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The United States is a country with a rich history and culture. Historic sites are one of the most widely visited things in America. Moreover, some museums receive more than 20 million visitors annually! Consequently, in this list we will be going through the top historical places in the US.
Historical Places In The US To Visit
A US Historical Site is a location that is of significant historical interest. The US has made it their duty to preserve these sites so that future generations can learn about the history.
A lot of these sites are selected and maintained by the National Park Service. And they include battlegrounds, museums, monuments, and historic homes. They include national parks like Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite, and Arches National Historic Park. And as well cities like Philadelphia, who have preserved the city’s past for its future generations.
A lot of the sites are both state and federal landmarks. Indeed, this means that they are not only important for their historical significance but also for their natural beauty.
Some sites commemorate an event or tell a story. Just as others preserve important archaeological or cultural resources.
The Best Historical Places to Visit in America Based on Their Significance
The United States of America is a land full of history and historic sites.
Think of where Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech. Or the site where the World Trade Center once stood before the tragedy of 9/11. Think of where the Boston tea party ships were boarded by the Sons Of Liberty. Or places such as Pearl Harbor that were attacked in World War II.
Many places in the United States have been home to some of the most important events in world history. However in this article, I’m going to go through a list of some of what I think are the most significant places. And tell their stories.
The Top 20 Best Historic Places in the USA
1. Fort McHenry National Monument, Baltimore, Maryland
First on our list of historical sites is Fort McHenry.
Fort McHenry is a national historic site in Baltimore, Maryland. It is best known as the site of the bombardment during the War of 1812. The fort has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
It was built on a small peninsula where North Point and Locust Point join with the Patapsco River. In 1704, Captain John Smith traveled upriver to see what he could find. He came upon this area and found an excellent harbor that he called “Belle Isle.”. The original English translation of Belle Isle was “beautiful island.”
Captain Smith planted some tobacco there. And then he returned to England to get more settlers for his new colony. Thus Fort McHenry began its life as an army outpost.
Fort McHenry is also one of the most well-known sites from the War of 1812. Because it inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star Spangled Banner.
2. Henry Ford Museum, Michigan.
The Henry Ford Museum is a collection of items related to American industrialist Henry Ford (1863-1947). Located in Dearborn, Michigan, It opened on July 4, 1975. The Dearborn campus includes the Henry Ford Museum (which contains exhibits on American history), Greenfield Village (a living history museum), the Henry Ford Estate, and the Aviation History Center.
The museum traces its roots to 1903 when Detroit attorney Horace Rackham gave his historic home and grounds, including eleven acres of property, to Henry and Clara as a wedding present. As they acquired objects for their personal collections during their travels abroad, it soon became clear that their residence could not adequately display or preserve these works.
The Henry Ford Museum is a great place to learn about the history of the automobile and its inventor, Henry Ford. This museum features displays of automobiles from the early 1900s up to the present day. Visitors can also see various artifacts from Ford’s life and family. The museum also houses a collection of Thomas Edison inventions and one of America’s most comprehensive collections of presidential limousines and ceremonial cars.
3. Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Independence National Historical Park was not always a national park. It first began as the site of the Second Continental Congress in 1775. And it became a historic landmark in 1928. The historic landmark has changed over time to become what it is today. Including the addition of an observatory that was completed in 2012 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
This 387 acre site includes Independence Hall and other buildings from 17th and 18th centuries. It’s also home to a bronze statue of John Dickinson. He was a Founding Father and author of the Articles of Confederation.
Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania receives 700,000 visitors each year. And has been considered to be an iconic symbol for American democracy ever since it was completed in 1753.
4. Statue of Liberty National Monument (on Liberty Island), New York City
Next on our list is probably one of the top historical places to visit in the US.
The Statue of Liberty is on a small island in the Upper New York Bay. It was given to the United States by France, and was specially donated to represent America’s independence. The statue is so symbolic that people often mistake it for the whole of New York City.
