Harrisburg, PA–exploring the Pennsylvania Capitol

I’ve written several posts about my visit to Hershey, Pennsylvania, but wanted to wrap up my coverage to the Hershey/Harrisburg area with a post devoted to Harrisburg, PA–the capital city of Pennsylvania, USA.

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The Pennsylvania state Capitol in Harrisburg is impressive from the outside. But wait until you walk in!

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Without question, Harrisburg has the most impressive state capitol building I have ever seen. Before I go on, you may be wondering about when to use “capital” versus “capitol.” Capital is used to describe the capital city of a state, province, region, or country. Capitol is a word used to describe a building that houses the head of government. A way to remember the difference is that capitol will describe or refer to a building that very often has a dome (both have an o.) Capital (with an a) refers to the entire city or place.

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This magnificent work of art greets you as you enter the Capitol Building in Harrisburg, PA.

The Pennsylvania Capitol is a magnificent structure of art, and in fact, when Philadelphia architect Joseph Huston envisioned the building he was contracted to design, he pictured it as a “Palace of Art.” It took from 1902-1906 to complete this architectural masterpiece.

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Inside the dome of the Pennsylvania Capitol Building in Harrisburg, PA.

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Everything from the chandeliers to the wall coverings and furnishings in the Harrisburg Capitol Building are works of art.

There are sculptures, stained glass, murals, marble and tile art, and nearly every kind of art imaginable within the walls of this building. The 272-foot high dome was inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The rotunda was inspired by the Paris Opera House. You truly don’t know where to look, as each view fills you with awe.

The good thing is that there are free tours of the PA Capitol on the half hour weekdays, and less frequent tours on weekends and most holidays throughout the year. And your knowledgeable guide will be sure to point out the highlights. You can also take a self-guided tour or catch a virtual tour online.

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Even though the Capitol Building looks and feels like an art gallery or museum, we are reminded that it is a functioning government centre, and home to the House of Representatives and the State Senate. Pictured above are the mahogany desks used by politicians in the House of Representatives.

Coming from Manitoba, the Keystone Province of Canada, I was particularly interested to learn that Pennsylvania is called the Keystone State of the United States of America. We all love fine art, great chocolate and craft beer. There is definitely something to our similarities–including the sleek golden statues that adorn the domes of our capitol buildings.

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Millworks is a terrific place for great artisan food and craft beer. Be sure to allow yourself time to explore the artists’ studios on site.

But let me assure you that a visit to Harrisburg isn’t all about the Capitol Building. The Broad Street Market is well worth a visit. Founded in 1860, it’s the oldest continually running market of its kind in the USA. And there is some great craft beer and food on offer as well. I particularly enjoyed the wild mushroom wood-fired pizza and espresso coffee and cocoa infused Nitro Mocha Porter beer (featuring cocoa nibs from Ghana) at Millworks in the trendy Midtown neighbourhood of Harrisburg. This unique venue not only serves up food and libations to tantalize your senses, they offer studio space to a myriad of artists where you can observe, take classes, and purchase art to suit your fancy.

My thanks to Rick Dunlap of the Hershey/Harrisburg Visitors Bureau for bringing me to the region, and to Jill Fetter, director of Capitol Visitor Services for the incredible tour of Pennsylvania’s Capitol Complex.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

51 Responses

  1. Donna Janke
    Twitter:
    says:

    The dome is stunning! The golden figure on top of the Capitol Building does remind me a little of our Golden Boy. Who or what does the Harrisburg statue represent?

  2. Betty Jackson
    Twitter:
    says:

    Very nice pictures and love the paintings. A lot of thought went into that decor.

  3. The Harrisburg Capitol looks like a wonderful work of art – I especially like those wall coverings.

  4. I’ve never visited Harrisburg but now I’d like to plan a trip. The building is really beautiful, and I’d definitely like to check out the Broad Street Market. The food sounds delicious, and I’m all about art.

  5. Phoenicia
    Twitter:
    says:

    Thank you for explaining the diffdrence between capital and capitol. How interesting.

    The architecture of the dome is absolutely beautiful. Such attention to detail.

  6. Beautiful architecture and your photos show it off well, Doreen! I jumped over and took a look at the Millworks and that definitely looks like it’s well worth a visit. Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

  7. Wow, I had no idea how beautiful the Harrisburg capitol building was… or indeed what signified the spelling difference between capitol and capital. I have to admit I did a double take when looking at the photos. As someone who frequents Parliament Hill in Ottawa, I take for granted how beautiful our buildings are, but they could give us a run for our money.

  8. My husband and I spend a lot of time being befuddled by the things our state politicians in Harrisburg do since so much of it makes little sense. I think you just gave us the answer, Doreen: they are looking around in stunned amazement at this gorgeous building!

