16 of the Best American Cities for History Buffs
History doesn’t have to be confined to the static pages of a book. By visiting these destinations, you can experience American history in real life and immerse yourself in our country’s fascinating past.
New York City
Although best known as the city that never sleeps, the Big Apple is also rich in American history. Take the ferry past the iconic Statue of Liberty to reach Ellis Island and its fascinating interactive exhibits exploring the country’s immigrant foundation. Back in Manhattan, head downtown to visit landmarks of the city’s Colonial past including Fraunces Tavern, which served as George Washington’s NYC headquarters during the Revolutionary War, the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House (now the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian), and Federal Hall where you can see the Bible that was used for Washington’s swearing in, along with other memorabilia. Stay at the historic Algonquin Hotel in the city’s Theater District and imagine what life must’ve been like as one of Manhattan’s literary and cultural elite back when the hotel opened in 1902. Check out these amazing facts about American history you never learned in school.
Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1780, and today Colonial Williamsburg, the most visited destination in the state, authentically recreates the time period in a perfectly restored village complete with costumed craftspeople and historically accurate reenactments of life during Colonial times. Nearby, visit Jamestown and Yorktown, which provide more background on the early years of American history—and don’t miss out on their stunning interactive museums and living history centers, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and James Fort at Jamestown Settlement. And remember: The city of Williamsburg is worthy of exploration in its own right. In recent years, entrepreneurial new businesses like the Virginia Beer Company, the Williamsburg Winery, and dozens of farm-to-table restaurants have popped up, guaranteeing you’ll be able to make more than a few discoveries of your own. For a historic stay, book the Kingsmill Resort to tour the spot where the Virginia Company colonists first stepped ashore in the New World. There, you’ll find the framework of one of the first buildings constructed in Virginia. Williamsburg is also one of the 30 must-see places in the U.S. to take your kids before they grow up.
America’s capital offers monuments to the nation at every turn. Reach out to your Congressional representatives before your visit to arrange tours of both the U.S. Capitol and the White House. On your own, stop at the Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial; pay tribute the country’s veterans at the memorials to the Vietnam, Korean, and World Wars; and learn more about the country’s history at the Smithsonian’s many museums, including the National Museum of American History, Museum of the American Indian, and National Museum of African American History, and more. Stay at the lovely Kimpton Hotel Monaco D.C., which was constructed in 1939 as the General Post Office of Washington D.C. by the same architect who designed the Washington Monument.
Immerse yourself in the country’s Colonial past and the founding of the nation in America’s first World Heritage City. Step into history at Independence Hall where the country’s founding fathers established the U.S. Constitution, cross the street to see the Liberty Bell, then follow the steps of history along the Historic American Revolution Trail through the city. Stay at the boutique Morris House hotel, a National Historic Landmark build in 1787 for the Morris family, who occupied it for more than 120 years.
Walk Boston’s Freedom Trail, an easy-to-follow 2.5-miles path marked by red lines in the road, to visit 16 Revolutionary War landmarks. The route starts at the Boston Common and takes in the Old South Meeting House, Paul Revere’s House, Old North Church, Bunker Hill Monument, the USS Constitution, and site of the Boston Tea Party among other history-steeped spots. Stay at the grand Fairmont Copley Plaza, which was built in 1912 on the original site of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Find out the answers to the 16 history questions everyone gets wrong.
Seneca Falls, New York
Seneca Falls was the home to the first women’s rights convention. Today, you can visit the National Women’s Hall of Fame, which honors bold women including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who fought for women’s equality. Then head to the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, a 6.8-acre park that was the site of the Seneca Falls Convention; it connects to the Votes For Women History Trail, a route that links a string of other historical sites in upstate New York. Be sure to leave time to visit Harriet Tubman Home in nearby Auburn, New York. It celebrates the life of the escaped African American slave who helped lead hundreds of other slaves to their freedom along the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War. Stay at the Gould Hotel, a 1919 lodge on the main drag. You’ll be inspired by these quotes from OG feminists that still resonate.
Take a horse and buggy ride through the original cobblestones of this impeccably preserved Southern charmer filled with Federal-era homes to reach Charles Town Landing Historic Park, the first permanent home for settlers in the Carolinas. From here, it’s just a short ferry ride to Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War rang out. For a luxurious getaway, stay at the Wentworth Mansion, a 21-room hotel built in 1865 for wealthy businessman Francis Silas Rodgers.
