Gettysburg is a remarkably small town with plenty in it. Its battlefields offer history, statues and fun places to explore. Its downtown has odd shops which offer way more than just coffee mugs and its restaurants are diverse and delicious.
While tourist season (late June through August) has a lot to offer, you may want to wait until early fall or spring to go to Gettysburg. If you can avoid the tourist season, the battlefields are clearer, parking is easier, and the locals are a bit nicer when they do not have thousands of tourists in their town.
If you can get to Gettysburg in the morning you may want to visit the battlefields first. This way you do not get overheated in the middle of exploring. The Gettysburg National Military Park has many of the historical sites and there are plenty of interesting statues, buildings and plaques. There is no cost to get into the park and all the battlefields are easily accessible in a car and parking is all around the park and close to the battlefields. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 1 to Oct. 31 and 6a.m. to 7p.m. Nov. 1 to March 31 and the park visitor center and museum is on 1195 Balitmore Pike which can offer you maps for the rest of the park.
While going on a tour from a bus or hiring a guide to show you Gettysburg can be fun, there is plenty to learn by exploring the battlefields on your own. Devil’s Den is a great example. While climbing around you see the rock faces and hills where soldiers fought and died, the spaces between the rocks that some may have used to hide while reloading guns and you can even see the location where a famous picture was taken of a sharpshooter after his death still at his post. There you also learn that his body was actually moved from where he actually died to his former post to appear more dramatic in the photo. Gettysburg battlefields are a truly unique place because events that shaped our country happened all around you.
After realizing you’re completely surrounded by history, you may get a bit hungry. There are plenty of great places to eat in Gettysburg. There are pubs, pizza shops and some restaurants have been there before the civil war was an idea. We, however, went to O’Roukes. O’Rourkes is an Irish pub that had kitschy signs on the walls and a good food for a reasonable price. They served bar food along with steaks and seafood. The atmosphere was interesting and the people were friendly enough to suggest stores and things to do other than the go to the battlefields.
While you can go to the stores that sell key chains and ashtrays, we went to some that sold actual pieces of weaponry and clothing from the civil war. It was interesting to go into a store, feel as though it was a museum but know that if you wanted it, you could have it. Like the uniforms and grenade pictured below, there were also political comics, guns, swords, jewelry and even tobacco pipes for sale throughout the town. It was something I did not expect in the souvenir shops. While a coffee mug or t-shirt will be less expensive than an authentic civil war US saddle bag, for those who want to take a bit of the history home with them, all the stores sell bullets (shot and not shot) and plenty of replicas of uniforms and weaponry.
While some may only remember Gettysburg as a place you went when you were in elementary school, there is so much to see and do and it is one of the rare parts of history you can fully experience. Unlike a museum or gallery, there are few parts of Gettysburg you cannot go to, see and touch which makes it so unique.