Exploring the history of the States
National September 11 Memorial and Museum, New York City, New York
This moving tribute to the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks is built where the World Trade Center’s twin towers once stood. Waterfalls cascade into vast pools, the walls of which are inscribed with the names of those who died in 2001. More than 400 swamp white oaks trees, selected for their resilience, surround the pools, creating a serene place of reflection in the Big Apple.
Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
This elegant red-brick building in the City of Brotherly Love holds great historical significance. The Declaration of Independence – the document that freed the States from British rule – was debated and signed here in 1776, and the hall later became the birthplace of the US Constitution. Visitor capacity of buildings and guided tours is currently limited; check the NPS website for updates.
Bunker Hill Monument, Boston, Massachusetts
A site along Boston’s Freedom Trail, the Bunker Hill Monument memorializes the Battle of Bunker Hill, a pivotal clash early on in the American Revolutionary War. The 1775 battle saw New England soldiers fight against the British Army, with the colonies inflicting significant damage on British forces. Work on this stark granite obelisk began 50 years later, with construction ending in the 1840s. The finished monument stands proud at 221-feet (67m) tall in the city’s Charlestown neighborhood.
Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, California
The stark expanse of Alcatraz Island was originally used as a military jail and later became a high-security prison. Inmates at The Rock, as the prison was known, were subjected to brute force and complete isolation on a daily basis. Al Capone, a Brooklyn mobster convicted of tax evasion, was one of the prison’s most high-profile detainees, serving time between 1934–39.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
This New Mexico pueblo has been inhabited by indigenous people for more than 1,000 years and is still home to around 150 villagers. The stacked, adobe structures are overlooked by the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountain range, their terracotta façades broken up with splashes of blue. Guided tours are usually available but the village – three miles (5km) north of Taos city – is currently closed to visitors. Check the website for updates and availability.
Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina
In 1861, the first shots of the bloody American Civil War were fired from Fort Sumter, a garrison with a strategic position at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. It played a key role throughout the conflict and the immaculately preserved fort ruins remain today. Guided tours of the historic site, which is accessible only by boat, are usually available, but check the NPS website for current details.
16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama
Throughout the 1960s, Birmingham was one of the most racially segregated cities in the States and the 16th Street Baptist Church served as a meeting place for Civil Rights activists, including Martin Luther King Jr. But in 1963, white supremacists bombed the church, killing four young girls. Today, it remains a working place of worship and is usually open for guided tours – visit 16thstreetbaptist.org for updates.
The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
The Alamo mission and fortress was a key site during the Texas revolution. It was the location of the fabled Battle of the Alamo in 1836, which saw Texans battle Mexicans in their fight for independence. The Alamo church, or ‘the shrine’ as it’s commonly known, is the striking heart of the complex, with the names of soldiers who defended the mission inscribed inside. The Official Alamo Facebook page is the best place to find updates on opening times.
Manassas National Battlefield Park, Virginia
A place of somber beauty, Manassas National Battlefield Park was the site of the first major conflict during the Civil War (the First Battle of Bull Run), and also the pivotal Second Battle of Bull Run. In each bloody clash, the Confederates won. Trails studded with interpretive markers route through the battlefield park.
Faneuil Hall, Boston, Massachusetts
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Washington DC
Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona
This impressive Puebloan ruin is one of the best preserved in the States. A five-story castle built by the ancient Sinagua people, it’s formed of 20 rooms and hewn from rugged limestone. A few miles away is the Montezuma Well, a large limestone sinkhole, and yet more Puebloan ruins. Surrounded by trails and shaded by forestland, the well would have served the native people that called Montezuma home until around the 1400s. Discover more spectacular American castles here.
Trail of Tears, Tennessee and beyond
Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania
Gettysburg was the site of a significant three-day battle during the Civil War in 1863 when Union soldiers claimed victory against the Confederates, halting their invasion of the North. It was to be one of the war’s most pivotal and devastating battles, with upwards of 7,000 fatalities, and many visitors pay tribute to the dead at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Park rangers also offer fascinating interpretations of the site – you can find out which areas are open on the NPS website.
Mount Vernon, near Alexandria, Virginia
This sprawling mansion was the home of George Washington, America’s first president. Perched on the banks of the Potomac River, Mount Vernon’s 21 rooms are immaculately preserved and fronted by extensive gardens. But this was also the site of Washington’s plantation where he enslaved men, women and children. Their story is told through a special exhibition, Lives Bound Together.
Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, Connecticut
Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde, a sprawling national park in the southwest, is characterized by the 600-plus cliff dwellings carved into its rocks. They were once home to ancestral Puebloan people, who are thought to have left their land by the 1300s after more than 700 years here. Most impressive of all the dwellings is the Cliff Palace: this intricate structure has more than 150 rooms and could have been home to around 100 people. Check the NPS website before you visit to see which facilities are open. Now learn about more incredible ancient ruins in the USA.
