Table of Contents
- 10. Salem, Massachusetts
- 9. St. Augustine, Florida
- 8. Plymouth, Massachusetts
- 7. Savannah, Georgia
- 6. Charleston, South Carolina
- 5. Williamsburg, Virginia
- 4. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
- 3. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- 2. Boston, Massachusetts
- 1. Washington, D.C.
America’s history is just as compelling as Europe’s, with a story that stretches back hundreds of years. From Native American civilizations to English settlers and critical wartime battles, the United States has a rich and complex past. In this article, we will explore the top 10 historical cities in the United States, where you can learn about our nation’s fascinating history and culture.
10. Salem, Massachusetts
Salem, Massachusetts, is infamous for the witch trials that took place there almost 350 years ago. The city’s dark history continues to fascinate and horrify people today, especially around Halloween. However, Salem’s history goes beyond witches. With its strong maritime ties and its popularity among pirates, Salem offers a unique historical experience. Exploring the city’s Heritage Trail is the best way to immerse yourself in its history. This red line takes you past the main attractions and is easily walkable.
Best Historic Attraction: Salem Witch Museum
The Salem Witch Museum is the city’s best historic attraction. Through 13 life-size dioramas, the museum tells the story of the infamous witch trials. It recreates the web of lies and intrigue that led to the Salem Witch Hunt, using real trial documents from 1692. The museum also explores the changing interpretations of witches, stereotypes, and modern witchcraft practices. Its eerie Gothic facade and the statue of Roger Conant, the founder of Salem, create an immersive experience.
9. St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the United States. Its history dates back to 1513, when explorer Ponce de Leon landed nearby and named the land “la Florida.” The city has many fascinating stories to tell, from Spanish settlers to infamous raids by Sir Francis Drake. Today, St. Augustine is a charming city with a mix of historic sites, mom-and-pop boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. St. George Street, the city’s central thoroughfare, is a must-visit for its colonial charm.
Best Historic Attraction: Castillo de San Marcos
Castillo de San Marcos, the only remaining 17th-century fort in the United States, is St. Augustine’s best historic attraction. Built with coquina, a type of limestone, the fort served as protection against foreign nations and pirates. Today, it offers visitors an opportunity to learn about the city’s military history. You can access the fort by trolley or on foot from the Colonial Quarter. Don’t miss the cannon-firing demonstrations, which are held multiple times a day. From the fort, you might even catch a glimpse of sails on the horizon.
8. Plymouth, Massachusetts
Plymouth, Massachusetts, is famous for being the birthplace of Thanksgiving, although the feast was not as romanticized as we imagine it today. The town is steeped in early colonial history, and a visit to Plymouth Rock is a must. However, Plymouth offers more than just a rock. Its quaint New England downtown is lined with colonial-style bed-and-breakfasts and historic homes of sea captains. Indulging in clam chowder at one of the town’s throwback-styled cafes and taverns is a must. To fully immerse yourself in America’s past, take a tour of the area.
Best Historic Attraction: Plimoth Plantation
Instead of just visiting Plymouth Rock, head to Plimoth Plantation for a more authentic and informative experience. The living-history museum takes visitors through a 17th-century English village and the Native American Wampanoag Homesite. These are meticulous recreations of the original sites, offering a glimpse into the daily life of pilgrims and Native Americans. Reenactors dressed in period clothing provide a modern perspective on society 400 years ago. Don’t miss grinding corn in a hollowed-out tree trunk mortar or exploring a traditional bark-covered hut.
7. Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia, was founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe. It was named after England’s King George II and became the state’s first city. Today, Savannah is a charming city that proudly wears its long history. With its moss-adorned oaks, blooming azaleas, and quaint squares, the city exudes Southern charm. Savannah is also known for its vibrant art scene, thanks to the Savannah College of Art and Design. Ghost tours are popular in the city, offering a chance to explore spooky graveyards and historic houses.
Best Historic Attraction: Forsyth Park
Forsyth Park is the heart of historic Savannah. This 30-acre space is within walking distance of many old houses and museums. It features the iconic Forsyth Fountain and numerous monuments from the Civil War and Spanish American War. The park is an ideal spot for a mid-day picnic, offering shade from towering oak trees, including the 300-year-old Candler Oak. The Garden of Fragrance is another unique feature, filled with scented flowers and plants for visually impaired travelers. It’s a sensory experience like no other.
6. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina, is known as the Holy City and is famous for its Southern charm and storied history. The city played a pivotal role in the start of the Civil War, with an attack on Fort Sumter by South Carolina secessionists. Today, visitors can enjoy the city’s historic sites, vibrant art scene, and culinary delights. A stroll down King Street will lead you to Southern outfitters, indulgent eateries, lively bars, and boutique hotels. Charleston’s Battery Park is a must-visit, with its rows of Antebellum-era mansions and panoramic views of the harbor.
Best Historic Attraction: Battery Park
Battery Park is home to rows of Antebellum-era mansions, offering a glimpse into old money opulence. At the tip of the neighborhood is the park itself, a shaded oasis with cannons, statues, and a large veranda. Several houses in Battery Park are open for tours, including Middleton Place, the Aiken-Rhett House Museum, and the Nathaniel Russell House Museum. These tours provide a closer look at historic residences and their well-preserved interiors. Don’t miss the walkaround porches that overlook the harbor.
