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Top 5 destinations for history buffs in the United States

To Europeans, the word “history” often elicits grandiose images of the Colosseum in Rome, Acropolis in Athens, Buckingham Palace in London, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The United States might be young compared to its European brethren, but the country has undergone many significant historical events since the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.

The U.S. flaunts a robust history that conjures images of the Statue of Liberty, Washington Monument, and Pearl Harbor. If you’re a history buff who is visiting the U.S. for the first time, consider exploring the following five cities.

Washington, D.C.

Photo: Jacob Creswick

The U.S. Capitol, Washington D.C., easily tops the list because of its unrivaled treasure trove of American history, world history, and science. As the center of U.S. political power, D.C. provides an unwavering sense of the country’s colorful past, the present, and its future. The type of history you’re craving will dictate the best things to do in Washington D.C.The options generally boil down into four categories: American history, world history, science, and art.

If you’re interested in an in-depth dive into American history, then you’ll want to spend a day exploring the immersive National Museum of American History, which recently debuted an exhibit on American ingenuity.

If you plan ahead accordingly, another must-do tour is The White House. You’ll need to book the tour 6-12 weeks prior to the actual visit. Another option that is less restricted is to explore the recently renovated White House Visitor Center, which houses presidential artifacts like the desk FDR used during Fireside Chats.

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To experience an unparalleled collection of American history, world history, art, and science, then visit the various Smithsonian museums. You can spend your entire week in the Smithsonian and not see everything the 19 museum collectives have to offer, so choose wisely.

After tromping around the Smithsonian, it’s time to walk around the Washington Mall and experience the various public monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and FDR Memorial. Be sure to also take an elevator to the top of the Washington Monument for a jaw-dropping view of D.C.

Last, make time to visit the U.S. Capitol building and to peek into the Library of Congress.

Remember, D.C. might be an expensive play to stay during your visit, but it’s cheap to explore since most D.C. tours, museums and exhibits are free.

Honolulu

Honolulu is a stunning historical city with a lot of rich history, despite Hawaii being the last state admitted to the Union. Like much of the U.S., Hawaii, Honolulu specifically, has its American history steeped in violence.

A visit to Pearl Harbor is a sorrowful callback to the dawn of Dec. 7, 1941, when an attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese pilots became a launching point for American troops entering World War II. The day is forever known as “a date which will live in infamy,” thanks to a riveting speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Pearl Harbor is still an active military base, so your access is restricted, but there are several public memorials, including the USS Arizona Memorial, which is part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

Outside of American war history, Honolulu also often a unique take on American culture, specifically native Hawaiian culture and its royal heritage. A quick trip downtown lets you explore Iolani Palace, which housed Polynesian monarchs King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani. You can also walk to the Pali Highway to see Queen Emma’s Summer Palace.

Last, make the time to visit the historic Kaniakapupu ruins, which used to be King Kamehameha II’s summer home. The ruins are found along a brisk, but easy hike near Luakaha Falls.

New York City

NYC statue of liberty
Photo: Bicad Media

New York City, cheekily nicknamed “the Big Apple,”  is arguably the most iconic city in the world. On many “best culture” lists, New York City ranks highest for its forward-looking culture, cutting-edge art galleries, memorable fashion design and world-famous theatrical performances.

All of those activities are great, but not many of them will satiate the appetite of a history buff. Instead, take the ferry out to Ellis Island and visit the Statue of Liberty. While you’re there, be sure to tour the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, which includes the new Peopling of America Center that tells the story of immigrants who arrived via Lady Liberty’s blessing.

To experience a unique moment of the New York City’s theatrical history, book tickets to a concert at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, which recently reopened after being restored to its chandeliered, 1929 décor.

This CityPass will get you a deal on attractions in New York.

Boston

fenway park boston redsox
Photo: Charlie Walker via Flickr

Boston, a city known mostly for two things: baseball and history. The two combine sometimes, but Bostonians are fiercely loyal to each topic. Boston is a revolutionary city that sparked the American revolution when patriots dumped tea in the harbor in 1773 in protest.

Visiting all of the history rich areas of Boston is a trip in itself, but you can knock out a few of the best places in a full day. A few of the must-see historic sites in Boston include Edward M. Kennedy Institute of the Senate, Faneuil Hall, the Bunker Hill Monument, and the JFK Presidential Library.

Last, if you’re only in Boston for an afternoon, then the best use of your time is walking through the museums along the Freedom Trail. National Park rangers offer a free tour of the trail, too.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia
Photo: Roy Wooters

Philadelphia, colloquially known as The City of Brotherly Love, is home to two iconic moments of American history: the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

Independence Hall is among the most important buildings in American history. It’s where colonial leaders met and founded the nation by writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. For a more intimate exploration of the hall, take the Independence After Hours tour.

Also worth visiting are the revamped Benjamin Franklin Museum, the National Constitution Center and the President’s House, which recreated the home of Washington and Adams when Philadelphia was the U.S. capital.

This CityPass will get you a deal on attractions in Philly.

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