The United States of America (or the USA, the US) is the world’s third largest country. It is about half the size of Russia and the same size as China. Due to its size, you may think America is a high-population country, and you are right. However, the majority of the American population growth is not due to its size but rather immigration.
The United States borders with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. Currently, the United States has sixteen territories, five of which are permanently inhabited: Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. They are classified as unincorporated territories. If you have a US Tourist Visa, you can also visit the US territories.
Things to Do in the USA
It’s one country where you see the entire world! With more than 320 million people, America truly is a “melting pot” of cultures from around the world. Regarded as the most powerful and influential country in the world, it plays a dominant role in the world’s cultural landscape.
It is famous for its wide array of popular tourist destinations, ranging from the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the natural wonders of Yellowstone National Park to the vast wilderness of Alaska, to the sunny beaches of Florida, Hawaii, and Southern California. Whether it is to Disney Land or Las Vegas, the U.S. is a must visit destination.
Note: Visit our USA interactive map and click the State you’re interested in for the top attractions to visit in a particular area.
Top 10 US Cities
The following is a list of 10 of the most popular tourist destinations. Other smaller cities can be found in the US State destination pages (link above). For a detailed list of attractions in each of these cities, please open the specific destination page.
1. Washington, D.C. — the national capital, filled with major museums and monuments.
2. Boston — best known for its colonial history, its passion for sports, and its university students.
3. Chicago — heart of the Midwest and transportation hub of the nation, with massive skyscrapers and other architectural gems.
4. Los Angeles — home of the film industry, musical artists, and surfers, with beautiful mild weather, great natural beauty from mountains to beaches, and endless stretches of freeways.
5. Miami — attracts sun-seeking northerners and home to a rich, vibrant, Latin-influenced, Caribbean culture.
6. Orlando — home to Disneyland, Universal Studios, Sea World and proximity to world-class beaches.
7. New Orleans — the birthplace of Jazz and is known for its quaint French Quarter and annual Mardi Gras celebration.
8. New York City — the country’s biggest city, home of the financial services and media industries, with world-class cuisine, arts, architecture, and shopping.
9. San Francisco — the City by the Bay, featuring the Golden Gate Bridge, vibrant urban neighborhoods, and dramatic fog.
10. Seattle — rich museums, monuments, and recreational opportunities, and five distinct climates within 200 miles (320 km). Check out the Space Needle as well.
Plan Your Travel by Regions
The United States is a vast landmass. It will take you months to cover it all. There are 59 National Parks and all of them are breathtaking. The US also has 23 World Heritage Sites and several monuments, great museums, and plenty scenic drives. Moreover, due to the long distances between the coasts and major cities, you will have to fly and the cost can quickly add up. It is best, therefore, to focus on a few regions and plan your trip accordingly.
For example, in your first leg of the trip, you can visit Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Philadephia, and Florida. On your next trip, you can fly to the West Coast and cover California, Texas, Arizona, Seattle, and even Hawaii or Alaska.
New England makes up the northeastern states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Home to gabled churches, rustic antiques, and steeped in American history, New England offers beaches, spectacular seafood, rugged mountains, frequent winter snows, and some of the nation’s oldest cities, in a territory small enough to tour in a week to ten days.
Mid-Atlantic makes up the northern states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. Ranging from New York City in the north to Washington, D.C., the Mid-Atlantic is home to some of the nation’s most densely populated cities, historic sites, rolling mountains, the New Jersey Pine Barrens, the Lehigh Valley, and seaside resorts like the Long Island beaches and the Jersey Shore.
American South is the states of Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. More than geography, this is based on cultural similarities. The South is celebrated for its hospitality, cooking, and its blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass and country music traditions.
This lush, largely subtropical region includes cool, verdant mountains, agricultural plantations, and vast cypress swamps.
The Midwest is made of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The Midwest is home to farmland, forests, picturesque towns, industrial cities, and the Great Lakes, the largest system of freshwater lakes in the world, forming the North Coast of the U.S. Known for their simplicity and hospitality, Midwesterners are a welcoming people.
The Great Plains States, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma are considered part of the Midwest. Most of the region is flat states with eastern forests, prairies, and an enormous expanse of steppes (shortgrass prairies), but filled still with pockets of quirky and diverse history.
