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Tourism - visiting the USA

What to see and do in the United States


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A guide to discovering the United States

Tourism in the USA - cities, outdoors, and other attractions

Page menu City breaks  & theme parks
Away from the cities Formalities & insurance
See also : Interactive tourist map - discover over 60 of the top tourist sites and cities in the USA

Iconic streetcar in San Francisco
The first thing that any visitor to the USA, coming from another country, needs to understand it that the USA is a BIG place.  It's not the kind of country you can "do" in a single trip (unless you have several months to spare). For instance driving from New York to San Francisco takes at least five days - assuming eight hours driving a day – and that doesn't really leave  much time for sightseeing on the way, other than what you see through the car window.
    Even within a "limited" area, hopping from one city to another is also a long process, and generally requires taking the plane. Even if you just want to visit California, it's important to realize that Los Angeles and San Francisco are over 600 km. apart.... that's a day's drive. And don't imagine you can take a fast train. You can't – trains between the two cities take over eight and a half hours. Things are a bit better on the east coast, where Acela trains can reach speeds of over 200 km/h, but most of the time they don't, and most trains still take over three hours to cover the 328 km between Washington and New York.
    So in short, before visiting the USA, know what you want to do, see if it's practical, see what the opportunities are ... but first read the useful tips and information on this page.

    Visiting the USA means visiting a continent rather than visiting a country, meaning that visitors planning a trip very much need to know why they want to visit the USA, and what kind of holiday or vacation they hope to enjoy once there. Doing it all, visiting everywhere, in a single trip is out of the question.

Four types of trip

Unlike old Europe where  each  area, each country, has a variety of things to see and do, and visitors can take in a few cities, a few museums, plenty of history and  mountains and/or countryside in a single short trip if they want to, tourism in the USA falls into four distinctive types:

City breaks in the USA

Hôtels throughout the USA
A great selection at best rates from  Booking.com

 Los Angeles
 San Francisco
 New York
Among the top city destinations in the USA, New York leads the pack by a long way. To start with it's the USA's most connected city, with direct flights from all over the world as well as all over the USA, making it easy to reach. Bus, train, tram and taxis whisk visitors from JFK Airport into the centre in half an hour or  so, La Guardia airport is only a few minutes further out, and the city has masses of hotels to cater for all the visitors. Once there, there's so much to see, historic buildings, museums, Central Park,  Greenwich Village, Brooklyn Bridge and more. There's more than enough to keep the average visitor or tourist happy for a week.... or as some New Yorkers say, for ever.
    Other popular city destinations include Los AngelesSan Francisco, Miami, Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas, Washington and Boston... but these cities are all very different, and visitors come to each of these for very different reasons... Los Angeles for Hollywood, San Francisco for its location and cityscapes,  Chicago and Philadelphia for their architecture and art galleries, Orlando for its theme parks, Las Vegas for its casinos and shows, Miami for its location and its climate, and so on.

Theme Parks and themed tourism

The USA was the birthplace of the Theme Park, the first theme park having opened at Lake Compounce in Connecticut, in 1846! However international visitors to the USA are more likely to be heading for one or more of the USA's more widely known theme parks, and in particular for the various Disney resorts in California or Florida, two states that offer a wide variety of theme parks with different themes, such as Universal's cinema studio theme park just outside Hollywood.
    Theme parks provide the classic US short-break leisure vacation experience, primarily catering for the needs and expectations of American tourists. The big theme park "resorts" offer an all-in holiday, neatly packaged to provide fun and relaxation for all ages, and an all-inclusive vacation experience.
    The theme park capitals of the USA are California and Florida. See  California theme parks for the best west coast options.
    For thematic tourism, check out these thematic pages:

