“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to figure out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them”.- Mark Twain
When I was growing up The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was one of my favorite books. Now that I have 2 boys this classic is a staple at our house. Why do we like it so much? – it harmonizes perfectly with our family’s adventurous spirit. You can imagine my excitement when I found out that one can visit Tom Sawyer’s “hometown” and experience a lot of his adventures! It is a perfect family road trip itinerary.
Hannibal, Missouri is a small port on the banks of Mississippi River which was Mark Twain’s hometown from age 4 to 18 and which became a prototype for Tom Sawyer’s hometown, St. Petersburg. The whole place is as if frozen in time and being there makes you feel as if you are stepping onto the pages of Mark Twain’s famous books.
Hannibal is very conveniently located relative to many major Midwestern cities: about 4 1/2 hours drive from Chicago or Indianapolis, about 3 hours from Des Moines or Kansas City and less than 2 hours from St. Louis. A weekend is enough to experience all this charming town has to offer and here is my detailed road trip itinerary:
Day 1. Start with a leisurely stroll through the town and visit its most famous landmarks:
Mark Twain Boyhood Home (the prototype for Tom Sawyer’s home) with the infamous white fence that Tom was ordered to paint by his aunt – and you can actually take a stab at it yourself 😉
Becky Thatcher’s House
Huckleberry Finn’s House
J.M Clemens (Mark Twain’s father) Justice of the Peace Office
Then continue upriver for a hike at the Riverview Park. On the way to the park don’t miss Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse and the Tom & Huck statue, the first statue dedicated to literary heroes in the U.S. opened in 1914. In the park you can also find the monument to the famous writer himself.
Don’t be surprised if during your time exploring Hannibal you meet Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher walking the streets of town in their cute 19th century outfits. They happily interact with people and pose for pictures. But be aware that they are only out and about in summer when school is closed for vacation.
Back in town you can find a lot of nice shops. I personally liked browsing antique stores (which are many on Main Street and vicinity) and Becky’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor (318 N Main St, Hannibal, MO 63401). Also in town you can visit a landmark not related to Tom Sawyer but it is still quite interesting. It is Unsinkable Molly Brown’s birthplace home and museum (she was one of the main characters in the “Titanic” movie and it turns out she was a real person). Thus, you will kill two birds with one stone by visiting a famous book and a famous movie’s location.
While you are strolling in town I suggest you also stop by Planter’s Barn Theater and reserve your tickets for an evening performance of “Mark Twain Himself”. It is am amazing one man show where Mark Twain Himself tells stories from his life full of the great author’s wit and humor. You can see a little preview of it here:
It is about an hour – an hour and a half show which we saw with our then 4 year old son and he really enjoyed it. He might not have been able to understand all the content but he was mesmerized by a very talented performance. For him it was like grandpa telling stories.
Start the day with a morning cruise on the Mississippi River. You haven’t experienced Mark Twain’s world if you have not experienced the Mighty Mississippi. It is a one hour narrated scenic cruise on Mark Twain Riverboat. They offer dinner cruises as well if you prefer an evening excursion.
In the afternoon it will be a great time to head to the Mark Twain Cave. It is the cave which Tom Sawyer explored with his friends and where they found the hidden treasure. The tours of the Cave are very well narrated and once again you will feel like you are living through the adventures of the book. Be aware that the cave has the constant temperature of 52 F so dress accordingly.
All the attractions mentioned above are marked on the Hannibal map below provided by https://www.visithannibal.com
- When we stayed in Hannibal we reserved a room at the Belvedere Inn Bed&Breakfast. Staying at this 1859 restored Italian mansion is like stepping back in history again and living in the times of Mark Twain.
- In terms of the places to eat, in addition to ice cream, we enjoyed the Brick Oven for its classic Italian flare (207 Center St, Hannibal, MO 63401)
At the end of our trip we decided to visit the Mississippi River again. It played a crucial role in Mark Twain’s life and was featured in many of his books. It is probably one of the most important of his “characters”, which outlived its author and will outlive all of us in the end. It is as strong and as beautiful as ever – it touched so many lives, it influences economy and agriculture of half of the country and it proudly rules the Midwest. When I stood on the banks of the Mississippi I felt like a grain of sand on its shores, so tiny and humble. And then a song came to my mind, a song from a famous movie that has nothing to do with Mark Twain and the Mississippi but yet somehow its lyrics obtained meaning for me right there next to the mighty river:
I’m crossing you in style some day.
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker,
Wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ your way.
There’s such a lot of world to see.
We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waitin’ ’round the bend
My huckleberry friend, moon river, and me…