Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gettysburg Battlefield Tour

On a recent trip back east, I took my husband to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for his first tour. We were driving up to NYC and did not have a lot of time so we opted for a quick informational film and a 2.5-hour bus tour and it was a worthy stop. If you haven't been to see the place, you should. It is an important part of American history. Even if you aren't into the details of battles (which I am definitely not), it is a beautiful place to visit.

Growing up near Gettysburg meant that this was one of the places slated for school trips. As a teenager with friends in Gettysburg we spent hours hanging out at Little Roundtop during the day and driving the battlefields at night looking for ghosts. It was a lot of fun back then and definitely not as popular and visited as it is today.

The Gettysburg tourism scene has definitely changed since my teenage days. It seems that tourism has exploded there and continues along quite nicely. The old visitors center that I remember is gone and was replaced in 2008 with a much larger, nicer and modern one, known as the Gettysburg National Park Service Museum and Visitors Center. At this space you can find:

  • the Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War
  • the film "A New Birth of Freedom" (pleasantly narrated by who else of course but Morgan Freeman and Sam Waterston - voices synonymous with serious documentary narration), 
  • the restored Gettysburg Cyclorama (still cheesy, but not as bad as the old one), 
  • along with an information desk, clean bathrooms and a pick up area for battlefield bus tours (you buy your tickets there).

What the heck is a Cyclorama? Well there is an interesting bit of history there. Find out more here.

If you want a tour of the famous battlefield. you have many options, depending on the time of the year (weather). You can do a double decker open bus tour, a closed, air-conditioned bus tour - both with either a taped audio tour on board or a real live guide. We did the closed bus tour (too late in the year for the open air one) with a real guide. You can also do biking tours, walking tours, horseback tours, segway tours. You can hire a guide to go with you and others in your own car. You can rent or purchase CDs/cassettes for self-driving tours.

The 2.5-hour bus tour ($28.00/adult) with the real guide was a decent introduction to the battlefield and its history. Now that we've done that bus tour, the next time we visit (and we have to go back because that tour didn't cover a lot of the places there that I wanted to show my husband) I'd like to rent the CDs and do the self-driving tour. That allows you more freedom to go your own pace and see the things you want to see. I think a bike tour would also be a lot of fun. If you've been there before you know that the whole battlefield area is quite a beautiful place to drive or walk around. They've done a good job of preserving the area of fields, farms and woods. I shot a few photos to give you a little flavor.

I recommend visiting Gettysburg if you get the chance. One day is enough to get a quick feel for the place. However, if you really want to get into the history and see all the things the area has to offer, I recommend giving yourself a few days if you can as there is a lot to see. The little town of Gettysburg is quaint and fun to walk around. There are some decent restaurants and little shops. You can stay in old haunted inns and take nighttime ghost walks of the town. If you want more information about the whole area, check out the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau or Trip Advisor for some tips.

Like many places, if you can visit on a week day, preferably when most kids are in school, and not in high tourist season (summer), you are probably going to have a more pleasant touring experience. We were there on a Thursday in September and it was us and the retirees. In my opinion retirees make for more pleasant bus tour companions than do screaming kids and bored teens. If you want to take your kids, I would still recommend taking them out of school and on a week day, and not in the summer, to avoid the crowds. And if you are thinking about going around Halloween - forget it unless you made reservations a long time ago. With the area's bloody, violent past, its known for its ghost stories and the town takes full advantage of that, making this time of the year one of the biggest for tourism.

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