Road Trips

Road trips remain popular, particularly in the west
See also: Driving in the USA.  
See also: Taking the train in the USA.  
See also: ►  Six great American Road Trips
The USA was the birthplace of the "road trip"; and while few visitors now take the iconic "American spirit" road trips of the past, on board an emblematic 6-liter Cadillac or a fin-tailed Buick, trips across the USA using somewhat more environment-friendly vehicles remain popular to this day. For those with a green conscience, the principal rental companies now offer electric vehicle hire in major locations, and the mileage between recharges keeps increasing as battery technology improves. But it's still best to plan daily legs of any journey by e-vehicle and check that there is one that will easily cover your longest leg. The most popular parts of the USA for road trips are the mountain and coastal areas of the West, with, among the favourites, a discovery of historic Route 66. If you're planning a road trip, decide if you want to hire a car, a SUV or a mobilehome... and even if gasoline is still cheap compared to Europe and many other places, remember that Americans use miles, and that 500 miles is not 500 kilometres – it's 800, and distances, specially out west, can be very long.

America's Great Outdoors

Bryce Caényon
Bryce Canyon national park
Large parts of the USA remain, to this day, very sparsely populated areas, and many of the most attractive of these areas come under the management of the National Parks Service, or state park services. This means that they come equipped with campgrounds and lodges, as well as miles and miles of marked hiking trails. Most of these great outdoor areas are in the West, but there are also some very attractive outdoor areas in the Appalachian Mountains, from the Great Smoky Mountains in the south, to the Adirondacks on the Canadian border.  Hiking trips in any area require detailed planning. Visitors planning to explore the amazing parks in the West by car can either use local hotel or motel accommodation, or else buy some basic camping equipment on arrival; depending on what you buy, the cost can be recouped in a day or two.

Organizing your stay

Countless travel and tour operators propose a wide array of fully-organized or partly-organized tours in the USA. .... Even road-trips can be booked as a package. For those wishing to organize their own stay, trips can be planned down to the finest detail, and visits to popular attractions can (and in many cases should) be booked online in advance.

Formalities. Tourist visas

    Visas are not required for citizens of most countries of Europe or other countries for which the USA has a visa waiver program (41 countries in all, at the start of 2024, including countries such as Japan, Australia, Singapore).  However tourists visiting the USA under the visa waiver agreements must first obtain approval through the online ESTA scheme. This is best done at least a week before a trip.
    For more details, jump to Visa and ESTA information.

Travel Insurance, money

It is vital for anyone visiting the USA to take out travel insurance, covering illness, accident, medical care and repatriation. It's not that the average tourist falls ill or has a mishap while in the USA. Most don't, but the cost of medical care or treatment after an accident, not to mention civil liability, can be enormous in the USA, where litigation is part of life. Don't expect your embassy to pick up the tab; embassies don't do this, and they don't take kindly to tourists who run into trouble and don't have the necessary insurance cover to see them home.  See health care.
   For useful information about how to pay for things in the USA, and what to expect, see buying and paying.

For more background to the USA.....

Book / ebook     A Background to modern America -  people, places and events  that have played a significant role in the shaping of modern America. A C1-level Advanced English reader for speakers of other languages, and anyone wanting to  learn some of the background to today's USA.  Twenty-two texts, with vocabulary guides and exercises.

For California, discover About-California.com, a short guide for visitors.

About-the-usa.com   Home page 

Discover the U.S.A.
its past, its present, its future.
The people, places and events that made modern America - Elvis Presley, M-L King, J-F Kennedy, the Mississippi, Route 66 and a whole lot more....  

Health care for visitors and tourists to the USA

People visiting the USA as a tourist, even those with US citizenship, are very strongly advised to take out a travel health insurance policy to cover their stay/s in the USA. Medical costs in the USA can be very high, and even a simple visit to a doctor can cost typically between $100 and $200, and a day in hospital may well cost over $3,000.

About-the-USA.com is an independent guide to the USA, free of external advertising. Pages may contain links to useful external websites, including US government websites  and other official sources, as well as  affiliate links to relevant travel service providers. A small commission may be  earned from purchases made through these affiliate links.

Other places, other countries...

Partner websites

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  • Angleterre.org.uk - Le guide de l'Angleterre, en français

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