If you grew up in Pennsylvania, it’s almost a guarantee that you will go on a field trip to Gettysburg by the time you’re in high school. For me, that field trip happened in 5th grade.
I’ve been saying for the past few years that I need to return to Gettysburg – I remember more about the ghost movies our teacher made us watch pre-field trip than I did of the battlefield or related history. (Sidenote: WHY did my teacher think it was a good idea to show us ghost videos?! I didn’t sleep for weeks!) So as I was planning my annual trip back to the US, I knew Gettysburg was a must-visit.
And, I’m so glad I made it a priority because the two days I spent exploring Gettysburg are a highlight of this trip home.
Gettysburg is approximately 4 hours from my hometown so for this trip I arrived in Gettysburg around 12pm which gave me the afternoon and evening to explore, spent one night in downtown Gettysburg, and did more exploring the following day before continuing on to a friend’s house. Everything I mention here can be done in ~24 hours and I think this is a good itinerary for your first visit to Gettysburg.
A Brief History of Gettysburg
For those who are not familiar with Gettysburg, it is home to one of the most important battles of the Civil War and often considered where the tide of the war changed in favor a Union victory. The three-day battle lasted from July 1st to July 3rd 1863 and resulted in a Union victory. It was an extremely bloody and costly battle, with over 23,000 casualties on the Union side and over 28,000 on the Confederate side.
Great lengths have been taken to preserve the history of Gettysburg, both the town and the battlefield, and for that reason the majority of things to do in Gettysburg do include the historical battle in one form or another.
The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor’s Center
Remember how I mentioned my habit of spending far longer than anticipated in museums? Well, the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor’s Center is definitely one of those places I could spend HOURS in. I kept this visit to just under 3 hours and rushed through the last few exhibits. So if you’re truly interested in the history of Gettysburg, plan some time here.
The first thing you need to do here? Watch the film and visit the cyclorama. If you do nothing else, do that.
The film, A New Birth of Freedom, is narrated by Morgan Freeman and sponsored by the History Channel. (Aka it’s better than every other movie I’ve seen in a museum before!) It’s a short orientation to Gettysburg and the American Civil War that even those who may not enjoy reading every tidbit in the museum will find interesting.
From there, you’re led upstairs to one of the only cycloramas in the United States, The Battle of Gettysburg. It is the original painting done by French artist Paul Philippoteaux, and is absolutely stunning.
Then, the actual museum. There are 12 different museum galleries covering every detail about Gettysburg and the battle that you can imagine. There are many short videos that play throughout the museum and I recommend watching as many as you can. They really put things into perspective more than I feel just looking at a few things can.
Chances are there are certain aspects of history or war that intrigue you more than others – I recommend glancing through the different exhibits ahead of time to see which you will be most interested in and don’t feel bad if you end up just walking through others.
I spent almost 3 hours in the museum and if I hadn’t had prior reservations, I probably could have spent 4. Of course, if you are a museum-skimmer and don’t read and watch everything possible, you can have a more shorter trip.
Visit The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor’s Center
The Museum & Visitor’s Center is located less than 10 minutes from downtown Gettysburg and is open 9am to 5pm every day. Entrance to the film, cyclorama, and museum is $15 (recommended) or you can choose to visit the museum-only for $9. Tickets can be purchased online or at the museum.
Accommodation in Downtown Gettysburg
My accommodation for the night was the Inn at Lincoln Square which put me right in the middle of downtown Gettysburg.
I loved how centrally located it was to everything, which meant I was able to explore by foot the next morning and avoid the traffic circle I still don’t understand (#smalltownprobs), and I felt safe, which is super important as a solo traveler.
The Inn at Lincoln Square is small, with only a few rooms in the main building and two larger apartments in the back. I felt immediately welcomed as soon as I walked in – the innkeeper greeted me by name – and the second I saw my room, I wanted to stay for a week. It was huge, with a hideaway kitchen, a table, couch, chair, desk and a bed that I needed a step-stool to climb in.
Oh, and an electric fireplace. LOVE.
I’ll be posting a full review soon but the TL;DR is that if you want a cozy room right in the middle of the action, the Inn at Lincoln Square is it.
Stay at the Inn at Lincoln Square
The Inn at Lincoln Square has 3 suites starting at $160 per night and 2 townhouses starting at $195 per night. I stayed in the Irene Danner Suite. Book your stay here.
A Tasting & More At Mason Dixon Distillery
Do you ever accidentally discover a place that you think you’ll enjoy…and then enjoy it so much you basically turn into a fangirl for it?
That’s me with Mason Dixon Distillery.
I put the Mason Dixon Distillery on my itinerary because I had no desire to visit a winery or cidery. I wanted liquor. Which I got, along with a behind-the-scenes tour of how that liquor was made and an insane amount of food. I even bought a bottle of spiced rum to take to my friends in Costa Rica and nearly cried when the bottle leaked in my luggage.
