It doesn’t take a literature professor to figure out who Hannibal’s most famous resident was: His name prefaces half the signs in town, and the names of his characters preface the other half. Cross the Mississippi River on the I-72 Mark Twain Memorial Bridge, shop at the Huck Finn Mall or swim at Mark Twain Lake, then spend the night at Injun Joe’s Campground or the Tom N’ Huck Motel. Turn onto 3rd Street (the Great River Road) near the Hotel Clemens and park yourself in the heart of historic old Hannibal, and visit the Mark Twain Home and Mark Twain Museum. Take a very expensive ride on the almost miniature Mark Twain riverboat, docked at the Center Street Landing; browse through books by and about Twain at the Becky Thatcher Bookshop; or eat Mark Twain Fried Chicken at the Mark Twain Dinette. Not to detract from the credit due him, but don’t look for any subtlety or modesty surrounding Mark Twain’s achievements here.
Most of this Twainery is located downtown, within a few blocks of the Mississippi River, and enjoyment requires at least a passing familiarity with (and fondness for) Tom Sawyer, Twain’s fictionalized memoir of his boyhood here. A statue of Tom and Huck stands at the foot of Cardiff Hill, and two blocks south, the white picket fence featured in that book still stands in front of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home (daily; $6; 573/221-9010), at 208 Hill Street, where young Samuel Clemens (Twain’s real name) grew up in the 1840s. The historic site preserves a half dozen buildings, including his father’s law offices and the drug store above which the Clemens family also lived. The home of Tom Sawyer’s “girl next door,” Becky Thatcher, is actually across the street, and the upstairs parlor and bedrooms have been recreated to evoke the era. The main Mark Twain Museum recently moved into a much larger space in an ornate Victorian building two blocks away at 415 N. Main Street, but is still part of the same operation. Exhibits, including a steamboat pilot’s wheel and numerous first editions, bring to life scenes from Twain’s Mississippi novels.
A pair of high hills bookend Hannibal (pop. 17,757), and climbing up either (or both) gives a grand overview of the town and the broad Mississippi, its historic lifeblood. On the north side, climb up the staircase from the Tom & Huck statue to the top of Cardiff Hill, where the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse, built in 1935 to celebrate the centenary of Twain’s birth, offers a fine view. South of town, Lover’s Leap is higher and more breathtaking—best visited by car or bike. Further south of downtown along the GRR (Hwy-79) is Hannibal’s most hyped attraction: the Mark Twain Cave (daily; $12), where costumed guides spin tales about Tom and Huck on an hour-long tour.