30 Historic Cities in the US to Explore on Your Next US Getaway

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Looking to explore a new corner of the US this summer? If you’re a history buff, you’ll want to make sure to add a few of these to your USA bucket list. Here are thirty of the best historic cities in the US to visit on your next trip!

 

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The Best Historic Cities in the US

 

 

The Best Historic Cities in the US

 

While people may not generally thing that the US is that old, and it isn’t by world standards, there is still over four hundred years of history in some of our cities (and much more if you look at the people who were here long before the USA came along). Here are some of the best historic cities in the US you can visit for a weekend or longer to dive into American history.

 

Atlanta, Georgia

 

USA - Georgia - Historical building, Atlanta Georgia State Capital in USA

 

A historic city in the US to visit, especially in the South, is Atlanta, Georgia. The state of Georgia itself is full of history, from its inclusion in the original 13 colonies, to its importance during the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.

 

Atlanta got its start in 1836 when the state built a railroad to the Midwest and created a terminus location, attracting citizens to live and work nearby. After multiple rail lines began intersecting here, Atlanta became a distribution hub for the entire Southern US, leading to its being a main target during the Civil War. In the 1960s, Atlanta was a key location in the Civil Rights Movement due to its ties to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Although there are so many historic sites to see, for a diverse mix of history throughout the city, here are three must-visit sites:

 

Atlanta History Center: A museum, gardens, a historic mansion from the Jazz Age, and the Margaret Mitchell House, this site has something of interest for everyone.

 

Historic Oakland Cemetery: A tranquil and green space in the heart of the city, this cemetery shows the history of Atlanta through the citizens, prominent and obscure, who are buried here.

 

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park: For history lovers who also enjoy the outdoors, many of Atlanta’s hiking trails are full of Civil War history, including this spot to learn more about the pivotal Atlanta Campaign.

 

When visiting the Southern United States, history lovers should add Atlanta, Georgia to the list of Can’t-miss stops.

 

Contributed by Jordan Bradford from The Solo Life.

 

For more on the history of Atlanta, check out this overview of the Margaret Mitchell House and the Ponce City Market, plus these great Atlanta activities.

 

 

Birmingham, Alabama

 

USA - Alabama - Birmingham - 16th Street Baptist Church

 

Birmingham Alabama is one of the most historic cities in the USA primarily because of its importance in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. 
 
Founded in 1871, Birmingham was the brainchild of a company formed by owners of cotton plantations, railroads, and banks. Named after a major industrial city in England, these businessmen wanted to build a city that was focused on the industry in Alabama. The location for the city was picked based on its proximity to the raw ingredients for making steel. The city eventually grew so fast that it got nicknamed “Magic City” by the 20th century. 
 
Among the newcomers to the city were African Americans who fled the countryside and came to Birmingham seeking mining and factory jobs. In the mid 20th century, along with local civil rights leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. used Birmingham as a base for passive resistance to segregation. These civil rights campaigners actively worked towards civil rights for African Americans which upset the white supremacists in the city. 
 
Unfortunately, the KKK became so active in Birmingham by the 1950s that they were bombing African American communities regularly. The city got a new nickname – “Bombingham”.  The most infamous was when four little girls attending church at the 16th Street Baptist Church were attacked. Their passing tragedy shocked the nation and lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
 
Downtown Birmingham nowadays is having an urban resurgence with lots of cool restaurants and bars leading the way for a hip young crowd. There are also three important historic sites to visit in Downtown Birmingham which are related to the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham
 
These historic sites are conveniently located together in the Civil Rights District with the Civil Rights Institute being the hub of the area. The Civil Rights Institute is a museum and educational center documenting the struggle for Civil Rights in the USA. Across the street, Kelly Ingram Park has a walking path with statues setting out the different events that happened in Birmingham during the Civil Rights era.
 
One set of statues is the four girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and who are positioned facing the church across the street. The 16th Street Baptist Church has a plaque commemorating where the bomb went off. Around these three main places, there are other sites related to the civil rights movement as well. 

 

For more on the history of Birmingham, check out this wonderful overview of Birmingham’s role in the Civil Rights Movement and what to do in historic Birmingham.

 

Contributed by Shobha George from Just Go Places

 

 

Boston, Massachusetts

 

USA - Massachusetts - Acorn Street, Boston

 

Boston is an amazing historical city to visit. Founded in 1630, Boston has a long and impactful history. Originally settled as a Puritan colony, its first governor, John Winthrop, made sure to focus on Puritan ideals and education, thus founding America’s first public school in Boston. The area remained British America’s largest colony until the mid-1700s. 

 

Later, Boston became a focal point in the American Revolution and many important events of the time occurred in the area. 1770 brought about the Boston Massacre where the British Army attacked several civilians due to being harassed by a mob of citizens. Later, when the British passed the Tea Act, a tax on tea, citizens responded by dumping tea in the Boston harbor.

 

This later became known as the Boston Tea Party. Eventually, the American Revolution began in the areas of Lexington and Concord, located near Boston. During the Revolution, Boston saw the Battle of Bunker Hill which led to a fight over Boston. After the Revolution, Boston flourished into the city it is today. 

 

Present-day visitors can see many of these historical sites by following the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile long trail that connects 16 historical sites. Make sure not to miss the Bunker Hill Monument and Museum which commemorates the battle. Climb 297 stairs to the top for awesome views of Boston. One last must-see site is the John F. Kennedy Library. This museum is dedicated to the life of President Kennedy and his family’s influence in Boston. 

