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Harrisburg, the capital city of Pennsylvania, played a key role in United States history. The site of several major U.S. Civil War battles, the city draws visitors to its historic battlegrounds and museums that memorialize the war. Sitting on the east bank of the Susquehanna River, just south of the Blue Mountain ridge of the Appalachian Mountains, Harrisburg also makes a great jumping-off point for outdoor adventurers. Art and design enthusiasts will enjoy the city’s Pennsylvania State Museum, Susquehanna Museum of Art and the State Capitol, constructed in classic Beaux-Arts style.
REASONS TO GO:
A Slice of History: About two miles east of downtown, the National Civil War Museum displays a variety of war and post-war artifacts. You can view the newsreel of FDR addressing Civil War vets on the 75th anniversary of the war in 1938. Multimedia dioramas take you back to Civil War-era life on and off the battlefield, while period artifacts round out the story.
Architecture and History: The Pennsylvania State Capitol Building is less than a mile south of downtown Harrisburg, with free guided tours available. Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed it the "handsomest building I ever saw” and it still wows visitors today, from its majestic bronze doors to its elaborate rotunda, topped with a gilded brass statue of a personified Commonwealth. Fashioned in the Beaux-Arts style of the Paris Opera House, the building also incorporates architectural touches found in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
Victorian Artifacts: Fort Hunter Mansion is six miles south of downtown Harrisburg on the border of the Susquehanna River. This "Museum of the Victorian Age" brings the 1800s alive on its 35-acre grounds, with posh sitting rooms featuring velvet lounges and toile wallpaper. Zinc bathtubs, copper-disc music boxes and an antique butter churn in the kitchen add to the period flavor.
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES AROUND HARRISBURG:
The Great Outdoors: Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area is about nine miles northeast of downtown Harrisburg. This nearly 1,000-acre site is home to black bears, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and more. It's a verdant spot for hikers in warm weather and a veritable winter wonderland for cross-country skiers in colder months.
Subterranean Wonders: Less than 12 miles east of downtown you'll find the subterranean Indian Echo Caverns, famous for their limestone formations and crystalline underground lakes. Kids can enjoy the on-site petting zoo, playground and gem mining.
A Three-Hour Tour: City Island, a mile-long island in the Susquehanna River, is home to FNB Field where Harrisburg’s minor league baseball team plays. It’s also a huge draw for fun: activities there include paddlewheel boating, swimming, water golf and rides on the miniature train that circles the island.
WHEN TO GO: Summer is the most popular time to visit (take a cruise on the Susquehanna River on the famous paddlewheeler, Pride of the Susquehanna), but fall is spectacular with foliage. Winter is great for outdoor lovers, where you can ski, inner tube and lob snowballs at the kids.
TRAVEL TIP: Hershey Park is in Hershey, Pennsylvania, about 15 miles from downtown Harrisburg. It's a chocolate lover's dream, but there's much more to do than just eat chocolate or tour the factory. Enjoy thrilling roller coasters and water rides, or take in live performances by tribute bands and singers. Nature enthusiasts can take part in interactive falconry demos featuring hawks, falcons and golden eagles.