Seated on the banks of the Susquehanna River, Harrisburg has been the capital of Pennsylvania since 1812. With a population of around 50,000, it’s the 10th largest city in the state. Although considered central Pennsylvania, Harrisburg lies in the southeastern quarter of the state along with most of the main population centers (Lancaster, Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia, Reading, and York).
National Civil War Museum
Broad Street Market
State Museum of Pennsylvania
Cork & Fork
The National Civil War Museum is in Harrisburg
Although no major civil war battles were fought in Harrisburg, the National Civil War Museum is located in a two-story brick building in Reservoir Park. If you’re coming from the Northeast, this is an ideal place to start your day. Boasting over a dozen galleries and a theater, it’s easy to spend a couple hours exploring. While most of the exhibits cover the war itself, there is plenty of information on the lead up as well as the aftermath.
The Broad Street Market is one of the oldest continuously operating public markets in the country
Dating back to the Civil War, this midtown Harrisburg gem claims to be the oldest continuously operating market in the United States. With nearly 40 vendors between two buildings, you can get all of the local and international foods Harrisburg has to offer and more at the Broad Street Market. African, Greek, Indian, Italian, Korean, Mexican, Polish, Spanish, and of course, Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine are all on offer Thursday through Saturday. There are also vendors selling chocolates, craft beers, fresh seafood, olive oils, pastas, wines and a variety of baked goods. The market is a short walk from the Capitol Building as well as the Susquehanna Riverfront.
Read more about farmers’ markets in Pennsylvania here.
You can still find independent book stores in Harrisburg
Located across the street from the Broad Street Market, this independent bookstore is housed in a former 1920s movie theater. With more than 100,000 books (including used) as well as a small cafe, it’s easy to get lost inside. Check out their Instagram account.
It is home to the handsomest Capitol Building in the United States
When the current Capitol was built in 1906, then-President Theodore Roosevelt referred to it as “the handsomest building I ever saw.” 30-minute tours are available daily, which will get you inside the rooms where the decisions are made. You’ll also get plenty of background info on the building’s history. It’s much less crowded on weekends.
There are more than 3 million historical objects at the State Museum of Pennsylvania
The State Museum of Pennsylvania is located across North Street from the PA State Capitol. This six-floor (four floors have exhibits) museum has been at its current location since 1964 and was added to the National Register of History Places in 2014. They have more than 3 million objects, so exploring at a leisurely pace will take some time. It traces the history of Pennsylvania all the way back to prehistoric times and up to the present. It’s also very family-friendly.
Downtown and Midtown are very walkable – and that’s where some of the best restaurants are
The area one block west of the Capitol Building and State Museum is known locally as restaurant row. 2nd Street has the most options, but there are some excellent places off 2nd Street like Cork & Fork as well as the French-inspired Rubicon. The row is also an ideal area to eat in-between visits to the Capitol Building and riverfront area.
Walk to City Island
The Market Street (for motor vehicles) and Walnut Street (pedestrian only) bridges connect City Island to the rest of Harrisburg. The area around the two bridges is also an ideal location from which you can explore the 20-mile Capital Area Greenbelt. A significant portion of the Greenbelt runs along the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River.
One of the coolest minor league baseball stadiums is located on City Island
Since 1987, there’s been baseball on City Island. Although the park has changed names a few times, the Harrisburg Senators have been playing there as the Double-A team for the Major League Washington Nationals since 2004. In fact, FNB Park (the most recent name) is only two hours by car (there is no direct train service between Harrisburg and D.C.) from Nationals Stadium. The Senators have been quite successful, winning four division and six league titles since their inception in 1987. With an official capacity of 6,187, there are not many bad seats and prices range from $9 to $33. For an extra few dollars, you can even buy an exchangeable ticket (good for another game if you can’t make it).
Breathtaking views from the Susquehanna River
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Pride of the Susquehanna offers 45-minute cruises on the hour (afternoons only). Their 120-passenger authentic paddlewheel riverboat is one of the few left in the country. For those looking to do more than take in the riverfront sights, there are dinner as well as live entertainment cruises. The dock is next to FNB Field, making it easy to catch a Senators game and take a cruise in the same day.
In Harrisburg, you’re never far from a bowl of pho
For a city of around 50,000, Harrisburg boasts around a half-dozen Vietnamese restaurants. Vietnamese people come from all over Central PA to do their shopping in Harrisburg. At the Asia Mall, there’s a Vietnamese restaurant as well as one of only two Thai restaurants in Harrisburg. There’s also a sweet shop (Asian style) as well as a large Asian grocery store, which sells exotic favorites like mangosteen and dragon fruit at prices far more affordable than national chains.