 

By Francesca Makana of Homeroom Travel

 

For more on the history of Boston, check out what happened at the Boston Witch Trials.

 

 

Charleston, South Carolina

 

USA - South Carolina - Historical downtown area of Charleston, South Carolina, USA at twilight.

 

Charleston is a notable historic American city and the first site of the English colonization of South Carolina.  If you have a passion for history, a visit to the Holy City is definitely for you.

 

Charleston was originally founded in 1670 by English colonists as “Charles Towne”, with the original settlement being located on the left bank of the Ashley River.  In 1680, the city was moved to its present site, on the peninsula between the Cooper and Ashley Rivers, and renamed Charleston in 1783.

 

Charleston evolved to be the most important port city in the South. Much trade was done with the Caribbean, exporting goods such as indigo and rice.  This commercial activity, along with the slave trade, brought Charlestonians a lot of wealth. 

 

Notable historical events in Charleston include being held by the British during the Revolutionary War from 1780 to 1782, firing the first shot of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, and a devastating earthquake of magnitude 7.6 in 1886. Three historical sites that every visitor should check out Fort Sumter which was the site where the Civil War began and the Old Exchange which has been used as a customs house, post office, city hall, military headquarters, and today a museum.

 

Contributed by Theresa of Fueled By Wanderlust

 

 

Chicago, Illinois

 

Chicago

 

Founded in 1830, Chicago, Illinois grew quickly because of its waterways and central location that were well situated for trade and transporting goods. By the 1850s, it had established itself as the world’s largest grain port and was populated heavily by European immigrants, continuing to grow as a hub of commerce in the Midwest.
 
In 1886, the Haymarket riot was a historic protest and clash when workers striking in support of an 8-hour workday were interrupted by a bomb that hit both civilians and police officers, affecting labor in the nation for years to come. 
 
After World War 1, Chicago saw an increase in African American residents who built a vibrant culture and developed the local blues & jazz scene. In the 1930s, Chicago became well known for its organized crime, with famous gangsters Al Capone and John Dillinger dominating the newspaper headlines.
 
Can’t miss historic sites include Haymarket square, where there is a memorial statue commemorating the Haymarket riot and the protesting workers,  Biograph Theatre, where infamous gangster John Dillinger was shot by the FBI, and the  Chicago Cultural Center, the former public library built in the late 1890s was influenced by the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and is a stunning display of glass art and unique architecture.
 
There are also some great Chicago museums if you want to see more local history as showcased in their robust museum culture and exhibits.
 
 
 
Contributed by Stephanie from Explore More Clean Less.

 

 

Cincinnati, Ohio

 

USA - Ohio - Smale Riverfront Park in Cincinnati, Ohio next to the John A Roebling Suspension Bridge
 
 
Cincinnati, Ohio is one of America’s most beautiful historic cities. Situated on the Ohio River, Cincinnati was an important cite on the Underground Railroad, a manufacturing hub where beautiful architecture and bridges, and a home for thousands of Holocaust survivors after WWII. 
 
 
When you visit Cincinnati, do not miss the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center — a museum and memorial overlooking the Ohio River with a beautiful presentation of the history of the Underground Railroad and its heroes (best for ages 12+). 
 
 
Just across the way is the historic, beautiful Roebling Bridge where you can take a 10-minute walk over the river into Kentucky. There you can also visit one of the USA’s most beautiful Cathedrals, modeled after Notre Dame.
 
 
Lastly, don’t miss the Cincinnati Museum Center. Built into Cincinnati’s iconic Art Deco train terminal, it now houses the only Holocaust museum in the country located in the space it memorializes: the train terminal where countless Jewish survivors stepped off the train into their new lives after the war.
 
 
Contributed by Cate Michelle of Sacred Wanderings
 
 

Cleveland, Ohio

 

USA - Ohio - Cleveland - A Cleveland sign, one of three in the city, overlooking downtown from the near west side

 

Cleveland, Ohio is a fascinating historic American city to visit. Located on Lake Erie, one of the five Great Lakes as well as the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, Cleveland was founded in 1796 by Moses Cleaveland.
 
The city was built in this location due to its proximity to both the lake and river which made it a manufacturing hub for industry and a powerful trade route.
 
After the Civil War, Cleveland saw rapid growth in industry and was where John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil.
 
Cleveland then has seen many changes throughout time and interesting history tied to the Prohibition, sports, economic growth and loss, and the famous Cuyahoga River catching on fire due to industrial pollution.
 
Some of the oldest historic landmarks to visit in Cleveland include the Cleveland Museum of Art which dates back to 1916, Severance Hall where the Cleveland Orchestra is based and was considered one of the big five American orchestras founded in 1918.
 
One of our absolute favorite historic landmarks doubles as a really fun thing to do in Cleveland. Visiting the first microbrewery in Cleveland, The Great Lakes Brewery in the Ohio City neighborhood.
 
Each of their beers is named after a historical event or person from Cleveland and their bar has an original bullet hole from prohibition officer Elliot Ness himself. You can see it today, just ask when you visit, it’s literally on the bar.

 

Contributed by Megan from Bobo and Chichi

 

 

Fort Worth, Texas

 

Texas - Fort Worth - Two angel sculptures with trumpet horns on the front facade of the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, TX taken during the twilight hour

 

For history lovers who are looking for a taste of the Old West, Fort Worth, Texas is a great place to visit. With a rich and fascinating history, Fort Worth was once a popular stop along the Chisholm Trail, the primary trail used by cowboys to drive cattle overland from Texas to Kansas. The city grew quickly and became somewhat of a hub for ranching and cattle raising in the United States. Although now a bustling metropolitan with nearly a million residents, cowboy culture is still very prevalent in Fort Worth.

