Looking for things to do with kids in the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg and nearby Hershey? We’ve got a BIG list of family fun activities that everyone will love!
Hershey, Pennsylvania is known as a chocolate lover’s paradise and a dreamland for thrill seekers. Indeed, a visit to Hersheyland amusement park is a MUST when you are in town, but there are also many other places to explore in both Hershey, a town originally named Derry Church and changed to honor the man who created thousands of jobs and industry in the 20th century, and nearby Harrisburg, the capitol of Pennsylvania. As you drive through downtown Hershey, check out the streetlights- 55 of them are dressed up as wrapped “kisses” and 52 streetlights are dressed up as unwrapped “kisses.”
Both Hershey and Harrisburg offer plenty of places for hands on learning, sports, entertainment, and history. Start at VisitHersheyHarrisburg.org for tons of tips, itineraries, calendars, and special promotions. The Things to Do section is especially helpful, organized by themes such as Family Fun, Arts & Museums, and Breweries & Distilleries. The blog also has timely posts on things to do and ways to have fun ALL year long!
Ten Places Every Family Should Visit in Hershey and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
1. Hersheypark opened in 1907 as a “picnic and recreation space” and is now a 120+ acre amusement park complex. There are 13 roller coasters, a water park (seasonal), daily performances, and tons of opportunities for family fun.
Younger Kids Will Love the speedway, Trailblazer, and miniature version of adult rides, including Frog Hopper, Scrambler, Himalaya, and Tiny Tracks.
Older Kids Will Love The Comet, Super Dooper Looper, Laff Trakk, and The Howler.
Adults Will Love the roller coasters like the Sky Rush, Great Bear, Farenheit, and Storm Runner. Several of the roller coasters have unique features like inverted tracks, launch starts, and a 97 degree drop!
Traveling with Kids: Wear comfortable shoes- the park is massive and visitors will definitely reach their daily steps goal! The park is handicap and stroller accessible, and visitor can rent both wheelchairs and strollers. Parking costs $10 (if you’re staying at either the Hotel Hershey or Hershey Lodge, consider taking the free shuttle). Purchase tickets online here to avoid long lines. There are plenty of concession stands with a large variety of options (including chains Chick Fil A, Subway, and Turkey Hill Creamery) and options for refillable souvenir cups for discounts on beverages. Visitors are allowed to bring in sealed, nonalcoholic drink containers. Consider adding on a Ride Photo Pass or Fast Track (which allows purchasers to skip most of the lines on 13 attractions) and a season pass if you’re local. The park is clean, with plenty of restrooms (including family restrooms, changing tables, and nursing areas), benches, and picnic tables located throughout the park. Check here for daily schedules of character appearances and shows.
2. Zoo America is an 11 acre park which open in 1910 and is organized into five areas: Southern Swamps, Great Southwest, Eastern Woodlands, Big Sky Country, and Northlands.
Kids Will Love seeing all the animals! Some animals, like the porcupine and coati, are hard to spot, and some animals, like the gray wolf and parrot, guests can hear before seeing them!
Adults Will Love taking a Behinds the Scenes tour. Evening tours are offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays and early morning tours are offered Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sunday. There are also special photography tours in the early mornings. Traveling with Kids: If you’re visiting Hersheypark, you can take the covered path over the road to ZooAmerica- admission is included in your park fee. Otherwise, park for free adjacent to the entrance to the zoo or in the nearby Hershey Press Building. Zoo America participates in the reciprocity program for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums- check here for more information. The zoo is handicap and stroller accessible. The zoo is open 363 days a year- check here for the schedule. There are two concession options, Timber Treats and the Watering Hole, and lots of outdoor seating. There is also a gift shop in the admission building. Consider downloading the app for helpful hints, information, and maps. Plan on two hours exploring the full zoo.
3. Hershey’s Chocolate World opened in 1973 and is the best spot for purchasing anything Hershey related. The massive Candy Store has every candy the Hershey company makes in every imaginable size, tons of clothing and souvenirs, and plenty of kid friendly options. The Hershey’s Kitchen Food Hall opens at 10:30am and offers a wide variety of options for meals and snacks- a Hershey milkshake is a must! There is plenty of cafeteria style seating.
Kids Will Love The Chocolate Tour ride which explains the entire chocolate making process and the 4D Chocolate Mystery film, which is a 35 minute animated movie starring famous Hershey candies.
Adults Will Love creating their own candy bar in the Chocolate Lab. Each guest must don an apron and hair net and will be able to customize the type of chocolate, toppings, and label for his or her personalized king size bar. Watch each step of the candy creation, which takes about 30-40 minutes. Additional fee applies and I recommend making reservations ahead of time. The Trolley Works tour is a great way to see the entire town and famous landmarks. The 70 minute tour travels 24 miles through town and is narrated by a local tour guide. Additional fee applies. The trolley departs and returns from Chocolate World.
