While America may not be as old as Europe, it still has plenty to offer the history buffs thanks to its many diverse cities full of fascinating heritage and old charm. Despite most of America’s cities being known for fun and glamour, there are also some that are famous for intriguing tales, delightful historic centers, and magnificent monuments. History buffs will love visiting these key historic cities in the USA. To help you determine the best historic spots with well preserved landmarks and notable monuments, here are 11 of the top historic spots in the USA that we’ve visited — or which are on our historic travel bucket list!
1. Washington, DC
This is one American city that boasts of a large number of historical landmarks and monuments. Being the capitol of the US, the city is full of ornate-old structures and is the home of government in the States. Be sure to visit the United States Capitol Building which was built in 1800. And of course there is the White House, the famous residence of the President. Another very notable historic landmark here is Lincoln’s Cottage which is where the American President, Abraham Lincoln, lived during the Civil War.
One of our favorite things to do is to walk “The Mall” which stretches from the Capitol down to the Lincoln memorial. It’s a long, but beautiful walk with lots of sights in between just off to the side. This includes the famous (and massive) Smithsonian museum. Another must see is the Holocaust museum – a somber but humble experience that everyone should see for themselves. Also, definitely check out the Library of Congress – one of the most beautiful buildings full of historic and important texts.
2. Boston, MA
When it comes to the early American history, nothing even comes closer to Boston. This historic city is regarded as the home of the Boston Tea Party, the beginning of the American, and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution with the nation’s first ever textile mill. Boston traces its early development to as early as 1630 when Puritan colonists landed there all the way from England. As you walk through it’s busy sidewalks, old cemeteries like the Copps Hill Burial Grounds and Old Granary and numerous beautiful colonial architecture can be seen almost everywhere.
Friends of mine highly recommend going on a history walk, such as the Boston Freedom Trail Walk Into History – this is a really cool tour that hits all the main sights. And just walking in the footsteps of those so long ago and reliving those tales, I can imagine it’s an amazing experience. Boston has been high on our list of historic places to visit in the USA for years and we’re really hoping to visit next Fall so we can also see the changing colors of the leaves!
3. Savannah, GA
Rated among America’s most romantic cities, Savannah is another city that has that old American feel and history. Being the ground for many civil war and revolutionary battles, you will definitely love exploring the Savannah’s historic district. The city features several old well preserved homes and beautiful cobblestone streets. Having been established in 1733, its streets were carefully laid-out in a perfect grid that still represents an excellent example of an early colonial city.
Savannah was actually one of the first places that Josh and I visited together on a trip (since we were living in Atlanta). We had a wonderful time exploring the city together…and Josh even indulged me in a night ghost tour (he hates that stuff) – after all, Savannah is noted as being one of the most haunted cities in the USA!
While we wandered on foot during our visit to Savannah, an easier and more relaxing way to see the town is on one of the Savannah hop on & off bus tours — a super convenient option that we will do on our next trip! Lastly, we highly recommend checking out the The Pirates House Restaurant for dinner – they have some amazing food (especially that fried chicken) and creepy tales from the past!
4. New Orleans, Louisiana
A very surprising thing about New Orleans is that despite its greater association with the French, all the historic architecture that is found there is of Spanish origin. While it was founded by the French Mississippi Company in 1718, the city was ceded to Spain in 1763. By 1801 New Orleans was back in the hands of the French before being sold later in 1803 by Napoleon to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. One of the things that you can’t miss to see here are the Garden District which is a breathtaking collection of ancient homes that were built in 1832. Food, history, music come together to make a rich culture in New Orleans that is one-of-a-kind.
5. San Francisco, CA
Although what makes San Francisco famous is it’s eminent display of colorful Victorian houses in the opening of the full house, the city also has a history that goes deep. From the world famous Chinatown walks to the incredible cable cars, to the famous Alcatraz Island – San Francisco never runs short of great historical sites and landmarks.
