Harrisburg is a capital city that offers the perfect blend of fun and culture that makes a Christmas vacation special.
The city is rich in history and home to the Civil War Museum, the Capitol building and the State Museum of Pennsylvania. There are plenty of shops and restaurants in the area. It is also just west of Hersheypark, an amusement park that’s all about the company’s delicious chocolate treats.
If you are thinking of visiting Harrisburg this holiday season, here are some things you won’t want to miss out on.
Christmas at the Capitol
While in Harrisburg, be sure to check out the Capitol Building. President Theodore Roosevelt called it “the handsomest building” he had ever seen. It is known for its impressive architecture, its famous collection of stained-glass windows, its indoor and outdoor sculptures and its exquisite murals and paintings. Guided tours are available at various times throughout the day.
You can also visit the Welcome Center in the East Wing for an interactive self-guided tour. There are plenty of wheels to turn, videos to see and trivia to answer that will teach you about Pennsylvania history and the lawmaking process. There is even a model of the Capitol made entirely of Legos.
Christmas is a great time to visit the Capitol as it is lit up in all its holiday glory. The Rotunda is decorated and features a tall Douglas fir that is donated each year by the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Grower’s Association. It features over 800 LED lights and 500 ornaments that are designed by local senior citizens and preschool children.
In early December, a tree lighting ceremony takes place in which the Governor and his wife are on hand to flick the switch. Come by throughout the season to see choirs and carolers performing on the steps behind the tree. The Capitol also hosts a Hanukkah celebration by lighting Harrisburg’s largest menorah.
Visit Hershey Park
Hershey Park is less than a half hour drive from Harrisburg and you really can’t visit one without the other.
The amusement park/entertainment center is a great place for family fun. It is full of rides including coasters, kiddie rides and water ride and more. There’s even an 11-acre zoo in the park. You can eat delectable treats, learn about the chocolate making process and enjoy the many events that take place throughout the year.
Christmastime in the park is a lot of fun. Every year they create Candycane Lane. The park is lit up with more than 5 million lights including a 250,00 light feature that dance to holiday tunes. There is also a Kissmas tree display which is ideal for photo opps.
There are visits from Santa and his reindeer and you can explore a festive trail of more than a dozen trees that deck out The Boardwalk.
The PA Christmas Show
The PA Christmas Show is one of the largest shows in the country. It is a weeklong festive celebration that features arts & crafts, terrific food, awesome decorations, musical groups and dancing. Those looking to get some holiday shopping done can check out the household goods, ceramics, furniture, dolls, flowers, painting and food offered by the many vendors that are on hand.
Christmas at Italian Lake
Head up to Italian Lake to enjoy a weekend of joy and celebration. This is a fundraiser event with all proceeds benefiting the Bethesda Mission helping meet the needs of the homeless population in Harrisburg.
Festivities include a tree lighting that provides a glamorous effect as the lights shine into the water of the lake. Children can visit with Santa in his Grotto. Families can take horse drawn sleigh rides and there is a Christmas market which is perfect for getting holiday shopping done.
Food trucks are on hand providing delicious treats to guests and there is an Elves Workshop where children can make seasonal arts and crafts items.
The Holiday Parade is another popular Harrisburg tradition. It includes floats, giant balloons and Santa will be there as well. The mayor will be hosting the festivities. Prizes are given for the best high school marching band and dance team. There are also food trucks that line the street serving delicious food.
The parade goes from Market St. to Second St. to North St. to Front St. before ending at City Island.
Christmas at the John Harris and Simon Cameron Mansion
This 250-year-old mansion sits on the Susquehanna River and was built by the city’s founder, John Harris. It was renovated into a Victorian mansion in 1863 and is preserved for tourists to visit. Guided tours are available.
Christmas at the Mansion is a festive event that occurs at the mansion once a year. It features beautiful natural decorations, visits from Santa, displays of vintage toys and refreshments. Vendors also gather sell their wares including woodwork, baked goods, pottery, crafts and more.
Visit the State Museum of Pennsylvania
The State Museum of Pennsylvania is a great place to learn about PA history. It follows the state’s timeline from prehistoric times to present day. Be sure to check out the Civil War exhibit that features the largest Civil War painting on a single canvas as well as the restored Marshall’s Creek mastodon.
When visiting at Christmas, you won’t want to miss out on seeing the museum’s extensive collection of Victorian era Christmas decorations, cards and gifts that have been saved and donated by Pennsylvania families over the years.
Christmas at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park
Fort Hunter Park is a 40-acre park on the banks of the Susquehanna River. This site includes the Fort Hunter Victorian Mansion which served as a private residence and a hub for frontiersman. There are 10 other buildings on the site as well.
During the Christmas season, the mansion is dressed up for the holidays with fresh greens that adorn the windows and staircases and arrangements of fruits and flowers on the mantle. The decorations are created by the Harrisburg Garden Club using all natural materials. Tours are available.
If you are thinking of getting out of town for the holidays, Harrisburg makes a lovely destination. It is full of charm and culture and it makes a terrific Christmas getaway. What will you be doing when you visit?