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Tennessee and Georgia
Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota
This giant mountain sculpture, still under construction, is tipped to be the world’s largest upon completion. The tribute in the Black Hills of South Dakota depicts Crazy Horse, the Sioux warrior who fought against white Americans threatening the traditions and territory of his people. The monument is set to be a gargantuan 563-feet (1,847m) high once finished. Discover more of the world’s jaw-dropping sculptures and statues here.
Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland
Fort McHenry played a pivotal role in the War of 1812 when the British attacked the fort during the Battle of Baltimore, but were repelled by American troops. The fort also served as a muse for Francis Scott Key, who witnessed the clash. Inspired by the American flag soaring over the bastion, Key penned a poem that would go on to become “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the national anthem of the United States. The park is undergoing a phased reopening – check the NPS website for details.
Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown, Massachusetts
This imposing monument honors the Mayflower Pilgrims who set foot in Provincetown in 1620. They were the first European settlers here and they spent more than a month exploring this portion of Cape Cod, before leaving for Plymouth. The tallest all-granite structure in the US, the landmark boasts views of Cape Cod and you can usually tackle the 166 steps to the top for sweeping panoramas.
Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia
Fort Jefferson, Key West, Florida
An unfinished hexagonal fortress in the waters of the Dry Tortugas National Park, Fort Jefferson was intended to protect a deep-water anchorage in the Florida Strait when construction began in 1846. Later, the fort became a military prison but was eventually abandoned. Visitors can usually take a low-altitude flight or ferry out to the bastion, and explore the marine life-filled waters and beaches surrounding it. Check drytortugas.com for updates and current availability.
Manzanar National Historic Site, California
Manzanar was a military-controlled camp where thousands of innocent Japanese Americans were imprisoned during the Second World War, following tensions after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. Today it’s a National Historic Site used to tell the stories of those who were incarcerated here. See the relevant NPS site for details of open areas and available amenities.
Hoover Dam, Nevada
This dam was (and still is) an incredible feat of engineering, built around 30 miles (48km) east of the bright lights of Las Vegas. Completed in 1935, it saved the surrounding farmlands from frequent flooding by the Colorado River, but saw a death toll of 96 during its construction. Today, the dam usually attracts thousands of tourists who marvel at its sheer scale and discover the part it played in the development of Sin City and the field of engineering. It’s currently closed to visitors; check the Bureau of Reclamation website for up-to-date details.
Baranof Castle Hill State Historic Site, Alaska
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana
This site commemorates “Custer’s Last Stand”, an 1876 battle between US troops and the Lakota Sioux, Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne tribes. As part of an ongoing campaign, the United States attempted to seize land belonging to these peoples. The Americans were defeated this time, representing a single victory for the indigenous people. Today, a granite memorial and acres of gravestones honor the thousands who died here. The Spirit Warrior Sculpture specifically marks the sacrifices made by the indigenous peoples.
Oak Alley Plantation, Louisiana
Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Once housed in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, the great Liberty Bell has become a symbol of American freedom. It was thought to have rung during the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The bell no longer sounds due to a large crack in its body, but visitors can usually take in the landmark and related exhibits at the Liberty Bell Center. Visit the NPS website for details on Independence National Historical Park’s phased reopening.
Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City, Kansas
Washington Monument, Washington DC
A hulking obelisk piercing the skies of America’s capital, the Washington Monument was built as a tribute to George Washington, America’s first president. Fifty flags, representative of the 50 states in the union, form a ring around the monument, which soars to a whopping 555 feet (169m). Earlier plans for a more decorative design were ditched in favor of this simple but striking landmark, finished in 1884. Take a look at America’s most important National Monuments.
Gateway Arch, St Louis, Missouri
The mighty Gateway Arch rises above the city of St Louis in eastern Missouri, and remains the tallest monument in the United States and the tallest arch on the planet. The landmark has become an emblem of St Louis but was intended as a monument to westward expansion – the westward movement of American settlers through the 1800s – and to Thomas Jefferson, the president who pioneered this concept. It rises to 630 feet (192m) and, incredibly, is as wide as it is tall. Now discover the hidden secrets of America’s tourist attractions.
Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia
One of America’s most elegant presidential homes, Monticello belonged to the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson had a keen interest in architecture and his home was fittingly unique. Although the president was a vocal abolitionist, Monticello was also a plantation and hundreds of enslaved people lived and worked here. Their stories are typically told through exhibits and on-site tours.
United States Capitol, Washington DC
A powerful symbol of American politics and a working government building, the United States Capitol stands at the eastern end of DC’s National Mall and has its roots in the 1800s, when it was first finished. Today it sprawls over 1.5 million square feet (around 139,000sqm) and is most recognizable for its titanic dome, which took shape in the 1860s. Guided tours of the Capitol Building are currently suspended; check the website for updates.
Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
Tipped as the “Fathers of Modern Aviation”, the Wright Brothers – Wilbur and Orville Wright – were successful in developing and flying the world’s first plane in the early 1900s. They’re memorialized with a bold granite tower on Kill Devil Hill, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the innovative brothers conducted their many gliding experiments. Learn how air travel has changed in every decade from the 1920s.
