One of the most popular destinations on the planet, the US is simply jam-packed with great attractions. And with so much on offer, it can be hard to decide what to do, where to go and which are the very best US tourist attractions to see.
So whether you’re planning on spending your time in America’s dazzling cities or taking a road trip through its vast open country, you will never be short of incredible tourist attractions to visit in the USA. To kick off, we’ve put together a selection of some of the most famous tourist attractions of the United States in the form of our Top 10 US attractions. Some are iconic and form the backdrop of many movies, while others are lesser known but equally impressive. If you have time to see more, check out our larger list of historic sites in the US.
What are the best tourism sites in the US?
Dominating the entrance of New York Habour is the Statue of Liberty, the most famous symbol of freedom in America and one of the most popular sights for tourists in the USA. At a total height of 92.99 metres, Lady Liberty as she is known is one of the tallest women in the world and by far the most impressive (sorry Hilary). Given to the country by the French in 1886 to celebrate the centennial of the signing of the US Declaration of Independence, the copper and steel goddess has welcomed millions of immigrants ever since. She was designed by French artist Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi and engineered by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame, while her pedestal was created by the Americans.
In times gone by, most people who found themselves here were desperate to escape from Alcatraz, today however we’d recommend an escape to Alcatraz. An imposing island just off the coast of San Francisco, Alcatraz is home to the most famous prison in America. Initially discovered by a Spanish explorer in 1775, Alcatraz Island served as a US army base from 1853. A decade later it became a Union stronghold during the American Civil War. It was at this time that the island was first used as a prison and over the years it evolved into a network of sites to accommodate an increasing number of inmates. The most famous of these were the gangsters Al Capone, Robert Stroud and George Kelly. As sombre as a trip to Alcatraz sounds, it’s actually very fun, not to mention a much-needed break from the hills of San Fran. Hugely popular with visitors, its fame, its history and its sheer scale means it’s one of the most widely-recognised tourist attractions in the United States.
Military history enthusiasts will find their calling at Gettyburg Battlefield, a place synonymous with American history and one of the most popular US tourist attractions – both with Americans themselves and with foreign visitors. The Battle of Gettysburg took place between 1 and 3 July 1863. Resulting in over 51,000 casualties, it was one of the deadliest battles in US history. Gettysburg marked a significant turning point in the war and a victory for the Union and today visitors can walk in the footsteps of the soldiers who fought here. As well as the battlefield, visitors can explore the Gettysburg National Military Park which provides answers to anything you ever wanted to know about the Civil War via thousands of monuments, markers and memorials.
If any building has come to define America it would be the White House. Elegant and awe-inspiring at the same time, the White House is the destination for anyone in or near Washington. Original construction began in October 1792 and it housed the first ‘first family’ in 1800, that of President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams. Since then, it has been the seat of the US government and residence of presidents for over 200 years. The mind boggles just thinking about all the monumental decisions that have been made within its many walls. Today it is the cornerstone of any visit to America’s capital city and will appear in pretty much every list of top ten tourist attractions in the United States you can find. One interesting fact of many: while white in name, the grey-coloured sandstone walls were not painted white in colour until after 1814, after the British set fire to the building during the War of 1812.
The US has always been associated with waves of new arrivals setting out to find a new life and to really understand why that is, you need to visit Ellis Island. Located in Upper New York Bay, Ellis Island was the entry point into the United States for over 12 million immigrants between 1892 and 1954. Today statisticians estimate as many as half of all US citizens can trace their lineage to the immigrants of Ellis Island, making it one of the America’s most important tourist sights. It’s been unofficially called the “Island of Tears” because two percent of migrants were refused entrance to the US at Ellis, but we think it also deserves the title “Island of Cheers” due to its prominent place within the history of the United States, and the informative museum which outlines all of this.
Perhaps the most surprising of all the tourist attractions in the United States is Mesa Verde. Breathtakingly beautiful and full of ancient wonder, Mesa Verde contains a stunning collection of Native American cliff dwellings that could easily win the accolade of best national park in the United States. No wonder then that it was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1978. Mesa Verde – which was once the home of the Pueblos, a Native American people who lived there for over 700 years – is dotted with over 4,000 archaeological treasures. Our personal favourites are the 600 well preserved cliff dwellings, which date all the way back to 600 AD. Made of mortar, sandstone and wooden beams, these dwellings spread across the incredible landscape to provide a sight that is both fascinating and beautifully picturesque.
Where did modern America begin? The answer is Historic Jamestowne. This is the site of the first permanent British settlement in North America, established in 1607, and home to the legend of John Smith and Pocahontas. While their romance might be dead, Historic Jamestown remains very much alive and the sheer number of visitors mark it out as one of the leading US tourist attractions. Situated on the banks of the James River in Virginia, visitors can enjoy walking tours of the premises and learn about the settlement. But don’t be fooled by Jamestowne’s pleasant appearance; the first settlers’ endured a bitter struggle for survival – that Jamestowne exists at all is a remarkable feat. With its pivotal role during the American Revolution and American Civil War as well, Historic Jamestowne is a visit that will stir the imagination.
As important an American tourist attraction as you will find anywhere in the country, Independence Hall is the place where the nation declared independence from Great Britain on 4 July 1776. As a result of these momentous events, America took a huge step to becoming an independent nation – oh and today everyone in the US now enjoys a national holiday full of fireworks and general festivity too! It was here that the Declaration of Independence was signed, as was the Constitution of the United States, later in 1787. It’s therefore one the biggest historical heavyweights in our list of tourist attractions in the USA. It’s also part of the Independence National Historical Park, which encompasses the important sites of Congress Hall and Liberty Bell Centre, making it the perfect start to any tour of Philadelphia.
Martin Luther King Jr dreamed of a world with equality for all. Today, his dream lives on at the Martin Luther King Jr National Site in Atlanta, Georgia and ranks as one of the most moving and emotive tourist attractions of the United States. Located on the same block as his birthplace and boyhood home, this museum is dedicated to commemorating the life of the leader of the American civil rights movement. The informative space chronicles the various battles won and those that are still ongoing – both within America and outside of it. As a result it is one of the most important contributions to conversations about human rights and an essential stop for anyone who wants to understand the darker side of America’s past.
Boston is teaming with history and any visit to this Massachusetts city would be incomplete without viewing the Bunker Hill Monument, an obelisk standing 221 feet tall. One of the most imposing and famous tourist attractions in the United States, the memorial commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill, which took place on 17 June 1775 between the British army and the militias of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island early in the American Revolution. You can enter the Bunker Hill Monument and climb to the top, where you’ll be able to observe stunning panoramic views across the city. But be warned: with no lift and 270 steps, the tour up and down is not for the faint hearted.