US Travel – Holidays in America

Monument Valley, Arizona, USA

Arches National Park, Utah

The essence of America? . . . that perfect, delicate balance between freedom ‘to’ and freedom ‘from’
M. vos Savant

Vacations in the USA

This massive country offers unbelievable variety of natural and man-made sights, so much so that 40% of Americans do not own a passport as all their diverse vacation needs are met at home.
Landscapes range from terminally dull to totally incredible and outdoor activities from simple to extreme in thousands of well-supported recreation areas, while the weather generally delivers what is appropriate to the season, with guaranteed sun or snow if you get the timing right.

Urban entertainment is equally well supplied with high quality, high-brow museums of all sorts, matched by high quality, low-brow theme parks of every kind.
The USA is the birthplace of 20thC rock and blues music with many related attractions and a vibrant live music culture while film buffs will enjoy recognising movie sets just about everywhere.

Shopping is a national pastime, caters to every whim and service really is with a smile.
Generally Americans are extremely friendly, talkative and helpful (more so than Europeans for example – and that’s a European’s opinion! ) and not at all like the gun-toting, violence prone wackos so favoured by the movies, though this relaxed amiability does not unfortunately extend to the American administration. Attitudes to foreigners may well depend on which area you are in, naturally, with tourist zones being most open to aliens, if somewhat superficially.

Los Angeles street with palms and Ferrari, California, USA

Los Angeles, California. Photo by Axion23.

Downsides

• Big distances cost big dollars though national airlines are competitive and fuel for cars relatively cheap.
• Street crime may add an unwelcome frisson in a few cities, but don’t be too freaked, most places are really safe and people charming. Hollywood movies have created an unfortunate myth of gun-toting loonies and ever present violence. This is not true – outside the White House and the Pentagon!
• Often towns, streets and shopping malls are unbelievably dull, tacky and identical to the last one you visited.

USA Weather

Generally go south anytime – though it can get a bit overheated in the summer with Florida getting distinctly sticky and storms/hurricanes on the horizon from June onwards so head north June – September. See the regional guides below for more precise suggestions.

Mirage Casino volcano fires up, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Las Vegas volcano goes boom, Nevada

Main tourist attractions

By Region

Times Square, Manhattan,New York USA

Times Square, New York

washington DC cherry blossom time, USA

Possibly the best season in Washington DC, cherry blossom time in March. Photo by Al Jazeera.

Europeans heading for the USA?

You are required to complete an online authorisation form 72-hours before you fly. However, you will not have to specify precisely when you are travelling and the authorisation you receive will last for two years.
This system applies to those using the Visa Waiver Program which allows British passport holders to stay in America for less than 90 days without a visa.

Best US Cities for Tourists

New York – a vibrant culture with a lot of attitude, top class entertainment, fantastic sights and skyline, great restaurants and one of the best places to shop on the planet.

San Francisco – the hills, the quaint wooden houses, the cocktail of modern city life stirred with bohemian cool, gay abandon and over-touristy but still popular Fisherman’s Wharf make this a city as unique and splendid as the iconic bridge and its nearby Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Washington DC – for the incredible spread of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, White House and other much-filmed government buildings, plus an extensive range of superb museums.

Miami – warm waters, white beaches and a colourful Art Deco buildings set off Miami’s vibrant, mixed-culture lifestyle while it’s just a short ride to the Everglades or the Florida Keys (islands) for wildlife and watersports. Sun and heat are common but not guaranteed.

Los Angeles – car oriented and careless but Venice beach is super cool, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive and Santa Monica are super elegant, there are movie associations galore, the weather, shopping and eating are superb and tourists will certainly see people who look like stars or think they should be stars. Superb museums, and easy access to great theme parks as well as great real green parks.

Las Vegas– another astonishing must-see in the US, a fantasy city surrounded by desert, Las Vegas is variously billed as The Entertainment Capital of the World, The Gambling Capital of the World, Capital of Second Chances, and The Marriage Capital of the World.

As a tourist the main attractions are the shows – which are world-class but not cheap, the incredible architecture along the strip, a little gambling if only to see what all the fuss is about (our advice is don’t start with more than $100 in your pocket! ), and proximity to some wonderful sights outside the city, such as several spectacular canyons (including Grand Canyon), the epic Hoover Dam and more.

Best States for Tourists

California, for almost everything you could ask from a state; cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara; a beautiful coastline, good beaches, surf, mountains, deserts, theme parks.

Miami South Beach at Lummus Park, Florida, USA

Miami South Beach at Lummus Park, Florida. Photo by Thelmadatter.

Utah, home of some of the world’s most dramatic National Parks including Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Florida, for fun in the sun in colourful, multicultural Miami; white beaches, islands and brilliant blue seas; the swampy shrinking wilderness of the Everglades; fantastic theme parks in Orlando and rocket science at NASA.

Colorado, for outdoor sights and activities – the most mountainous of the states, with superb ski resorts, great hiking and rafting.

Massachusetts, for history lessons in cultured and classy Boston, quaint and historic surroundings.

Dog Sleds in Denali National Park, Alaska, USA

Dog Sleds in Denali National Park, Alaska. Photo by Jacob W.

Alaska, for pristine wilderness , a massive expanse of stunning, peaky landscapes and glassy fjords with little but wild things for company, especially whales and bears in the summertime. The hiking is immense, but Alaska offers plenty of other activities too, including great driving or ship cruises for those of a less active persuasion. Tours are convenient as it’s a massive state and transport or accommodation not necessarily easy to find.

Hawaii, for guaranteed sunshine, warm water, fabulous beaches, big waves and a hint of exotic colour – flash islands in the middle of the Pacific. A popular, volcanic, tropical playground even if it is pricey to get to.

The Most Visited National Parks in USA

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (800 sq miles of North Carolina and Tennessee) – 10m +
  2. Grand Canyon National Park (1,900 sq miles of northwestern Arizona) – 5m+
  3. Rocky Mountain National Park (415 sq miles of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, north-central Colorado State) – 4m+
  4. Yosemite National Park (1,200 sq miles of central Sierra Nevada, California) – 4m+
  5. Yellowstone National Park (3,472 sq miles of mostly Wyoming along with 3% Montana and 1% Idaho) – 4m+
  6. Zion National Park (229 sq miles of Utah)– 3m+
  7. Olympic National Park ( 1,400 sq miles of Washington state)– 3m+
  8. Grand Teton National Park ( 480 sq miles of northwest Wyoming, just south of Yellowstone  NP)– 3m+
  9. Acadia National Park (77 sq miles of Maine islands)– 2m+
  10. Glacier National Park (1,583 sq miles of Montana, bordering with Canada’s Alberta and British Columbia) – 2m+

Our favourites:

Yellowstone was the first national park in the world and arguably the best and most diverse in the country, Wyoming.

Grand Canyon, Arizona/Utah is an American icon and truly grand, though not very clever, well not compared to more complex neighbours such as Bryce Canyon or Zion.

Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef – all spectacular national parks with insanely shaped rocks. Utah rocks!

Everglades, Florida– alligators, flamingos and other wetland life, with air boats to explore it.

Denali, Alaska – mountainous wilderness with bears, moose, wolves and other tough critters.

Yosemite, California– one of the nation’s most (over) popular parks for hiking and climbing. Sierra Nevada Mountains.