1. San Antonio, 2. New Orleans, 3. Philadelphia, 4. Santa Fe, 5. Washington D.C., 6. Boston, 7. St Augustine, 8. Charleston, 9. Savannah, 10. Williamsburg. For those who love nothing more than discovering a new place through it’s past, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 best historical cities to visit in the USA. These destinations are brimming with heritage, culture, unique stories and plenty of old world charm, each harbouring a wealth of fascinating historical attractions begging to be explored.
- San Antonio
- New Orleans
- Santa Fe
- Washington D.C.
- St Augustine
dịchtakes first place on the list of best historical cities to visit in the USA. San Antonio, founded in 1718 around the Alamo mission, is unrivaled as a learning destination for fascinating Texas state history, from Native American occupation to colonial conquests and the fight for independence. Locals are very proud of their city’s history, and the old battle cry “Remember the Alamo” is still commonly heard and seen engraved on memorabilia. Aside from the Alamo, there are many other inspiring colonial Spanish missions scattered throughout the city that are well worth exploring. These are all part of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015 for its exquisitely preserved buildings.
Other historically significant sites to visit include the elegant San Fernando Cathedral, the Spanish Governor’s Palace, a number of informative museums, and the highly coveted River Walk, which is filled with historic treasures and authentic architecture. The riverfront has undergone extensive renovations in recent years. And now, there’s no better place to soak up the city’s history than by strolling alongside the waterway, or unwinding after a day of sightseeing at one of the many enticing sidewalk cafes artfully shaded by colorful umbrellas.
- This big hitting motorhome itinerary includes San Antonio, historic Route 66, plus the spectacular national parks of Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains Texas to Las Vegas via Big Bend & the Grand Canyon by Motorhome. Or for those who prefer the comfort of a hotel, this flydrive holiday includes the best of Texas – Self-Drive Talkin’ Texas.
Since its founding as a French colony in 1718, New Orleans has witnessed some fascinating historical events, changing hands several times due to Spanish conquests and the Louisiana Purchase. This has resulted in what is arguably the most interesting and diverse collection of historic architecture in the United States. History buffs should dive right into the French quarter’s charming colonial heritage. Visit the striking St. Louis Cathedral, America’s oldest church structure, and take a stroll through the Garden District, which is home to an amazing collection of lavish antebellum mansions.
There are remnants of the past everywhere, including many of the city’s restaurants and bars. Visit Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, one of the oldest bars in the United States, or Antoine’s, a fine dining establishment that has been in operation for nearly two centuries. When you’ve had your fill of sightseeing, New Orleans has plenty of other things to do, from mouthwatering soul food to authentic live jazz venues and some of the country’s liveliest nightlife.
- You have a great choice of hotels in New Orleans and there’s so much to do in and around the city you can either enjoy a long weekend here or a week or more. You can twin New Orleans with another city such as Nashville, Chicago or New York. You could embark on a road trip of the historic south on the Jazzy Jambalaya Adventure. Or join one of most popular escorted tours – Tastes and Sounds of the South, which includes 3 nights in New Orleans, as well as time in the beautiful plantation mansions of the south, plus visits to the music cities of Memphis and Nashville.
Independence National Historical Park has a plethora of wonderful attractions that truly succeed in bringing the past to life, including the Georgian-style Independence Hall (the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution), the Liberty Bell, Franklin Court, and the Betsy Ross House. History buffs will also enjoy visiting the National Constitution Center, President’s House, and the recently renovated Benjamin Franklin Museum. All of these attractions, as well as many others, are located in the heart of the Old City, which is distinguished by charming townhouses and cobblestone streets that make the area easily navigable on foot.
Aside from the well-known landmarks, Philadelphia has a plethora of beautifully preserved colonial-era buildings, vintage row homes (including America’s oldest inhabited residential street, Elfreth’s Alley), and federal-style mansions, many of which can be found scattered throughout its neighborhoods and surrounding hills. If you need to unwind after a long day of sightseeing, immerse yourself in the city’s thriving food and drink scene, making sure to try the city’s renowned craft beer and famous Philly cheesesteak.
- You can twin Philadelphia with another city such as New York or Washington DC, or perhaps take this independent rail tour American Heritage which also includes Boston. The Historic Highlights escorted tour is a superb way to discover America’s history visiting all the key locations of the east led by an expert Tour Director. Or if you’d rather explore at your own pace, then they have this great flydrive itinerary Self-Drive Colonial America.