 

Look no further than the popular city center known as Sundance Square for a reminder of the city’s cultural roots. A 3-story mural dedicated to the Chisholm Trail commemorates Fort Worth’s important role in the cattle industry in the late 1800s. But perhaps the best place to get a real glimpse of what the city was like when it first started is the historic Fort Worth Stockyards.

 

The stockyards offer visitors an authentic cowboy experience. It is the only place in the United States where you can watch a real cattle drive through the streets twice a day. For another glimpse at Fort Worth in the mid-1800s, visit the Log Cabin Village.

 

Often overlooked by visitors, this historic site is one of the best things to do in Fort Worth with kids. Actors in authentic period clothing showcase what life was like on the frontier in a way that will have children and adults alike interested in learning more about Fort Worth’s incredible history.

 

Contributed by Melissa from Parenthood and Passports 

 

 

Miami, Florida

 

USA - Florida - Miami - Gardens of Vizcaya and the Main house

 

Miami is more commonly known for its beaches, but the city has a lot of history on account of its Hispanic influence. Miami was first settled by Native American tribes until the Spanish came to conquer Florida for Spain in the 1500s.
 
The city’s Hispanic culture is being celebrated during the Calle Ocho Festival, which started in 1978 as a way for immigrants who came over from Cuba to express themselves and has been going on yearly since. It is also a part of the Carnival celebrations in the city, commonly concentrated in the Little Havana area. 
 
The top three historic sites to visit while in the city is the Venetian Pool, located in the Coral Gables neighborhood. It was originally built in the 1920s, it is still a public pool open for people to visit and swim in. It has great grottos and at the time it was built, it was one of the biggest public swimming pools.
 
Another place to visit is the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Originally a private villa owned by a businessman, James Deering, it is now open to the public so one can see what it looks like to live as a wealthy merchant from the 1920s. The gardens are modeled after European gardens and are a popular place for photoshoots.
 
Lastly, the most iconic and historic place to visit in Miami is the art deco buildings along Miami Beach. The tourist information desk provides pamphlets about the buildings that dot the district, as well as how they were conserved. 
 
Contributed by Ruby from A Journey We Love
 
 

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

 

USA - Wisconsin - Milwaukee Red lighthouse at sunset on Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, WI

 

If you are a history buff, you shouldn’t miss Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest city. Before the first Europeans arrived, People had lived there for more than 13,000 years. At that time Milwaukee was neutral ground shared by several American Indian tribes. Fr. Jacques Marquette left the first written record of Milwaukee in 1674 and many other French settlers documented Milwaukee in their writings.
 
The city’s modern history began in 1795 when fur trader Jacques Vieau (1757-1852) built a post along a bluff on the east side, overlooking the Milwaukee and Menomonee rivers.
 
Milwaukee quickly became a cultural melting pot when the first immigration wave of German settlers arrived. Still, nowadays you can enjoy some of the finest German cuisines in Milwaukee: beer brats, butter burger, cheese curds… All of them are a legacy of the presence of German settlers.
 
If you are wondering where to stay in Milwaukee, I recommend staying in downtown since it’s here where you can find some of the most important historic sites of Milwaukee: The Basilica of St. Josaphat, the Central Library and the City Hall
 
Contributed by Paulina Rubia from Paulina on the Road

 

For more, check out the best things to do in Milwaukee.

 

 

Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

Minneapolis

 

 The origin of Minneapolis, Minnesota was spurred by the proximity of Fort Snelling, the first major United States military presence in the area, and by its location on Saint Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River, which provided power for sawmills and flour mills.

 

The city’s early development focused on sawmills, but flour mills eventually became dominant. The food industry spurred the development of railroads and banks, as well as the foundation of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange.

 

As the city grew, the culture included arts institutions such as the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the University of Minnesota, and a famous park and trail system centered on the Mississippi River and the chain of large lakes that runs down the west side of the city. (Minneapolis has more parkland per capita than any other city in the US.)

 

Minneapolis remains a center of banking and industry. The two largest original milling companies, General Mills and the Pillsbury Company, now merged under the General Mills name. 

 

The city has extensively redeveloped the riverfront on both sides of the river, which now hosts parkland, biking and walking paths, the Mill City Museum housed in a ruined Pillsbury flour mill, and the world-famous Guthrie Theater. Many old grain elevators and warehouses have turned into pleasant restaurants and shopping areas.

 

If history is your thing, be sure to visit the Mill City Museum, Historic Fort Snelling, and the home of railroad pioneer James J. Hill (in Saint Paul.)

 

Contributed by Tom Bartel from Travel Past 50

 

For more, check out the best free things to do in Minneapolis. 

 

 

Mobile, Alabama

 

USA - Alabama - Mobile - Historic Downtown Mobile, Alabama during a Warm Day

 

While it’s now part of Alabama, when Mobile was founded by the French in 1702 it was the original capital of French Louisiana. Much of the city’s French heritage is still visible in its architecture and local festivals. Mardi Gras is a major celebration in Mobile, and the locals will proudly tell you that theirs is the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the US!

 

The French capital was later moved to Biloxi and then New Orleans and Mobile changed hands several times over the years. In 1780, it was captured by the Spanish during the Battle of Fort Charlotte.

 

That fort, now known as Fort Condé, still stands today and is one of the premier historical attractions in Mobile, Alabama. Others not to be missed include the USS Alabama, a decommissioned battleship that is now permanently berthed in Mobile Bay as a museum ship.

 

Thanks to its strategic location at the confluence of the Mobile River and Mobile Bay, Mobile played a key role in the slave trade, and the surrounding area was filled with cotton plantations that were run on slave labor.

 

Some of the mansions of its wealthy residents, such as the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion, are now open to the public. These mansions, and Bellingrath Gardens outside of town, are especially beautiful in the spring when the azaleas are in bloom. Local high school girls dress up as southern belles in celebration of the Azalea Trail Festival.

 

Contributed by Wendy Werneth from The Nomadic Vegan.
 
 

New Orleans, Louisiana

 

USA - Louisiana - Old New Orleans Building with Balconies

 

New Orleans celebrates its history like no other city in America.  Not only is the past in New Orleans apparent at every turn, but it is embraced and enjoyed as part of this city’s vibrant culture.  New Orleans’ history can be found throughout the city in the incredible architecture, the fascinating cemeteries, and the cobblestone streets. 

 

Originally founded in for the French crown in 1682, the city was founded in 1718 by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville and then became a French colony is 1723.  Spain then took control of the area in 1763 making New Orleans this fabulous mix of French and Spanish cultures. 

 

Of course, you cannot talk about New Orleans’ history and not include the pirates.  With New Orleans being a major port town and therefor a center for trade, pirates made their way to New Orleans as well.  The most famous of these is Jean Lafitte and his brother, Pierre. New Orleans also played an integral role in the Civil War, World War II, the birth of jazz, and of course Mardi Gras. 

 

Today, visitors flock to New Orleans to experience this history.  Famous sites include Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, one of the oldest structures housing a bar in the United States.  Music lovers will not want to miss Preservation Hall, a national landmark building celebrating the development of music in America.  Don’t miss St. Louis Cathedral while in New Orleans also.  This iconic structure is the oldest continually operating cathedral in the United States. 

 

There is so much history and so many things to do in New Orleans your options are endless.  

 

Contributed by Michelle Snell of That Texas Couple

 

 

New York City, New York

 

USA - New York - Statue of Liberty from above

 

New York City does not need any introduction, but what events lead NYC to become the metropolis as we know it today?

 

The first inhabitants of what know today as NYC were native Americans called the Lenape people. But with the first European settlement of the Dutch in 1624, the native Americans were driven away or murdered, which is why there are hardly any historic marks about the pre-European settlers.

 

Originally NYC was called New Amsterdam, but when the British took over in 1665 they changed its name to New York. Fast forward to 1810, when New York became the largest city in the US, a title it still lives up to today.

 

Ever since European settlement, NYC was a popular destination for Europeans, a city of hope, dreams, and opportunities. All of them moved through immigration on Ellis Island and after 1886 everyone was greeted by the enormous Statue of Liberty, a national symbol of freedom. Nowadays a visit to NYC is not complete without a visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

 

The completion of Central Park in 1876 marks another historic event in the US. It was the first urban designed park in the US. Currently, it’s the most visited park in the US and a must-see on any NYC trip!

 

The most recent major event in the history of NYC was the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. When two planes flew into the twin towers, and over 2500 people died. The memorial and museum dedicated to this tragic event are two more sights that should be included in any NYC itinerary.

 

Contributed by Lara from Both Feet On The Road

 

 

For more on the history of New York City, check out How to Visit the Statue of Liberty, a History of Central Park, a History of the Brooklyn Bridge, and What Happened to the Old Penn Station. To explore further afield, check out the best historic towns in New York state.

 

 

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

 

USA - Oklahoma - Oklahoma City - Tower Theater Neon Lights in Oklahoma City.

 

Oklahoma City was settled during the Oklahoma Landrun when land that was given to Native Americans was revoked and redistributed to white settlers to farm. The city didn’t become the capital of Oklahoma until after the territory became the 46th state.

 

While I love Oklahoma City, you can’t help but notice that our history is riddled with dark incidents back to the city’s founding and beyond. History buffs will want to learn about both traditional state history as well as the real history of what happened to the Native American populations that were here before. While the Land Run is exciting in theory, you also need to keep your eye on the cruelty that happened along the way.

 

You’ll also want to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which is a memorial dedicated to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. While this is a popular OKC photo spot, make sure to be extremely respectful while visiting as this is a solemn place.

 

There is also some great twentieth-century history to explore here. Since Oklahoma City is one of the best major cities on Route 66, there is a lot of great roadside kitsch as well as popular attractions like the Gold Dome and the Milk Bottle Building.

 

Editor’s Choice

 

 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 

USA - Pennsylvania - Philadelphia - Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

 

Philadelphia plays a significant role in American History. William Penn founded the city in 1682, and, about 50 years later, the city hosted the first Assembly meeting to discuss the rights of the colonists. In 1776, Philadelphia became the “Birthplace of America,” thanks to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
 
 
You can spend a day in Philadelphia visiting many of the historical landmarks, like Independence Hall and The Liberty Bell. However, the City of Brotherly Love offers so much more!

 

First, while you are in the “Old City” neighborhood, make a point to visit Franklin Court on Market Street, between 3rd and 4th Streets. Street-side, visitors will find the first (and still operating!) United States Post Office. There is also a historic printing press with live demonstrations. Inside the court stands an outline of Dr. Franklin’s residence, as well as a museum dedicated to the inventor and statesman.

 

Another often overlooked landmark is the Christ Church Burial Grounds, where several signers of the Declaration of Independence are interred. Located at 5th and Arch Streets, you can enter and explore the grounds for a small fee, or take a guided tour.

 

Across town, near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, sits the Eastern State Penitentiary. Located at Fairmount Avenue and 21st Street, this prison has housed numerous criminals since its opening in 1829, including Al Capone! The prison ceased operation in 1970 and now offers daily tours, as well as its famous “Terror Behind the Walls” Halloween event.

 
Contributed by Lauren Stites from Where the Wild Kids Wander
 

For more on the history of Philadelphia, check out this history of Philadelphia’s Elfreth’s Alley and how to visit Independence Hall.

 

 

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

 

USA - Pittsburgh - View of historic Duquesne Incline car and Pittsburgh panorama from the observation deck

 

One of the most interesting historical cities to visit in the United States in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Founded in 1758, the city is home to three rivers, which have played an important role in its history, along with its abundance of natural resources.  The city played an important role in United States history, from the French and Indian War to the American Civil War. But it is most recognized for its role as an industrial center for coal mining and steel production. 

 

Through the 1900s, Pittsburgh became home to a large influx of new residents immigrating from Europe, through Ellis Island, who formed many of the city’s patchwork neighborhoods.  The diverse ethnic heritage reflecting the immigrant history of many of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods are still present in the city’s character today.

 

When steel mills and coal mines closed for the most part in the 1970s and 80s, the city reinvented itself to become a hub for education, medicine, small manufacturing, and research.  It is home to its beloved sports teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. It is also home to the Heinz food products, which are most known for their ketchup. 

 

History buffs would love a visit to the Heinz History Center for an immersive historical experience. Affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, this interactive attraction includes Kidsburgh – a kids-only, interactive play zone, antique vehicles, and collections from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.   

 

The Duquesne Incline is also a historical experience like no other.  Dating back to 1877, this incline represents one of the forms of transportation that used to be more common in the city. At the top, you can enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of Pittsburgh from above.

 

Industrial historians will enjoy the Rivers of Steel attractions which include three historic landmarks: The Carrie Blast Furnaces, The Bost Building, and W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop.

 

Amusement park enthusiasts and historians would love Kennywood Park, one of the oldest theme parks in America.  Many of the park’s wooden rollercoasters are still in service today.

 

Contributed By Keri from Bon Voyage With Kids

 

 

Portland, Oregon

 

USA - Oregon - Iconic Portland, Oregon Old Town sign with an outline of Oregon and a stag

 

The city of Portland, Oregon was not incorporated until 1851 so it’s not one of the oldest cities in America. However, it still has some interesting historic sights. The area was claimed by Overton and Lovejoy, in 1843 and was officially given the name of Portland in 1845. The story goes that the name was chosen by the toss of a coin with the alternative being Boston.

 

Despite being the largest and arguably best-known city in Oregon it is not the state capital. That claim goes to Salem. Portland was also not always the attractive city it is today. In 1873 a major fire destroyed a large portion of the downtown and in 1889 a newspaper dubbed it the “most filthy city in the Northern States.” 

 

It wasn’t really until 1905 that Portland started to come into its own. The turning point was being the host city to the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition world’s fair. The event attracted 3 million people and within five years the population had doubled. 

 

Visitors today can seek out several historic sights. The Benson Bubblers are 52 drinking fountains scattered throughout the city. Originally there were 20 of them placed by Simon Benson in 1912 when he found out that his workers were drinking beer all day as there was no access to fresh drinking water. Ironically, craft breweries in Portland are now the city’s claim to fame.

 

Old Town Chinatown is full of history. It was the original downtown core and is now listed as a National Historic Site with old cast-iron buildings and home to the historic Skidmore Fountain from 1888. Underneath the streets of Old Town Chinatown is more history. Here you can tour the Shanghai Tunnels which connect hotels and shops to the waterfront. However, the name came from the legend that they were also used to kidnap (”Shanghai”) people to be sold into slavery.

 

Contributed by Sarah from Discover the Pacific Northwest

 

 

Raleigh, North Carolina

 

USA - North Carolina - Historic Yates Water Mill in Raleigh, North Carolina

 

Raleigh, North Carolina is a planned city, founded in 1792 to be the state’s capital. The area was chosen, in part, to protect it from invading British ships as there is no river connecting Raleigh to the Atlantic Coast.
 
The city’s infrastructure was relatively undamaged by the Civil War, and the city’s historic architecture is a key reason to visit. The Capitol Building sits at the top of a hill downtown. Wide lawns, stately oak trees, and several historic statues remind visitors of the city’s enduring presence.
 
Supported by agriculture, residential neighborhoods grew around the downtown area each reflecting the era of its development. Visitors to Raleigh should visit the Joel Lane House, Historic Oakwood Cemetery, and the Yates Mill County Park, which includes a working grist mill on its 174 acres. 
 
Contributed by Karen Dawkins of Family Travels on a Budget

 

 

Richmond, Virginia

 

USA - Virginia - Historic restored Richmond, Virginia Churchill neighborhood. Horizontal.

 

One of the oldest cities in the United States is the Virginian capital city of Richmond.  The small and rather unassuming city is an easy day trip from Washington D.C. or a weekend break from other large East Coast metropolises such as Philadelphia, Raleigh, Baltimore, and more.
 
 
Richmond is easily one of the best places to visit in the United States for history lovers.  The city’s original residents were the Powhatan Natives until the Jamestown settlers came up the James River and began dispersing out among the land.  The city built up over the years and its strategic location eventually led it to serve as the capital of the Confederacy and it played a huge part during the Civil War. 
 