The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom and democracy. This monument is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. The statue was designed to be given as a gift to America by France. And it was officially presented on October 28, 1886.
5. Ellis Island, New York City
Ellis Island, in Upper New York Bay, was one of the main points of entry to the United States for over sixty years. It opened on January 1, 1892, with 23 year old Annie Moore acting as the first immigrant to pass through.
After this, nearly 12 million people landed on the America soil of Ellis island. And they were processed at inspection stations before being allowed into the country. Finally, it closed in 1954.
The island was largely abandoned by the 1970s and in 1984 it became a part of the Liberty National Monument. Today, over four million people visit Ellis Island each year. They come for various reasons: to explore American history; search for their ancestors; see an immigration national museum; or take part in ceremonies or celebrations.
6. World Trade Center Memorial
The World Trade Center Memorial is a memorial designed by Michael Arad to commemorate the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The centerpiece of the memorial is a square sunken area with a pool of water and a bronze parapet wall. Two square waterfalls cascade down from pools above. And the outer walls are lined with trees and benches. The names of those killed in the attacks are inscribed on benches. As well as bronze panels set in ground around 17 feet from the corners, walls and parapets. Undoubtedly it is a most important and thought provoking place to visit.
7.Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon Village, AZ
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most iconic and treasured parks in the world. Definitely it is one of the top 100 U.S. landmarks. The scenic views and landscapes will take your breath away. The Canyon is one of the most celebrated and magnificent natural wonders of the world. And is a steep-sided wide gorge carved by the Colorado River over a period of six million years.
Located in Arizona, this national park has a wealth of natural and cultural resources to explore and enjoy. Visitors can hike, bike, raft or camp. Or just take it easy by gazing at the many sights from a scenic overlook. In fact, it attracts more than four million visitors each year.
The Grand Canyon has many different landforms including sheer cliffs, plateaus, and narrow gorges. And was named a national park in 1919.
8.The Capitol, Washington
Two of the most important and iconic buildings of the USA are The Capitol and the White House. And so they should be seen together as one of the most historical places in the US to visit.
The Capitol Building is home to America’s legislative branch, which includes the Senate and the House of Representatives. And it has been home to many significant events.
Built in 1793, the Capitol served as the meeting place for the U.S Congress. From 1800-1859, 1874-1957, and 1961 to the present day. It also played a key role in the Civil War Battle of Washington.
9. The White House, Washington
The White House, meanwhile, is the official residence of the President of the USA. And it is where they live and work.
Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, D.C., the White House has 132 rooms decorated in a variety of styles. For example styles like American colonial, Victorian, Tudor, French neoclassical, Adams Federal Style and more. The house was designed by Irish-born architect James Hoban and completed in 1817. And it has been the residence of every American president since John Adams in 1800.
It has three stories with six million square feet of floor space that contains 27 bathrooms!
But the most important feature of the White House is that it’s not just one house. Indeed, it is three houses connected together to form one unique building. The first two houses were built in 1792 and 1800 respectively. Then they were connected together in 1809 to form today’s White House that we know today.
10. National Civil Rights Museum
The National Civil Rights Museum is a must-visit for anyone who is interested in the history of African Americans. Visitors can learn about the challenges and struggles that African Americans faced from 1865 to 1968. The museum is located in Memphis, Tennessee and opened on April 1993.
In this section, we will talk about the National Civil Rights Museum. This museum has a lot of important information for those who want to learn about African American history and how it evolved over time. We will mention a few highlights from the museum which include the original Lorraine Motel balcony where Dr Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, a replica of Nelson Mandela’s prison cell as well as an interactive exhibit called “Walk In My Shoes” which allows visitors to experience what it feels like to be discriminated against due to their skin colour.
11.Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco is a city with a very diverse architecture. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city. And it is definitely the most iconic.
