Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Harrisburg, PA

  • Published 2022/11/23

As the state capital of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg has a lot of history and other fascinating things to explore.

This city belongs to Dauphin County and offers visitors a picturesque view of the Susquehanna River banks.

Historically, Harrisburg became known for its prominent role in the American Civil War, Westward Expansion, and the Industrial Revolution.

It’s no surprise that most of your Harrisburg itinerary will comprise museums and historical sites.

However, Harrisburg boasts an urban community with a unique charm.

This city is also an excellent destination for budget-conscious travelers who want to enjoy things without breaking the bank.

So, read this post on the free things to do in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to give you fantastic ideas for your budget-friendly vacation.

Tour the Magnificent Pennsylvania State Capitol

Exterior of the Pennsylvania State Capitol

Mihai_Andritoiu /

First on the list is the Pennsylvania State Capitol, which is famous for its free tours inside its massive halls and rooms.

You can visit this state capitol along N. 3rd Street and join fellow tourists with its free historical tours.

It’s a must-visit place in Harrisburg since this capitol building is one of the nation’s most impressive architectures.

Joining the tour is an awe-inspiring experience, especially seeing its impressive Renaissance-style architecture that resembles Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica.

Representatives chamber in the Pennsylvania State Capitol

Sean Pavone /

Explore over 475 rooms across four floors while making numerous stopovers to see gorgeous murals, sculptures, and other artworks.

Scale its grand staircase at the central dome, designed after the famous Paris Opera House.

A tour inside the Pennsylvania State Capitol is a mesmerizing experience that treats you to top-notch art and history lessons rolled into one.

Supreme court chamber in the Pennsylvania State Capitol

Nagel Photography /

Roam the City Island

A paved trail at City Island

David J Garcia /

City Island along the Off Market Street Bridge is a 63-acre commercial and recreational gem along the Susquehanna River.

It’s a fantastic place in Harrisburg to relax and play after visiting the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

Plenty of outdoor recreation and leisure activities await you at City Island.

Catch a baseball game at the FNB Field with the Harrisburg Senators or watch boats cruise through the Susquehanna River.

At the same time, you can also catch free concerts from local bands and singers.

Then, check out the John Harris Trading post replica near its marina.

City Island has dozens of free activities, depending on where you start.

Don’t forget to list this place in your itinerary during your Harrisburg travel adventure.

Go on an Outdoor Adventure at Wildwood Park

A stream at Wildwood Park

Jon Bilous /

Wildwood Park is another outdoor attraction you mustn’t miss visiting.

You can check out this park along Wildwood Way and enjoy recreation and history activities.

Currently managed by the National Audubon Society, this park has numerous attractions, such as a horse-riding facility, a zoo, and a boating ramp.

Bicycle ride along Wildwood Park

LornaGraphics /

In addition, it has walking trails and a nature center, which are fun to check out.

For birdwatchers, Wildwood Park is home to dozens of bird species thriving within its premises, making it an ideal place for birdwatching activities.

Besides birdwatching, there are plenty of free things to enjoy at this park, making it a recommended place to include in your itinerary.

Boardwalk trail at Wildwood Park

Jon Bilous /

Stroll through the Streets of Downtown Harrisburg

Buildings along Downtown Harrisburg

Ludmila Ruzickova /

Downtown Harrisburg is a magnificent area in the city where most of the government centers, businesses, and neighborhoods are.

Visiting this place acquaints you with Harrisburg’s locality.

Its focal point, the Market Square, is a regional center and one of the city’s busiest places, home to dozens of shops, restaurants, and other businesses.

View of Downtown Harrisburg at night


Downtown Harrisburg has a beautiful nightlife through its eclectic collection of bars and restaurants.

A simple stroll through these gorgeous downtown streets is already a worthwhile experience if you’re not into partying.

While strolling, you’ll be mesmerized by the local shops and restaurants housed in centuries-old buildings, making it a must-visit place in the city.

Marvel at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick

Aerial view of the Cathedral of Saint Patrick

Jon Bilous /

The Cathedral of Saint Patrick is a major religious center in Harrisburg.

