From America’s vast natural beauty to its glitzy metropolises, the United States has plenty of sites that should be compulsory for every citizen and visitor. From the iconic red rock walls of the Grand Canyon to the glittering skyscrapers of Manhattan, here are the U.S. tourist sites that everyone, even Americans, should check off their list.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
At the very top of most Americans' bucket lists, visiting the Grand Canyon is practically a rite of passage. There are many ways to experience this geologic wonder but the best is on a rafting trip. Float along the Colorado River, which has steadily been carving the canyon for thousands of years, for a totally unique perspective. Most rafting trips are a mix of exhilarating rapids and lazy floats along canyon walls, with added hiking excursions to slot canyons or trickling waterfalls. Avid hikers can also complete the Rim to Rim Trail. While not for the faint of heart, spending the night at the legendary Phantom Ranch makes the arduous trek worth the sweat.
National Mall, Washington D.C.
America’s capital, Washington D.C., is a must visit for all U.S. citizens and there’s no better place to begin your tour than the National Mall. Myriad famous museums and monuments converge on the edges of this vast green space. The Lincoln Memorial at its helm, the grassy lawn stretching all the way to the Capitol Building, two miles away. The Washington Monument, a snow white obelisk, punctuates the center of the Mall. Other famous sites, like The White House, several war memorials, and the Jefferson Monument, are just a short stroll away. Cherry blossoms adorn the city come spring, making a visit in April particularly mesmerizing.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Witness the first sunrise in America at Maine’s Acadia National Park. Cadillac Mountain is the first place in the continental United States to see the sun rise from the inky ocean creating a memorable phenomenon for all visitors. Hiking is the name of the game in Acadia, whether along its craggy coast or beneath its dense pine forests. The park is located on Mount Desert Island, the same island as the pretty seaside town of Bar Harbor. Seek out Echo Lake Beach or one of the park's famous bridges for the perfect photo op. Alternatively, if you want to catch a glimpse at the last sunrise in the contiguous U.S., make a beeline for Cape Alava, Washington.
French Quarter, New Orleans
New Orleans’ French Quarter is synonymous with Mardi Gras, powdery beignets, and spooky stories but what really sets this area apart is its history and architecture. The French Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in the city, dating back to 1718 when the “Big Easy” was a prosperous French port. Take note of the cast-iron, filigree balconies and Creole townhomes, all vestiges of the city’s unique past, or take a tour dedicated to jazz music or voodoo folklore and admire the architecture along the way. While Bourbon Street can get raucous come nightfall, it's worth a stroll during the day to take in the atmosphere.
National September 11 Memorial & Museum, NYC, New York
New York City is full of classic tourist attractions, but if we're going to list one, we have to go with the poignant National September 11 Memorial & Museum. This somber landmark is commemorated by two fountains in the shape of the Twin Towers footprints, the victims' names scrolled in the stone. In the shadow of other behemoth skyscrapers, the newest World Trade Center shines nearby, a beacon of hope. The glittering city of New York, often called the capital of the world, can’t be missed either. After you’re finished paying your respects at the 9/11 Memorial, take to the streets like a true New Yorker in search of bagels, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Central Park.
Fenway Park, Boston, Massachusetts
Is there anything more American than baseball? Fenway Park is the oldest baseball stadium in the entire country, making a visit a requisite for sports fans. The stadium has seen World Series games, famous players like Babe Ruth, and is still the active ballpark for the Boston Red Sox. Grabbing tickets to a game is worth it, whether you’re a fan of the sport or not. The city of Boston also happens to be one of the most historically dense cities in the United States and the scene of important events like the Boston Tea Party and the birthplace of the American Revolution.
Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
One of the most impressive sights in the United States, the Taos Pueblo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a true feat of architecture. This adobe dwelling is the oldest inhabited structure in the entire U.S. and has been continuously inhabited for a thousand consecutive years. Built sometime between the years 1000 and 1400 by the Taos people, this site is a testament to their ingenuity and craftsmanship. Tours run every 20 minutes with a local guide, year-round. After visiting this iconic site, head into the small town of Taos itself to explore more of America’s First Nations history or to seek out its unique art community.
Niagara Falls, New York
Niagara Falls is one of the most impressive natural sights in North America. As the largest waterfall on the continent in both width and volume, the falls have drawn visitors, romantics, and daredevils — for decades. Niagara Falls gets its immense power from four of the five Great Lakes that drain into the Niagara River before making their way to Lake Ontario. Take a voyage on the Maid of the Mist before dining at one of the many romantic restaurants with views of the thundering water.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
There are few human-made sites that evoke such emotion as San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Visitors can walk across the bridge or simply admire it from the path along the waterfront. Hike up to Telegraph Hill for a unique view of the bridge from afar, often shrouded in the Bay Area's characteristic fog. The city of San Francisco itself is a vibrant and unique city, characterized by its hills and beautiful bay. Don’t leave town without sampling some clam chowder - even better from the famous Boudin bakery in one of their sourdough bread bowls.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana
From surging waterfalls to rainbow hot springs and herds of thousands of buffalo, Yellowstone is unlike any other place on Earth. As the world’s first national park, Yellowstone encompasses over 2 million acres of protected land and holds countless natural wonders like the Grand Prismatic Springs and Upper Falls. Wildlife is one of the main draws to this rugged corner of the American West. Visitors should be prepared to encounter both awe-inspiring and dangerous wildlife, like grizzly bears and wolves. A memorable way to stay within the park is at one of its lodges. The Old Faithful Lodge might be the most iconic accommodation, only a few steps away from the Old Faithful geyser. While summer is an excellent time to visit the park, winter can be magical too and several of the lodges remain open despite feet of snow and frequent blizzards.