How Safe Is Harrisburg for Travel?

Updated On February 5, 2024
Harrisburg, United States
Safety Index:
54
* Based on Research & Crime Data

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, sits on the scenic Susquehanna River and has been serving as Pennsylvania’s state capital since 1812.

The pole position on the river started turning this agricultural community into a trading destination.

Then the capital building brought more business to town.

As with many cities in the Iron Belt turned Rust Belt of America, steel and railroad ruled in the 19th Century.

By 1970, the industry declined, and Harrisburg was losing its population as well as financing needed for infrastructure.

Today, although still facing urban challenges, Harrisburg aims for an economic resurgence built on its strengths – a revitalized waterfront, expanded high-tech and service industries, growing regional healthcare systems, and its intact historic neighborhoods near downtown.

Downtown Harrisburg’s Market Square offers lively restaurants, boutique shops, cultural attractions, and the architecture of the capital to explore among historical museums.

Picturesque Midtown’s tree-lined streets, indie cafes, and Victorian bed & breakfasts retain old-world character and charm.

Riverside parklands like City Island provide lovely river trail walks under the shadow of downtown’s modern skyline.

Whether you seek heritage tourism, an eclectic arts scene, or a scenic Susquehanna vista, Pennsylvanians welcome visitors to immerse themselves in the story of Harrisburg and the Capitol region.

The city is great for business, conventions, or vacations.

And to address the elephant in the room for those who know their history – yes, this is the same Harrisburg near Three Mile Island where a nuclear accident happened in 1979.

That should cause you no safety concerns, as multiple tests were done in the years that followed, confirming only negligible impacts on the environment.

Warnings & Dangers in Harrisburg

Overall Risk

OVERALL RISK: MEDIUM

There's a medium risk here because of high violent crime rates, but most of those are in a specific part of town that you wouldn't be visiting as a tourist. You'll need big city safety steps to enjoy your time here, but it's by no means too dangerous to visit.

Transport & Taxis Risk

TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW

CAT Transit is the public bus system for the city. There is a route that can get you to Hershey. Taxis and rideshares are readily available. Rental cars are a great option, too, provided you have good habits like locking your car each time you park.

Pickpockets Risk

PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW

About eight pickpockets or purse snatchings happen each year, which is a low risk. However, it's worth emphasizing that people here are used to big-city safety precautions, which can help keep crimes of opportunity down.

Natural Disasters Risk

NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW

The risk is low, but you keep it that way by staying aware of the weather. You'll potentially get severe thunderstorms, flooding, or snow storms, but there's rarely a massive storm that causes widespread damage. Flooding along the river is always a concern, so keep an eye on that.

Mugging Risk

MUGGING RISK: LOW

The robbery rate here is more than twice the national average, with 40% of those being highway robberies. Don't let your guard down, and stay in well-lit areas. I'd avoid walking around at night alone.

Terrorism Risk

TERRORISM RISK: LOW

This is a low risk. While the state capital will bring protests or marches, there's no overwhelming risk of a terrorist attack. You can help by reporting any suspicious activity.

Scams Risk

SCAMS RISK: LOW

Scams here are highly focused on residents, giving you a low risk. You can check the social media sites for law enforcement in the city and county to see if recent scams have been reported.

Women Travelers Risk

WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: MEDIUM

Women should proceed with a medium risk. The risk largely depends on where you are from, as some women here say they feel safe walking around but wouldn't consider wearing headphones, while others say they won't go out at night.

Tap Water Risk

TAP WATER RISK: LOW

The 2022 Water Quality Report shows exceeding compliance with every standard. Even tests for PFAS in the water showed no detection. That's a low risk. The river is a different story. Don't swim in it. I'll tell you why a little bit.

Safest Places to Visit in Harrisburg

The city is known locally as HBG, which is why the tourist site is ExploreHBG.com.

There’s also a website that blends Hersey in with Harrisburg, but we’re reporting on those as separate cities.

One important destination is the National Civil War Museum, which has the largest collection of Civil War artifacts in the world.

Visitors can see weapons, uniforms, historical documents, and other items spanning the war.

Just steps from the State Capitol, the State Museum of Pennsylvania immerses you into the state’s history with recreated environments, dioramas, and Native American artifacts along with displays on geology, industry, and culture.

Art lovers can browse the Susquehanna Art Museum, which primarily highlights regional Mid-Atlantic artists through a mix of rotating and permanent exhibits in mediums like painting, fiber art, sculpture, and photography.

History buffs would enjoy touring the John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion, which was home to some of Harrisburg’s most prominent residents in the 19th century and offers a glimpse into the Victorian period.

For those interested in architecture and design, the Kunkel Building features a stunning Italianate style and ornate decoration from the 1850s during Harrisburg’s prosperous railroad expansion era.

Outdoor enthusiasts can walk or bike ride along the riverfront park connected to City Island, which contains hiking trails, a beach volleyball court, a small amusement area, and restaurants.

If you’re curious about Three Mile Island, the location has been decommissioned, but there is a historical marker with a view of the island, and the cooling towers still stand – at least for now.

The marker is about 13 miles south of Harrisburg.

Places to Avoid in Harrisburg

The bulk of violent crimes are in specific neighborhoods, which are being altered as steps are taken to improve the crime rate.

Allison Hill is one of the higher crime-rated neighborhoods, and you will have no reason to visit there unless you have family or friends there.

While Harrisburg is a medium-sized city, it deals with big-city crime and has big-city crime numbers.

Many people here don’t think it’s dangerous because they are used to crime rates in Pittsburg, Philly, or New York City.

However, make no mistake about it, you should stay aware of your surroundings at all times.