Santa Fe has many historic firsts for the United States. It is the country’s oldest state capital, having been established in 1697. It is home to the nation’s first public building (the magnificent Palace of the Governors), the oldest religious building in the United States (the San Miguel Chapel, which dates back to 1610), and the longest-running community celebration in America, the annual Santa Fe Fiesta.
This vibrant city is rich in history and has done an outstanding job of preserving its original treasures while also ensuring that all construction in the downtown area adheres to the distinctive adobe architectural style. As a result, on every street corner, you can’t help but feel the strong pull of the city’s long and varied past. Don’t miss the historic Plaza, where you’ll find the landmark sight Palace of the Governors and the opportunity to browse Native American arts and crafts around the square. There are also plenty of fascinating museums to explore, including the New Mexico History Museum – home to an astonishing collection of historical and cultural artefacts – as well as the colourful Museum of International Folk Art, both located in the city’s Museum Hill district.
- You can spend two nights in Santa Fe with this superb itinerary travelling through the spectacular scenery of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico – Self-Drive Four-Squared. Santa Fe also features as a day trip on one of most popular flydrive itineraries Self-Drive Route 66 or this fabulous route which takes in Yellowstone – Self-Drive American Grandeurs. A fabulous escorted tour which highlights superb historic locations and glorious national parks is The Magnificent Southwest, on which you’ll spend two nights in Santa Fe.
Location: New Mexico
Washington D.C. ranks 5th in the list of best historical cities to visit in the USA. With an enviable collection of world-famous monuments, landmarks, and museums attracting millions of visitors from around the world, the nation’s capital provides an unparalleled insight into American history in all its glory and complexity. The majority of D.C.’s major attractions are concentrated along The Mall, where you can see the Washington Monument, Capitol Building, The White House, Lincoln Memorial, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Many of the city’s well-known Smithsonian museums are also rich in history, offering a tantalizing glimpse into everything from the history of food and popular entertainment to colonial era agriculture and African American culture, all for free. History buffs won’t want to miss The National Museum of American History, which offers a comprehensive and in-depth look at the country’s past through a collection of over 3,000 artifacts, including the famous Star Spangled Banner.
Aside from the obvious tourist attractions, Washington is a city of distinct neighborhoods, many of which have fascinating histories of their own. Self-guided Neighbourhood Heritage Trails are located throughout the city and provide the ideal way to explore some of the lesser-known, but still hugely rewarding museums, historic houses, and storied pasts that these areas have to offer.
- Self-Drive America & Canada Historic Highways is a wonderful itinerary encompassing all those “must-sees” of eastern USA and Canada from Quebec City to Niagara Falls, including the beautiful coastline of New England and a two night stay in DC. You can book you a simple city break to enjoy all the sights or you could twin it with another city such as New York. Or you can enjoy the benefits of a Tour Director who’ll ensure you get the most out of your holiday on an escorted tour such as Great Eastern Cities.
Location: District of Columbia
First-time visitors should start with the Freedom Trail, a sightseeing route that connects sixteen of the city’s most important historical sites, including The Old State House, Faneuil Hall, and the Paul Revere House, as well as Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, Bunker Hill Monument, and the USS Constitution. Wind your way through the city’s atmospheric cobblestone streets, paying homage to one dramatic landmark after another, and marveling at the downtown area’s striking blend of old and new architecture. You’ll pass through the North End district, a little slice of Italy with authentic cafes that are the perfect excuse to refuel with coffee and pastries.
- There are plenty of direct flights to enjoy a few days in this charming city where you have a lovely choice of hotels. Alternatively combine a stay in Boston with New York or hire a car and get out into the beautiful New England countryside on one of self-drive itineraries. Or you’ll find Boston featured on several of escorted tours including this gorgeous one Boston, Cape Cod & the Islands.
St. Augustine, commonly known as the “Old City,” was founded by the Spanish in 1565 and is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States, predating the landing of the pilgrims on Plymouth Rock and the founding of Jamestown, Virginia by several decades. Unsurprisingly, this city is steeped in history, and visitors are spoiled for choice with the array of world-class museums, inspiring monuments, and authentic colonial architecture available.
