We are pleased to present a new Solo Travel Destination Post from Tracey's trip to Harrisburg. Normally, Destination Posts are contributed by members of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook. Do you have a solo travel destination that you would like to recommend? Submit your description here, along with a few photos, and share it with fellow travelers!
Solo travel rating: 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult. Please see chart below)
Languages spoken: English
Reasons to Visit Harrisburg
Have you ever visited a city without knowing very much about it and been unexpectedly charmed? Such was the case for me in Harrisburg.
As the state capital, Harrisburg is home to the Pennsylvania State Capitol building, which houses the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court. This may not sound incredibly exciting – until you see the place. It is gorgeous inside and out. I got a kick out of sitting at the lawyer's table in the Supreme Court. (I couldn't talk them into letting me sit in the judge's chair. Power still eludes me.) Italian marble staircases, chandeliers so tall that maintenance people can actually stand up inside them, paintings, sculptures, murals, stained glass, and a 52 million pound dome on top. I actually gasped when the tour guide led me into the Senate Chamber. Apparently there are people who travel around the United States visiting all of the Capitol buildings. Now I know why.
I tasted some great food in Harrisburg. Mangia Qui, located close to the Capitol, is a really interesting spot which emphasizes local ingredients in their Italian dishes. I enjoyed a deeply flavorful wild boar sugo served over catanisella pasta, with a little ricotta salata grated over top. It was perfect for a chilly November afternoon. Upstairs is Suba, their tapas bar with live entertainment. I wish I had been able to make it back before I left town, but I ran out of time.
I had another stellar meal, coincidentally including pasta as well, at Bricco. Featuring Mediterranean cuisine, Bricco also has a focus on local Pennsylvania produce and meats wherever possible. I liked everything about this place: the food, the atmosphere, the friendly and knowledgeable staff, even the fellow customers I chatted with while dining at the bar. The sage pappardelle with duck ragout is a staff favorite, and they definitely did not steer me wrong! I just wandered in off the street at an odd hour between lunch and dinner, so I was able to get a seat without any problem, but I suspect this is not always the case, so plan ahead.
I walked along the path through Riverfront Park on the bank of the Susquehanna River in downtown Harrisburg. There are a series of bridges here, including one that is referred to as The People's Bridge. It is for pedestrians and cyclists only and links Harrisburg to City Island, a 63-acre piece of land dedicated to recreation. You can leave your car behind and walk across to enjoy a game at the sports stadium, ride the steam train, play a few rounds of miniature golf, or just enjoy a walk in the park.
Last but not least, my favorite discovery in Harrisburg: the Midtown Scholar. To call it a bookstore seems misleading. It is like no bookstore I have ever visited before. It is really more of a community hub. Located in a former 1920s movie theatre – the first non-segregated theatre in Pennsylvania, in fact – this huge space holds more than 100,000 books. Amazingly, that is only 1/10th of their collection. The rest is contained in warehouses and sold online. Midtown Scholar offers many free (and some ticketed) events from poetry readings to musical performances to political events to comedy shows. They have classroom space for use by non-profit groups, community event space, a cafe, a children's play area and, in the basement, a lovely collection of art and rare books for sale. Although many of the books are new, they are all sold at used book prices. No one is turned away at Midtown Scholar: if what you really need is to get in out of the cold and sit and read the newspaper, you will be welcome as long as you respect the space and the other patrons. Two days before I arrived, the owner of the store was elected Mayor of Harrisburg. He just happened to walk in while I was there, and I was really happy to be able to meet him and tell him how much I love what he is doing there.
Harrisburg feels like a city in transition, with lots of construction projects, a mayor with new ideas, and a commitment to promoting everything local. I really enjoyed it and I think it will only get better.
Solo Travel Destination Rating System
Safety – 2 (1 very safe, 2 safe in most areas, 3 be cautious at all times.)
Language – 1 (1 English is first language, 2 English speakers easy to find, 3 English speakers rare)
Navigation – 1 (1 easy to navigate by transit or car, 2 poor transit, car necessary, 3 not easy to get around)
Culture – 1 (1 Similar to North America or Western Europe, 2 Different from above but relaxed and easy, 3 Challenging)
Average Rating – 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult)