If you are a regular visitor to our blog or YouTube channel, you know how much we love incorporating history into our travels. We’ve taken historical tours of Boston and Philadelphia and visited historical recreations in Williamsburg, Plymouth, and Ohio. The kids love exploring historical sites and learning about life in the past.
One of our favorite historical getaways is the Gettysburg National Park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Located in the southern portion of Pennsylvania, Gettysburg offers an in-depth look into the three days of the US Civil War’s bloodiest battle. Several RV parks and hotels are located a short distance from the battlefield, allowing visitors to spend 2-3 days exploring all Gettysburg has to offer.
This past October, Jim and I took our youngest two to Gettysburg for a long weekend. They had already visited Gettysburg in 2016, but they were very young and had no memory of it. Jim and I planned our visit with them in mind. Instead of starting with the Battlefield Tour right away, we started small and worked up to the tour. From an educational standpoint, it was very successful, enabling us to introduce and reinforce the details of the conflict before traveling through the same locations upon which Union and Confederate soldiers made their stand.
Here are my recommendations for a first trip to Gettysburg:
Starting Small: A visit to the Gettysburg Diorama
The Gettysburg Diorama is the largest military diorama in the country. Over 20,000 hand-painted figures depict 6,000 acres of the battlefield within a single room. There are also smaller dioramas throughout the facility showing particular moments of the battle. Once visitors have a chance to walk around and look closely at the diorama, they are ushered to the viewing area to watch a twenty-minute light and sound show recreating the three days of battle. The video and narration are a little dated, but the presentation gives an excellent overview of the conflict and a wonderful introduction to a Gettysburg weekend.
Next Stop: The Gettysburg National Park Visitor’s Center
A complete contrast to the tiny diorama, the cyclorama at the visitor’s center surrounds the visitor with a 360-degree painting of the battle. After watching a brief video outlining the battle’s national context, viewers are ushered into the cyclorama auditorium and treated to another light show that highlights portions of the cyclorama and immerses the viewer in the battle. Following the presentations, visitors may visit the Gettysburg Museum, also located in the Visitor’s Center.
A Quick Stop: The Gettysburg National Cemetary
By the time visitors have toured the diorama, cyclorama, and museum, they have read and heard Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address several times. Therefore, the next logical stop is the Gettysburg National Cemetary, where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. A memorial statue marks the location of the speech. The somber atmosphere and gravestones of the lost help to drive home the sacrifices made during the battle.
Putting it all together: Touring the Battlefield
With a deeper understanding of the battle, visitors are now ready to tour the battlefield. The Visitor’s Center offers maps for self-guided tours, or you can book a bus tour. Private companies offer excursions on Segways, bikes, or horseback. We opted to download an app and take the tour ourselves. The app (from “Action Tour Guide”) was GPS enabled, giving us directions while teaching us about each stop on the tour. We stopped and got out to explore several times, so the entire tour took us approximately three hours. Without stopping, one could simply drive through the whole battlefield in under an hour.
In addition to the sites listed above, there are many more tours and museums throughout Gettysburg. There are house tours, ghost tours, and battle recreations. One could visit Gettysburg every year and do something different each time. On top of the historical sites, there are also excellent restaurants and shopping in the area.
Gettysburg has so much to offer, making it the perfect historical weekend getaway!
To view the video of our entire trip, click here: