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Niagara Falls in New York
Photograph: Shutterstock

Top tourist attractions in the USA

Discover the very best tourist attractions in the USA, from national-park essentials to iconic structures

By Tolly Wright and Tim Lowery
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Nobody wants to be called a tourist, but let’s face it: We should all hit up the best tourist attractions in the USA at some time or another. (These places are crazy-popular for a reason, people.) Whether you’re looking for the country’s most historic buildings and monuments, must-stroll neighborhoods, amazing national parks or essential museums, we’ve got you covered. Need a place to stay during your epic journey? Don’t miss our guide to the best hotels in America. And if you’re looking for a bit more travel inspiration, check out the very best places to visit in the USA right now.   

RECOMMENDED: The most exciting things to do in the USA in 2020

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Top tourist attractions in the USA

1
Old Faithful
Photograph: Shutterstock

Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

A cone geyser found in Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful is not quite as predictable as it once was (it won’t erupt exactly every 74 minutes, for example) yet remains as historically exciting. When erupting, the geothermal feature unleashes more than 3,700 gallons of piping hot water. When you’re done marveling at the spectacle, spend at least a full day exploring the rest of the park.

Discover the best national parks in the U.S.

2
National Gallery
Photograph: Shutterstock/Erika Cross

National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Attractions Public spaces National Mall

Immaculately maintained by the National Park Service, the National Mall and Memorial Parks feature more than 1,000 acres of must-see monuments, sites and green space. While the Washington Monument towers above all else—quite literally, the city doesn’t zone for buildings taller than the marble icon—the Lincoln Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial are just as magnificent. Though it will take a full day (or two) to see the National Mall and Memorial Parks, make sure to set aside some time to peruse through some of the city’s top museums as well.

Discover the best Washington, DC things to do

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3
Photograph: Jena Cumbo

Statue of Liberty in New York, New York

Attractions Monuments and memorials Liberty Island

Though she may have been born in France, the Statue of Liberty has become practically synonymous with America and the country’s highest held believes. True, the 151-feet-tall copper monument can be seen up close from aboard the free Staten Island Ferry, but you can also pay your respects in person and even step inside it while on an official tour.

Discover the best things to do in New York City

4
French Quarter
Photograph: Shutterstock

The French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana

The oldest corner of New Orleans remains its most charming attraction. Walk down famous Bourbon Street to enjoy some of jazz, great nightlife and tons of food. While you travel on a streetcar between destinations, pay close attention to the spectacular architecture. And no trip to the French Quarter would be complete without a taste of authentic Cajungrub or a stop to pay your respects in the Cities of the Dead. 

Discover the best things to do in New Orleans

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5
Alamo Mission
Photograph: Shutterstock

Alamo Mission in San Antonio, Texas

Things to do Alamo District

Most Americans know the phrase “Remember the Alamo,” even if they’re not exactly sure what transpired at the 18th-century Spanish mission. Later secularized and used as a fortress, in 1836 the Alamo was the site of a bloody and decisive battle of the Texas Revolution fought between Texas’s early Anglo settlers and the Mexicans (the latter won). One of the most visited historic sites in the country, today the fort welcomes about three million visitors annually. 

Discover the best things to do in San Antonio

6
Niagara Falls in New York
Photograph: Shutterstock

Niagara Falls in New York

Situated on the border of New York and Canada, the three water falls (Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridalveil Falls) have the combined highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world and their impressive force is nothing short of awe-worthy. A top tourist destination since the 19th century, Niagara Falls’ unstoppable beauty and charm make it a memorably unique landmark.

Discover the best things to do in Niagara Falls

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7
Little Havana in Miami, Florida
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Peter Pessar

Little Havana in Miami, Florida

After decades of serving as a home to Cuban exiles, Little Havana has become a must-visit destination in its own right. While out on the town, throw back rum-spiked Caribbean drinks and dance the night away to live rhumba and salsa music. The food here is legendary: Cuban sandwiches, Colombian arepas, savory tacos and other Latin American dishes will leave your mouth watering.

Discover the best things to do in Miami

8
J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Aitor Aguirregabiria

J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California

Museums History Pacific Palisades

The Getty brings visitors from across the country and around the world to California. The $1 billion facility, designed by internationally-renowned architect Richard Meier, features travertine and white-metal pavilions that highlight the complex’s futuristic frame. Inside, find one of the most exciting collections of art—including Medieval manuscripts, paintings by Van Gogh and Monet, and modern sculptures.

Discover the best things to do in Los Angeles

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9
Las Vegas - The Strip view
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Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada

Immortalized in a seemingly endless amount of movies, the Strip’s bright lights, larger-than-life performers and casinos are burned into our collective subconscious. Whether planning on trying your luck at poker or looking to catch a diva’s residency, the Strip is a top destination for all things entertainment and, yes, a bit of debauchery.

Discover the best things to do in Las Vegas

10
Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, California
Photograph: Shutterstock

Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, California

Things to do Event spaces Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf, so named because of the number of fishermen and mongers who lived in the neighborhood in the late 1800s through the 20th century, offers great views of the bay and fleets of ships with delicious food and delightful shops everywhere you look. Grab some seafood chowder, made with fresh local crabmeat served in a bread bowl, from any of the dozens of local eateries to fortify yourself before hitting the area’s specialty shops.

Discover the best things to do in San Francisco

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11
Hoover Dam, between Nevada and Arizona
Photograph: Shutterstock

Hoover Dam, between Nevada and Arizona

Perhaps the best example of America’s building prowess in the first half of the 20th century, this dam remains a bewildering feat of engineering and labor. Construction started in 1931 and took 5 years, 5,000 workers, 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete to complete. Today, you can take a tour of the dam and its power plant to learn more about the facility’s history and amazing features.

Discover the best things to do in Arizona

12
Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky
Photograph: Shutterstock

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky

With more than 400 miles explored, the world’s longest known cave system (by far) is in Kentucky and it welcomes any visitor not afraid of the dark or the damp. See the dramatic passages lined with geological formations that might just inspire your inner explorer during a guided tour by a park ranger. The tours vary in length but they always include historic details about how the cave system was formed and how people and other creatures have interacted with it. After several hours in the caverns, appreciate the beauty of the clear waters and untouched nature of the area while on a bike ride or canoeing.

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13
The Gateway Arch
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The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri

Things to do Walks and tours Downtown

Not only is St. Louis’s premiere attraction the world’s largest arch, but it is also the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere. Standing proud at 630 feet tall, this metal beauty was built in the mid-20th century as a monument to America’s westward expansion and is meant to signify the connection of the East to the West, honoring the country’s first pioneers. To fully understand this architectural wonder, snag a ticket to the Gateway Arch Tram and ride to the top of the monument.

Discover the best things to do in St. Louis

14
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Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois

Things to do Literary events Streeterville

Clearly one of the Midwest’s most popular destinations, Navy Pier is visited by roughly nine million people each year. From excellent shopping opportunities to eateries and, of course, Lake Michigan, the destination offers something for everyone. The little ones will be delighted by the Chicago Children’s Museum while grown-ups should head to the award-winning Chicago Shakespeare Theater. 

Discover the best things to do in Chicago

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15
Kennedy Space Center
Photograph: Shutterstock

Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Florida

Museums Science and technology

If you’ve always dreamed of working in outer space, this is your chance to see and touch models of space shuttles, rockets, satellites, tools and mission control rooms. The simulators and explorable modules will make you feel like a true astronaut—though if you wonder just how much the experience compares to the real deal, you can opt to meet one of those brave scientists in person at the Astronaut Encounter Theater.

Discover the best things to do in Orlando

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