The Best Gettysburg Tours

Use these helpful tips to plan a successful visit to the national military park.

U.S. News & World Report

The Best Gettysburg Tours

Best Gettysburg Tours

This statue of General Gouverneur Warren is one of 1,300 monuments within Gettysburg National Military Park.(Getty Images)

The Battle of Gettysburg is generally considered one of the most important clashes of the U.S. Civil War. After a three-day engagement in July 1863, the Union forces expelled the Confederate army from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, quashing Confederate General Robert E. Lee's hopes of successfully invading the North. Approximately 51,000 Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives. Historians regard the battle as one of the contributing factors of the Confederacy's ultimate defeat in the war. President Abraham Lincoln gave his celebrated speech, the Gettysburg Address, at the battlefield a few months later. The site was subsequently designated a 6,000-acre national military park with a cemetery, a museum and more than 1,300 monuments. For a better understanding of the site's significance, consider these key questions:

Where is Gettysburg? Gettysburg is located in south central Pennsylvania approximately 8 miles north of the Maryland border in Adams County, Pennsylvania.

When was the Battle of Gettysburg? Union and Confederate armies fought the Battle of Gettysburg from July 1-3, 1863.

Who won the Battle of Gettysburg? The Union army defeated the Confederate army at Gettysburg in what is considered one of the most significant battles of the Civil War.

What was the Gettysburg Address? On Nov. 19, 1863, at the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery, Abraham Lincoln delivered what became one of the best-known presidential speeches. In the brief Gettysburg Address – it's less than 300 words – Lincoln praised those who died in the Battle of Gettysburg and implored those still living to fight for a unified nation with greater fervor.

What should I do in Gettysburg? There are a variety of Gettysburg attractions outside the national military park, including several museums and vineyards. Visitors with an interest in the paranormal will also want to sign up for a ghost tour.

Know Before You Go

The National Park Service oversees Gettysburg National Military Park. Its nonprofit partner, the Gettysburg Foundation, owns and operates the visitor center and the attached Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War. The foundation and area tour companies conduct tours of the battlefield.

  • What: Gettysburg tours
  • When: The park is open all year. Its ground and roads are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. from April 1 through Oct. 31 and from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Nov. 1 through March 31. The museum and visitor center are both open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 1 through Oct. 31 and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 1 through March 31. No park buildings are open on Christmas, Thanksgiving or New Year's Day. The cemetery is open dawn to dusk daily.
  • Cost: There is no charge to enter the park or visit the Gettysburg National Cemetery. There are fees to enter the museum, watch the informational film about the battle and view the cyclorama (a 360-degree painting) depicting one of the battle's decisive moments. Tickets to all three start at $15 for adults and $10 for children ages 6 to 12. Tour prices vary by operator and mode of transportation; these fees may not include access to the museum.
  • Must-know tip: Summer, especially around the anniversary of the battle, is the busiest season at the park, while spring sees the most school groups. National Parks Passes are not valid for entrance to the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. Tickets specifically for the museum are required.
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm

The park service and the Gettysburg Foundation have separate policies regarding guns, pets and backpacks. Firearms are permitted in the park, provided those carrying them comply with all relevant federal, state and local laws; weapons and firearms of any kind are forbidden in the museum and visitor center. Pets are allowed in the park itself, but not in the museum, cemetery or any park buildings. Backpacks are barred from the museum and visitor center for security purposes.

Restroom facilities are located throughout the park but are open seasonally. The visitor center houses restrooms as well as a small restaurant. It is not necessary to show ID to enter the park.

Outside of the national park, Gettysburg has a number of other stops for history buffs, such as the David Wills House, where Lincoln stayed and completed the Gettysburg Address, the Shriver House Museum and the Jennie Wade House. You can also visit the Eisenhower National Historic Site, next to the battlefield, to see President Dwight D. Eisenhower's former retreat.

If you're looking to stay in the area overnight, there are several hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and campgrounds in the area.

How to Tour Gettysburg

The Gettysburg National Military Park encompasses much of its namesake battlefield and features related monuments and historic sites, the National Cemetery, a museum about the battle, a visitor center and the Eisenhower National Historic Site.

The visitor center and the museum, owned and operated by the Gettysburg Foundation, are located in the same building just off of Baltimore Pike. At the museum, visitors peruse artifacts and stories as they learn about the battle and the men who fought it. In addition, tourists can view the 22-minute film "A New Birth of Freedom," narrated by actor Morgan Freeman. Screened in one of the center's theaters, the short movie explores the history of the battle. Finally, visitors can view the "Gettysburg Cyclorama," a painting by Paul Philippoteaux. Debuted in 1884, the 360-degree painting is 377 feet long and 42 feet high. It depicts Pickett's Charge, an assault ordered by General Lee against Union troops at Cemetery Ridge and named for George Pickett, the major general who led the unsuccessful attack. Tickets for all three attractions can be purchased online at the Gettysburg Foundation's website. Budget approximately two hours to see these sights.

The Gettysburg National Cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of Union soldiers who died at the Battle of Gettysburg. Here, in addition to burial plots, you'll find the Soldiers' National Monument, which marks the center of the cemetery, and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address Memorial. When visiting, respect this special place by silently observing.

The Gettysburg Foundation offers several guided tours of the battlefield. Each guide is licensed and certified by the park service. For car tours, guides drive visitors' vehicles, provide commentary and answer questions. These two-hour drives cost around $75 dollars for groups of six or fewer passengers; fees increase as passenger numbers increase. The foundation also operates two-hour coach bus tours of the battlefield. Tours depart daily, though specific departure times vary by season. Tickets for the bus tour start at $35 for adults and $21 for children ages 6 to 12. If you're looking for an active way to tour the park's battlefields, take a tour with Gettysbike, a private company recommended by the Gettysburg Foundation. Gettysbike offers several different tour options and tickets start at $74 per person for half-day rides.

Separate from the Gettysburg Foundation's tours, the park service offers park ranger programs at no cost. The ranger-led hikes, walks and talks vary in length and change seasonally. These guided tours of the battlefield can range from 45 minutes to two hours and begin and end at various locations in the park. A self-guided audio and driving tour from the visitor center is another option.

Many Gettysburg visitors describe it as a very emotional experience. Visitors typically recommend stopping by the museum first rather than trying to explore the park without the introduction and orientation the museum provides. The tour guides are esteemed for their historical knowledge and insight, as are the park rangers.

Getting There

Drivers coming from the north or south can take Route 15 to Route 97 (also called Baltimore Pike) and head northwest to the visitor center. Those arriving from east or west of the park can take Route 30 to Route 97 and follow the signs. Free on-site parking is available.

Those staying in Gettysburg should utilize Freedom Transit, the city's local public transportation system, which operates three routes to the park's museum and visitor center. Information regarding fares, routes and schedules is available at the Freedom Transit website.

Additional tour options:

Looking for more information on Gettysburg? Check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

John Rodwan, Contributor

John G. Rodwan Jr. has written about arts and entertainment, food and beverages, hospitality ...  Read more

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