Every turn reveals traces of its long history and diverse cultural influences, and there’s no better place to soak it all in than the 144-block National Historical Landmark District. The Mission de Nombre de Dios, the city’s original settlement, and the seventeenth-century fort of Castillo de San Marcos are both striking reminders of the Spanish colonial era. Many historical landmarks date back to the 1800s, when the city experienced a renaissance led by Henry Flagler, giving rise to the impressive Flager College and the beautifully restored Casa Monica hotel.
After you’ve explored the historic streets, there are several museums where you can learn more about St. Augustine’s illustrious past. Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, The Lightner Museum The Museum and Lincolnville Centre all house evocative collections that help to bring the past to life, while also being housed in attractive historical structures.
- Enjoy a tailormade road trip taking in St Augustine plus the next two locations on wish-list below – Charleston and Savannah – Experience The Historic Deep South.
Charleston ranks 8th on the list of best historical cities to visit in the USA. You’ll feel transported back in time if you visit the picturesque and famously friendly city of Charleston. This east coast settlement, founded as an English colony in 1670, grew to become one of the nation’s most prosperous cities, as well as a melting pot of cultures. Explore Charleston’s plantations, museums, and colonial buildings to learn about the city’s economic history, slave culture, and historical events. The McLeod Plantation Historic Site provides an excellent insight into slave life, while Fort Sumter provides insight into the beginnings of the Civil War. A visit to Charleston would be incomplete without seeing its impressive antebellum mansions, two of which are the Nathanial Russel House and the Calhourn Mansion.
A stroll through The Battery (a pretty waterfront public park) is the best way to soak in Charleston’s southern charm and relaxed pace of life, admiring streets lined with grand eighteenth-century buildings and listening for the sound of horse-drawn carriages along the gas lamp-lit cobblestone pathways. There are numerous accommodation and dining options boasting strong historical connections, including historic homes that now serve as hotels along Zero George Street, as well as McCrady’s restaurant, where George Washington once dined.
- Charleston is set in a beautiful region and you can explore both the city and it’s surrounds on this flydrive itinerary Experience Charleston and South Carolina. Or join the Deep South Discovery escorted tour to experience Charleston with an expert tour guide.
Elegant Savannah, once home to the Georgian elite, is a remarkably well-preserved city filled with over a thousand historic buildings, beautiful cobblestone streets, and gracious public squares. All of this is encapsulated in Savannah’s Historic District, one of the United States’ largest National Historic Landmark districts and an early example of colonial planning with its grid street layout. Twenty-two of Savannah’s original twenty-four public squares have been preserved, and they are filled with greenery, fountains, and monuments, making them the ideal place to soak in the city’s history and charm.
Visit the popular 30-acre Forsyth Park as well as the federal-style Davenport House Museum. Take a tour of upscale historic homes like the Green-Meldrim house, and then stroll down River Street, an attractive concourse with nineteenth-century cotton warehouses that have been refurbished into stylish boutiques and restaurants. Savannah’s colonial history and antebellum heritage pervade every corner, much like Charleston’s. But, once you’ve had your fill of the historic sights, this city has an eccentric edge: there’s a thriving arts scene, plenty of creative eateries, and lively nightlife venues to explore.
- Already mentioned is tailormade flydrive itinerary – Experience The Historic Deep South, or you can sit back and relax on an escorted tour with a Tour Manager helping you experience the best of Charleston, such as The American South.
It doesn’t get any better than Williamsburg, Virginia’s colonial capital and a hub for many of the most significant political and cultural events of the time, for gaining the ultimate insight into America’s pre-civil war days. Colonial Williamsburg is one of the world’s largest living history museums, doubling as a massive outdoor theater. It provides visitors with an authentic recreation of American colonial life, with hundreds of restored buildings, live re-enactments, and numerous actors dressed in period costumes.
Keep an eye out for the Bruton Parish Church, the Capitol Residence and Governor’s Palace, and the famous Wren building. There are also plenty of taverns and coffeehouses where you can sample popular eighteenth-century dishes, as well as traditional shops, craft, cooking, and farming demonstrations. Aside from the theatrical recreation, the town of Williamsburg is also worth visiting. One notable attraction is the prestigious College of William and Mary, America’s second oldest college with an impressive alumni list that includes three US presidents.
- Self-Drive Colonial America is a journey of discovery through the most interesting historical locations in eastern USA, and the Historic Highlights escorted tour features two nights in Williamsburg allowing plenty of time to learn all about life in Colonial Willamsburg and also includes a very pleasant evening in a charming local tavern.