There’s just something about small river towns that draws people in. Their beauty, history, and slower pace make you want to stop in, relax, and stay a while.
That’s certainly the case with Hannibal, Missouri. Built on the banks of the Mississippi River, this place takes pride in its most famous son, the beloved author Mark Twain. And while there’s no shortage of spots to visit highlighting his life and work, there’s much more to Hannibal than Twain.
Here’s how to spend a perfect weekend in this charming Missouri town.
Things To Do In Hannibal
From literary history and riverboat culture to art, outdoor adventure, magnificent mansions, and ghost walks, there’s plenty to do in Hannibal over the course of a weekend. Here are a few of our favorite ways to spend time in this quirky river town.
Visit The Hannibal History Museum
For a great first stop to get your bearings, head to the Hannibal History Museum. Here, you’ll learn about the town’s founding 200 years ago and the effects of the massive New Madrid earthquakes. You’ll also discover how steamboats -- and later the railroad -- transformed the town, and how they made Hannibal one of the richest spots in Missouri. At the museum, you can expect an introduction to Hannibal’s most famous residents: Samuel Clemens (also known as Mark Twain), of course, but also celebrities like the Unsinkable Molly Brown and Bill Lear, the inventor of the Learjet and the founder of Motorola. Admission to the museum is free, but you’ll want to call ahead to ask about the hours.
Meet Mark Twain
For fans of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher, there’s no place like Hannibal. After all, it was here where Clemens grew up and had the experiences that inspired the stories he wrote under his pen name, Mark Twain. Set in the fictional town of Saint Petersburg, Missouri -- a definite nod to the real-life Hannibal -- Twain’s satirical and controversial works took on issues of race, identity, and morality and became American classics.
To learn all about Twain’s boyhood in Hannibal, head to the home where he grew up. Located on Hill Street along the banks of the Mississippi, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum comprises several buildings, including the office where Twain’s father worked as a justice of the peace and the home where his friend Laura Hawkins grew up. She was the inspiration for Becky Thatcher. The museums contain a large number of artifacts, including first editions of Twain’s beloved books and Norman Rockwell paintings commissioned for the series’ special editions.
Just a mile south of town, you can explore the cave that inspired many of the scenes in Twain’s books. The Mark Twain Cave is a National Natural Landmark, and you can take a guided tour of the complex that inspired the author and where Jesse James once hid out. Keep in mind that there are no steps, and that while the walkway is smooth, the cave is not wheelchair accessible.
Explore The Rockcliffe Mansion
Once upon a time, thanks to its enviable position on the Mississippi, Hannibal was flush with cash. Shippers and lumber barons made the town one of the more affluent areas in the state of Missouri. That display of wealth is on full show at the Rockcliffe Mansion, perched high above Hannibal on a steep river bluff. Inside the Gilded Age mansion, handcrafted and ornate marble, mahogany, and stained glass features are on full, glittering display. It’s difficult to comprehend how the home went uninhabited for nearly 40 years after its owner died -- and was nearly razed before several Hannibal families stepped up to restore it to its former glory. Today, you can take a guided tour of or even stay overnight at this magnificent mansion.
See Where The Unsinkable Molly Brown Was Born
The previously mentioned Unsinkable Molly Brown, born Margaret Tobin in 1867, grew up in Hannibal before heading out to find her fame and fortune. The modest cottage where she was raised today operates as a small museum. Here, you’ll learn about her incredible life and how she followed the gold rush west and became rich beyond her wildest dreams. Brown went on to survive the Titanic tragedy -- truly earning her nickname -- and later became a renowned philanthropist. The hours here vary; you’ll want to call ahead for tour times.
Check Out The Galleries
There is a distinct artsy vibe in downtown Hannibal with its several terrific galleries. The Hannibal Arts Council on Main Street features community programs, rotating exhibits, and art for sale from local makers, ranging from paintings and pottery to mixed media and blown glass. The Alliance Art Gallery features work by more than a dozen artists in a wide array of media, including collage, photography, wood, jewelry, and ceramics. And Ayers Pottery, featuring the work of local artist Steve Ayers, features bakeware, dinnerware, and serving accessories, all handcrafted on-site.
Take The Trolley
With so many historic gems to see in Hannibal, consider taking the town’s trolley, which is an experience in and of itself! The trip, which is a charming way to see the town, includes a guided tour with hop-on, hop-off opportunities at top attractions. The Hannibal Trolley Company Sightseeing Tours are held from mid-April through October and by appointment only during the rest of the year.
Just south of Hannibal, right on the river, sits a town that’s mostly been abandoned. Ilasco was founded and built by the Atlas Portland Cement Company as a place for its workers to live. During its heyday, Ilasco was home to 3,000 residents, most of them Eastern European immigrants who worked at the cement company’s manufacturing plant. The town was incorporated in 1903 and existed for 60 years before the plant ceased operations. Today, a memorial to the former town’s workers is there, along with remnants of the jail and other buildings. It’s a fascinating peek into the past.
You can learn all about Hannibal’s supernatural residents on an evening ghost tour. Haunted Hannibal Ghost Tours offer a guided look -- via bus or trolley -- at the town’s mysterious past, highlighting historic spots including local cemeteries, the downtown district, and Millionaire’s Row, a group of historic homes on 5th Street. It’s a spooky but fun way to learn more about the past residents of Hannibal -- some of whom have never left!
Best Restaurants In Hannibal
With everything from diner-type fare to fine dining, you won’t go hungry in Hannibal.
LaBinnah Bistro, located in a historic home downtown at 5th and Center, focuses on Mediterranean-influenced dishes, with a good selection of steaks and chops.
For barbecue, head to Wayne BBQ. This former food truck is now a brick-and-mortar store serving up the platters, sandwiches, and delicious, down-home sides you’d expect from a local barbecue joint.
If you’re ready to knock back a pint or two, head to the Mark Twain Brewing Company. The brewpub serves up Hannibal-crafted beers including ales, IPAs, and stouts on draft and in growlers or cans.
Be sure to save room for dessert: Chocolaterie Stam offers fine Dutch chocolates at its downtown store, and Becky’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream, right around the corner from the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, is a charming ice cream parlor with a small gift shop attached.
Where To Shop In Hannibal
Hannibal’s downtown district is packed with antique, specialty, and souvenir shops. It’s a great place to support small businesses! Quilters will love the Hickory Stick Quilt Shop, full of beautiful fabrics to use to piece together a one-of-a-kind treasure. For whimsical, interesting, and historic items, you’ll want to duck into Lydia’s Cabinet of Curiosities, where you’ll find a wide range of antiques and estate finds including art objects, trinkets, and small decor items. Foodies should absolutely plan to visit the Mississippi Marketplace, a specialty grocery store featuring homemade pastas, jams, jellies, mixes, spices, and much more.
Best Hotels In Hannibal
While Hannibal does have several chain hotel options, the bed and breakfast scene here is strong and worth considering to get a real feel for what life was like here in the roaring river days.
The Belvedere Inn is housed in an 1859 Italianate mansion, an easy walk from downtown. Each room features luxe, updated accommodations -- and, of course, a gorgeous homemade breakfast each morning. Just south of town, the historic Garth Woodside Mansion is also a splurge worth considering. And the previously mentioned Rockcliffe Mansion also features beautiful guest rooms.
Pro Tip: Hannibal holds festivals and special events throughout the year, many of them focusing on the work of Mark Twain. The Big River Steampunk Festival is a visitor favorite, featuring a funky vibe and live performances, as is the downtown district during the holiday season, which comes alive with Victorian decorations. Time your Hannibal weekend getaway just right, and you might be treated to a little something extra in this historic river town.