Follow the trail of the War of 1812 on the Star-Spangled Banner Trail, which highlights the tense battle when the British were held off at Fort McHenry. The site of American Flag flying over the fort after a 25-hour gun battle here inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. (Note: You can visit the flag at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in nearby Washington, D.C.) In addition to visiting the historic fort, other stops on the trail include Historic Flag House where Mary Pickersgill made the famous Star-Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry. History buffs will also want to see the Baltimore Maritime Museum and its historic vessels. Stay at the lavish Lord Baltimore hotel in the city center. Check out these 13 fascinating facts about the American flag.
New Castle, Delaware
Tracing its roots back to the mid-17th century, New Castle has preserved many of the historic sites that served an important role in The First State and its Revolutionary past. Among the highlights are the courthouse, William Penn’s landing place, and the historic Amstel House. New Castle is also an important stop on the Harriett Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, a 98-mile route traversing Delaware, that includes historic sites where Tubman led the Freedom Seekers on their way to safety and out of slavery in the 1800s.
St. Augustine, Florida
With a fascinating past and more than four centuries of history, St. Augustine was initially settled in 1513 after Juan Ponce de Leon landed on its Atlantic Coast when he was searching for the storied Fountain of Youth. He called it La Florida and claimed it for Spain. Today, St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest continuously inhabited city filled with European colonial architecture and the location of the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, the Castillo de San Marcos. Soak up even more of the Spanish influence at the Casa Monica Resort & Spa. The hotel, built in 1888, boasts original artwork and Moorish columns.
Taos, New Mexico
The perfectly preserved in time Taos Pueblo located three miles northeast of the heart of Taos, is the only living Native American community designated both as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The multi-story adobe buildings here have been continuously inhabited for more than 1,000 years, appearing much as they did when the first Spanish explorers arrived in Northern New Mexico in the mid-1500s and believed that the Pueblo was one of the fabled golden cities of Cibola. Today visitors can explore the Pueblo, part of a group of eight traditional Plains Pueblos, and learn more about the history of Native Americans in the Southwest; plan avisit to coincide if you can with annual feast days to experience traditional Native American dancing, food, and culture. Book the La Fonda Taos for a hotel that embraces its history.
One of the world’s most famous battle sites (and the most visited spot in Texas), the Alamo is celebrating its 300th birthday in 2018, as well as the 182nd anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo. To celebrate these milestones, visitors can now experience the infamous battle in augmented, virtual reality that sends them on a journey back in time when a small band of 188 Texan soldiers—including Davey Crockett—who attempted to defend their post against an army of 4,000 Mexicans led by General Santa Anna. Stay at the Crockett Hotel, located on the ground where Davy Crockett and his fellow Texans defended southeast palisade of the Alamo. Find out the iconic American landmarks that almost weren’t.
Civil Rights history is brought to life through Atlanta, which was known as “The City Too Busy to Hate.” History seekers will want to visit the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Park, which comprises several prominent locations including Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and King’s birthplace. A visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights is another fascinating stop to learn about American’s Civil Rights movement. Stay at the Georgian Terrace to experience the same luxury accomodations as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cark Gable, and Calvin Coolidge. Don’t miss these inspirational quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.
Founded by the French in 1718, ruled by the Spanish starting in 1763, this port city on the Mississippi was later acquired by the US as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 (after being ruled again by France for the two years prior to that). In addition to exploring the fascinating and completely unique amalgam of architecture and cultures this created in the Big Easy, especially in the Vieux Carre (or French Quarter), history buffs should seek out the Chalmette Battlefield, site of the Battle of New Orleans between the United States and Great Britain. Another don’t miss is the acclaimed National World War II Museum. For a unique experience, stay at the Inn at the Old Jail, which is exactly what it sounds like. The charming little building was erected as a New Orleans police jail and patrol station in 1902, then converted into a library and then a community center. It was lovingly restored as an inn after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
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A visit to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument is a memorable trip for anyone interested in American history. It explores one of the most pivotal moments in US history: the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent entry of the United States into World War II. An over-water memorial stands as a tribute to the brave soldiers who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor on the USS Arizona which is visible just 6-feet below the water’s surface. You can also visit two other WWII ships at the harbor here: The submarine USS Bowfin and the battleship USS Missouri.
The first Spanish missionaries settled in San Diego, where California’s colonial history began. Old Town State Historic Park and Spanish Village provides a look at early settler life in the 1800s., and the park’s Basillica San Diego de Alcala is also the start of the California Mission Trail, a series of 21 Franciscan missions built in the late 1700s and early 1800s that hug the coast all the way up to San Francisco and helped blaze the trail of the country’s western settlement. Stay at the Hotel Del Coronado and take the hotel’s history tour to learn more about the resort’s history, legends, and infamous ghost. Read on for 50 fascinating facts about each of the 50 U.S. states.