The Mason Dixon Distillery is a small batch distillery located just outside of town, less than 5 minutes from the Inn at Lincoln Square.
My visit began with a tasting with owner Yianni. I would like to pretend that I know a lot about alcohol and can accurately describe the flavors of each using proper terms but I’m really just a girl who loves rum.
What I can tell you is that this was the first time in my life I tried vodka and liked it, that corn whiskey has a unique flavor but as a mixer, I could definitely enjoy it, and the rum, particularly the aged rum, may have beat Flor de Cana as my favorite.
After the tasting, Yianni led me back to where the magic happens, walking me through all of the steps in the distilling process.
In the past I visited the Jack Daniels Distillery but it was nothing like this. Mason Dixon Distillery has a small production, putting quality over quantity. It’s a fascinating process to hear about and I love how creative they are. Yianni is insistent on creating the absolute best products and it’s clear he loves experimenting. He even let me try a few of his works-in-progress. (Did you know you can grow pears in bottles? Neither did I.)
Mason Dixon Distillery is not only a distillery – they’re also a restaurant focusing on fresh ingredients. In fact, some of their ingredients (like the herbs used in their simple syrups) are so fresh that they’re picked from the small garden behind the distillery.
I started off with an Orange Creamsicle cocktail, which was sweet but delicious, before moving on to a cesar salad and mac and cheese. (It’s all about #balance, right?) I’m pretty sure that was the first salad I ever finished in a restaurant and I’m still daydreaming about that mac and cheese.
Visit the Mason Dixon Distillery
The Mason Dixon Distillery is open Wednesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner and on Sundays for brunch. Tours are available from noon to 4pm or later with an appointment for $12 with a sample flight, $8 without samples.
Tour the Gettysburg National Military Park
The next morning began Part 2 of “Learn as much about Gettysburg as possible”, with a self-driving tour of the battlefield.
I knew the statistics about Gettysburg, how far they marched, how many people died but it wasn’t until I took the driving tour, covering approximately 20 miles in my car, that the immensity of the battle began to sink in.
The Gettysburg battlefield is huge. Overwhelming. And taking a tour of it, whether self-driven or on a bus, is a must.
A driving tour map can be picked up inside the visitor’s center, which in addition to showing you the route offers details on each stop. In all honesty, I did not stop at all of them. It was rainy and cold and most points of interest can be viewed just by driving slowly. That said, I still stopped at most places and, in my opinion, the most important places to stop are: McPherson’s Ridge, Little Round Top (the most important, IMO, because you can see so much of the battlefield and it was a very important location), the Pennsylvania Memorial (the view from the top is incredible…I do not recommend going up there if it’s at all windy and you’re wearing a dress), and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
Take a Self-Drive Tour Of the Gettysburg National Military Park
Maps for the self-driving tour are available in the Visitor’s Center. The route covers around 20 miles and is well-marked. The tour is free though there are a few stops listed in downtown Gettysburg that has an entry fee.
The Civilian Experience At Gettysburg
By the time I finished lunch, it was 2pm. I was debating whether to start the 3 hour drive to my friend’s house or find something else to do when I discovered the Shriver House Museum and decided that since I was already there, I might as well take advantage of it.
I THINK that I visited the Shriver House Museum in 5th grade because I specifically remember talking about bullet holes in an attic and being in a gift shop by I’m not entirely certain.
Either way, I am so glad I stopped.
Up until that point, everything had been about the battle and the soldiers. I could tell you about the three days of battle, the names of the general’s, and why the entire thing was so important. I couldn’t tell you about what the civilian life was like during those days (besides terrifying!).
The Shriver House Museum was the home of the Shriver family – George, his wife, and their two girls. While not everything in the house is original, it’s been recreated as they believe it may have looked while they lived there. The guide gives half hour long tours in periodic dress, showing the various part of the homes and telling the civilian life story before, during, and after the battle.
It’s a sad one but it’s so incredibly interesting.
Visit The Shriver House Museum
The Shriver House Museum has various hours during different parts of the year so be sure to check their website for the most accurate information. Tours cost $9 and can be paid for at the museum.
From there, I departed to head to my friend’s. Those 24 hours in Gettysburg were some of the best solo travel experiences I’ve had. I highly recommend Gettysburg as a solo travel destination.
Gettysburg is now on my list of top destinations to visit in Pennsylvania, right up there with Pittsburgh, and I can’t wait to go back! I’ve covered the major historical to-do’s but there’s so much more to uncover!
I visited Gettysburg in collaboration with Destination Gettysburg and received a media rate for my stay at the Inn at Lincoln Square. As always, all history nerdiness excitement over fireplaces, rum and mac and cheese, and opinions are my own.
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