You can check out this cathedral along State Street.

Admire its breathtaking Baroque Revival style architecture with an influence of Renaissance Revival.

The cathedral is adorned with 45 stained glass windows from Germany.

At the same time, it has fresco paintings likened to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Interior of the Cathedral of Saint Patrick

Nagel Photography /

The cathedral’s focal point, its dome, is a mesmerizing artwork that virtually transports you to Vatican City.

So, visit the Cathedral of Saint Patrick to pray and enjoy its solemn atmosphere.

Don’t forget to take photos of its attractive features and architecture for a more satisfying visit.

Stained glass window in the Cathedral of Saint Patrick

Nagel Photography /

Spot Birds at the Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area

Landscape of Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area

gerrydincher, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area encompasses over a thousand acres of a protected area covering numerous towns and cities, including Harrisburg.

You can access this conservation area along Fishing Creek Valley Road.

It serves as a habitat for numerous large tree species and is home to deep forest birds, particularly warblers.

Visiting the Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area allows you to connect with nature through various recreational and educational programs.

You’ll enjoy hands-on activities, guided walks, and educational programs.

However, this conservation area is most famous as a top-notch birdwatching destination.

Many birdwatchers across Dauphin County flock to see various bird species that thrive in this conservation area.

Pack your binoculars when visiting Harrisburg for birdwatching fun!

Reflect on Tragedy at Holocaust Memorial

Daytime view of the Holocaust Memorial

Toksook, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are many Holocaust Memorials throughout the world; one of them is along North Front Street in Harrisburg.

This memorial, created by David Ascalon, commemorates the six million European Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

Since this memorial is a stone’s throw away from the Pennsylvania State Capitol, it is an ideal spot for quiet reflection.

The memorial features a black granite wall with sand-carved inscriptions, including the Star of David.

Visiting this place offers a solemn experience to remember those who died in the tragedy.

Likewise, the Holocaust Memorial is one of Harrisburg’s most peaceful spots, making it an ideal place to take a break from exploring the city.

Appreciate the Wonderful View of Riverfront Park

Autumn trees at Riverfront Park

Jon Bilous /

Riverfront Park faces the Susquehanna River between Front Street and the latter’s shoreline.

Even though this park lies next to Harrisburg’s downtown district, it surprisingly has the most peaceful and breathtaking view of the river.

With that in mind, this park is an idyllic place to escape the busyness of Harrisburg.

Aerial view of Riverfront Park

Spiroview Inc /

Besides its laid-back vibes, Riverfront Park also boasts one of the most panoramic views of the Susquehanna River and the City Island shopping center from a distance.

It has plenty of fun outdoor activities for you and your family, such as hiking, picnicking, and sports.

Don’t forget to spend time at this charming riverside park in Harrisburg.

Check Out Excellent Artworks at the Galleries at the Millworks

The Galleries at the Millworks is a famous destination in Harrisburg’s midtown area.

It’s a top-notch restaurant and brewery with an extensive events venue and an art gallery regularly holding exhibits.

This place is your go-to destination to see top-notch artworks while joining fellow art lovers browsing various galleries.

Besides the art exhibits, the Galleries at the Millworks is also an excellent place to rub elbows with locals.

Overall, this place offers a dynamic and fun experience you mustn’t miss visiting before returning home.

Browse the State Library of Pennsylvania

Exterior of the State Library of Pennsylvania

Kristi Blokhin /

The State Library Of Pennsylvania is one of the biggest public libraries throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Established in 1971, this public library along North Street boasts an extensive collection of books and information covering almost every area of human concern.

With that in mind, it’s a nice place to spend your day if you’re up for more worthwhile free things to enjoy in Harrisburg.

The library is the perfect place to explore more history of Harrisburg through its news archives.

At the same time, this library has a vast collection of fiction, science, natural history, to educational books, giving you a worthwhile reading experience.

Don’t forget to include the State Library of Pennsylvania in your itinerary.

