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Gettysburg is just one of those great historic places that we’ve been wanting to experience for a long time. We wanted, of course, to learn more about the battle, but we also wanted to make some family memories together. It’s important for my daughter to learn about the events that shaped our nation, even if she is only seven-years-old. Though the events in Gettysburg were tragic, I wanted her to have a basic understanding of what happened along with doing some family-friendly activities. We spent four nights in Gettysburg, but I think you could easily do a shorter trip or spend more time here. We spent most our evenings watching the sun set over the battlefield. Here are our recommendations after experiencing Gettysburg.
Take a Tour of the Battlefield
We took a tour with the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides, and it was fantastic! This was the highlight of our stay, and you can read about our experience in depth here. We made reservations in advance to be sure there was a guide available. I would highly recommend this. This guide drives your vehicle all over the battlefield. I found it a little strange when I first heard about it, but it was the perfect way to see the battlefield and to understand the battle unfolded. It was also a better deal for our family; bus tour tickets would have cost our family of three more, and this tour was really personal. We had a two-hour tour, but you can arrange for longer tours and tours that focus on a specific aspect of the battle. Don’t miss this!
Visit the Gettysburg National Military Park and Museum
The Gettysburg National Military Park is kind of the backbone of your Gettysburg experience. We spent three evenings at the park until it closed, which was 10:00 p.m. in the summer. The museum, Cyclorama, cafe, and gift shop close earlier, so be sure to pick up a schedule so that you don’t miss something you want to do. You have to schedule your film and Cyclorama times if you are interested in those, so get there early while times are available. You can also combine the museum admission with these, but it is not on a scheduled time; you just need to get it in before the end of the day.
I really enjoyed the Cyclorama, but if you are low on time, I might skip the film and Cyclorama and just do the museum. If you’ve done the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennslyvania, you may consider skipping the museum at Gettysburg if you are pressed for time. I did enjoy the exhibits in the Gettysburg museum, so I would recommend doing it if time allows.
It was also nice to come back to the park after our tour and look at specific places again and at different times of day. We now had the basic story, and we could return to places we wanted to see again. The view from Little Round Top is amazing, so we spent a couple of evenings there at sunset. We also saw a little red fox one evening, so you never know what wildlife you may encounter!
Take a Ghost Tour
We’ve started taking ghost tours in historic towns for several reasons. First, it’s often cooler. As long as I’m a teacher, we will do our longer trips in the summer. It’s nice to be able to tour something without being in the blazing sun. I will note that Gettysburg in early June was not terribly hot at all, though. Second, you get to hear a historical story in a different way. We try to pick a tour that involves seeing something of real historic significance, even if the stories themselves stretch the truth a little. Third, I like having access to historical places outside of normal business hours. It often puts a whole new spin on a place, and it gives us an evening activity when other places are closed.
Our ghost tour started with a guide who is playing the part of Jennie Wade’s mother. We chose Ghostly Images of Gettysburg because you have access to the Jennie Wade House during the tour. Miss Wade was the only known civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg. You can also tour her home during the day if you would rather not have the ghostly spin.
Her home is now next to a hotel. The house was in town at the time, but as progress happens, new buildings have appeared here and there. Buildings that were standing at the time of the Civil War are noted with a plaque near the front door. One thing that’s hard to remember until you come here is that the battle happened in the city. The battlefield is all around you. The Union Army retreated right through town, and the Confederates occupied Gettysburg during the Union retreat. Jennie Wade was staying at this house, which was her sister’s. She was kneading bread when she was killed instantly by a sharpshooter who was likely aiming at some union soldiers positioned behind the house.
The tour heads initially away from the house towards a cemetery, but eventually, you are led to the house–the main event of the tour. You get to see a lot of the house. We even went upstairs, and many historic homes don’t permit that. After you tour the inside, you get to go into the cellar to where the family stayed with Jennie Wade’s body during the battle itself. We were encouraged to take many pictures during the tour, and the guide also had an EVP meter. It was a great tour! Liz Lang was our guide, and she did a fabulous job. It also wasn’t too scary for our seven-year-old, but you’ll have to decide if this tour is right for your family.
Eat at a Locally-Owned Restaurant
Not everything in Gettysburg has to do with the battle. We heard a lot of mentions of Gettysburg Eddie’s, so we decided to give it a try. Now realize, it’s difficult to get my two travel companions to try the unfamiliar. They are picky, and they get nervous when they don’t know a restaurant. Rest assured, we ate at plenty of chain places on our trip. But every once in awhile, I can persuade them to try something locally-owned.
Gettysburg Eddie’s pay homage to early baseball hero, Eddie Plank. The food is typical American fare, or as Jeff would say, bar food. But it is very good bar food! I had a nachos appetizer for my entree, and I don’t think I really put a dent in it. It was huge! It was also delicious–the toppings were plentiful and fresh. My travel companions had chicken strips and fries, and they enjoyed them. Kristin ordered chocolate milk, and it was hand-stirred. Her favorite!
It’s a pretty intimate, fun little place. We also played bar trivia while we waited. The service was exceptional, and this was the best meal we had in Gettysburg during our stay.
Stay Near the Battlefield
I’m a planner. I like to have my hotels set up at my destination in advance. I am flexible on the journey as we’re getting to the destination, just to be clear. But I like to know that the best place to meet our needs at the price we want to pay is waiting for us. I also like to be sure that there is a room available at all. So, I plan. I actually was having a hard time choosing a place for a long time. I finally went with a hotel that was a little out of the way, but it had the indoor pool, mini-fridge, and hot breakfast that we like to have. As we were traveling, I noted that a hotel I had been interested in but wasn’t yet open had now become available. We decided to make the switch. I’m so glad we did!
Please note that Kristin may or may not have leaped across the beds before this picture was taken. Anyway, it was an excellent place to stay! The hotel had only been open for a week before we arrived, so everything was new. The location is great; it’s on Steinwehr Avenue which is a major road through town. Gettysburg National Cemetery, where President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, can be seen from the hotel. This location is so convenient to everything we wanted to do. We later saw just how far out our original hotel would have been, and we were glad we were able to stay closer. The room also had all our favorite amenities, like a mini-fridge and microwave.
The hotel had three floors, and the elevator was fast. The breakfast room was on the third floor so you could have a view of the battlefield. Kristin’s favorite amenity anywhere is the indoor pool. This pool also has a view of the battlefield.
While we were there, a painter was working on a mural on the other side of the pool room; it was just another reminder of how new this place is. This hotel really was perfect for our four-day stay.
Enjoy the Things That Make Gettysburg Unique
There really is so much to see and do. One thing we enjoyed was a drive out to Sachs Covered Bridge just outside of Gettysburg.
We also enjoyed just walking along the streets to see the Civil War buildings and houses.
On weekends during the summer, the National Park Service hosts re-enactment groups to come in and do demonstrations. The biggest demonstration, of course, is during July 1-3. But we were lucky to see this infantry demonstration.
We also visited the Gettysburg National Cemetery where President Lincoln gave his famous speech. The cemetery is a peaceful place, perfect for reflection.
We had a great family trip to Gettysburg, and I know my seven-year-old learned from it because she often references something she learned. I love visiting historic places, and Jeff is interested in anything that has to do with the Civil War. Gettysburg was a great fit for us. I hope you will consider bringing your family here, too!