    Thanks for introducing me to our capital’s capitol. I’ll let you know when I make it there!

  9. Janet May-Hewson says:

    Such a beautiful example of the Arts and Craft Movement. One of my favourite design periods. I can understand why this building would be a “must see”. Thank you for the share, Doreen.

    • Hi Janet. You would love Harrisburg. Small enough to safely stroll the streets and drop into various venues to enjoy the art & culture. But large enough to be quite cosmopolitan. Yes, the PA Capitol Building really is quite a masterpiece. A fusion of European and American at its best!

  10. I decided to take a quick look at the online tour of the Capitol and then ended up watching the entire tour. What a beautiful building and filled with historical paintings and artifacts. Pennsylvania played a large role in U.S. history. Philadelphia was the first capital city of the 13 colonies and, of course, where our Constitution was written. Thanks for writing about Harrisburg. Never knew that it has such a breathtaking Capitol building.

  11. That state capitol building in Harrisburg, PA looks spectacular! Who knew?

  12. michele h peterson
    Twitter:
    says:

    The Broad Street Market looks like a must-see on a visit to Pennsylvania. In the fall and winter I just love porter beers infused with cocoa and the Nitro Mocha Porter beer sounds like a winner

  13. Abhinav Singh
    Twitter:
    says:

    I didn’t know the difference between Capital and Capitol. In fact I used to think the latter is misspelt version. Anyways, this place sure is a masterpiece. I can spend all day here admiring the marble art, murals, sculptures, the stained glass, the works!

  14. krista says:

    that is an impressive capital building, the detail in the dome is so cool! I want to visit PA one day, its def on my bucket list!

  15. David, my other half, loves visiting Capitol buildings and Harrisburg is one of the best.

  16. Wonderful experience. I have driven through Harrisburg dozens of times, between my Northern Virginia home and points north, but have never visited the capital building. I must do that!

  17. I’ve had opportunities to see a bit of Pennsylvania on a few road trips and business trips over the years. But I’d really love to see much more of it. I’ve spent no time in the major cities, including Harrisburg and you’ve given me some great inspiration to make that happen. The Capitol Building looks amazing.

    • Hi Cathy: Isn’t it so true that we can visit a destination numerous times and see certain things, but never experience others until someone brings them to our attention? That’s what I love so much about reading the blogs of other people. I learn something new every day. 🙂

  18. Sue Reddel
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    says:

    We’ve had the chance to see a few state capital buildings and it’s unbelievable how beautiful they all are. Harrisburg is no exception. I’d love to sit in the Millworks Brewery and ponder what else we could have done with all the money spent to create these buildings.

    • I hear you, Sue. That building cost $13 million in 1902, which would translate into a lot of moola in today’s economy. But it’s the same thing with the many incredible cathedrals that have been built around the world. How many starving people could the $$ used to construct those have fed???

  19. Ami Bhat
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    says:

    This place is just so enthralling. The dome is indeed a masterpiece and reminded me a bit of the Vatican. And those murals and stained glass stuff – I would have had a blast with my camera here. Thanks for sharing these.

  20. Suzanne Fluhr
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    says:

    There’s no question that governmental architecture has declined since 2010—or probably more specifically since 1930. The new buildings tend to be concrete boxes. Cheaper to build, but so much less interesting. As a Pennsylvanian, thank you for sharing this beauty.

    • You are very welcome, Suzanne. I agree. Most of the newer governmental buildings are indeed so box-like and uninteresting. I would hope that having government policies made in a building of this beauty and filled with wonderful art would be inspiring to the law makers and benefit everyone in the long run. Or am I dreaming? 🙂

  21. Sandy N Vyjay
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    says:

    The Capitol looks magnificent. And you are right it indeed looks more like an art gallery. From the pictures, I can say that a visit to the Capitol is a treat for the visual senses. Always love the imperial Government buildings, be it in any country, they have an air of majesty which is so endearing.

  22. Sindhu
    Twitter:
    says:

    What a lovely destination Pennsylvania is! And capitol definitely looks like a place everyone would love visiting for its lovely architecture and majesty. Especially, the dome.

  23. Harrisburg seems so outstanding and a great travel destination, Doreen! How many days would you recommend staying there to explore the place properly?

  24. Mike
    Twitter:
    says:

    Great post! You did a great job capturing the beauty! That beer at the end loooks delish! Keep up the great posts!

  25. I totally agree with you about the capital in Harrisburg. I was a lobbyist for 10 years and visited many of the capitals in the US. In my opinion, Harrisburg has the absolute most stunning. I also liked the River Walk in Harrisburg.

  26. Thanks for improving my vocabulary by mentioning the word ‘capitol’ and distinguishing it from capital. The inside of the dome is beautiful.Thanks for this post!

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