There are so many places to see in San Francisco that it’s best to have a few days at minimum in the city. But if you are short on time (like we were during our last visit) we recommend stopping by Fisherman’s Warf, Chinatown (of course), the Haight and Ashbury area (especially if you are a Grateful Dead fan), and don’t forget to sit and enjoy the view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge!
6. New York, NY
While New York is mostly associated with it’s modern glamour, the city has always been one of the top historic spots USA. Here, you will see famous sites at every turn ranging from the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building to the Times Square and the Statue of Liberty. If you are in for some more alternative history, you can check out The Brooklyn Museum of Arts and the Cloisters.
Planning a trip to NYC can be overwhelming with all the things to see and do. So don’t try to overdo it by packing in too much into your trip. Keep in mind that you’ll want time to wander and soak up the ambiance of the city.
Lastly, if you want that quintessential NYC experience — we recommend visiting between Thanksgiving and Christmas when the city is all decorated for the holidays. Even though we were bundled up, we really enjoyed peeking at all the holiday window displays and even checking out a Rockettes show at Radio City Music Hall. For more about our holiday in NYC, check out our full story here!
7. Nashville, TN
From Greek temples to a strong musical heritage, this is one city that wears its history proud. Known worldwide for country music, Nashville has dozens of tourist attractions that are related to music. These include the Ryman Auditorium, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Grande Ole Opry. In addition, there is an International Country Music Fan Fair that is held every June in which country music fans meet, hear, and get autographs from their favorite and popular musicians.
But if you just have an afternoon and don’t want to spend it running all over town to tourist sites, then just head downtown to “The District” where you can wander past all sorts of bars and music venues. After all, nearly every bar is a music venue. So just stopping by to have a drink and enjoy the local culture and tunes is one of the best ways to soak up this city.
8. Baltimore, MD
Baltimore is another place in the US that is full of historic landmarks and monuments including the Washington monument. After being established in 1729, Baltimore was named for the Irish barony of Baltimore. During the outbreak of the infamous and historical American Revolution, Baltimore was already a busy seaport and shipbuilding center. At the beginning of the World War I, the city had already begun developing industrially due to the construction of oil refineries, steelworks, and other War related industries.
9. Philadelphia, PA
Being the first ever capital of the United States of America, Philadelphia is without a doubt a very important historic place in USA. If you want to learn exactly how the US was born, this is the perfect place for you to head over. While there are uncountable places that a tourist can visit in Philadelphia, you should never leave here without setting your foot on America’s top historic sites, the Betsy Ross House, the Liberty Bell, and the Independence Hall, which are all located here.
10. St. Augustine, FL
This is actually a really cool place! Founded in the 1565, St. Augustine is America’s oldest permanently occupied European settlement. The entire streets in St. Augustine are lined with buildings that were constructed as early as the 17th century. This city also boasts of owning the oldest house in the whole of America, which is now a museum that is open to the public and run by the St. Augustine Historical Society.
From archaeological digs to museum collections, there are various tourist attractions that are from different periods of the city’s history. But one of the most popular is the Fountain of Youth – claimed to be discovered by Ponce de Leon. Visiting this site gives you a glimpse into how the native people lived as well as giving you a chance to taste the “youth” water from the spring (which tastes nasty by the way…but we had to try it!).
11. San Antonio, TX
For those who are interested in the Texan history, it is worth noting this city is the exact place where the historic battle for Texas took place and it’s independence declared. This city boasts of a very rich cultural heritage that features some Spanish manipulation which is evident through it’s famous landmarks including the Alamo, the San Fernando Cathedral, and the historic River walk.
Having been established in 1718 around the Alamo Mission, the city’s future location was first visited in 1691 by the Spaniards who later established a mission there. Some of the most famous of all the well preserved historic sites include San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and the Spanish Governor’s Palace.
Which Historic Spots Are On Your List in the USA?
Even though the USA is relatively young compared to other popular travel destinations, there are still plenty of amazing historic spots to be seen in the States. These are just some of the top places we have enjoyed visiting, or have on our list for future trips.
If you have another historic spot in the USA to add to the list, put it in the comments below and tell us a bit about it! We’re always looking for more places to explore.