5. Williamsburg, Virginia
Williamsburg, Virginia, was the second capital of the Virginia Colony and served as an early colonial hub and center of learning. Its College of William and Mary educated future Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler. Unlike other cities on this list, Williamsburg has stayed true to its pre-revolutionary history. The entire city is a living museum, allowing visitors to walk in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers. Williamsburg is also conveniently located near other historic centers like Jamestown and Yorktown.
Best Historic Attraction: Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg is a meticulously recreated living-history museum that takes visitors back to colonial times. The attraction features more than 20 guided and self-guided tours, covering a wide range of subjects. Visitors can interact with shopkeepers, politicians, soldiers, and other townspeople who represent real characters from Williamsburg’s past. The Governor’s Palace, Raleigh Tavern, and Capitol building are among the most popular sites. With so much to see and do, it’s recommended to purchase a multi-day pass to fully explore Colonial Williamsburg.
4. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is best known for its ties to the Civil War. The Gettysburg Battlefield, the site of the bloodiest battle in the war, is a must-visit for history buffs. It was a pivotal Union victory that saw the Confederacy lose 28,000 men. Gettysburg is also connected to another war – the Cold War. The Eisenhower National Historic Site explores President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s life and his role during the Cold War. In addition to its historical significance, Gettysburg offers mom-and-pop shops, antique stores, food tours, and countryside wineries.
Best Historic Attraction: Gettysburg Battlefield
The Gettysburg Battlefield at Gettysburg Military Park is a must-visit for history aficionados. The park honors the three-day battle with exhibits, guided field tours, and a special film narrated by Morgan Freeman. The Battle of Gettysburg oil painting is also an impressive sight. Don’t miss the David Wills House, where Abraham Lincoln finalized his Gettysburg Address, a speech that defined the mission of the war. Devil’s Den, with its large boulders used as Union battle posts, offers panoramic views of the field. Exploring the battlefield is a solemn and intriguing experience.
3. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, played a pivotal role in shaping American history. The city was settled by Native Americans around 8,000 BC and later named by William Penn, an English Quaker, in 1682. It became the center of the American revolution, where Thomas Paine distributed his influential work “Common Sense” and the Declaration of Independence was first heard. Philadelphia is home to iconic landmarks like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Beyond its historic sites, the city offers the Philadelphia Museum of Art, renowned for its extensive collection, and the Reading Terminal Market, one of the oldest markets in the country.
Best Historic Attraction: Independence Hall
Independence Hall is a must-visit in Philadelphia. This red-brick building was the meeting place of the Second Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War. It is where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted and signed. Independence Hall is often referred to as the birthplace of the United States. Visitors can learn about the building’s history and the characters who shaped it. The Assembly Room, where George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the continental army, is particularly significant. The decisions and documents that originated in Independence Hall have had a lasting impact on the nation.
2. Boston, Massachusetts
Boston, Massachusetts, is another Massachusetts city with a rich history. As a hotbed of revolutionary activity, Boston played a crucial role in American independence. The Freedom Trail is a popular route that takes visitors to the city’s most significant revolutionary sites, including the Massachusetts State House, the Old South Meeting House, and Paul Revere’s House. Beyond its historical institutions, Boston offers a vibrant culinary scene, beautiful brownstones, boutique shops, and world-class museums like the Boston Museum of Art. The city’s Rose Kennedy Greenway is a perfect spot for relaxation and outdoor activities.
Best Historic Attraction: Boston Common
Boston Common is a picturesque and historic park that should be on every visitor’s itinerary. As America’s oldest park, it has a rich past. Initially used for grazing livestock and Puritanical punishments, the park now offers recreational activities like ice skating in winter and outdoor theater shows in summer. The park features many monuments, including the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial and the Brewer Fountain. Boston Common is a major stop on the Freedom Trail and provides a tranquil escape in the heart of the city.
1. Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, is more than just a playground for politicians. It is a city with countless historic attractions that tell the story of America. From the White House and the Washington Monument to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Lincoln Memorial, there is no shortage of iconic landmarks to explore. In addition to its political significance, Washington, D.C., offers world-class museums, diverse dining options, and a vibrant arts scene. The city is a perfect destination for history enthusiasts.
Best Historic Attraction: National Mall
The National Mall is the heart of historic Washington, D.C. It is home to iconic monuments like the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Visitors can explore the mall and learn about American history, world history, and art history. Many of the city’s museums, including the Smithsonian museums, are located around the National Mall and offer free admission. The National Mall also features ample lodging and dining options for travelers of all budgets.
America’s historical cities offer a wealth of stories and experiences that rival those of Europe. From the witch trials in Salem to the birthplace of Thanksgiving in Plymouth, these cities are steeped in history and culture. Whether you’re interested in colonial America, the Civil War, or the birth of the nation, these destinations provide a world-class historical experience. So, pack your bags and embark on a journey through time in these 10 best historical cities in the United States.