12 Things to do in the USA

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From the freezing north of Alaska to the tropical south of Florida, the vast and varied land called America has everything. Boasting endless wildernesses, mighty mountain ranges, barren deserts, great cosmopolitan cities, entertainment, film, sports, culture and cuisine, no other country can offer such a staggering array of attractions. Whatever it is you seek, whether you hope to rub shoulders with stars, travel back in history or lose yourself in the immensity of nature, you are sure to find a wealth of things to do in the USA.

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1. Road trip on Route 66

US Route 66 is the ultimate route for most road trips
Route 66 is famous for representing the American spirit
Loneliest Road in United States
 The Loneliest Road has become a magnet for those in search of adventure and solitude

If you want to take the road less traveled, getting behind the wheel can be the perfect way to explore a country and few places are more suited to this kind of adventure than America. One of the best road trips in the country is US Route 66. The stuff of folklore and legend, the route takes you from Chicago in the Midwest right through the heart of the country to the coast of Southern California. Follow in the footsteps of the early explorers and release your inner pioneer spirit as you traverse the US on America’s most iconic drive.

Other road trip route:

  • When it was named The Loneliest Road in America by Life magazine in 1986, it wasn’t intended as a compliment. However, since then, driving US Route 50 has become an irresistible challenge for those looking for adventure, solitude, and sublime desert scenery.

Best time: April to early July and September to late October is the best period for a road trip in the USA. The temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold and the roads are not overcrowded. 

2. Take a hike in the Grand Canyon

A hiker in the rocky landscape at the Grand Canyon in USA
The Grand Canyon is a great destination for day hikes
Three hikers on a trail in Zion National Park in USA
Zion National Park features many wonderful trails that vary in difficulty and are suitable for everyone
Hikers enjoy the view of Glacier National Park in Northern Montana
With over 700 miles of trails in Glacier National Park, there are many opportunities for day hikes and overnight trips
Rocky mountain with a blue lake at the bottom in Glacier National Park
Grinnell Glacier and the lake is one of the best hikes in Montana

With a huge range of national parks and wilderness areas for you to explore, nature lovers are spoiled for choice, making hiking one of the best things to do in America. The Grand Canyon is quite simply one of the planet’s most breathtaking natural wonders, and taking a hike along one of its many rewarding trails is one of the must-do activities when in the country. There are routes of varying lengths, from under an hour to upwards of a week and more, all of which will allow you to experience this awe-inspiring landscape up close and personal. So strap on your backpack, lace up your boots and head for the great outdoors! 

Other hiking spots:

  • Although nowhere near as renowned as the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park is among the country’s most scenic hiking destinations. Follow the trails along the canyon’s floor and gaze up at the spectacular cliffs while keeping an eye out for the abundant local wildlife that inhabits the area.
  • Glacier National Park in Montana is another of the US’s great wilderness areas and boasts a multitude of worthwhile hikes. Furthermore, there are many backcountry camping grounds, providing great options for basing yourself in the park for further exploration on foot.

Best time: Head to the Grand Canyon from March to June or September to November when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold. July and August are very busy but still stunning. For Zion National Park, April to May and September to October offers pleasantly warm weather. Visit Glacier National Park in April and October when temperatures are not too cold, and the park is not overcrowded like in the summer months. 

3. See iconic tourist attractions

The white house and its lush lawn in Washington DC
Sign up for a White House tour at least 3 months in advance
The Empire State Building and other skyscrapers in New York
Catch the last elevator to the Empire State Building observatory at 1:15 am.
A huge patch of lush, green park amidst the skycrappers in New York
Central Park is the largest park in New York City, occupying 840 acres with three small lakes, an ice-skating rink and a zoo
Mount Rushmore is one the most iconic sights in the USA
Mount Rushmore National Memorial sculpture is a manmade phenomenon; 60 foot high with each of the President's heads at the height of a six-story building

The US has more than its fair share of bucket-list tourist attractions, and any trip there is the perfect chance to tick off as many of them as possible.

Recommended attractions:

  • No trip to the nation’s capital would be complete without visiting the instantly recognizable White House, the official residence of the US president. The guided tour will allow you to glimpse parts of one of the world’s most important centers of power.
  • Another of the United States’ iconic pieces of architecture, the Empire State Building was once the tallest building in the world. Located in New York City’s Manhattan neighborhood, it has been a symbol of America since it was completed in 1931. Visiting this venerable art deco masterpiece is among the most essential things to do in America. If you're there, stop by the famous Central Park, also located in Manhattan and the backdrop for countless films and TV shows.
  • If you're on a family holiday, or just want to nurture your inner child, Disneyland, California and Disney World, Flordia both draw millions of visitors each year, and for good reason. Disney World alone comprises four theme parks, two water parks, 27 themed resort hotels, and more, while Disneyland is a pioneer in theme parks and sits on the original site that Walt Disney bought near Anaheim in 1953. Catch a thrill and experience the magic at either of these world-famous venues.

