There are so many fun things to do in Pennsylvania it can be overwhelming. If you live in the Harrisburg area, you already know you’re not too far from major cities like Philadelphia and New York City. But you don’t have to drive a couple of hours to have a great time, either.
There are plenty of places to visit in Central PA. With several cities in the area like York and Lancaster, as well as the numerous quaint towns scattered throughout the region, there’s many great day trips for you to take. Best of all, there are a lot of fun free things to do in PA, too.
Here’s a list of 12 must-see places in Central Pennsylvania, all which can easily turn into memorable day trips.
1. Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg is the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg took place from July 1 to July 3, 1863, and thousands of soldiers lost their lives. An estimated 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing by the end of the battle. All this history is only 47 minutes away from Harrisburg.
You can easily make a day out of a trip to Gettysburg. Tour the 6,000-acre Civil War military park on your own, in your car or with a guided tour by Segway, carriage, bus or horse. Make sure to visit the eerie rock structures of Devil’s Den and peer out of the castle-shaped observation deck at Little Round Top on your tour. Admission to Gettysburg National Military Park is free.
Before you begin your battlefield tour, visit the Gettysburg Diorama for a 30-minute explanation of the battle — all explained by a 3D miniature display.
There are plenty of museums to tour in Gettysburg, too. Visit the Jennie Wade House, where Wade was killed by a Confederate bullet while she stood in her kitchen. Or tour President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farm and home just a short distance outside of town.
2. Fulton Opera House
About an hour drive southeast of Harrisburg, you’ll find the historic city of Lancaster. There are tons of ways to spend a day in Lancaster, and one of our top choices revolve around a visit to the Fulton Opera House, also known as the Fulton Theater.
The Fulton Theater has a rich and fascinating history. In the 1700s, the theater was the site of a jail and a gang-vs.-Indians massacre. The back wall of the theater is the remains of the original jail. In 1852, the theater was built on the jail foundation to serve as a community center.
In 1873, the center took the name the Fulton Opera House after a performance for orphans and widows of the Civil War. Throughout the years, the theater has fought for restoration funds to remain a community landmark.
Now, the Fulton Opera House offers contemporary performances and is one of only eight theaters in the United States that is also a national historic landmark.
One way to spend the day in Lancaster is to see a show at this beautiful historic building. For only $5, you can tour the theater and learn more about its history.
3. Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania
A little over an hour from Harrisburg in Strasburg, Penn., is the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Railroads helped build this nation, and Pennsylvania was a major player in the railroad industry. The Railroad Museum features one of the best collections of railroad artifacts in the entire world, available for your eyes at only $10 a ticket.
Discover and explore more than 100 locomotive and railroad cars, photographs, artifacts and art — all part of Pennsylvania’s railroading past.
If you’re still craving trains after the museum, make a stop at nearby Choo Choo Barn Traintown, U.S.A. where you can observe a 1,700-square-foot miniature animated train display.
4. Pine Creek Gorge
Drive two hours north of Harrisburg to take in the breathtaking views at Pine Creek Gorge, also called the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.” You can view this 1,000-foot-deep gorge from either Leonard Harrison State Park on the east side or Colton Point on the west.
On a drive along the west rim, you might catch a glimpse of woodpeckers, wild turkeys or other migratory birds. Leonard Harrison State Park is where you can enjoy scenic views of the canyon and explore 585 acres of trails, waterfalls and wildlife.
5. Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park
Have you always dreamed of touring a cave by boat? If not, that’s OK. But we are here to tell you it’s a possibility at Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park. Located about an hour and a half northwest of Harrisburg in Centre Hall, it’s the only cave in Pennsylvania on the National Register of Historic Places, and it’s one of the most exciting day trips in PA.
For $18.50, you can enjoy a 50-minute boat tour of the cave and its glittering rock formations. For a little extra, you can also take the Farm-Nature-Wildlife Tour. This tour takes you through 1,660 acres to view animals like bears, elk and wolves. The fun doesn’t stop there. For another six bucks, you can get lost in Prospector Pete’s Miners Maze.
After all that cavernous fun, you may find you worked up an appetite. With your heightened sense of adventure, head 30 minutes west to State College for a bite and a drink.
6. Roadside America
Take a road trip to Roadside America and experience this quirky tourist attraction in Shartlesville, less than an hour east of Harrisburg. For $8, you get to see the “world’s greatest indoor miniature village.”
It all began in 1899 with Laurence Gieringer’s passion for collecting miniatures. His granddaughter maintains the current display, which she keeps exactly as it was when he passed away in 1963.
7. Lancaster Central Market
We are going to take you back to Lancaster for another way to spend the day. This time, it’s at Lancaster Central Market. Lancaster Central Market boasts of being the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market in the country, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Open year-round on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the market offers everything from regional classics like scrapple and chow-chow to specialty groceries and ethnic dishes. The lot was designated a public market space in 1730, and the current building was erected in 1889.