The Golden Gate Bridge has also been around for almost 100 years now. It was built in 1937 and it connects San Francisco to Marin County. It served as a vital connection between San Francisco and Marin County. But nowadays there are other bridges that serve this function, so the Golden Gate Bridge has gained other purposes. Indeed, one of these purposes is serving as what you might call an “Iron Curtain”. In this case for commuters who want to avoid traffic on other bridges.
Public transportation offers access to this bridge, but maybe the best way to see it is with an organised tour.
12. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota.
In the Black Hills of South Dakota there is a very famous national monument.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota. The sculpture depicts four U.S. presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. And it was commissioned to honor these presidents of the United States who helped create America’s freedom and democracy.
The sculptures were created by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and were unveiled in October 1941. But it was actually started much earlier, and took years to finish.
Ultimately, it was also commissioned to attract tourists to the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Which had been a popular vacation spot for wealthy Americans in the late 19th century due to its natural beauty. But without a doubt it remains a great place to visit to this day.
13. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Yellowstone National Park is a national park that is located mostly in the state of Wyoming, but it also extends into Montana and Idaho. It covers over 8,000 square miles of land and is home to a variety of wildlife such as bison, elk, pronghorns and wolves.
The park was established as a United States National Park by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. It became the first national park in the world and is also America’s first national park.
The land that Yellowstone now occupies has been home to Native Americans for centuries. It was not until the mid-1800s that settlers started to trickle into this region. And this kicked off decades of conflict with the Natives over land ownership.
The most popular attraction in Yellowstone National Park is Old Faithful Geyser. This erupts roughly every 90 minutes from June through August with intervals from every 45-120 minutes from September through May.
In fact, the geysers of the Yellowstone National Park are world-renowned for their beautiful displays of nature. Driven by the heat of the Earth’s crust, geysers are caused by a process called hydrothermal convection.There are more than 10,000 geysers in Yellowstone National Park. But only a few hundred produce enough steam to erupt on a regular basis.
14. Cahokia Mounds Site of the Ancient City of the Mississippians near Saint Louis, Missouri
Next on the list of best historical places to visit in the US is probably one of the oldest U.S. historical sites.
Cahokia Mounds is an archaeological site that was built by the Mississippian culture. Built in America before European contact, Cahokia Mounds is the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the country. It was built over an old natural hill which was enlarged with dirt to form a flattened top. Altogether, the resulting site was approximately five miles long and two miles wide. And had a population of 20,000-30,000 people.
Cahokia Mounds is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Illinois. It is the site of an ancient Native American settlement. And consists of some of the largest earthen pyramids in North America.
The tribes are thought to have built Cahokia Mounds between 600 and 700 CE. Which makes it one of the earliest urban settlements in North America. The site has been featured on many TV shows and documentaries about ancient civilizations.
15. The USS Arizona Memorial, Hawaii.
The USS Arizona Memorial is a memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which honors the members of the USS Arizona who died on December 7, 1941. The memorial was designed by Tom Lovell Sr., who was assigned to the battleship as a naval architect.
The battleship’s wreck still lies at her berth in Pearl Harbor. And it serves as a shrine to those killed on December 7th. The USS Arizona Memorial became one of the most popular attractions in Hawaii, with more than 1.4 million visitors annually.
16. Gettysburg National Military Park | Gettysburg, PA
Gettysburg National Military Park is the site of one of the most significant battles in U.S. history. On July 1, 1863, Confederate forces marched into this small Pennsylvania town. And found themselves in the midst of Union troops who were awaiting their arrival. What ensued was three days of brutal fighting in what would be called “Pickett’s Charge.”
The park preserves the battlefield to tell the story not only of Pickett’s Charge but also Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. This was delivered on November 19, 1863, which called for a “new birth of freedom” in America. The site welcomes visitors with its award-winning history museum. And furthermore offers walking tours led by knowledgeable guides. They bring to life this extraordinary battle and its ramifications for American society.
17. The Alamo Mission in Texas
The Alamo mission Texas is a historic site in San Antonio, Texas. It was the site of the Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution.