There are many museums and sights in Richmond dedicated to the Civil War.  You can even travel south to Colonial Heights and visit the Violet Bank Museum, a place that served as Robert E. Lee’s headquarters during the Siege of Petersburg.  Richmond was also one of the capitals of the slave trade in the United States (second to New Orleans) and there are many sights and opportunities to learn about this unfortunate part of the city’s history in the city but the proposed museum never fully came to fruition and failed to be built.
 
 
Today, Richmond is a mix of the old and the new with traditional values still deep-rooted in the city.  If you’re looking to learn more about the history of the United States, particularly the Southern USA, it is the perfect city to visit.  If you’re simply looking for a fun and artistic city to visit for a weekend, it also serves well for that. 
 
Some of the best recommendations to enjoy the city are to visit Maymont Park, imbibe in Richmond’s outstanding craft beer scene, go shopping in Carytown, or to visit historic African-American landmarks in Jackson Ward neighborhood before they are forever forgotten due to gentrification.
 
 
Richmond has hot and humid summers and mild winters, so prepare your trip accordingly and try to visit in fall, when the capital city is at its most beautiful and you can take a stroll along Monument Avenue and witness the fall foliage at the same time.
 
Contributed by Megan Starr from Absolute Armenia
 

For more on the history of Virginia, check out this guide to visiting Monticello and this photo essay on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

 

 

Sacramento, California

 

USA - Sacramento - Dawn over the landmarks of West Sacramento

 

Sacramento is not only the capital of California but also sits at the roots of the state’s rich history. Located about two hours inland from the San Francisco Bay area, there are many historical sites to visit.

 

Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park is Sacramento’s original settlement. It was built in 1839 when California was still part of Mexico and was the first non-Native American settlement in California’s Central Valley.

 

Sutter’s Fort has been restored to look as it did in the 1840s. You can enjoy a self-guided tour with narration describing different areas in the fort. The original stables, carpenter’s shop, blacksmith shop, mill, and kitchens are all on display.

 

Another historic spot not to miss is Old Sacramento. With its wooden sidewalks and facades, Old Sacramento is straight out of the Old West! Visiting Old Sacramento is one of the most popular things to do in Sacramento and a great way to experience history.

 

Sacramento’s original business district from the Gold Rush era is now a state historic park, with more than 50 historic buildings right on the banks of the Sacramento River. There is even an 1800s riverboat (now a restaurant and hotel) at the dock. Sights not to miss in Old Sacramento include the Wells Fargo History Museum, the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse, the Sacramento History Museum, and a monument to the Pony Express.

 

Just a short drive from Sacramento in Coloma, Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is the location where gold was first discovered in 1848. Throughout the Gold Rush, the population of Coloma exploded. Many structures went up, including a schoolhouse, general store, post office, and Chinese market. These and other historic buildings are now part of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, which visitors can tour. You can also try your hand at panning for gold!

 

Finally, you’ll want to stop by the California Capitol Building in downtown Sacramento. Pick up a map and take a self-guided tour, or join one of the free daily guided tours. The museum showcases rooms with recreations from their periods. Featured rooms include the Secretary of State’s Office in 1902 and the State Treasurer Office in 1933.

 

Contributed by Gwen Kleist from HealthyTravelMom

 

 

San Antonio, Texas

 

The Alamo

 

San Antonio was founded as a Spanish mission in 1718 and became the first civil settlement in Texas in 1731.

 

Famously, San Antonio is home to the Alamo. The Battle of the Alamo in 1836 was a pivotal part of the Texas Revolution, in which American settlers in Texas rose against Mexico. While the Mexican army won the battle, the siege marked the founding of the Republic of Texas, which was eventually annexed by the US. Visiting the Alamo is a must when in San Antonio.

 

Additionally, four other missions are open to visitors within the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site preserves Mission Concepción, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada. Visitors can follow a trail through all five missions, beginning at the Alamo.

 

The most popular attraction in San Antonio, though, is the Riverwalk. Born from the San Antonio River, the Riverwalk is a network of footpaths, shops, restaurants, and bars below street level. Rich in history, aspects of the Riverwalk, such as La Villita, date to the early 1800s.

 

With expansion projects and access to important landmarks, such as Hemis Fair Park and Alamo Plaza, it’s no surprise that the Riverwalk is the lifeline of San Antonio. Visitors can stroll, shop, dine, and experience history.

 

Whether traveling for a romantic weekend or taking a family trip to San Antonio, the city offers something for everyone. More culture and history can be found at the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum, the Witte, HemisFair Park, San Fernando Cathedral, and The Japanese Tea Garden.

 

Contributed by Tori from Tori Leigh.

 

For more Texas history, check out how to visit the San Antonio Missions and the Houston Space Center.

 

 

San Diego, California

 

USA - California - Sunrise at the Balboa Park

 

San Diego is well known for its beaches and water fun. Visit “America’s Finest City” and you’ll also find a myriad of other exciting San Diego activities that don’t involve the sand and surf, and one of those experiences that you can’t miss is Old Town.
 
Located less than five miles northwest of downtown San Diego’s popular Gaslamp Quarter, Old Town San Diego is referred to as the “Birthplace of California.” Old Town will give you the perfect history lesson of what San Diego’s past is all about. The history begins in 1821 when the Spanish lost the territory during the Mexican War of Independence and San Diego became a Mexican village that quickly became a hub of new businesses and homes.
 
When California became part of the United States in 1848 as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the little village remained, even after the central part of San Diego was moved closer to the ocean, which was dubbed the “New Town” and is today’s Gaslamp Quarter. Visit Old Town today and you’ll get to see five adobe houses, the most famous of which is the Casa de Estudillo that was built in 1830.
 
