Colloquially known as ‘America’s Hometown’, Hannibal is a relatively small town in the heart of Missouri that offers a myriad of attractive reasons for visitors to want to learn more about this historic location. Of course, the highlight of Hannibal, Missouri is the boyhood home of Mark Twain. But there are plenty of other things to do in Hannibal Missouri that justify spending some time here while exploring the rest of the ‘Show Me’ state.
You could be forgiven for not knowing that this Missouri town has such a famous author associated with it, but by the time you leave Hannibal you will certainly know that the people here are proud of their affiliation with the great American author.
History of Hannibal Missouri
What is the first thing that springs to mind when you hear ‘Hannibal’? If your response is the same as mine, it will likely be Hannibal Lecter, the Lithuanian-American serial killer known for his carnivorous ideals.
Hannibal, Missouri is much more than just the infamous hometown of Mark Twain or the name of a serial killer. Instead, there are a number of other reasons that make this a popular spot for visitors passing through the state of Missouri either on a road trip or while experiencing some of the state’s other iconic attractions.
Having spent a few hours here en route to exploring the likes of Pella, Iowa and the Danish town of Elk Horn, we can attest that Hannibal is well and truly worth visiting, even if you only have a few hours to pass.
Boyhood Home of Mark Twain
Regardless of your opinion on Mark Twain and his novels, the community of Hannibal is best known as the boyhood home of the author himself, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain).
Now in Hannibal where I was brought up, we never talked about money. There was not enough money in the first place to furnish a topic of conversation. (Twain)
Hannibal is also the setting of two of Twain’s most famous novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Throughout Twain’s novels, there are countless references to his boyhood home and as you begin to explore the historical sites that are present today, it’s interesting to note how Twain became such a key figure in American authorship from this small Missourian town.
It’s no surprise to hear that Hannibal draws thousands of American and international tourists every year as visitors seek to learn more about what inspired Twain to create such iconic novels.
Was he just a normal child living alongside early settlers and Native American tribes? Or was Twain inspired at such an early age to create some of the most famous novels in American history?
Hannibal has had a hard time of it ever since I can recollect, and I was “raised” there. First, it had me for a citizen, but I was too young then to really hurt the place. (Twain)
Even if you opt against exploring inside the Mark Twain Boyhood Home Museum, there are various remnants throughout the town that portray the era when Twain was at the pinnacle of his writing years.
Twain may have moved on from Hannibal, Missouri but the old-town feel of the downtown area makes this an intriguing area to explore, especially if you have an interest in learning more about how historic American towns looked in the 19th-century.
Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse
If you love panoramic views, the climb to the summit of the 244 steps will definitely be worthwhile.
The Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse awaits but it’s the breathtaking scenery overlooking Hannibal and the nearby Mississippi River that is the real attraction here.
The lighthouse itself was never used for navigation purposes along the Mississippi River, rather it was constructed as a memorial to Mark Twain so that Hannibal had a lasting memory of the city’s most infamous individual that hailed from this small Missouri town.
The lighthouse was first lighted in 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt in celebration of Twain’s 100th birthday. It has been lit on several occasions since that date by other iconic American Presidents but renovation is currently taking place to ensure that Twain’s legacy remains prevalent overlooking the city of Hannibal.
Mark Twain Cave
If you love adventure and want to visit the oldest operating show cave in the state of Missouri, head on over to yes you guessed it…Mark Twain Cave. Tours of the caves have been offered since 1886 and it has become a National Natural Landmark since 1972.
The cave played an integral role in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer so it is no surprise to hear that it was named after the Hannibal native. Mark Twain Cave is part of a system of caves and along with Cameron Cave form a very distinctive combination unique from anything else in the state of Missouri.
The cave was but a labyrinth of crooked aisles that ran into each other and out again and led nowhere. (Twain)
The caves have winding passages through them but offer little in terms of geological formations like stalagmites and stalactites that are stereotypical of other cave systems in the region. The caves are composed of a soft limestone known as Louisiana Lithographic Limestone and these can only be found in the region of Hannibal and within a short geographical proximity to here.
Tom and Huck Statue
As you walk towards the Mark Twain Lighthouse, you can’t help but notice the Tom and Huck Statue that stands proudly at the bottom of the 244 stairs. Dating back to 1926 when Frederick C. Hibbard sculpted this iconic statue, this has stood in the heart of Hannibal as a key memorial to two of Twain’s most infamous characters.
For many years, we are lead to believe that Tom Sawyer preferred to stay away from Huck Finn, at least when in the presence of respectable individuals, though as you can see from the statue today, they were clearly comrades waiting to embark on their next adventure.
Historic Downtown Hannibal
From Becky Thatcher’s House to the building known as Grant’s Drug Store, Hannibal’s downtown area is well worth taking some time to explore.
Just taking a stroll along the main street and taking in the quirky architecture that has been preserved over the years while reading some of the signage that relates back to history dating to the 19th century.
Why not visit Becky’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor and Emporium to sample some of Hannibal’s finest sweets before scrambling through souvenir shops and antique stores to find a bargain?
Regardless of your interest, Hannibal has enough idiosyncrasy to keep you intrigued and is well worthy of spending a few hours to learn more about this city.
Having left St. Louis earlier that day, I have to admit that we stumbled across Hannibal without any real knowledge of what this town had to offer. We were pleasantly surprised to spend a few hours here and learn all about what we can now attest to be the boyhood home of Mark Twain, and clearly this city is proud to promote this iconic former native.
If you are passing through Missouri, we strongly recommend taking an hour or two to visit Hannibal and we don’t think that you will leave disappointed. The views from the Mark Twain Lighthouse are epic and the history and quirkiness throughout the downtown area make this an attractive destination worth exploring.