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In school, every student is required to learn about history and recite lists of names, dates, and important facts. But honestly, history can be a very dull subject if all you’re doing is sitting in a classroom and reading books about it. History comes alive when we walk in the footsteps of famous figures and actually see the sites that have shaped our daily lives.
Whether you have kids and are looking for educational trips or are long out of school and just want to learn something new, there are some incredible cities across America that teach history lessons in engaging and fascinating ways. These are the best places in the U.S. to learn about American history and discover how they’ve evolved to become modern travel destinations.
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If you’re interested in learning about American history, perhaps the best place to start is in the nation’s capital. Take a walk down the Mall in Washington, DC to visit the Smithsonian museums of history, art, and culture. The U.S. Capitol is at one end of the Mall and may accommodate tours with advance notice. At certain times, you may also be able to go to the top of the Washington Monument to get a great view of the city. Make sure to walk around the Lincoln Monument to marvel at its beauty and read the inscriptions on the walls.
New Orleans is a wonderful place to take a guided walking tour with a local expert because there is so much fascinating history to learn about in The Big Easy. Beyond the wild parties of Mardi Gras and the debauchery of Bourbon Street, the city of New Orleans teaches us about history through architecture, food, monuments, and personal stories. Jackson Square in the French Quarter is an ideal place to start your historical tour, and then walk through the streets and alleyways to learn about life in New Orleans throughout the ages. The Chalmette Battlefield, Garden District, St. Louis Cathedrals, and city cemeteries are also historic places to visit in New Orleans.
Carson City one of the smaller U.S. capital cities boasting roughly 55,000, and it offers plenty for historic buffs. Pay a visit to the historic landmark Capitol Building with its silver-painted cupola, which is open for public tours. It has a surprising number of outstanding museums, including some with interactive exhibits for kids as well as a ton of year-round outdoor recreation opportunities. The Nevada State Museum and the Nevada State Railroad Museum, is where you can learn about the history of trains. Take a historic ride on the V&T Railway in nearby Virginia City. Carson City is also centrally located, just a 30-minute drive from the breathtaking beauty of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Victorian-era town of Virginia City with its authentic board sidewalks and the energetic city of Reno.
Boston is a historic American city that has had many of the “firsts” in the nation. For example, it had the first public park, the first public library, and the first public school. Puritans and Revolutionary War heroes once walked down these city streets, and now you can too. The Freedom Trail is the best place to start your city tour and learn about Boston’s role in shaping America. While visiting Boston, top historical sites to see include the Bunker Hill Monument, Faneuil Hall, and the JFK Presidential Library. There are also some great old pubs, like the Green Dragon Tavern, that were once frequented by Paul Revere and John Hancock and where you can still drink today.
The city of Philadelphia is packed with history that tells the story of America’s early days. Independence Hall was the place where colonial leaders established the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. So this building is a must-visit spot for anyone coming to Philadelphia. This is also where you can see the Liberty Bell up-close. The National Constitution Center is an interactive museum in the city that relates these history lessons to their relevance in today’s society.
“Remember the Alamo” is a famous battle cry that is still quoted in popular culture today. When you visit San Antonio, you can learn about what the Alamo really stood for and how Texans died fighting for their independence. Also, take a day to explore the missions of San Antonio and learn about how they changed this part of Texas forever. Beyond the fun restaurants and bars along the Riverwalk, there is a lot of history here to be discovered.
Williamsburg is a very interesting town because it combines the best aspects of history and theater. Here you’ll find refurbished buildings and authentic scenes that transport you to another place and time. This is an ideal place to learn about Revolutionary War-era history through the talents of period actors and dramatic reenactments of how life was back then.
Gettysburg was the site of what has been called “the greatest battle ever fought on American soil.” This Civil War site saw over 50,000 soldiers die, become wounded, get captured, or go missing. There is a museum and visitor’s center here that will guide you through the history of this battlefield. Then you can tour the battlefield, perhaps see a live reenactment of a battle scene, and visit the national cemetery before sunset. There’s also a panoramic painting of Pickett’s Charge known as the Cyclorama that’s worth checking out here.
New York City is known for many different things, and a rich history is certainly one of them. One iconic landmark here is the Brooklyn Bridge, which you can walk across to get stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and check out the shops and restaurants in Brooklyn. But this bridge does much more than just connect two boroughs. Created by John Roebling, it represents the energy and creativity of an age when most buildings were only a few stories tall and great heights were thrilling and empowering. The Statue of Liberty marks many immigrants’ arrival at Ellis Island, and you can take a ferry there still today to learn about its significance. For modern history, visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City.
Most people don’t think much about Hawaii when they want to learn about history, but Pearl Harbor will always be an important place in World War II history. When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941 the USS Arizona was one of the ships that sank. Today you can view the wreckage of that ship and visit the place where America’s involvement in World War II began. Admission to this memorial is free and includes an hour and 15-minute total program, 23-minute documentary, and a short boat ride to get to and from the Arizona Memorial. Other historic sites to see here are the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.
The town of Plymouth tells the story of the Pilgrims that landed in America and changed the course of history. Here you can learn about their struggles during the first winter, their interactions with the Native Americans, and how they built a self-sufficient economy on the East Coast. There are unique living history sites at Plimoth Plantation that tell the story of Plymouth Colony in the 1600s. Monuments and memorials to add you your history sightseeing list include Plymouth Rock, the National Monument to the Forefathers, the Myles Standish Monument, and Burial Hill. The 1749 Court House & Museum, Captain Gershom Bradford House Museum, Pilgrim Hall Museum, and Salm Witch Museum are certainly worth a visit as well.
Savannah was once dominated by the Southern elite and set the standard for Southern charm and hospitality. Here you’ll find beautiful park squares and antebellum mansions underneath gorgeous oak trees that create canopies of shade. Historic points of interest in Savannah include Forsyth Park, the Owens-Thomas House, Bonaventure Cemetery, Mercer House, the Isiah Davenport House, and the Georgia State Railroad Museum. The Savannah Historic District has plenty of history, shopping, and even live concerts. In between historic stops to see the city’s monuments and architecture, make sure to try good old-fashioned southern cuisine favorites like shrimp & grits and pimento cheese.