The Rocky Mountain States
Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming make up the Rocky Mountain States. The spectacular snow-covered Rockies offer hiking, rafting, excellent skiing, deserts, and some large cities.
Southwest America is made of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas. Heavily influenced by Spanish and Mexican culture, as well as Native American remnants, this area is home to some of the nation’s most spectacular natural attractions and some flourishing artistic communities. Although mostly empty, the region’s deserts have some big cities.
Texas is the second biggest state is like a separate country (as, indeed, it once was), with strong cultural influences from its Spanish and Mexican past. The terrain ranges from southeastern swamplands to the flat land and cotton farms of the South Plains to the sandy beaches of South Texas to the mountains and deserts of far West Texas.
American West Coast is along the Pacific Ocean, constituting Washington, Oregon, and California. The pleasantly mild Pacific Northwest offers outdoor pursuits and cosmopolitan cities. The terrain ranges from spectacular rainforests to scenic mountains and volcanoes to beautiful coastlines to sage-covered steppes and deserts. California is heavily influenced by its former Spanish and Mexican rulers, and also by Asian culture and cuisine. It offers world-famous cities, deserts, rainforests, snowy mountains, and beautiful beaches.
Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico
Alaska — One fifth as large as the rest of the United States, Alaska reaches well into the Arctic and features mountainous wilderness, including North America’s tallest mountain, Denali, and Native Alaskan culture unseen elsewhere in the United States.
Hawaii — A volcanic archipelago in the tropical Pacific, 2,300 mi (3,700 km) southwest of California (the nearest state), laid-back Hawaii is a vacation paradise.
Puerto Rico — An island south of Florida with beautiful beaches, a mix of Spanish culture and food. Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world on the island of Culebra and Vieques.
Top 10 Other Destinations
Below are the top 10 largest and most famous destinations outside of major cities.
1. Denali National Park — a remote national park featuring North America’s highest peak Mt. Denali and plenty of wildlife.
2. Grand Canyon — the world’s longest and most visited canyon
3. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park — national park in the southern Appalachians
4. Mesa Verde National Park — well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings
5. Mount Rushmore — the iconic memorial of four former presidents carved into a cliff face
6. Niagara Falls — the massive waterfalls straddling the border with Canada
7. Walt Disney World — the most popular vacation resort destination in the world
8. Yellowstone National Park — the first national park in the U.S., and home of the Old Faithful geyser
9. Yosemite National Park — home of El Capitan, Half-dome, and the famous Giant Sequoia trees
10. Hawaii — Big Island, Maui, Kuia and Oahu
Best Time To Visit USA
Weather conditions and climate of the USA vary greatly. South is, of course, warmer than the north. And although the climate of the continental US is generally temperate, Hawaii has a tropical climate and Alaska is arctic. The US territories, such as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands, are also tropical climate.
The best time to visit the country usually depends on the particular destinations you want to visit. For example, the summer is hot in the USA regardless of the region, but the winter temperatures can vary from frosting to mild and even warm. Spring and Autumn are cool and, generally, the most comfortable seasons to visit.
The high tourist season in the USA is the summer months. Other busy times are traditional holidays, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, and spring school holidays, known as the Spring Break. Popular destinations such as New York City are busy all-year-round, even during the winter.
What to Wear
Clothes you need to take on a trip with you also depend on the region you are planning to visit and depending on the season. You can follow a simple rule: Summer destination – take light clothes, winter – layers are your way to go. Spring and Autumn – go with the medium-warm and don’t forget an umbrella.
Another thing to consider is the activities you’re planning to do. Outdoor-lovers will need clothes and shoes, suitable for hiking, trekking, horseback riding, or whatever else you have on your mind. For wandering in the cities, casual outfits (jeans and tees) will do. However, for a fancy night out, take something more formal.
The main language is English. However, there is also a significant Spanish-speaking minority, particularly in the southern states.
The currency in use in the US Dollar. Hotels do not, as a rule, exchange currency and only a few major banks do, so it is advisable to arrive with US Dollars or exchange foreign currency at the airport upon arrival. All major international credit cards are easily acceptable, and ATMs are available widely.
Local SIM Card & Free WiFi
Before coming to the USA, keep in mind that foreign mobile phones will only work if they are tri-band or quad-band. Or you can rent a mobile phone. Street payphones are still common in the USA, although not widely used nowadays. Most of them operate on coins. For long-distance calls, cell phones will be wiser to use, than hotel phone or pay phone. On the other hand, from most hotels, you can make local calls for free.
