Over 10 million people visit the Hershey and Harrisburg Pennsylvania area annually — many of these during the summer to experience the famous Hersheypark amusement and waterpark, ZooAmerica, or any of the other outdoor activities. But that doesn’t mean that summer is the only time to visit — or that Hersheypark is the only thing to do in Hershey. I’ve already told you about the fun that can be had if you visit Hersheypark during the holidays during its Christmas Candylane opening and at its Hershey Sweet Lights. Even just a stay at the family-friendly Hershey Lodge can be fun, but now I’d like to tell you about some of the other things you can do in Hershey in winter.
What to do in Hershey PA in Winter
1. The Hershey Story
Not five minutes away from Hersheypark in downtown Hershey, you’ll find The Hershey Story Museum, a museum built in 2009 dedicated to telling the story of Milton S. Hershey, his chocolate company, the town and his legacy. If you are staying at a Hershey resort, you can get free transportation and tickets, otherwise admission will cost $10 for adults and $7.50 for kids age 3-12. While visiting the museum itself will only take about an hour, you still might want to stop by early in the day if you’d like to participate in their Chocolate Lab experience.
In the 45-minute Chocolate Lab experience, families can learn about cocoa bean growing and processing. While learning about chocolate, visitors participate in hands-on experiences and interactive demonstrations — and get to make their own chocolate treat to take home. We were bummed during our visit to arrive before 2pm and find out that the Chocolate Lab experience was sold out for the day. Since you can’t make reservations in advance, go early to get your tickets, even if you end up visiting later in the day. Combo tickets to the Chocolate Lab and museum will cost $17.50 for adults and $14 for kids and kids need to be at least 4 and under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.
The museum itself was a high-tech testament to the hard work and generosity of Milton S. Hershey. It might be helpful for kids to read Who Was Milton Hershey? before you visit. I find these biographies very accessible for elementary school age children. Even if they don’t know a thing about Hershey except that it is a chocolate bar, kids will still learn a few good lessons going through this museum. First up, when hearing how many times Hershey failed before finally striking it rich with packaged chocolate bars, they will learn the lesson of determination. Next, they will learn a bit about the chocolate making process with some videos and hands on exhibits and even have a chance to design their own wrapper.
After a walk through the Hershey hall of fame with current and retired chocolate products, you will move on to learning about what Hershey did with his fortune. Not only did he found the town, the Hershey Bears sports team, and a hospital, he also started an orphanage that has become a school. Hopefully the message that comes through here is one of giving back.
Downstairs we visited a special exhibit, “Chocolate Workers Wanted: Experience Factory Life Working for Hershey 1905-1925,” where we learned what it was like to work in a chocolate factory and how hard you had to work to earn a few cents per hour. We learned how to roast, refine, knock-out, and wrap candy, getting our New Worker Training Card stamped at each station.
The museum was well done with hands on exhibits and a scavenger hunt to keep kids engaged, but it wasn’t nearly as fun as the Turkey Hill Experience or other factory tours we’ve done. Even though we didn’t get to do the Chocolate Lab, we still had a delicious time sampling the Chocolate Tasting at the Café Zooka (no reservations required!) For $9.95, you can sample six warm drinking chocolate samples from around the world. Each sample is about the size of a large shot glass and the tasting comes with a map that provides tasting notes about each sample. It is recommended that you start with the samples with the least amount of cacao, to the more bittersweet. You may think you could eat (or drink) chocolate all day but trust me — these are filling. You can easily share a tasting between two people.
This was such a fun experience to share with my daughter — like mother-daughter tea for chocolate lovers! She’s seen us do a few wine tastings so she had a lot of fun reading the tasting notes, sniffing the chocolate, and daintily sipping the chocolate before giving her reaction. So cute! Given that we are dark chocolate lovers, it was no surprise that those were the ones that we preferred. Our favorites were from Venezuela and Tanzania with 72 and 75 percent cacao, respectively.
2. Hershey’s Chocolate World
Located just steps from the entrance to Hersheypark, at first you may think that Hershey’s Chocolate World is just a large retail candy store, not so different from what you’d find in Times Square or Niagara Falls — and it is, but it also offers more. In addition to a jaw-dropping retail store that makes you gawk at giant candy bars and more types of Hershey Kisses than you knew existed, there is a food court, bake shop (and we can attest to their delicious brownies), Create your own Candy Bar attraction, a 4D “Great American Chocolate Factory Mystery” attraction, and the famous Great American Chocolate Tour ride.