The Mason Street School is also a can’t-miss site to tour in Old Town as it was the first publicly owned school in San Diego. On the eastern end of Old Town, you can also get a glimpse into the Victorian age of San Diego thanks to the row of Victorian homes along Heritage Park Row that date back to the late 1800s. 
 
Contributed by Gina from Evergreen & Salt: West Coast Travel
 

For more, check out the best living history museums in the US, including one in San Diego.

 

 

San Francisco, California

 

California

 

San Francisco is one of the most historic cities on the West Coast. Once home to the Ohlone native peoples, the area was settled by the Spanish after Don Gaspar de Portola landed in the San Francisco Bay. 

 

The California Gold Rush occurred in 1848 when California was still under Mexican rule, and it brought the city of San Francisco, a rush of treasure seekers, including Chinese immigrants in search of a better life. This marked the beginning of the first Chinatown in the United States. You can still visit Chinatown today, the most famous of its streets is Grant Street decorated with red lanterns and beautiful murals.

 

In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by the United States government barring immigration of all Chinese laborers. From 1910 to 1940, the Angel Island Immigration Station on what is now Angel Island State Park processed tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants and those returning from China. Angel Island Immigration Station is now a museum commemorating the immigrants who spent months there in limbo. The island is only a short ride into the San Francisco Bay from the city. 

 

Also located in the San Francisco Bay is Alcatraz Island, one of the most famous penitentiaries in the United States. Once the site of a fort, throughout history, it was turned into a U.S. Army military prison, a federal prison, and finally, today, a museum. Alcatraz was a federal prison for 29 years however many infamous convicts have been held here, including Al Capone. 

 

Three days in San Francisco will give you enough time to visit all three of these historic San Franciscan spots! 

 

Contributed by Constance from The Adventures of Panda Bear

 

Savannah, Georgia

 

USA - Georgia - Savannah - Savannah, Georgia, USA at Forsyth Park Fountain.

 

Savannah, Georgia is one of those fantastic southern cities that just oozes southern hospitality, culture, and historic presence. The city spared during the Civil war still maintains many of the architectural splendor in its historic district with gorgeous squares, beautiful buildings, a lovely downtown section, and an amazing cemetery that was used more like a park in historic times because of all the open spaces and refuge from city life.
 
You can easily walk around the historic district and enjoy all the squares that dominate this area. Outstanding monuments and attractions in the city include the ornate and colorful St. John the Baptist Cathedral, various living museum homes like the Owens Thomas House, Oscar Thorne house, and Andrew Low house.
 
Many of these majestic homes have been converted into little boutique inns so you can even book a night in a spectacular home with all the gorgeous furnishings to enjoy right in your room. Eating is a spectacular and delicious experience in Savannah and nothing says Southern food at its best like a meal at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room – a Savannah institution.
 
This iconic and very popular dining spot has long lines out the door for hours but the experience of so many different Southern foods eaten family-style with other visitors is an experience not to be missed.
 
There’s so much to see and do in this historic and magnificent city. For more inspiration, check out my post on visiting Savannah in 48 hours for more places to see and things to do around the city including the famous Bonaventure cemetery on the outskirts of town.
 
 
Contributed by Noel Morata from Travel Photo Discovery
 
 

Seattle, Washington

 

USA - Washington - Seattle - A beautiful view of the city of Seattle, USA underneath the breathtaking colorful sky

 

Seattle is a gem of a city in America’s Pacific Northwest region. It’s the largest city in the region and is a major seaport city with an interesting history. The first European Americans to build a permanent settlement in Seattle were members of the Denny Party. They settled there in 1851 and a primitive town grew. In the early decades, Seattle had all the things you associate with late-1800’s western expansion.

 

The early pioneers had volatile relations with Native Americans, prostitution, gambling, and general lawlessness, Indoor plumbing was an unheard-of luxury. Still, Seattle continued to grow in population, and many credit those elements as crucial for bringing in loggers and sailors.

 

Understanding the history of Seattle requires understanding the evolution of commerce and industry in the city. The city was founded around the timber industry and in 1873 the Northern Pacific Railway linked Seattle to the transcontinental railroad. The decision to create a terminal in Seattle instead of nearby Tacoma sealed Seattle’s fate as the dominant city in the region.

 

In 1896, gold was found in the Yukon territory and Seattle benefited greatly from the Klondike gold rush that followed. The city was used as a final outpost for outfitting the migrants who rushed into Canada to search for gold.

 

Today, you can sit in Seattle’s busy Pioneer Square and feel the history around you. The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park will help you retrace

 

Contributed by Derek from Robe Trotting.

 

 

Solvang, California

 

USA - California - Solvang - Dutch Street

 

Solvang is an old settler’s town in California, originally founded by Danish settlers who came here in 1911. The Danes came from the Midwest and found this place to have great climate and opportunities. These days, Solvang is known as the Danish Capital of America and it’s home to several stores with Danish furniture and antiques as well as restaurants and cafes serving authentic food from Denmark.

 

If you’re craving a cultural experience and want to learn some American history at the same time, Solvang makes a great day trip from Los Angeles or Santa Barbara in California.

 

The area where Solvang is located was originally inhabited by the Chumash, who were known for being good fishermen and having a profound understanding of astronomy. Near the center of the city, visitors can also visit the Mission Santa Ines, which was a Spanish mission.

 

Solvang was one of the last outposts in America for Danish immigrants, who began arriving in the 1850s. Most of the buildings have kept their Danish architecture and style, and many of them are well-preserved today with possibilities to walk inside.