Buying a prepaid SIM card in the USA will be comparably cheaper. Pre-pay cell phones are available for sale in numerous retail facilities, including the drug stores. Electronic stores, such as Radio Shack and Best Buy also sell these phones. They start from US$20 price and usually come with a package of minutes. The main phone providers are AT&T, T-Mobile, and Virgin Mobile. Coverage is excellent, except for rural areas and national parks.
Travelers will have no problem staying connected to the Internet, while in the USA. Most hotels and other accommodations provide free Wi-Fi for their guests. So do most cafes, restaurants, and bars. Also, in major urban areas, Wi-Fi hotspots in public places are plentiful nowadays, and their number is permanently rising. There are numerous Internet cafes in cities and towns. Public libraries usually provide computers for guests to use as well.
The wide variety of different nationalities and origins of the USA resulted in an abundance of customs and traditions. Although the society has grown to be liberal and tolerant nowadays, race relationships still remain difficult in some regions. In large urban areas, people of the same origin try to live within the same community.
Americans are known for their openness and friendliness to visitors. Shaking hands is the common form of greeting. You should not be afraid to offend anybody in any way, as long as you stick to the basic rules of courtesy. If you’ve been invited to be a guest in someone’s private home, a small gift will be appreciated. A relaxed and casual atmosphere is common, so is the casual clothing. However, high-end restaurants, hotels, and clubs may require more formal clothes. And, of course, for a business meeting, you should wear something smart.
Smoking is becoming more and more unpopular in the USA, so you need to ask permission, before lighting a cigarette. Smoking is forbidden or limited in most public places. However, the strictness of the prohibition depends on the state.
Regarding religious attitude, there are two major regions in the United States. The Bible Belt is an area in the southeast of the country where conservative evangelical Protestant communities play a significant social and political role. Also, the attendance at Christian churches is relatively higher in this region compared to the national average. Secondly, in the far Northwestern United States lies the Unchurched Belt. This region, on the other hand, is characterized by a low rate of religious activity.
Eating out is increasingly popular in the USA, as well as the desire to find and try new cuisines. In large cities, restaurants are available in all shapes and sizes. Options are plentiful for both casual and fancy dining out. Many people tend to think that the USA doesn’t have their own national cuisine. However, due to the variety of nationalities and ethnic groups, the country offers an amazing mixture of various cultural influences in culinary.
Some cities even have entire districts, dedicated to a particular cuisine. These include Vietnamese in New Orleans, Somali and Ethiopian in Minneapolis, Chinese and Italian in New York City, etc.
On the other hand, there are dishes, which can be found literally throughout the country, from coast to coast. And, although, more and more Americans nowadays tend to eat healthy, fast food is still a big player on the market. The biggest popularities include hamburgers, fried chicken, barbecue meat, Reuben sandwich, cheesecake, key lime pie, cobbler, and, of course, apple pie.
As for drinks, the most popular are all kinds of wines, microbrewery beers and regional cocktails, such as Manhattan in New York City. Drinking laws are set by states individually. Minimal drinking age varies from 18 to 21. So is the closing time of bars and other drinking facilities. Generally, it comes between midnight and 3 am. The verification of age is required when buying alcohol. For foreigners, this would be showing a passport. The most popular non-alcohol drinks are Coca-Cola and coffee.
Tipping is very common and expected, as waiters mainly depend on their tips as the main income from work. The usual tip would be 10% – 20%, although you can leave less if you are not satisfied with the service. Sometimes, for larger parties, service charges are included, so ask a waiter, if it’s not stated on the menu. Keep in mind, in top-end facilities, cover charge is an admission fee and not a tip for service.
There are various airlines, which operate flights within the USA. Some of them are American Airlines, Delta, and United.
Buses are not really the fast way to get around the USA. However, there are many options available for those, who want to enjoy the beautiful landscapes outside of the window, but can’t drive. The major bus operators are Greyhound and Trailways. There are also bus low coat lines, such as BoltBus and Megabus, which offer very attractive prices for budget travelers.
Traveling by bike around the country is not easy. Distances are huge, and cyclists are forbidden to ride alongside vehicles on most highways and interstate roads. However, within cities and towns, getting around by bicycle is common, and the number of bike lanes is increasing. Just keep in mind to wear a helmet and use appropriate safety equipment, such as lights.
