The United States may still be considered a relatively young country in comparison to others, but even in nearly 250 years of modern history, America has seen its share of rich and fascinating histories. From the original British Thirteen Colonies to the Revolutionary War, to Spanish colonization to the Civil War and the Great Depression, the United States has been the site of many events that have enriched the country socially, culturally, and historically. The American cities are often the storytellers of this diverse, fascinating, and even tragic past. Full of heritage, charm, culture, and human marvels, these ten cities are some of the best places to visit for any history lover.
First settled in 1625, Boston is a true hub for everything Americana. Amongst the oldest European settlements in the country, Boston is a city of many historic firsts. Home to the first subway system, the first public school and library, and even the first public park, Boston was the center of several key events in the American Revolution. The Boston Massacre, Tea Party, and the Battle of Bunker Hill all shaped the fledgling nation, and history-loving tourists will undoubtedly be in heaven when visiting the “Beantown.” One must visit sites such as Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere House, and the historic neighborhood of Beacon Hill. Indeed even just a casual walk downtown and in Boston’s residential areas will be sure to be filled with a historical discovery and a firsthand encounter with some of America’s earliest days.
The capital city of the United States, Washington D.C., is a unique federal district that is steeped in valuable American history. With splendid wide boulevards, marbled buildings and monuments, and a wide array of museums and government offices, the city is the ideal place for history aficionados and sees up to 20 million visitors a year. Tourists will love a visit to the heart of American democracy and tours of such places as the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the towering Washington Monument and the National Mall are highlights of any trip to this city. One must Stop by the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials honoring two of the nation's greatest Presidents, pay one's respects at the Arlington National Cemetery, or visit any of the Smithsonian Museums. And, of course, a real history lover will not want to miss the chance to see the original "Declaration of Independence" preserved at the National Archives Building. In short, Washington D.C. is a history lovers mecca with so much to discover and become acquainted with!
New Orleans, Louisiana
There is truly nowhere in America as singularly unique as New Orleans. With a multilingual and multicultural historical foundation, La Nouvelle Orleans is full of distinct music, cuisine, dialects, and loads of French and Caribbean history. Well known for its French, Spanish, and Creole-style architecture, the historic core of New Orleans is the French Quarter which has been designated a National Historic Landmark. A hub for a unique array of musical styles, New Orleans, has also historically been the birthplace of various genres like jazz, blues, and Southern Gospel. And, of course, visitors will love any time spent during Mardi Gras and Carnival, where the famed Bourbon Street is a non-stop party infused with centuries of history and traditions.
Founded by English colonists in 1632, Williamsburg was the capital of the Virginia Colony until 1780 and was a major center for events leading to the outbreak of the American Revolution. Today many history-loving travelers undoubtedly have this city on their list of must-see places, especially the historic district known as Colonial Williamsburg. Part of an area called the Historic Triangle (that also includes Yorktown and Jamestown), which sees millions of visitors per year, the restored neighborhood of Williamsburg is an enchanting and utterly fascinating time machine into America’s founding days. With several hundred restored and rebuilt buildings from the 1700s, accurate street recreations, costumed historical interpreters all around, and authentic musical and cottage industry performances, this living museum is an extraordinary place to really experience what daily life was like just a few hundred years ago.
Once the capital of America, today, Philadelphia is often skipped over by tourists in the Eastern United States in favor of Washington or New York City. Yet, the “City of Brotherly Love” is an absolute must-see for a real encounter with history and the nation's foundations. Not only is Philadelphia deeply significant in US history, but it is also the site of several noteworthy places and events. Home of 67 National Historic Landmarks, Philadelphia was the first city to have a major hospital and was the first capital of the fledgling nation. Tourists will undoubtedly love a visit to Independence Hall and National Historical Park (where the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were first debated, drafted, and signed) and then a stopover at Betsy Ross House, where the first American flag was sown. The Benjamin Franklin Museum honors the city’s most famous son and Founding Father in the Old City district, complete with cobblestone streets and charming townhouses. And, of course, any trip to Philadelphia would never be complete without a snapshot of the eternal Liberty Bell and its iconic crack.