 

Since 1936, there’s also an annual celebration known as “The Danish Days” on the third weekend in September. It features lots of Danish food, music, dancing, and parades.

 

Contributed by Alex Waltner from Destinavo

 

 

Springfield, Illinois

 

USA - Illinois - Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois

 

Springfield is not only the capital of Illinois but a favorite city among history buffs. This historic city is associated with its famous resident – Abraham Lincoln and many sites associated with him. Also nicknamed as Lincoln’s city.

 

Abraham Lincoln is an iconic name in America’s history because he reconstituted and shaped America’s constitution. This humble and legendary political personality abolished slavery and racism to a greater extent and what we see America as a free country is because of his dreams and ideologies. To live equally and to have equal rights for all was his principles and for that, he had given many speeches too.

 

Lincoln – a very humble person and from a humble background, started his political journey from Springfield and lived here for 17 years before moving to Washington DC.  You can find famous Lincoln’s museum here which depicts his humble lifestyle, his saddening childhood stories, tragic family life, and how he became a leader. Here through audio-visuals, we can get a complete glimpse of this legendary man who abolished slavery and has given the true definition of Democracy.

 

Though all have read many things about Lincoln, museums and historic sites of Springfield will bring all those readings and life of Lincoln like visuals in front of you. You can also see his historic house where he used to live. Not only museums, but the Capitol of Springfield is also very historic. The Old Capitol which is at present not functional is very iconic because here Lincoln’s famous speech – “House Divided” was delivered.

 

Great Western Rail Depot railway station is also worth visiting too as before becoming President, Lincoln delivered his famous departing speech from here. All such historic sites bring live moments of President Lincoln in front of you. Springfield in Illinois has done a great job by preserving all these historic moments and also presenting each one of them through many milestones in this historic city of the USA.

 

Contributed by Yukti from Travel with Me 24×7

 

 

St. Louis,  Missouri

 

USA - Missouri - Downtown St Louis, MO with the Old Courthouse and the Gateway Arch at sunset

 

St. Louis may be thought of as a fly-over city, but it’s the perfect hidden gem for when you’re planning your next adventure filled with a thriving cultural scene and fascinating historic past.

 

The land that would become St. Louis was originally inhabited by several Native American tribes, including the Osage and Illiniwek. These Native American people built earthwork mounds, which may have been used for religious or spiritual purposes, on either side of the Mississippi River.

 

Today, you can still visit these mounds at Cahokia Mounds, which was active from 800 to 1400 AD and features the Americas’ most massive prehistoric earthwork. Given its prime location along the Mississippi, French traders leveraged the land as a port and by 1764, the city of St. Louis was born.

 

The city retains many strong French influences- from the abundance of the fleur-de-lis in architecture to the huge Mardi Gras festivities every year. The city’s location at the cusp of Illinois, a free state, and Missouri, a slave state, made it a hotbed of activity during the Civil War.

 

Plan a visit to the Ulysses S. Grant Historic site, where the future President, his new wife, and an enslaved African-American workforce lived from 1854 to 1859, before Grant led the Union to victory.

 

In 1904, St. Louis became the first city outside of Europe to hold the Olympics, in addition to the World’s Fair. Many structures still exist from the Fair, several of which are located in the not-to-be-missed Forest Park. These include the Art Museum and the Missouri History Museum- both world-class institutions with free admission!

 

Contributed by Jessica from Uprooted Traveler 

 

For more, check out the best free things to do in St. Louis and how to visit Cahokia Mounds, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just outside of the city.

 

 

Tampa, Florida

 

USA - Florida - The historic building museum in Tampa city (Florida).

 

Tampa was established in 1824 as the swampy military encampment known as Fort Brooke. Built upon ancient Indian Mounds, Fort Brooke was used as an outpost in all three Seminole Indian Wars and the Civil War. 

 

In the mid-1880s phosphate was discovered in Tampa. As a result, Henry B. Plant, a southeastern railroad tycoon, connected Tampa to the nation’s railroad system in 1884. The plant built large hotels including the Plant Hotel to attract visitors. Designed in the Moorish Revival style and with Florida’s first elevator, The Plant Hotel, now the University of Tampa, is designated as a US National Historic Landmark.

 

You can visit the University of Tampa today, as well as the Henry B. Plant museum housed inside. 

 

In 1855, because of the new railroad and Tampa’s proximity to Cuba, Vincente Martinez Ybor, a Cuban cigar manufacturer, selected Tampa to be the new production headquarters of his cigars. The cigar factories drew immigrants from Spain, Cuba, Italy, and beyond looking to work in the cigar industry.

 

To house his immigrant workforce, Mr. Ybor created shot-gun style homes and bungalows that today make up Ybor City. Ybor City was briefly the world’s largest producer of hand-rolled cigars. In the 1930s, the Great Depression and mechanization led to the decline of the cigar industry in Tampa.

 

Today, you can walk down 7th avenue in Ybor to see converted cigar factories, as well as old shotgun homes on the surrounding avenues and streets. Learn Ybor’s full story at the Ybor City State Museum. 

 

Contributed by Kelly Johnson from Snap Travel Magic

 

For more on Florida history, check out the history of Disney World.

 

 

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

 

Before you leave for your trip make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’ll be hanging out in cities where tourists can be the victims of pickpockets. 

 

I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for two years, and I happily recommend them.  If you get sick, injured, or have your stuff stolen, you’ll be happy to have the ability to pay for your medical bills or replace what’s stolen or broken.

 

 

Pin this Guide to Visiting the Best Historic American Cities for Your Travels!

 

The Best Historic Cities in the US

 

 

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