Rail is not considered the best way to travel in the USA either. Trains are mostly slow, expensive and infrequent. On the other hand, the high-speed train operated by Acela Express is a great way to get from Washington DC to New York City in just 30 minutes and from New York to Boston in three hours. Short-distance rail service also exists in various urban areas, connecting main cities to suburbs.
Water travel is not really popular in the USA. Nevertheless, there are extensive waterways along the coastlines, as well as large rivers and lakes. The Ohio River is considered to carry more water traffic than any other waterway in the world. Also, tour ships and boats operate in the Great Lakes from ports in Detroit, Buffalo, Rochester, Toronto, Duluth, Sault Sainte Marie, Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee.
Driving is an excellent way to see the USA, but distances can be huge. There are 4,716 km between San Francisco and New York City. However, it’s a great opportunity to sense the vastness and the diversity of landscapes of the country. Some roads are truly iconic, such as the famous Route 66, for example. Traveling by road is the favorite method of getting around for American citizens.
Roads are generally of good quality. In cities and towns, they are maintained by the local authorities, while the interstate roads are managed by state and federal authorities.
Renting vs. Bus, Train, Taxi
Major international car hire companies have offices at all gateway airports and in most cities. The minimum age to hire a car is 25, but some companies allow younger drivers for an additional fee. Hiring self-drive campers or motorhomes, called ‘recreational vehicles’ or RVs in the USA, is easy, and there are at least four different sizes of RV, from compact to large. However, booking as early as possible is required.
Right or Left Driving
Cars drive on the right side of the road.
Electricity & Plug Type
The USA use types A and B sockets. You may need to bring a travel adapter to fit the proper socket type. Check out the above-linked page to see the photos and other useful information. The standard voltage is 120V.
Where to Stay
The choice of hotels in the USA is great, from budget accommodations to top-end facilities and international hotel chains. The quality is generally high. Standard amenities include a phone, a TV set, and free Wi-Fi connection. Usually, hotels expect payment in advance and reservation is held until 6 pm unless late arrival was requested.
Bed and Breakfasts
Bed and breakfasts and guesthouses are available throughout the country. They offer fewer amenities, but they cost cheaper than hotels, so can be a great option for budget travelers.
Camping is very popular in the USA, especially in the Rocky Mountains and New England. The camping season lasts from May to September. There are over 24 thousand campsites in the country. Keep in mind, during the high season, booking in advance is highly recommended. Also, camping outside of designated sites and along the highways is strictly forbidden.
HI-AYH (Hostelling International – American Youth Hostels) operates 150 hostels throughout the country. There are also plentiful private hostel accommodations in the USA.
Southern and Western states of the country offer numerous ranches for a stay. These facilities offer not only accommodation but also various activities, such as riding, cattle drives, mountain hiking and trekking.
In the USA, you can rent an apartment, a condo or even a villa, all of which are available throughout the country. Use Airbnb or similar websites to search for a suitable accommodation.
How Safe is the United States
The United States will not be a dangerous destination for you if you take the necessary precautions. Don’t show your valuables in public and don’t leave them in a car unattended, especially in bad neighborhoods. Don’t walk alone at night and you’ll be fine.
Tourists, however, have been involved in crimes, related to the illegal drugs trade, in the regions, which border Mexico, so be aware. Also, terrorist attacks are a slight possibility, although quite rare. Federal agencies, as well as city and state authorities, provide strong anti-terrorism measures.
Medical care in the USA is of high quality. However, it is rather expensive, and only emergency cases are treated without the prior payment or the evidence of insurance. So, travel insurance is highly advised for trips to the USA.
Many medications, which are easily available in other countries, require a prescription in the USA. So, it is highly recommended to bring the supply of necessary medicine with you. Only vaccination against tetanus is required, when visiting the USA.
There have been occasional outbreaks of West Nile Virus, H1N1, plague and rabies in the recent years. However, they were not common, and no special precautions are required. Just general hygiene practices, such as regular hand-washing, are necessary.
Food & Water Safety
Food in the USA is safe to eat, including the street food. Tap water is also considered safe to drink and prepare food. It is even often offered in restaurants. However, bottled water is widely available throughout the country in restaurants and shops, if you are afraid of drinking tap water.
March 8, 2016 12:00 am