San Antonio, Texas
Founded in 1718 as a Spanish Mission, San Antonio is Texas' oldest municipality, full of the special and unique history of local State and national significance ranging several centuries. Widely known as the home of the Alamo Mission, San Antonio was an important battle site during the Texas Revolution in the 1830s, which ultimately led to the Mexican American War (1846-1848). Indeed the Alamo and its other surrounding Missions see up to four million visitors a year, making it one of the country's most well-known historical destinations. Part of the San Antonio Missions Historical Park, the area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Elsewhere in town, tourists can marvel at the Spanish Governor's Palace, the San Fernando Cathedral, and other local museums that highlight Spanish, Indigenous, and American history. To end a trip in San Antonio, a stroll along the famous River Walk, a pedestrian-only zone that leads visitors to some of the best stops in town, including the Museum of Art.
Charleston, South Carolina
A friendly and beautifully picturesque coastal city, Charleston was founded in 1670 and became one of the Thirteen Colonies' most prosperous settlements. Even after the American Revolution, the city held an important place in the new nation's economy, primarily as a major slave port. During the Civil War, Charleston, too, was quite significant. The Battle of Fort Sumter just outside the city was the first significant episode of the Civil War. History lovers who descend on this city of 150,000 inhabitants will thus encounter a firsthand experience with various episodes of America's past. From its colonial days, slave trading peak, and Civil War significance, several excellent museums, preserved buildings, and sites of national importance fill Charleston. Visit Fort Sumter for a unique insight into the beginnings of the Civil War, or take a tour of the beautiful antebellum mansions (including the Williams Mansion). A guided tour of several plantations offers a sad and enlightening experience into the daily lives of enslaved people.
The city of Baltimore was first incorporated in 1729, and today is a bustling city that any history lover will surely not want to miss. This city and the State of Maryland were part of the Thirteen Colonies, and Baltimore was an important city before, during, and after the American Revolution. Tourists can explore the Baltimore Maritime Museum to discover the unique sailing history of this region, as well as view detailed replicas and restorations of historic vessels like the USS Constellation, but perhaps the best known and most visited historical attraction in town is Fort McHenry. During the War of 1812 against the British, American soldiers successfully defended the site from the British navy, and in the Battle’s aftermath, a young patriot named Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the lyrics of the Star-Spangled Banner. See firsthand this unique preserved fort and its artillery, and even view a replica of the flag that flew that fateful day and that so roused Scott Key to write his poetry.
Atlanta is a major urban center in the Deep South that was an important site during the Civil War (1861-1865). Indeed it was eventually captured by the Union in 1864 and infamously burned during General Sherman’s March to the Sea. During the 20th century, Atlanta grew as an industrial hub, and for followers of modern American history, its legacy as a center of the Civil Rights Movement makes it a reason to want to visit. Stop by the moving Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, where such sites as King’s birthplace and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he was a pastor, are open to the public. Later a visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights traces the evolution of the American Civil Rights Movement, the life and work of Martin Luther King, and other important figures like Rosa Parks and Malcolm X.. Of course, a stroll in Atlanta’s Fox Theatre Historic District is both a fun and informative excursion for views of buildings of historical significance. Or perhaps enjoy a stay at the historic Georgian Terrace Hotel built in 1910!
San Diego, California
Frequently called the “Birthplace of California,” San Diego was the first site settled by Spanish colonists in the region in the 16th century. Established as a Mission, through the centuries, San Diego has been an important location during the rule of Spain, Mexico, and eventually the United States. For the history inclined tourist, San Diego is a place full of rich stories and events and a cultural mosaic of Latin and American traditions. Stop by the Old Town State Historic Park and the Spanish Village for a fascinating look at life in the 19th century; further down the California Mission Trail (a series of 21 Franciscan Missions built between the 18th and 19th centuries) will marvel anyone with interest in historical architecture. The Basilica San Diego De Alcala, constructed in 1769, is among the highlights. Finally, for those looking to relax in luxury while enjoying a historic ambiance, stay at the Hotel Del Coronado, a beachfront icon built in 1888 that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
The United States is a country full of unique history and culture spanning centuries. From English to French, to Spanish, to Mexican, and of course, Indigenous peoples, the history of America is as diverse as the modern country today. A visit to any of these 10 Cities is a great way to learn more about America’s history firsthand while marveling at the scope and wonder of human achievement through generations.