Downtown is one of the safer parts of the city, but heading south and southeast can lead to habitually dangerous areas.

Safety Tips for Traveling to Harrisburg

  1. Harrisburg does have its own police department. Follow them on Facebook @HarrisburgPD. The non-emergency phone number is (717) 558-6900 if you have specific safety questions.
  2. Use the Crime Watch website for Harrisburg to see crime maps showing the most recent activity in the city. I will detail everything from a warrant to a homicide, but it gives a great hyper-local look at crime street-by-street.
  3. Sign up for emergency notifications through AlertPA. This will include severe weather and public safety alerts. You can choose to get them by text, phone call, or email.
  4. ParkHarrisburg.com is the website for parking information, whether you want to park on the street, in a garage, downtown, or on the island.
  5. The city has a YouTube channel where you can learn more about events, the community, and progress. Look for @WHBG20 on YouTube and see their latest videos.
  6. Harrisburg police offer an online crime reporting tool that is used when a crime or accident doesn’t rise to the level of needing an officer to respond. For example, if your car is broken into, you will fill out the form and get a copy for your insurance company. When in doubt, call 911.
  7. An Amtrak stop is located in Harrisburg, with service to New York City and Philadelphia. This could be very helpful if you are flying into one of the larger cities but don’t want to make the long drive.
  8. If you’re using the bus system here, download the myStop app to get real-time bus information. You can also sign up for rider alerts on the website. If you use the Token Transit app, you don’t have to pay for rides with cash or a credit card. Your phone will become your ticket to scan.
  9. You’re likely to see panhandlers downtown or midtown. If you can, avoid them by crossing the street – especially if you aren’t comfortable with confrontations. You can also give a firm “No” and keep walking.
  10. Boating or floating the Susquehanna River is a popular summer activity in Harrisburg, but the river is dangerous, especially near the Dock Street Dam. Check the fire department’s website for safety guidance. In addition, the river is often contaminated with sewage drainage, so swimming isn’t a good idea.

So... How Safe Is Harrisburg Really?

Harrisburg is a head-scratcher.

At first blush, the violent crime rate, being 276% higher than the national average, was jaw-dropping.

Then I saw that homicides were down, so I crunched those numbers.

With one fewer homicide in 2023 compared to 2022, they were both a steep drop from the 22 that happened in 2020.

The rate is still four times higher than the national average.

However, the majority of homicides and violent crimes are among people who know each other.

There’s little risk of a tourist being a victim of homicide, especially when they stay in well-lit public areas designed for entertainment or recreation.

Thefts are 34% lower than the national average, with 35% of all thefts being related to car break-ins or accessory thefts, like pricey catalytic converters.

You can avoid this risk by locking your car and removing personal belongings every time you park.

Robberies are down 77% in the past decade but still stand 128% higher than the national average.

About 40 of those are highway robberies.

Much of the crime is limited to the south and southeast sides of the city, with an active effort underway to help the Allison Hill community lower crime rates while providing opportunities for young people to become engaged with the community positively when they otherwise might be exposed to gangs or criminal behavior.

“Everyone in Harrisburg knows where the bad areas are,” community activist Claude Phipps said.

“It’s just – do we have the will to go in there and do something about it?”

At the same time, reading through social forums, people don’t feel their city is unsafe.

Most people are used to hearing gunshots at night or having an extra sense of situational awareness when they walk around, as you would in any city.

At the end of the day, common sense, situational awareness, and sticking close to the areas designed for entertainment are the best ways to have a safe and exciting experience in Harrisburg.

How Does Harrisburg Compare?

CitySafety Index
Harrisburg54
New York City67
Detroit56
San Diego67
Miami55
Honolulu65
Chicago65
Cordoba (Argentina)61
Toronto (Canada)81
Melbourne (Australia)80
Montreal (Canada)81
Sydney (Australia)80
Santiago de Chile (Chile)71

Useful Information

Visas

Visas

International visitors should start at the U.S. State Department website to get information about the type of visa they need or if they qualify for a visa waiver. A valid passport that isn't within six months of expiring will be required as well.

Currency

Currency

The U.S. Dollar will be the only currency accepted here. You don't need to carry a lot of cash as credit cards are widely accepted. The Harrisburg airport doesn't offer currency exchange services.

Weather

Weather

The U.S. Dollar will be the only currency accepted here. You don't need to carry a lot of cash as credit cards are widely accepted. The Harrisburg airport doesn't offer currency exchange services.

Airports

Airports

Harrisburg International Airport is just 20 minutes from downtown. If you are flying out of Philadelphia, plan for a two-hour road trip.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a wise investment for its broad coverage and affordability compared to separate insurance plans for health, car, airfare, and belongings.

Click here to get an offer for travel insurance

Harrisburg Weather Averages (Temperatures)

Jan -2° C
Feb -1° C
Mar 4° C
Apr 11° C
May 17° C
Jun 22° C
Jul 24° C
Aug 23° C
Sep 19° C
Oct 12° C
Nov 7° C
Dec 1° C
Choose Temperature Unit

Average High/Low Temperature

Temperature / MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High
°C
24917222730282417115
Low
°C
-6-5-15111618171372-3
High
°F
363948637281868275635241
Low
°F
212330415261646355453627

Pennsylvania - Safety by City

CitySafety Index
Allentown78
Altoona82
Bethlehem80
Doylestown78
Erie62
Gettysburg83
Harrisburg54
Hershey82
Kennett Square84
Philadelphia60
Pittsburgh63
Pittston74
Reading58
Scranton66
Stroudsburg82
Uniontown59

Where to Next?

Share Your Experience

Share
Facebook Pinterest