Best time: Although any time of the year is fine to visit these tourist hot-spots, March to June and September to November give a combination of pleasant weather and fewer crowds in Washington and New York.

4. Experience the force of nature at Niagara Falls

If you do one thing in the USA, let it be visiting Niagara Falls. Head to the Canadian border in New York state to marvel at the titanic force of one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls. Marvel at it from the observation decks or take a boat tour for a more powerful impression. Whatever you do, keep your raincoats on at all times! Besides this natural phenomenon in New York, the USA also boasts towering mountain ranges, great rivers, endless plains, and arid deserts, offering multiple opportunities to witness untamed nature at its most spectacular. 

Niagara Falls in USA
Simply enjoy the thunderous Niagara Falls from the deck or hike along miles-long hiking trails in the area at this natural retreat
The kaleidoscope Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park
The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park is the third-largest hot spring in the world
Visitors enjoy the sight of the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park
Sadly, visitors cannot take a dip into any of the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park
Hot lava mix with ocean water in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hot lava from Kilauea volcano meets the ocean of Big Island — a sight to behold!

Other nature sights:

  • The third-largest hot spring in the world, the Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park is noted for the vivid blue color of its water as well as the constantly changing kaleidoscope of colors around the edges.
  • Located on Hawaii’s Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park gives you the chance to witness one of the planet’s most awesome spectacles — a live volcano spewing jets of molten lava from deep within the bowels of the Earth. There are also some challenging hikes to attempt, allowing you to further explore these alien volcanic landscapes.

Best time: The peak season to visit Niagara Falls is June to August but this is also when the weather is best. To avoid the crowds, visit later in the year, but expect lower temperatures. Go to Grand Prismatic Spring from May to September to witness the colors at their most vivid. The best times to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are April to early June and September to October. However, it is busier for a week around the end of April and the start of May due to a Japanese national holiday at that time.

5. Eat, the American way

Freshly steamed crabs in Maryland restaurants
Every summer, Maryland is flocked with people from around the world to taste the delicacy called the blue crab
Philly Cheesesteak is a must try in America
If you leave Philadelphia without trying a Philly cheesesteak, well, you've not tasted the city
Buffalo wings is a must have in New York
There is only one place to find the best buffalo wings in the world and that is Buffalo, New York
Try the New York pizza when in the US
Grab a slice and experience the iconic New York pizza 

American cuisine is often derided as being little more than hamburgers, pizza, and junk food, but there’s so much more to it than that, and a trip to the US can be a culinary adventure to convert even the most skeptical. This makes tasting the food one of the most important activities in the USA.

Recommended dishes:

  • Fans of seafood will surely want to include a trip to Maryland in their US itinerary if only to sample the state’s celebrated blue crab. In Maryland, they are steamed rather than boiled, and since the crabs in Maryland hibernate, they spend their active months building up a layer of fat. This gives them a distinctive buttery flavor and delicate texture that aficionados will tell you makes them the best crabs in the world.
  • For a piece of pure Americana on a plate, you can’t leave the country without sampling Buffalo wings, deep-fried chicken wings coated in a vinegar and cayenne pepper hot sauce. World-renowned as one of the quintessential American dishes, they were supposedly invented in a bar in Buffalo, New York — so if you are looking for the most authentic experience, that’s the place to head.
  • The Philly cheesesteak, as may be guessed from the name, originates in the city of Philadelphia — although it is now widely available throughout the rest of the country. It consists of a bread roll filled with thin slices of beefsteak topped with melted cheese. Perhaps not great for your waistline or your cholesterol level — but that shouldn’t stop you trying it at least once!

Best time: Find these yummy dishes any time!

6. Appreciate art and history at the Met

The US might be a young country, but with several hundred years of colorful modern history along with a plethora of world-class museums, the options for those in search of a cultural fix are almost limitless. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, popularly known as the Met, is spread over three New York locations and boasts over two million works. It contains significant collections from around the globe and down the ages and is also arguably the world’s most important repository of American art. Some other places to witness artistic flairs in the US are below.  