Once again we were thwarted by the large crowds due to the holiday season and, even though we visited twice, we were unable to get to participate in the Make your Own Candy Bar experience. We also skipped the Hershey’s Chocolate Factory Mystery Tour in 4D. At $7.95 for adults and $6.95 for kids, we weren’t quite ready to shell out the time or cash. Instead, our first stop was the free, no-reservations required Great American Chocolate Tour.
Since we stopped by after visiting Christmas Candylane, there weren’t any crowds and we were able to walk right on. Just like a ride at Epcot, you step off a rotating platform into a car that can easily fit 4-6 people. You then whiz through the ride, turning this way and that to see the process that goes into creating those famous Hershey chocolate bars, all while being serenaded by some animatronic singing cows. We especially loved going through the roasting process and warming up from the cold. Take a peak…just don’t get motion sick!
When we were dropped off just a few minutes later, we were rewarded with a Kit Kat bar and then tempted by all the chocolate for sale in the immense retail store. We were also awed by the playhouse sized candy house — the likes that would tempt even a forewarned Hansel and Gretel. Even if you hold out and don’t purchase anything, just gawking at all the candy and Hershey-themed merchandise for sale can keep you busy for a while.
If you time your visit to Hershey right, you might also be able to take in a Hershey Bears hockey game while you are in town, or even see a show or concert at Hersheypark Stadium or one of the other nearby venues.
And just 20 minutes away, the wealth of attractions offered in the state capital of Harrisburg awaits.
What to do in Harrisburg PA in Winter
1. National Civil War Museum
Located in Reservoir Park on a hill overlooking the city and valley, the National Civil War Museum presents the entirety of the war and its aftermath along a timeline. Located less than an hour from Gettysburg, visiting both together can greatly supplement learning about the Civil War. Since we had visited Gettysburg earlier in the year, followed by Philadelphia, a visit to the National Civil War Museum was a perfect complement to these other trips. After learning how the framers of the Constitution made a decision not to address slavery, and then witnessing the impact of that decision that ultimately led to the Civil War led to some very thoughtful discussions that wouldn’t have happened in the classroom.
The National Civil War Museum starts off a little slow, with some static dioramas, battle scenes, and uniform displays, but it quickly gets more interesting with multimedia presentation. For each major battle along the timeline, there are benches where you can sit and watch a video presentation with interviews of historians describing the events, along with acted out scenes that tell the stories of soldiers, citizens, slaves and freemen from both the North and the South. The acting is not Hollywood but it helps tell the story and keeps you engaged all the way past the war’s conclusion at Appomattox Court House to the death of Lincoln. Along the way, you can track the progress of the war and start to make sense of the battles of Bull Run, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, Antietam, and Gettysburg.
One of our favorite parts of the museum was at the very end when we got to “Meet Mr. Lincoln.” With this interactive exhibit you can ask a virtual Lincoln a selection of questions about his early years, presidency, civil war and slavery and listen to his answers. It was a fun way to learn more about one of our greatest presidents.
A visit to the National Civil War Museum will take about one to two hours, depending on your attention spans and interests. Tickets are $11 for adults and $9 for children.
2. Whitaker Center
The Whitaker Center in Harrisburg is a combination of a cinema and science center — where you can easily spend an afternoon to a full day depending on how many features you want to take in. When we visited, they were playing Frozen in 3D so the place was packed. We skipped the cinema portion, although the Pandas in 3D movie was super-tempting! Instead, we decided to spend our afternoon in the Science Center. The top floor was geared for little ones, with a separate play area for the under five crowd only. We were also able to play with the physics of floating a beach ball on a jet of air, trying to create giant bubbles, and whispering to each other from across the room.
Down a level we experimented with folding the perfect paper airplane, tried our hands at building cars, and learned about science in a carnival setting. Some of the activities trended a bit young, best for the under 8 crowd, but we found that as we progressed down through the Center, the exhibits perked the interest of my science-loving tween more and more.
At the very bottom, things got really interesting. Not only could the kids experiment with animation, we also had fun feeling the effects of a hurricane in a wind tunnel. One of the most popular exhibits was a grafitti wall smartboard, where kids could tag, paint, design to their hearts content — or at least until the kid waiting in line behind them got too impatient.
Tickets to the Science Center are $16.00 for adults and $12.50 for children aged 3-17.
A couple of other things to do in Harrisburg PA in winter include a tour of the State Capitol building and a visit to the Pennsylvania National Fire Museum. We couldn’t fit these into our itinerary but maybe next time! Check out the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau for more ideas of what to do with kids in Hershey and Harrisburg.
Note: Our admission to the Hershey Story, our Chocolate Tastings, The National Civil War Museum, and the Whitaker Center were hosted by the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau. My opinions are my own.
Do you have any favorite things to do in Hershey or Harrisburg?