Pennsylvania

Plan Your Trip: Gettysburg

by Paul Stafford  |  Published September 4, 2020

Gettysburg will always be known as the battleground of one of the American Civil War’s most decisive and bloody battles, as well as the site of President Lincoln’s best-known speech. Although the bloodshed took place much more than four score and seven years ago, visitors still arrive in their thousands each week to pay their respects. Here’s some guidance to address your trip-planning needs ahead of a visit to Gettysburg.

Cannon on the battlefield (Photo: Bruce.Emmerling via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Although only a small town, Gettysburg, PA looms large in the American imagination. It is a place where much blood was spilled and where the embattled idea of America was ultimately salvaged in what is considered to be the decisive battle of the American Civil War. Upwards of 23,000 participants on either side were injured in the fields around Gettysburg, while around seven to eight thousand soldiers lost their lives during the three-day battle.

The Gettysburg Battlefield holds a number of significant memorials, as well as key markers where significant skirmishes and shifts in the battle’s ebb and flow took place. For example, the boulder-strewn Devil’s Den and Little Round Top, which neighbor what would become known as the Valley of Death on the second day of the battle. Most of the battlefield today is contained within Gettysburg National Military Park, which is designed to help visitors better understand the events of July 1st to 3rd 1863.

A structure on Little Round Top (Photo: Nicolas Raymond via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

One of the best ways to appreciate the rolling landscape’s role in the battle is to first visit the Museum and Visitor Center. There are 12 galleries within the museum depicting the battle as well as the broader Civil War. A 30-minute film, ‘A New Birth of Freedom’ narrated by Morgan Freeman, and the Cyclorama, a giant painting and diorama depicting the doomed infantry assault known as Pickett’s Charge, are other major attractions casting light on that tumultuous past. The site measures around three miles across and can be accessed by car, although there are more era-appropriate and fun ways to explore Gettysburg too, such as on horseback. See the Tickets & Tours section below for more information.

Bonus tourist stop: The Eisenhower National Historic Site, former home of the 34th American President, is also a major Gettysburg attraction. Tours of Eisenhower’s home and some military exhibits from his time as a US Army General are available.

Pennsylvania State Memorial at Gettysburg (Photo: Nicolas Raymond via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Hours & Directions

All sites across the Gettysburg National Military Park have seasonal opening times. The roads into and within the park and grounds are open to the public earlier and close later than many of the buildings. From Apr–Oct they are open daily from 6am–10pm; From Nov–Mar they are open daily from 6am–7pm.

The Soldiers’ National Cemetery follows similar opening hours to the park and grounds.

The Museum and Visitor Center is open most days except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years days. Apr–Oct on Thurs–Mon from 9am–4pm; Nov–Mar daily from 9am–5pm.

Gettysburg Battlefield (Photo: John Brighenti via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Directions: Gettysburg is on US Route 15 north to south between Harrisburg and Frederick and Route 30 from East to West. You can also take the Northwest Expressway out of Baltimore and continue straight on when it becomes Baltimore Blvd. This road will lead to the battlefield before it reaches Gettysburg town.

Gettysburg National Military Park is located just to the south of Gettysburg town. From the town center, head south on Baltimore Street, following the brown signs for a few hundred yards. Soon Baltimore St will be Baltimore Pike, lined by cannons and other accoutrements of war on the left hand side and cemetery headstones on the right. The main entrance will be on your right at the stop light and is well marked.

Public Transport: True to US form, public transport is a less than ideal way to get from one town to another in Pennsylvania. The 15N is a direct bus running twice daily from Harrisburg in the mid to late afternoon into the center of Gettysburg.

Battle of Gettysburg reenactment (Photo: David via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Tickets & Tours

Entry to Gettysburg Battlefield is free of charge, although some of the experiences within Gettysburg National Military Park are accessible only with a fee, such as the Museum Experience, Cyclorama and film. The major US national parks passes, including America the Beautiful, the Golden passes and the Federal Recreational Lands Passes, are not accepted at the museum.

Full access tickets that include entry to the Museum Experience, Cyclorama and ‘A New Birth of Freedom’ film, cost around $15 per adult and teenagers, $14 for Veterans and senior citizens, and $10 for children aged 6–12. Children aged 5 and under go free. Museum Experience only tickets cost around $15 per adult and teenagers, $9 for Veterans and $7 for children aged 6–12. If you’re keen to book ahead and enjoy a skip-the-line entry on arrival, ticket bookings for the museum only can be made in advance via Viator.com by clicking here. Tickets here are priced at the rates listed above.

Gettysburg sunset cannon (Photo: Nicolas Raymond via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

For many however, exploring Gettysburg with a licenced tour guide is a far more enjoyable and illuminating experience. There are some excellent fully-organised trips available that include transportation between the landmarks, sometimes by less conventional means. The three tour options below are designed to give you a sense of what’s available when visiting Gettysburg National Military Park, as well as information on how to book them.

Gettysburg Battlefield Bus Tour – $35 per person – Learn all about the push and pull of the three-day battle from the comfort of an air-conditioned minibus (max. capacity nine people). This two-hour bus journey passes by the main flashpoint landmarks of Gettysburg, including Devil’s Den, and the site of Pickett’s Charge. You’ll get the chance to disembark at these sites briefly, before your guide resumes their lively history lesson. This is a great choice for Civil War history buffs. Please check ahead for the operating days of this tour, as it sometimes only runs at weekends during the low season.  Book at Viator.com.

Two-Hour Gettysburg Battlefield Guided Carriage Tour – $53 per person – If a bus sounds woefully 21st century to you, there’s an option to explore the battlefield in a horse-drawn carriage instead. Group sizes are capped at ten people, so there’ll be ample opportunity to get any pressing questions answered, as well as no issues in hearing the oratory of your guide to the events that unfolded on the very landscape you’re traversing back in 1863. The carriage tour takes place at a gentle pace for maximum comfort and makes for a particularly memorable experience. Please note that this tour does not run on Wednesdays. Book at Getyourguide.com.

Gettysburg sunset (Photo: kjarrett via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Guided Gettysburg Battlefield Tour on Horseback – $88 per person – Finally, if you’d prefer to ditch the carriage altogether and feel the Gettysburg battlefield’s peaks and troughs in a hands-on manner, just like the cavalry would have done centuries ago, then this tour on horseback is unmissable. This tour is as much about exploring the terrain, and learning how the two foes lined up along it, as it is the historical data. This tour is the most unique way to gain an appreciation and first-hand feel for what it may have been like riding into battle. As with the other tours, the duration lasts around two hours. Please not that this tour often does not run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Book at Getyourguide.com.