Cross the Walnut Street Bridge

Daytime view of the Walnut Street Bridge


Walnut Street Bridge, which locals refer to as the “People’s Bridge,” crosses the Susquehanna River.

You can cross this truss bridge along N Front Street and Walnut Street in Harrisburg.

This bridge, completed in 1890 by the Phoenix Bridge Company, is the last remaining and oldest bridge connecting Riverfront Park and Harrisburg’s downtown district.

It spans over 854 meters of 2,801 feet in length.

View of the sunset from Walnut Street Bridge

Hope Phillips /

Fascinatingly, it remains in use today, and many locals cross the bridge to reach the other side of the city.

It’s been listed on the National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark to preserve its historical value.

Don’t forget to cross the Walnut Street Bridge and appreciate its view of the Susquehanna River.

To top it off, take as many photos as possible for souvenirs.

People walking along Walnut Street Bridge

Cascade Creatives /

Pedal through Capital Area Greenbelt

The Capital Area Greenbelt is one of the region’s prime cycling locations.

It surrounds Harrisburg through a 22-mile on-road trail popular with local cyclists.

This famous trail is a must-visit destination if you want to explore Harrisburg from a different perspective.

You’ll pass through some of the city’s best tourist attractions.

It includes the Pennsylvania Capitol Building, Susquehanna River, Governor’s Row, and the Parkway Trail System.

The Capital Area Greenbelt is dedicated to outdoor explorers who want to set out on an adventure where they will savor the beauty of Harrisburg on a bike.

Relish the Calm Atmosphere of the Reservoir Park

Reservoir Park is Harrisburg’s biggest municipal park, covering portions of various neighborhoods, including Allison Hill.

You can visit the 85-acre park along 18th and Walnut Streets and enjoy its serene atmosphere.

After its construction in 1872, this park became a popular weekend destination for Harrisburg’s locals for relaxation and outdoor recreation.

It has a vast green open field, thick tree lines, and a playground for kids to enjoy.

At the same time, it has a Civil War Museum and an art gallery you can check out.

It’s a wonderful place to take a break from exploring Harrisburg’s attractions, get lazy, and pass the time.

If you want to do more activities at Reservoir Park, check out its mid-20th-century band shell, which regularly hosts public concerts.

Other Free Things to Do Nearby

Don’t worry if you run out of free things to do in Harrisburg since its neighboring towns and cities have plenty of activities that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.

Here are some recommended attractions near Harrisburg you can enjoy for free.

Traverse the Darlington Trail

The Darlington Trail spans over eight miles in Pennsylvania’s south-central region.

You can visit and hike the famous trail along Lambs Gap Road in Marysville, Pennsylvania, 16 minutes west of Harrisburg.

You can walk the popular Appalachian Trail on this path, which serves as the western end junction of the Tuscarora Trail, part of the vast Appalachian Trail.

Hiking this trail offers a one-of-a-kind outdoor adventure that takes you to some of Pennsylvania’s pristine natural areas.

The Darlington Trail is a must-hike destination for avid backpackers, campers, and birdwatchers because of its unspoiled natural beauty.

Cross the Bowmansdale Covered Bridge

The Bowmansdale Covered Bridge is one of the few remaining classic covered bridges in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.

You can cross this historic wooden bridge by driving 12 miles in Mechanicsburg, 17 minutes southwest of Harrisburg.

This bridge is on the campus of Messiah College.

Once, Cumberland County had 50 covered bridges scattered throughout its expanse.

However, only two bridges remain today, one being the Bowmansdale Covered Bridge.

Seeing this covered bridge allows you to step back to when covered bridges were crucial to public transportation.

Complete your visit by crossing the bridge on foot and taking photos for souvenirs.

Final Thoughts

Harrisburg is the perfect place for those who want to explore rare sites and fascinating history.

Its parks, natural areas, and historical sites have fascinating stories, keeping you busy exploring without spending a penny.

Its local arts scene adds color and fun to your adventure in this state capital, making it a recommended travel destination you must consider.

Discover the free things to do in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for a memorable budget-friendly vacation!

© All rights reserved.