The White House, Washington DC
One of the most famous political buildings in the world, The White House has remained a symbol of the American government since its first occupation by President John Adams in 1800. Tours are tricky to arrange (you must book through a member of Congress or your embassy), but the White House Visitor Center offers a comprehensive overview of the history and significance of this landmark site. Check the NPS website for up-to-date information on the center’s current opening status.
Mount Rushmore, Keystone, South Dakota
The 60-foot (18m) tall faces of four American presidents (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln) stare out from the granite rock faces of the Black Hills in Keystone. Almost three million visitors usually come to gaze upon the presidents every year but the site is not without controversy. The Black Hills is considered sacred ground for indigenous people and this area was taken from them by the government after a series of bloody battles.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
A landmark in civil engineering and one of the USA’s most recognizable monuments, Golden Gate was the longest and tallest bridge of its kind when first completed in 1937. It’s become no less impressive with age, either, its mammoth orange span (4,200 feet; 1,280m) still soaring over the Golden Gate Strait, peeking out from fog or clashing with blue California skies. Discover the most impressive bridge in every state here.
Castillo de San Marcos, St Augustine, Florida
Brooding on the banks of the Matanzas River, Castillo de San Marcos is one of the most important historic forts in the USA, not least because of its age. It dates to the 17th century, making it the country’s oldest masonry fortress. It was built by the Spanish, when Florida was under Spanish rule, and suffered two major sieges over the centuries – one in 1702 and one in 1704, both led by English forces. You can typically explore the fortress (check the NPS site for details) and virtual tours are also available.
Boston African American National Historic Site, Boston, Massachusetts
This national historic site is dedicated to the African American peoples of Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, who were leaders in the struggle against slavery in the 19th century. The Black Heritage Trail winds through the area, taking in Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial (pictured), a key landmark dedicated to an early all-black regiment that served in the Civil War.
African Burial Ground National Monument, New York City, New York
A poignant site in Lower Manhattan, the African Burial Ground National Monument protects an excavated African burial ground thought to date from the 1630s to 1795. The burial ground was discovered in the late 20th century during survey work prior to construction of an office tower here – the remains of some 15,000 Africans (both free and enslaved) who lived in New York were found. Today their lives are honored with a memorial and their history is chronicled in an interpretive center and research library.
Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington DC
Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
Taking the form of an elegant French chateaux, this sprawling estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains is tipped as America’s largest home. A fine example of a Gilded Age mansion, Biltmore has 250 lavish rooms, crammed full of ornate fireplaces, antique furniture and priceless art, and acres of blooming grounds to boot. You can typically take guided tours of the house – check the Biltmore website for current availability. Now take a look at the world’s most enchanting stately homes.
National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, Alabama
This poignant monument was conceived by the Equal Justice Initiative – an organization committed to fighting racial injustice – to commemorate the thousands of African American people who have been victims of lynching. The memorial is a striking site, spread over six acres and comprising 800 steel columns, one for each US county where a lynching took place and inscribed with victims’ names. The site also includes the Legacy Museum.
African American Civil War Memorial, Washington DC
This striking bronze memorial commemorates the more than 200,000 African American troops who served in the Civil War. It features statues of uniformed soldiers and sailors standing at 10-feet (3m) tall, and the names of the African American people who risked their lives in the conflict are inscribed on the surrounding Wall of Honor. The nearby African American Civil War Museum serves to educate the public on their sacrifice and also to shed light on the life of African Americans here pre- and post-Civil War.
St Louis Cathedral, New Orleans, Louisiana
Watching over Jackson Square in New Orleans’ enchanting French Quarter, St Louis Cathedral is significant as the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States. It was built in 1727 and its imposing triple steeple has become a symbol of the Big Easy. The interior is filled with stained glass, Rococo detailing and sacred art. Self-guided tours are usually available – visit stlouiscathedral.org for current details. Now check out the world’s most beautiful cathedrals.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
This sprawling site in New Mexico was built up by the Chacoan people from around the 9th century and became a place of great cultural and economic importance. The most impressive structures built by this ancient population were the “Great Houses”: enormous multi-story buildings filled with rooms, thought to have been used as both residences and ceremonial spaces. Tours of these huge structures are currently self-guided only – more details on accessibility of the park are available on the NPS website.
Statue of Liberty, New York City, New York
Gifted from France in 1886, the Statue of Liberty is perhaps America’s most famous landmark, an enduring symbol of freedom and enlightenment. The monument, which towers at more than 300 feet (93m), depicts Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty. Visitors can typically take the ferry from Battery Park to Liberty Island, climb the 354 steps to the statue’s summit and look out across the Manhattan skyline from her crown. The statue is currently closed to visitors but keep an eye on the NPS website for relevant updates. Now discover 99 beautiful things we love about America.
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