The United States is always a favourite holiday destination for Brits, who venture across the Atlantic to explore New York, Florida, California and many other well-known states. The attraction of America is understandable, as they speak the same language and we feel a familiarity having read out it in books and seen endless Hollywood movies. American TV shows have raised awareness of cities such as New York and Los Angeles, sending hordes of Brits travelling to the USA to check out the haunts of Carrie Bradshaw and Lauren Conrad.
However, there are a huge amount of unsung destinations to visit in America and you may want to discover something a bit more unusual. There are many areas which are just as incredible to visit as the more traditional destinations, but have traditionally been less popular with British tourists.
See our handy regional guide to less common, but no less incredible, destinations in the US below:
The nation’s first capital, Philadelphia, is often overlooked. Easy accessible with direct flights from London, Philly is a buzzing cultural centre with everything you could want from a city holiday. Base your stay in Center City, but make sure to venture down to Old City and Penn’s Landing. A walk down Market Street will bring Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell into view.
Foodies won’t feel their trip is complete without a few hours spent strolling around Reading Terminal Market, full of restaurants and stalls packed with local goodies. Restaurants are also abundant in the city, with BYOBs particularly popular in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is also a guaranteed hit, but many tourists miss Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens – a photographer’s dream.
Pittsburgh is known as the steel city due to its reputation for manufacturing and people still associate it with steel, helped in part by local American Football team The Steelers. As such, many would associate it more with industrial plants than spectacular views, but it is also home to Mount Washington a beautiful place to visit in itself and it also offers a phenomenal vista of the city below. Pittsburgh is also located at the confluence of three rivers, the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers so it is perhaps unsurprising, although not well known, that is also commonly referred to as the ‘city of bridges’ due to it having 446 of them around the city.
Henry John Heinz created the H.J.Heinz Company in Pittsburgh, now synonymous with ketchup around the world, and the company is still based in the city. Foodies interested in more than ketchup should visit Primanti Brothers for one of their famous sandwiches which have been offered to the people of Pittsburgh since the Great Depression.
Greenwich, Connecticut is the home of preppy and is definitely worth a visit. The town is easily accessible by train from Manhattan and can form part of a longer trip to New York City. Browse the luxurious shops on Greenwich Avenue and go bargain-hunting in the consignment stores. Since Greenwich is home to some of the wealthiest people on the East Coast (they call this part of Connecticut the Gold Coast), second-hand shopping in the town is a dream. Westport, a short drive away in the same county, is also worth a stop. History-buffs can also stop by Putnam Cottage or Bush-Holley House for a glimpse of the town in the 18th Century.
If you want a Midwestern city adventure but have already been to Chicago, consider a trip to Detroit, Michigan. The city has undergone an impressive transformation since the auto-industry closed factories. Hit up Eastern Market on Saturday if you’re a foodie, Sunday for arts and crafts and Tuesday if you’re bringing the kids. This unusual destination also features some incredible architecture, such as the opera house, the Guardian Building and Book Cadillac. Expect a blend of modern skyscrapers, beautiful art deco and unique combinations of different styles on the same block.
More interested in a relaxed summer trip? Consider Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a calm family retreat. The Upper Peninsula may not be well-known in the UK, but Americans head to the area for summer or winter vacations with the kids. The area is home to breath-taking nature (think waterfalls, lighthouses and lakes) and it’s rich with Native American history. Stock up on provisions in Marquette, Sault Ste. Marie or Escanaba before heading to a rented cabin.
Cleveland is a city in Ohio, located on Lake Erie. Its history dates back to the late 1700s and it experienced a population boom in the 1800s when the Ohio and Erie Canal was completed. By 1920 it was the fifth largest city in the USA but suffered from a rapid decline in the 1980s as the manufacturing industries started to disappear. Now though, Cleveland is enjoying a resurgence and offers a buzzing restaurant scene, an impressive number of museums, numerous craft breweries, a beautiful beachfront.
Those visiting Cleveland should consider visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the West Side Market which is a food market which has been operating more than 100 years and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The American South is rich with history and culture. We’d suggest flying into Atlanta, Georgia and driving from there to Birmingham, Alabama, which TripAdvisor calls the last major Southern City in America. The city played an incredibly important role in the American Civil Rights Movement, as documented in several popular films of late. Stop by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to brush up on your American History or take a Civil Rights Tour.
Jazz fans will find just what they need in Birmingham while automotive lovers need to visit the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. While the city is home to many trendier restaurants, a visit to Birmingham would not be complete without some real southern comfort food. Fill up on pulled pork, country fried steak, cornbread and fried dill pickles.