Traveling with Kids: It’s free to visit Chocolate World and ride Hershey’s Chocolate Tour. Visitors can park for free in the designated lot for up to three hours. Make reservations ahead of time for the Create a Candy and the Trolley Works tour. Chocolate World is handicap and stroller accessible. There are plenty of restroom facilities and photo opts throughout the complex. Plan on spending an hour explore Chocolate World and an additional hour for each of the experiences.
4. The Hershey Story: The Museum on Chocolate Avenue is a fairly new museum, opening in 2009 and recently adding a personalized electronic token to elements of the museum. The museum includes a timeline of Milton Hershey’s life in 5 distinct exhibits: Failure to Fortune, Sweet Innovations, Power of Promotion, Hershey Built Hershey, and Living Legacy. Leave time for a rotating exhibit; on our visit in the spring of 2019, the exhibit focused on Hershey’s Cuba.
Kids Will Love scanning personalized tokens to use throughout the exhibits and completing the M.S. Hershey Apprentice Guide scavenger hunt to earn a special memento. The Chocolate Lab is a 45 minute class where guests can learn all about the chocolate making process and make personalized chocolates.
Adults Will Love Tastings, where visitors can purchase a “flight” of six melted chocolates from around the world. Kids can even have their own “tasting”, creating hot chocolate.
Traveling with Kids: The Pantry Cafe offers breakfast and lunch items and famous homemade desserts. A gift shop is located next to the admission desk and restrooms are located throughout the museum. Plan to spend one hour in the museum.
5. Hershey Gardens opened in 1937 and now encompasses 23 acres of indoor and outdoor gardens. There’s a Children’s Garden and Butterfly Atrium as well as several special varieties of tulips and roses. The Gardens are located across the street from the Hotel Hershey.
Kids Will Love exploring the Children’s Garden, starting with a walk under the Caterpillar Tunnel. Check out the Kisses fountains, a plaza with misting water, and the beds of berries and grapes. Play some of the outdoor musical instruments. Kids will want to check out some of the special programming, like weekend arts and crafts events and Marvelous Mondays. Check here for more information.
Adults Will Love looking out for hundreds of rare butterflies from around the world in the Butterfly Atrium, which opened in 1998, and learning about a butterfly’s favorite snacks (hints in the photos). Spend time strolling through the Herb and Japanese Gardens. If you visit in the springtime, look out for 23,000+ tulips blooming in the fields.
Traveling with Kids: The Gardens are handicap and stroller accessible. There is plenty of free parking just past the entrance, including RV and trailer parking. Restrooms are located in the main building and Education Center of the Children’s Garden and there is a small gift shop across from the admission desk. There are no dining options on site, but plenty of outdoor picnic tables (and tons of nearby restaurants- including inside the Hotel Hershey across the street). The gardens are open 363 days a year; check here for daily schedules and events. Plan to spend 60-90 minutes exploring the gardens.
6. Echo Dell Indian Echo Caverns is a ten minute drive from Hersheypark and opened to visitors in 1929. One hour, guided tours bring visitors 120 feet below ground and through many mazes of the caverns. Guides explain the geological history of the formation of the caverns and take visitors through many parts of the caverns.
Kids Will Love checking out the peacocks (don’t be startled by their loud vocal greetings!) and goats and alpacas on the grounds. There’s also a playground while visitors wait for tours to start.
Adults Will Love learning about the caverns. The guide brings visitors through parts of the caverns like the “Grand Ballroom” and the “Wilson” room, named after William Wilson who lived in the cavern for 19 years in the early 1800s.
Traveling with Kids: I would not recommend the tour for young children or people with mobility concerns. The caverns are not handicap accessible (although arrangement can be made to watch a video of a tour) and the paths are very wet and uneven. Wear sturdy, covered shoes. There are many low areas with protruding structures and it is very dark. Visitors must be able to climb down (and up!) 72 steep steps before entering the caverns. The caverns are opened 362 days a year for tours; check here for hours and scheduling. There is a gift shop and restrooms on site. There are no dining facilities on site, but plenty of picnic tables. Tours last one hour.
7. The Whitaker Center is a complex that includes a science center, digital cinema, and performing arts center which hosts live concerts, musicals, and ballets.
Kids Will Love the hands on exhibits, experiments, and building stations.
Adults Will Love racing their child on the car track, trying to lift a 1600 pound globe, and building creations out of legos.
Traveling with Kids: The center is handicap and stroller accessible with an elevator, although I don’t think a stroller is necessary. Restrooms are located before the upper level entrance. There is metered, street parking and an attached Walnut Street Garage. The museum participates in the Association of Science and Technology Centers reciprocity program. There are no dining facilities on site but plenty of nearby restaurants. Plan to spend 60-90 minutes exploring the exhibits.
