New Report: This Is the Top-Rated Tourist Attraction in the U.S.—and It’s Completely Free!
From an urban oasis to slices of history, these are the top U.S. attractions as rated by American travelers—and most are free to visit!
You’ve got your flights booked, your hotel reservations made and the time off work approved. Now all you have to figure out is what to do at your destination. Do you join the crowds at a tourist trap? Or do you travel off the beaten path to discover hidden gems?
Your enjoyment of any destination depends on everything from the time of day to the time of year to the type of activity you’re in the mood for. That’s why planning a travel itinerary is so personal. Yet, while there’s no guarantee that someone else’s must-see attraction will be a hit for you, it is helpful to know how other travelers fared when they visited the same destination.
Fortunately, a new study brings power in numbers, laying out the attractions that, as of late, have gotten the highest collective ratings from American travelers, including some great tourist attractions you can visit at no cost. Read on to learn which U.S. tourist attractions came out on top.
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How did the study identify the top tourist attractions?
In a new study, vacation-rental and property-management company Casago set out to identify how U.S. travelers rate the top tourist attractions in the world—specifically, which they rate the highest.
Now, it’s hard to come to a scientific conclusion on this sort of thing. But to get the best idea of how American travelers rate various attractions, Casago undertook a multistep process, sifting through thousands of reviews at tons of attractions around the world.
To land on the top picks, the team did the following:
- Pulled the first five pages of a country’s “things to do” page on Tripadvisor
- Focused on the 20 most reviewed attractions for each country with at least 3 million people
- Collected up to 100 pages of English-language reviews for each attraction
- Looked at the rating each review gave
This gave Casago a sense of how American travelers rate highly popular attractions on each continent. For instance, the Irish Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum Experience in Dublin came away as the top-rated attraction in the world. Another top spot in Europe? The Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps. But the researchers didn’t stop there. The study also determined the top attractions in the United States—but you’ll have to keep reading to find out which made No. 1.
What are the top-rated tourist attractions in the U.S.?
Through Casago’s research, the team was able to whittle down the top three U.S. tourist attractions as rated by American travelers. Whether you’re booking a quick trip or extended stay, make sure your next visit to the cities below leaves time for a stop at these must-see tourist attractions.
3. Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
One of the most well-known sights in our nation’s capital, the Lincoln Memorial drew the third-highest ratings from Americans of the U.S. tourist attractions included in Casago’s study.
With what the National Park Service describes as a “temple-like” stature, the Lincoln Memorial helps tell the story of the 16th president, who guided the nation through the Civil War and freed millions of slaves. The structure has been the setting of some iconic historical moments, none more memorable than Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
For tourists, the Lincoln Memorial—like many of the city’s museums and monuments—is entirely free to visit. And boy is it worth your while.
“I have seen this a million times on TV, but that sure does not do it justice,” writes one Tripadvisor reviewer. “It is amazing to be right in front of this statue. Looking up at him, looking out at the surroundings on all sides … words fail me.”
One of the best ways to enjoy the Lincoln Memorial is to visit after the crowds—and the heat of the day—die down. It’s open to the public 24/7 and, along with many other nearby monuments, is lit by floodlights at night, so it’s a scenic and well-lit area to explore (and take photos of) in the evening hours.
“My first visit to the Lincoln Memorial many years ago was during the day. However, a nighttime visit is a must. It is amazing to see the memorial illuminated at night,” one visitor from New Orleans wrote in a Tripadvisor review, calling it “one of the most impressive monuments that you can visit at the National Mall.”
Not only is the memorial near the National Mall, but it’s also close to the Washington Monument and other must-see attractions, like the World War II memorial. You can easily spend a few minutes at each, and then walk to the next.
If you don’t care about dodging the crowds, visit this destination in the spring, when the city is at its most scenic. The cherry blossoms reach peak bloom in late March and early April. Just keep an eye on the cherry blossom forecast as you plan your trip.
2. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans
There’s a distinct history-oriented trend to this list. The second-highest-rated U.S. tourist attraction by American tourists is the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, according to Casago’s study.
Located in the city’s Warehouse District, this popular museum is a short Uber ride or moderate walk from the French Quarter. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day (save for Mardi Gras, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), the museum gives visitors an in-depth look at the American experience in World War II. Catch exhibits focused on the European front, the Pacific theater and the efforts back home.
Depending on your preference, you can choose to take a guided or self-guided tour, or you can sit in on one of the museum’s multimedia shows. Tickets are $32.50 for adults, $27.50 for seniors and $20 for children, military/family members or students. Best of all, World War II veterans and their companions are free.
Rely on one of the museum’s itineraries. They’ll help you plan your visit and which exhibits to see. There are half-day, one-day and two-day itineraries, though the museum suggests a single, full day, which “allows you to see everything we have to offer.”
But some visitors believe just one day isn’t enough! “We were there for six hours, saw the 4D movie, took a two-hour guided tour and just barely skimmed the surface of this great museum,” one Tripadvisor reviewer writes. “It would take one day to get the lay of the land, since there are several different parts, then a second day to dig in to what you really want to see.”
Clearly, as you consider what to do on your next trip to New Orleans, the National World War II Museum is worth considering.
1. Central Park in New York City
Matt Burke 2012/Getty Images
Believe it or not, the No. 1 tourist attraction in America, as rated by Americans, is a park—New York City’s Central Park, to be exact. The nation’s most visited urban park (by far), Central Park receives some 42 million visitors annually. (According to Statista, Golden Gate Park, the second most visited in the United States, sees only 24 million visitors.)
A welcome attraction for budget-conscious visitors to the notoriously pricey Big Apple, it’s an 843-acre oasis from the bustling, noisy streets of Manhattan. In fact, “one can spend an entire peaceful day roaming its grounds,” says the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.
Travelers visiting the city might choose to use Central Park as a way to get some outdoor time. Families can take advantage of the 21 playgrounds spread throughout the park or wander through the Central Park Zoo. Visitors can also rent bikes, play sports or go for a jog, catch a concert or even attend a free Shakespeare in the Park performance.
If you’re looking to make this New York City spot more of a destination than a quick side attraction, try visiting the Central Park Conservatory Garden, the park’s formal garden area, which is made up of three distinct gardens. It’s a beautiful place for a stroll to see the plant life and the fall foliage.
“The park offers stunning scenic gardens, expansive lawns and a serene atmosphere that provides a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city,” one New Yorker wrote in a recent review. “Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll, a picnic in the grass or a bike ride along the lake, Central Park has something for everyone.”
Planning a trip that’s right for you
Following the crowd’s recommendation has led to some truly great vacations, but here’s a pro tip: Don’t just rely on studies, social media posts or a friend’s insistence that you “must” visit a certain attraction. Decide what’s most important to you and for your trip, including venturing off the beaten path to find those hidden-gem activities that give you a more authentic experience in the place you’re visiting.
At the same time, studies like Casago’s can help give you a good frame of reference as you plan a trip … with a little extra confidence that most people who visited these particular attractions enjoyed them.