If you can’t get enough of the Southern Charm, visit Savannah, Georgia for a history lesson. Head to the Historic District for a dose of historic buildings, gardens and mansions – and take a picture at the spot where Forrest Gump waited for the bus. Picturesque Forsyth Park is located in the Historic District. If you visit the Park don’t miss the famous fountain and the Fragrant Garden, with markets and plants meant to be touched. A potentially morbid suggestion is a visit to the Bonaventure Cemetery. If you need a break from the city, drive out to Tybee Island for some beach (and good East Coast surfing).
When you think of the Pacific Northwest, it’s likely to evoke images of a very famous coffee chain and fictional vampires, but if Seattle isn’t your cup of tea head for Portland, Oregon. Many journeys to Oregon from London or other European cities mean a layover in Seattle, so there’s also the opportunity to combine the two into one.
Worried about the climate? Don’t be discouraged by the rain as it makes for beautiful greenery and fantastic outdoor spaces. If nature is what you’re looking for, Forest Park and the International Rose Test Garden will be just right for you (make sure you visit the Rose Garden between June and September for unbelievable scents and colours). There’s also a Japanese Garden and Washington Park, which is home to a zoo.
Culinary types need to check out Portland’s famous food carts for an authentic taste of the city. You can even take Food Cart Tours where you hear about the stories of each truck and taste some of their food. To wash down the food, stop by one of the city’s breweries as Portland is famous for its craft beer.
Arizona - Roadtrip
Brits looking for a road trip in the US often turn to California, but neighbouring Arizona offers beautiful landscapes, warm weather and friendly locals. Fly into Phoenix and drive through the Grand Canyon State, making sure to stop by Sedona. Continue from Sedona to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, enjoying the fantastic view from Mather Point.
After the Grand Canyon, you can either head to Vegas for a splash or turn Northeast towards the Four Corners Monument, where Arizona meets Colorado, New Mexico and Utah in one spot. Continue from there into one of these three states. If you choose to end your trip in Vegas, don’t forget to stop by the Hoover Dam, which straddles Nevada and Arizona.
If you want to go ever further off the beaten track, Arizona is also home to some quirkier attractions, such as the Meteor Crater in Winslow (the world’s best preserved) and the Jerome Ghost Town. The latter is ideal for tourists hoping for a Wild West experience and even used to be known as the “Wickedest Town in the West”.
Unusual tourist attractions
Anyone who wants to visit the more bizarre attractions in the US should consider visiting the following:
- Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri, is the world’s only hair museum which features over 2,000 pieces of jewellery made from human hair
- The Paper House in Rockport, Massachusetts is a summer house built of paper in 1922 and includes everything from paper constructed chairs to a paper piano
- Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum in San Antonio Texas where retired plumber Barney Smith has turned toilet seats into works of art
- The Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail and Museum is located in St. Charles County, Missouri and offers visitors the chance to see exhibits that trace the history of the largest explosives factory in America
- Ben and Jerry’s flavour graveyard in Waterbury, Vermont, was opened in 1997 and features headstones with commentaries on to the lives of each flavour that didn’t make the cut
- The International Banana Museum in Mecca, California, is the world’s largest collection devoted in one fruit
- Carhenge, in Alliance, Nebraska is exactly what it sounds like, a replica of Stonehenge made from cars and car parts
Getting to the US
Traveling to the USA is easier than ever with many domestic and international airlines offering direct routes to major cities. Make sure to keep an eye out for a good deal and take jetlag and time differences into account when setting out your itinerary.
Travelling within the US
Shorter distances can be accessed via train (Amtrak has information on times and fares here) car, or bus. For a cheap hop between cities, try Bolt Bus or Megabus. The USA is, however, larger than many think, and jaunts between different places often require flights.
Do I need a visa for the USA?
Most travellers from the European Union do not need a tourist visa if they are staying for less than ninety days with a valid passport and a return ticket, as they can travel with an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) under the Visa Waiver Programme. If you are unsure whether you may qualify for the programme, contact your local consulate or embassy or visit https://uk.usembassy.gov/visiting-united-states/
USA travel insurance
Before investing in a trip to the US, make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance in case something goes wrong. Travel insurance can cover you if you need medical treatment, lose or damage your baggage, suffer a delay, or need to cancel your trip. If you are planning to take more than one holiday in the next year, you should consider an annual multi trip insurance policy as this could save you money.
Columbus Direct policies offer you free access to an airport lounge if your flight is delayed by more than an hour1.
To learn more about what type of cover is available, see our page about USA travel insurance
(1) Subject to terms and conditions here