It’s easy to spend hours browsing the many stands and tasting all kinds of yummy food. You’ll be excited to fill your fridge and cupboards with locally grown produce, farm-fresh dairy products and tasty home-baked desserts.
8. Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland
There’s no need to fly to South Florida to catch a glimpse of a croc if you’re in Central Pennsylvania. All you have to do is hop in your car and head about an hour and a half north from Harrisburg to Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland.
For $14 in the off-season, you can view 40 species of reptiles, from a Komodo dragon to an estuarine crocodile, located throughout the 6,500-square-foot indoor exhibit. You can even become a “zoo parent” and adopt your favorite animal. As a zoo parent, you’ll get a certificate of adoption and a few other bonuses, plus the knowledge that you’re supporting your animal’s daily care.
The average self-guided tour takes about one and a half to two and a half hours, so you’ll have some time left for a hearty meal before heading back to Harrisburg.
Dine with locals at the Mansion House Bar and Grill in Watsontown and enjoy a cold beer and a “belly buster,” or head 17 minutes north to the Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport. At the Bullfrog Brewery, you can fill up on brewpub eats or taste craft beer, and you might catch a live band.
9. The Haines Shoe House
If we said you could tour a giant shoe for only $5, would you do it? Well, just so happens you can in York. The Haines Shoe House, established in 1948, offers guided tours to experience five levels of the shoe-shaped house. Tours last about 25 minutes and are available spring through October. After the tour, you’ll have the option to enjoy locally made ice cream or fresh-baked goods on site.
While you’re in York, you can spend the rest of the day experiencing one of the many entertainment options available. Catch a first-run flick at the Small Star Art House or play retro favorites at the Timeline Arcade. If you’re a craft beer lover, you can test your future-seeing abilities at the Crystal Ball Brewing Company. If you gaze into your beer and see yourself visiting the Haines Shoe House again, you know your trip was worth the half-hour drive from Harrisburg.
10. Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium
Only 18 minutes west of Gettysburg, you’ll find yet another quirky Pennsylvanian attraction and a good excuse to buy yourself some old-time candy. Mister Ed’s in Orrtanna offers over 700 varieties of candy, homemade fudge and freshly roasted peanuts. In addition to loading up on sugary treats, you can view the 12,000 elephant statues, toys and other elephant-related objects on display, for free.
Since 1985, despite a fire in 2010 that killed more than 2,000 elephants, Mister Ed has been sharing his unique love of candy and elephants with the community.
After visiting Mister Ed, you can burn off some of those candy calories at Caledonia State Park, located only 13 minutes away from the emporium. Explore ten miles of forested trails, including a journey through the ruins of the Caledonia Iron Works via the Thaddeus Stevens Historic Trail.
11. Pine Grove Furnace State Park
Pine Grove Furnace State Park is a wonderful place to hike, bike or get lost in history. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Pine Grove offers 696 acres, two lakes, hiking on the Appalachian Trail and the remains of an iron furnace community. You can visit the Appalachian Trail Museum inside a grist mill to view a collection of more than 12,000 photos of Appalachian Trail hikers. The museum kindly asks for donations for support.
After all that hiking, you’ll deserve an order of deep-fried brownies at the Italian Taxi in Mount Holly Springs for the ride back.
12. Meadowbrooke Gourds
Here’s the question of the day: How do you feel about gourds? Does the thought of gourds make you giddy? If so, Central Pennsylvania is the perfect place to call home. Why? Because we have Meadowbrooke Gourds.
Located about 20 minutes west of downtown Carlisle, Meadowbrooke Gourds is the place to buy one-of-a-kind handcrafted gourd decor. On Tuesdays, visitors can take a free public tour to witness the gourd-crafting process.
Tours last approximately 45 minutes, and you’ll get a chance to watch crafters turn gourds into works of art. You’ll also have time to ask questions if you’re interested in becoming a gourd artist yourself, or if you’re just curious about the process. Before or after the tour, you can browse the Meadowbrooke store and pick up a gourd masterpiece, like a lovely gourd basket, to decorate your home with and remember your experience by.
Stop in Carlisle on the way home for a variety of eateries and brew spots to choose from. How about Cafe Bruges for an order of frites, dark chocolate mousse or another Belgian treat?
Stay in Central PA with Triple Crown Corporation
No matter which direction you travel from Harrisburg, you never have to go far to find unusual, historical or fun things to do in Pennsylvania this weekend. Central Pennsylvania’s rich industrious past and enduring creative spirit is available for all to explore and enjoy. Many entertainment and recreational options are affordable or free, and can easily become daylong experiences.
So why just visit? Make Central Pennsylvania the place you call home and have access to endless food, nightlife and recreational possibilities every day. Contact Triple Crown Corporation today and find your perfect rental.