Other art and history sights:

  • One of the many highlights of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC is the David H. Koch Hall of Fossils – better known as the Dinosaur Room. Recently reopened after five years of refurbishment, it contains over 700 fossils of creatures from the distant past, including the star of the show, the skeleton of a fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex.
  • Another New York City superstar and a must-visit for art -lovers is the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), one of the largest museums of modern art in the world. MoMA boasts a seriously impressive collection of art, including works of architecture and design, drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, film, electronic media and more.
  • For something more history-related, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is a popular spot and home to several different collections including many forms of art from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe, from ancient to contemporary periods.

Best time: Visiting museums can be done year-round, making them good options if you are visiting the US during periods that are unfavorable for other more seasonal attractions.

7. Hit the beach

Miami beach in USA
When you are not sunbathing at the beach, hit the shopping strip, Lincoln Road Mall
Kapalua Bay Beach in Hawaii, USA
Golden sand and wonderful swimming makes Kapalua Bay Beach one of the best beaches in America

Americans love their beaches, and unsurprisingly for a country with such an extensive coastline, the US boasts its fair share of options if sun, sand, and sea are your thing.

Recommended beaches:

  • Miami’s South Beach is so much more than just a strip of sand, although if that’s all you want, it’s a pretty good one. Away from the beach itself, the area is known for shopping and — after dark — for nightlife and partying. A place to see and be seen.
  • With hot summers and mild winters, it’s no wonder that Florida is one of the US’s most popular holiday destinations. However, if you prefer somewhere to escape the crowds and relax, the pristine beaches of Caladesi Island State Park on the west coast of Florida could be the ideal choice.
  • If you are in search of the most perfect paradisiac beaches, there’s only one state to head for — Hawaii. Once there, make a beeline for the Big Island and head to Kapalua Bay Beach. You’ll be rewarded with glorious white sand, top-class surfing and a place that has variously been voted the Best Beach in America and even the Best Beach in the World.

Best time: Visit South Beach from March to May for pleasant weather, fewer crowds, and lower rates. Weather is pleasant all year in Kapalua Bay Beach, but to avoid any crowds head there from April to May and September to November. For Caladesi, any time is good.

8. Cycle, Ski and Surf

Skiing in USA
Squaw Valley next to Lake Tahoe is another wonderful skiing destination in the USA
Surfing in USA
With over 9000 km of coastline, it is no surprise that that the US features some fantastic surfing spots

Any clear day with good weather in the USA is a reason to be outdoors. The country's varied landscape and weather means there is a plethora of adventure activities lined up for everyine. You can enjoy just about any kind of adventurous activity you can think of, including climbing, mountain biking, white-water rafting and just about anything else. In the US, adrenaline junkies and adventurers of all persuasions are well catered for.

Recommended activities:

  • While every state in the US flaunts excellent cycling routes, making it a possible activity for anyone visiting any part of the country, we recommend taking on the 596 km loop in the Green Mountains. Cyclists can begin the journey in Burlington and explore the lush landscapes in not only Vermont but also New Hampshire and the Lake Champlain shoreline in New York.
  • The colder months see parts of the US transformed into a wonderland for winter sports enthusiasts, and Bogus Basin in Boise County, Idaho, is as good a place as any to hit the slopes. If alpine skiing is not your thing, there are also 37 kilometers of cross-country trails for you to tackle. For skiers and snowboarders, a trip to Bogus Basin will be among the most fun things to do in the US.
  • Surfing may not be the sole reason to vacation in America, but it is something to consider. Santa Cruz in California is ideal for both beginners and experienced surfers, making it one of the best locations for surfing in the state, if not in the country. The calm waves in Pleasure Point is perfect for young enthusiasts while, the Steamer Lane is fit for the more experienced.

Best time: The skiing season at Bogus Basin is late November to early April. California is a year round destination, but surfing is best done during the winter months of December to February for the cooler water and swelling waves. For those who want to take on the Green Mountain loop, consider cool, crisp weather between May to mid-October. 

9. Explore iconic cities

The vibrant, glittering city of Las Vegas in USA
Las Vegas offers a multitude of entertainment sources from circus performances, cabaret, erotica and boxing to, of course, gambling

The US is home to more world-renowned cities than perhaps any other country, and if you only have one chance to go there, your biggest problem is going to be deciding which ones to see.

