HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania – A quiet city on the Susquehanna River, Harrisburg has fewer than 50,000 residents but plenty of charm, from historic architecture to scenic trails. Add in Hershey, the nearby town of chocolate fame, and Pennsylvania’s Hershey & Harrisburg Region becomes the dream romantic travel getaway: culture, cuisine, and nature rolled into one.
Start your trip at the capitol. It might sound like something for history buffs, but the elegant beaux-arts building feels like a palace. In fact, that was the vision of the Renaissance architect who designed it: a “palace of art” with real gold leaf, a grand marble staircase, stained glass windows and a magnificent 272-foot dome.
Arrange for a tour so you don’t miss the chambers of the Senate, House and Supreme Court, lavishly gilded and accented with murals and chandeliers. With everything free, it’s the best deal in town.
A Walkable City
The rest of downtown is pleasantly walkable. Brick sidewalks lead to quaint cafes and centuries-old churches and mansions. Browse a range of creative works at the Art Association of Harrisburg and Gallery @ Second.
If you head north a few blocks to midtown, you can take in the Susquehanna Art Museum, the 1860s Broad Street Market and the Midtown Scholar Bookstore with its lively events calendar, including poetry readings, all within two blocks of each other.
Nearby, the Millworks has more art on display in three floors of gallery space along with fresh brews to savor.
Finish up the evening with a walk or bike ride along the river.
The Capital Area Greenbelt passes several bridges, gardens and public art, so bring your camera. Or get out on the water with a sightseeing cruise on the Pride of the Susquehanna Riverboat to enjoy brilliant panoramas of the river and the Harrisburg skyline.
A taste of Hershey
What’s more romantic than chocolate? Flowers, maybe? Hershey has both. Opened in 1937 as a rose garden, Hershey Gardens has grown into a 23-acre wonderland with an arboretum and a range of blooms, beginning with spring tulips through to chrysanthemums in the fall. Go early before the crowds arrive and when the weather is still cool.
Don’t skip the Butterfly Atrium on the way out for a glimpse of a tropical paradise.
From there, head to ZooAmerica, less than 5 minutes away. It focuses on animals native to North America, so don’t expect tigers or elephants, but the elk are impressive and the bears are downright playful when you catch them in the right mood.
Save the bulk of the day, though, for something sweeter. Hershey’s Chocolate World is the Las Vegas of chocolate. Admission is free, but you can get tickets for a few activities, like a trolley tour around town or a behind-the-scenes Make Your Own Candy Bar adventure.
The Chocolate Tasting Experience
The best might be The Chocolate Tasting Experience — entertaining and eye-opening in ways you wouldn’t expect. And of course, the free chocolate ride is a must. You learn about the chocolate creation process and get a little something to savor on the way home.
If you’re not ready to let the chocolate and childlike wonder of this candy-coated world go quite yet, a visit to The Hershey Story museum is in order. It explores the history of the company and the man behind it all, Milton Hershey.
You can also opt for a chocolate-making class or an around-the-world sampling of drinking chocolates.
Lodging and dining
Lodging options abound whether you want a homey inn or a full-scale resort. For something unique to the area, stay at the Hotel Indigo Harrisburg Hershey. You’ll recognize touches of Harrisburg and Hershey all around the hotel. Some are obvious, like framed artwork, while others are less apparent: the blinds in the room show a topographical map of the Susquehanna River, the pattern in the lobby carpet echoes the capitol rotunda, and intersecting lines in the decor evoke the Walnut Street Bridge.
It’s beautiful, but looks aren’t what matter most in a hotel. Luckily, this one has comfort front and center, too. It just opened this year, so rooms are fresh with up-the-minute conveniences like a remote-controlled thermostat and plenty of nightstand outlets to charge your devices.
The Hotel Indigo has an on-site restaurant, Riverrun, serving breakfast and dinner, but local chefs dish out fabulous food all over the region.
Finding fabulous food
For an outside-the-box breakfast, visit the Tomato Pie Café, just a mile up the road from the hotel. Order the satisfying quinoa bowl loaded with sausage, mushrooms, kale and two eggs over easy if you’re hungry. Or play it safe and stick with their signature cheesy tomato pie.
For lunch in downtown Harrisburg, Mangia Qui beckons foodies who appreciate sustainable food paired with great Italian wines. Nearby, The Vegetable Hunter offers up small-batch brewing and award-winning vegan and vegetarian meals.
For dinner, go all out at The Hershey Pantry. It’s a local institution, particularly when it comes to their generously sized desserts. Get one to split and prove your love by taking the smaller share. It won’t be easy.
Need more ideas for your getaway? Browse upcoming events, attractions, lodging, dining and more at Visit Hershey & Harrisburg. Be sure to request a travel guide to take advantage of coupons to save money on the cafe, the riverboat tour, garden admission, a bike share rental and more.
While parts of this trip may have been subsidized, all opinions expressed are those of the author.