This historical treasure trove is the official museum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and includes an impressive collection of Pennsylvania heritage. Feel small next to a pioneer wagon and the skeleton of a Mastodon. Or really, really, small next to the 18-foot-tall William Penn statue in Memorial Hall! Turn back time with artifacts from the American Civil War, then take it way back with Archaeology, Anthropology, or Geology exhibits. A family favorite is Mammal Hall with its newly restored dioramas depicting the natural habitats of past and present Pennsylvania wildlife like elk, deer, bears, mountain lions, and bison. It’ll take you and your family about 2-3 hours to explore the various halls of the State Museum.
Days open: Wednesday through Sunday, year round
Heralded by President Teddy Roosevelt as one of the handsomest buildings he’d ever seen, the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building is a palace of art and history and a beautiful attraction for every visitor to experience. There’s a palpable excitement in the air when you’re inside the center of our state’s government. You’ve seen its signature green dome as a centerpiece of the Harrisburg skyline, but on the inside its gorgeous Rotunda is adorned with intricate artwork and shaped by breathtaking architecture. You can take a free, 30-minute guided tour through the complex including stops in the House and Senate chambers and the Supreme Court. Before you go, visit the Capitol gift shop or the Welcome Center where you can learn something new about legislation through their interactive exhibits.
The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg presents an unbiased glimpse into the most turbulent time in our nation’s history using perspectives from both sides of the battlefield. To understand the emotion behind the war, you need to learn what the country was like before 1861. The first two exhibits “A House Divided” and “American Slavery: The Peculiar Institution” set the stage and illustrate the conflicts leading up to the First Shots at Fort Sumter in 1861. The Museum’s vast collection includes more than 24,000 artifacts like uniforms, hats, weapons and artillery, manuscripts, documents, photographs, and other printed materials that illustrate the story of the Civil War. From the medical tent that depicts a battlefield amputation to the turning point of the war at Gettysburg, their exhibits are heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time.
This historic home in Harrisburg housed two prominent Pennsylvanians: John Harris, Jr., the founder and namesake of Harrisburg, and Simon Cameron, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War and later, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia. On a guided tour of the John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion, learn how Cameron transformed Harris’ Georgian-style home into a Victorian mansion furnished with lavish décor from around the world, some of which is preserved and on display today.
Fort Hunter Park is one of Harrisburg’s most beautiful and picturesque green spaces, offering panoramic views of the Susquehanna River set against an abundance of Pennsylvania history. The Fort Hunter Mansion is the centerpiece of the property’s history, serving as a private estate for several influential Harrisburg families. Fort Hunter was settled in 1725 as a war fort during the French and Indian War and later a self-sufficient frontier village with grist and saw mills, country store, tavern, blacksmith shop, a school and more. The property’s largest building, the Centennial Barn, was established in 1876 as a home for owner John Reily’s dairy cows.
Although it’s filled with Pennsylvania history and prized artwork, the Governor’s Residence on Front Street is just 50 years old. This two-and-a-half story Georgian-style brick home was built in 1968 and includes several stately entertaining spaces, gorgeous gardens, and a spectacular view of the Susquehanna River. Governor Tom Wolf and First Lady Frances Wolf reside in York, but the Residence serves as a venue for official functions and dinners. So you can think of it as the embassy of Pennsylvania. Check out this video tour.
The Pennsylvania National Fire Museum occupies an 1899 Victorian firehouse, filled with precious artifacts, antique trucks, vintage helmets and parade hats, and all the bells and whistles (and alarms). While it’s tough to imagine a time when firemen arrived on the scene in horse-drawn carriages, the lineage of firefighting as told through the museum’s exhibits amazes its visitors. Don’t miss the 1920s antique alarm system that alerted firemen when and where one of the city's pull-down fire alarm boxes was triggered. It still rings today!
Animal lover J.R. Tobias was known for keeping exotic pets. In 1965 he turned his passion into a reality with the opening of Lake Tobias Wildlife Park featuring adventurous safari tours. The Tobias family-owned park recently dedicated a museum to commemorate the life and wild spirit of the park’s founder through video, photographs, artifacts, and interactive exhibits. You'll also find a tropical fish tank and aviary for exotic birds! Lake Tobias is just north of Harrisburg in Halifax and welcomes 170,000 park visitors each season.
You know the chocolate, but how much do you know about Milton Hershey, the man behind the candy bars? From rocky road to riches to finding his formula for success, visit The Hershey Story, Museum on Chocolate Avenue to learn how Hershey’s persistence and innovative spirit revolutionized chocolate making forever. Through archival photography and enduring factory equipment, get a glimpse of life inside his 1930s chocolate factory including a working machine for wrapping Hershey’s Kisses. And of course, you can try some chocolate! Get a hands-on experience mixing the ingredients and decorating your own chocolate bar or sip a flight of warm drinking chocolates from around the globe.
What was Hershey before Milton Hershey came to town? The history of Derry Township, the municipality of Hershey, dates back to the area’s first inhabitants, the Native Americans, and the eventual Scotch-Irish and German settlers who established Derry Township. Step back in time to the area’s earliest communities at the Hershey-Derry Historical Society and History Museum. Kids can even experience history first hand with an interactive exhibit of an 1830s general store and home.
Car lovers young and old descend on the AACA Museum to marvel at the collection of pristine automobiles, buses, and motorcycles on display. The museum is recognized by the Smithsonian as an Affiliate Museum, an extremely rare honor that speaks well of the love and care for their automobiles. Their decade-themed exhibits take you on a road trip back in time starting with century-old cars in front of a panoramic painting of Hershey in the 1920s and leading you on a journey out west via Route 66 history. That’s not all - their lower level has the nation’s largest collection of vintage buses on display under one roof!
The caverns of Echo Dell – Indian Echo Caverns are a different kind of museum, preserving the history of our region inside limestone caves that date back 440 million years. Today, you can walk in these underground caverns filled with impressive rock formations, spacious rooms, and a picturesque, peaceful lake. The first visitors to the Caverns most likely were the Susquehannock Indians who used the cave as a dwelling place during the harsh winter and sweltering summer. While you’re at Echo Dell, round out your visit with gem mining and spend some time with the adorable animals at the petting zoo.
Those familiar with police history know that the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) is the oldest organization of its kind in the country, and one of the most highly regarded. The PSP Museum preserves its history through archival documents, photographs, and footage, and the stories of some of the state’s most notorious criminal cases. Their collection includes restored police cruisers and motorcycles, as well as firearms and uniforms owned by those who served.