat marinas, batting cages, the minor league Senators’ ballpark and "The Pride of the Susquehanna" paddle-wheel riverboat.
Another hugely popular park, known more for thrill rides than paddle boats, is Hershey Park. Visitors can conquer 10 roller coasters, six water rides and 20 kid-appropriate rides for stomach-twisting amusement. Paid admission to Hershey Park gives visitors access to ZooAmerica, with 11 acres of outdoor exhibits that demonstrate the five North American climate zones. Adjacent to the park is Hershey’s Chocolate World, always a favorite pit stop for families. Guests can take a tour to learn about the chocolate-making process, and sample the results at tour’s end.
The 40-acre Fort Hunter Mansion and Park, settled in the early 1700s, still stands strong on the banks of the Susquehanna. Drop in to experience sophisticated 19th-century life. Guided tours of the Federal-style mansion are offered seasonally, Tuesday through Sunday. With its elliptical staircase, restored furnishings and stately exterior, it’s no wonder that the West Lawn of the home is oft reserved for weddings and receptions.
For more in-depth history, head to another top Harrisburg attraction, the State Museum of Pennsylvania and State Capitol building. The museum tracks the region’s geological beginnings, through its Native American heritage to colonial times and Civil War battles, on up to the industrial age. The European-style capitol building is majestic and open to the public, but tour reservations are recommended.
For an unparalleled look at the War Between the States, take your time at the National Civil War Museum, one of the largest institutions dedicated entirely to Civil War history. The museum presents historical events from the perspective of the North and the South, shedding light on this troubled chapter in American history. Art, artifacts, life-size dioramas, audio clips and video footage help tell the story, as do reconstructed battle scenes, a war-era campsite and a field hospital.
Restaurant Row is Harrisburg’s nickname for Second Street, where visitors can savor some of the best local dining options. Bricco is popular as a field-to-fork restaurant. The What If… cafe is a favorite among locals for its eclectic menu, extensive wine list and signature desserts. The Fire House Restaurant is another Harrisburg tradition, with consistently delicious steaks and seafood served by friendly staff in a restored historic fire station.