Recommended cities:

  • If you visit the US and travel to just one city, you should choose New York City. It is the most vibrant, fascinating, lively, exciting, overwhelming and emotive city in the United States, a feast for all the senses and a place that everybody who has the chance should see at least once in their life.
  • While New York is big, brash and edgy, as an incredibly diverse city and cultural mixing pot, Los Angeles has a charm that is altogether different. Besides the obvious Hollywood-related attractions, there are good museums and several historic sites to visit. LA is rightly famous for its beach culture, too, and the surrounrding area also has some enticing wilderness areas to explore if you decide you need an escape from the big smoke.
  • Located in Nevada state in the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas is among the most renowned — or perhaps notorious — entertainment destinations in the world. Famous for its mega-casinos, plush hotels and almost limitless options when it comes to letting loose, Las Vegas is a place that needs to be seen to be believed.

10. Take a cruise to Alaska

Vast, icy and sparsely populated, Alaska, just across the Bering Strait from Russia, is very different from the rest of the United States. The deep, forested interior is largely uninhabited and inaccessible, so one of the best ways to see what the state has to offer is from the deck of a ship. Taking an Alaskan cruise will allow you to spot ocean-going wildlife including whales and seals as you sail along the rugged coastline of inexorable glaciers and jagged rocks.

Best time: The Alaska cruise season is late April to September. 

11. Partake in festivities

Mardi Gras in America
Dress up in green, purple and gold to look the part of the parade

As Oprah said, America is a salad bowl of different race, culture and ethinicity. With so many influences, it doesn't come as a surprise that the country features a wealth of festivals and events. If you want to get a taste of American culture amidst its people during your visit to the country, we recommend taking part in one (or more) of the many festivals. Whether you are into art, heritage, or music, there is a fun event waiting for you.

Recommended festivals: 

  • If you are traveling to the States during August, Burning Man Festival is not to be missed. Head over to Black Rock Desert, Nevada and immerse yourself in the unique energy of this festival. During the week-long event, witness some crazy art works, enjoy the musical performances and make some friends in the process. And no, they don't really burn anyone. 
  • Considered to be one of the best festivals in America, Mardi Gras is a colorful experience that involves a lot of events and parades throughout New Orleans. Witness people dressed in colorful costumes, and giant floaties parade around the city. If you don't want to be an onlooker only, join in the parade — dress up in the official color code of green, gold and purple, signifying faith, power and justice

When is the festival: Burning Man takes place every last Monday in August. Mardi Gras is set 47 days before Easter. In 2020, it falls on Tuesday, 25th February. 

12. Enjoy the entertainment!

Crowd in the busy section of Times Square in USA
Times Square in New York is an iconic location. Snap a picture for Instagram!
The hollywood sign in California
The Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, California is a cultural icon that attracts thousands for photo ops

If you’re determined to have fun, the US is for you. With world-class theme parks, resorts and entertainment of every kind, you’re unlikely to ever get bored in America. In fact, Sin City, Las Vegas is enough to single-handedly fill everybody's entertainment needs. It is the place to be if you’re looking for somewhere to let your hair down, hit the town and splash the cash. At the heart of it all lies the infamous strip, four miles of opulent hotels, mega-casinos and every type of entertainment you can imagine. Take your pick from circus performances, cabaret, erotica, boxing — and, of course, gambling.

Other destinations:

  • For almost as long as movies have been made, Hollywood has been central to America’s film industry, and for fans of the silver screen, the chance to soak up the town’s glitz and glamour can’t be passed up. Find your favorite celebrity’s star on the Walk of Fame and take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard to imbibe the atmosphere before heading to Sunset Boulevard for a night on the tiles.
  • Among New York’s myriad attractions, for fans of the performing arts, catching a show on Broadway is one that stands out. The three longest-running shows currently available are The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, and The Lion King — but there are also plenty of others to choose from.
  • Even if you don’t see a Broadway show, you can’t leave New York without stepping foot in Times Square. On New Year’s Eve, it’s the place to be for the midnight countdown, but at any other time, it’s invariably full of tourists gaping at the giant screens and flashing lights – and you need to join them at least once.

Best time: For the most pleasant weather and fewer crowds, visit Las Vegas and Hollywood from March to May and September to November. Visit New York from April to June and September to early November, to experience the most pleasant weather and fewer tourists. Of course, you can also visit the city for the end of year countdown on December 31st.

A trip to the USA could mean bright lights, fashion, and showbiz. It could mean sprawling cities, skyscrapers, and ultra-modernity. It could also be small-town communities, rodeos, country music, and cowboys. It is untamed nature, deserts, plains, and mountains. It is swamps that are home to alligators and frozen forests that are home to bears. It is freedom and adventure, an enigmatic land of extremes and contradictions, and whatever it is to you, it’s a place you need to witness first-hand to even begin to understand.

Published by Marie Storm, updated on October 21, 2022
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