8. The Pennsylvania State Capitol is located in downtown Harrisburg. The current building was completed in 1906 after a 1897 fire destroyed the original. The Capitol is open seven days a week for tours, although self guided tours are only available during the week. Check here to register for a free, guided tour. Read our full post on the Capitol here.
Kids Will Love completing one of the activity guides and visiting the Welcome Center on the lower level, which has many interactive exhibits for children.
Adults Will Love marveling at the architecture and art work displayed throughout the galleries, walls, and even the floor! Visitors are also able to visit the House of Representation, Senate, and Supreme Court Chambers.
Traveling with Kids: Tours are free and open to the public seven days a week. I would not recommend this tour for the toddler set (they won’t be super engaged in the art and architecture, can’t read the visitor guides, and the steps down into the viewing galleries of the chambers are very steep); however, my upper elementary school children liked it. Metered, street parking is available on all sides of the Capitol, but try and get close to the Park and Third Street entrance. No backpacks, food, or drinks are allowed on tours. Tours are handicap accessible. Restrooms are located near the security screenings and there is a large cafeteria on the ground floor, open to the public. Tours last just under one hour and then plan another half hour in the Welcome Center.
9. National Civil War Museum, which opened in 2001, is set high on a hill on the site of Camp Curtin, the military camp in Harrisburg which was in continuous use for enlisting soldiers throughout the entire war. The museum is set in chronological order, with 17 galleries encompassing elements of the war including First Shots, Battle Maps, Women in War, and Lincoln: War & Remembrance.
Kids Will Love the vast collection of authentic military uniforms and artillery, and recordings of some of the 2,000 songs composed during the Civil War.
Adults Will Love the short films with reenactments, statistics, and biographies of key figures, as well as galleries on Women in War and the Election of 1864.
Traveling with Kids: I would not recommend this museum for young children; they won’t be able to read the displays, the focus is on war, and there are some gorier exhibits that may be upsetting for younger children. However, my history loving son, age 9, had to be pulled from exhibit to exhibit, or else we would have been there until closing. There is plenty of parking and restrooms and a gift shop with an extensive book collection are located to the right of the main entrance. The museum is handicap accessible. There are no dining facilities on site. Check here for special programming, like full reenactments. Plan to spend 90-120 minutes to explore the museum.
10. The State Museum of Pennsylvania is an eclectic museum filled with everything from dinosaur fossils to animal dioramas, rock and mineral collections to a 19th century replica village, and even a planetarium (additional fee applies). Visiting the official state museum is the perfect way to learn about everything related to Pennsylvania’s history. Print out this scavenger hunt before you go.
Kids Will Love Life Through Time, with displays of Marshalls Creek Mastodon (one of the largest prehistoric mammals), and Mammal Hall, with numerous dioramas of native Pennsylvanian animals. Kids under 5 will love Curiosity Connection, a special place for the toddler set.
Adults Will Love Pennsylvania Icons, which features over 300 items with direct ties to Pennsylvania that directly impacted American culture and history. The Transportation and Industry exhibit explains the creation of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Make sure to check for special programs (usually offered on weekends) here.
Traveling with Kids: The museum is open Wednesday- Sunday- click here for hours and special pricing and discounts. Metered, street parking is available and there are several nearby parking garages- check here. The State Museum Store is the perfect spot for Pennsylvania themed gifts and books. There are no dining facilities on site. Plan to spend 60-90 minutes exploring the museum.
Full Disclosure: We did not have a chance to visit this museum, as it was closed when we were in town. However, I had researched the museum and I wanted to include some information.
Eating Locally: There are so many great places to eat in Hershey and nearby Harrisburg. Here were a few spots we enjoyed:
- Houlihan’s has locations in 17 different states from New York to California; Great salads and burgers, good kids’ menu, and serious attention to gluten free options too.
- Iron Hill Brewery has locations from New Jersey to South Carolina and yummy options from soups and salads to steaks and sandwiches. We also enjoyed a good flight of beer.
- Troeg’s Independent Brewing has a beer garden, huge indoor tasting room, and walk up snack bar. The offerings include kids’ meals, very large portions of salads and charcuterie platters, and a special Sunday brunch. Troeg’s earns bonus points for having very large tables that can fit multiple families. Tours are available for adults 21+.
- Harvest Seasonal Wine Bar is a farm to table restaurant that locally sources its food and changes menus every 12 weeks. Most of the menu is gluten free and there are many vegan items. We loved our fish tacos, chicken pot pie, and kids meals (with sides other than fries!)
- Lancaster Brewing Company has been around since 1995 and has three locations (two in Lancaster and one in Harrisburg). All food (except for two options) is made fresh in house and the thin crust pizzas are especially good (as is the strawberry wheat beer!)
If you want to see some of the other cities we have enjoyed exploring, check out our City Guides and read about all the places we love in Pennsylvania here. And follow along on our adventures on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook.
Disclaimer: I was given a media pass to visit many of the locations mentioned. All opinions expressed are my own.