The mission was named after a Spanish mission in Alamo de Parras, Coahuila, Mexico. However, in 1793, that mission was abandoned and relocated to San Antonio. Finally in 1803 it started being called “Alamo”.
In 1835, Santa Anna’s forces killed all defenders of the Alamo and massacred their families. In fact, this event became known as the “Goliad massacre”. Whilst the mission is possibly a bit of a history buff place for those who are obsessed with this time period, I do think it deserves its place of being one of the best historic places to visit in USA.
18. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello – Charlottesville, Virginia
Next on the list of historical places in the US is Monticello. Monticello is Thomas Jefferson’s architectural masterpiece. Jefferson inherited the plantation from his father, Peter. But built Monticello by hand. After his wife died of breast cancer at the age of 33, Jefferson became a widower. As a consequence, he decided to design his home with her in mind.
Some of the things that he incorporated into the design were
- grand columns around the entranceway,
- a round dining room table for entertaining guests, and
- a magnificent two-story rotunda on the front of the house.
Visitors to Monticello are allowed to tour all of these parts on their own. Or have a guided tour given by one of their knowledgeable staff members. One thing that is for sure is being able to see history first-hand at Monticello is an experience like no other!
19. George Washington’s Mount Vernon – Virginia
Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate in Fairfax County, Virginia, is a great example of Georgian architecture. It is situated on the banks of the Potomac River and overlooks Washington D.C.
The mansion at Mount Vernon was designed by architect William Kitchin. It was completed in 1754. The house has
- two stories with four chimneys,
- a gambrel roof,
- red brick walls,
- white trimming and
- a front portico featuring six Doric columns which are connected to an entablature with triglyphs between each column.
George Washington acquired this land in 1754 with the intent to build a home for himself there. He had his design approved by Thomas Jefferson in 1787. The construction took place between 1788 and 1789. The estate originally consisted of five thousand acres. However Washington desired more privacy. So he purchased more land from nearby residents. Finally the estate reached twenty-two hundred acres by 1805.
20. Arlington National Cemetery
Last on our list of historic places to visit in USA is Arlington National Cemetery. This is the national military cemetery of the United States.
Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most famous cemeteries in the world. President John F. Kennedy was buried here. As well as many other famous people, including generals and other high-ranking military personnel, presidents, politicians and notable citizens, including
- the 35th president of the United States John F. Kennedy
- his brother Robert F. Kennedy, who served as the U.S. Attorney General during John F. Kennedy’s presidency and was assassinated in 1968;
- General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, who led U.S. forces in Asia during World War II;
- George Marshall, who served as United States Secretary of State and later Secretary of Defense;
- Confederate General Robert E. Lee;
- Confederate Postmaster General John H Fitzhugh;
- American Founding Father George Washington (the nation’s first president);
- civil rights activist Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz);
- author J D Salinger
And so many more. It is a lovely place to go and reflect whilst honouring these men and women.
In Conclusion: Why Visiting U.S. Historic Sites Will Change Your View of American History Forever
One of the best ways to learn about American history is by visiting many of the US historical sites around the country. These sites are scattered all over. But they each offer a piece of our nation’s history to visitors. Who can then take that piece home with them.
Each region has a few different parks and sites for visitors to explore and learn from. If you’d like to visit one of these parks or historic sites in your lifetime, I would highly encourage you to do so as soon as possible!
We all know the importance of history and the pivotal role it plays in our lives. It’s a matter of pride to see the evolution of our civilization and take pride in our heritage. The best way to do that is by visiting historical places, which are a window to a different era.
It is not only about appreciating art and architecture. But also understanding what life was like in ancient times when there were no smartphones or laptops. Indeed we want to be mindful about how people lived centuries ago. So that we can learn from their mistakes and be better humans today.
Love Historic Places? Why not read my post on Castles of Scotland?
Are some of these places on your bucket list for the future? Or have I missed any of your favourite american history sites off this list? Do comment below, or find me at my social media channels.