Today’s my birthday! Instead of covering just one historical site or museum, I thought I’d give you a list of my top historical sites or cities I’ve visited over the years. It’s a treat for me to revisit the towns and places I love and why they’re so special to me. I’ve also listed some of my top “bucket list” sites – hopefully I’ll make it there soon!
Growing up, we didn’t travel much. Other than two trips to Disney World or an occasional trip to the beach, most of my travels came through school activities or visiting relatives. From a 5th grade school bus trip to Washington, DC to a scholarship competition in California to my vacations as an adult, I grew to love traveling and seeing the places I’d only read about in my books. I love walking in the footsteps of history and there’s no better way to do this than to actually travel to the “room where it happened!”
Top Ten Favorite US Historical Destinations
- Charleston, South Carolina: I grew up coming to this city with my family and fell in love with its beautiful homes, rich history, and genteel manners. Even as most of my friends gravitated towards beach trips in college, I escaped to Charleston whenever I could to imagine what life was like here during the bombardment of Fort Sumter or the 1886 earthquake. It’s still my favorite city in the world and always will be. Now if I could just afford my favorite house – the Col. John Ashe house at 32 Battery (see the picture of me in front of it above)!
- Boston, MA: I lived in Boston for two years and loved being in such a rich historical setting. From walking the Freedom Trail around the city to driving to Lexington and Concord where the “shot heard round the world” happened, this city is a wonderful treasure box for history lovers. We’ve taken our kids back several times and they, too, love the city and its distinctive culture and history. Not to mention that living here made us life-long Red Sox fans!
- Gettysburg, PA: Even as a girl, I was drawn to learning about the Civil War, probably because I read Gone with the Wind at least two times before I was 18! I majored in history in college, with a specialty in the Civil War, and knew I must visit the hallowed ground of Gettysburg. I’ve been twice and each time, I’ve felt a deep attachment to the men who gave their lives here and the civilians who were thrust into war. As you study the battle and its various highs and lows, it becomes clear that it truly was the most important battle of the war. Maybe not militarily or strategically, but in the zeitgeist of the nation’s consciousness. It is the place where America can never forget “those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.” (Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address)
- Pearl Harbor, Hawaii: I first visited this sacred site in 2002 when I insisted on having a day-long layover on Oahu during our travels from the Big Island of Hawaii to Maui. I knew that I couldn’t be this close to Pearl Harbor without seeing it. We took our kids here in 2019, and they, too, were awed by it. To be standing (or floating) on the very place where the worst attack on America’s soil (before 9/11) took place was humbling and heartbreaking, especially seeing the oil still leaking out of the USS Arizona’s watery grave.
- Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA: There is nothing like standing in the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed. You can still sense the presence of our forefathers in this important room. It is magical!
- Yorktown, VA: The best place to learn about the Revolutionary War is this small town where the war ended. The museum here is one of the best I’ve visited and the battlefield is well-preserved and moving. Plus you can belt out Hamilton the Musical’s song, Yorktown, as you drive to the different stops!
- Washington, DC: I lived in Washington for four years, and everywhere you step, you are literally walking in history. My favorite historical sites include Ford’s Theatre, President Lincoln’s Cottage, the Capitol, the White House, Arlington Cemetery, Mount Vernon…the list could go on and on! It is a history lover’s dream city (except for all of the traffic!).
- Yellowstone/Grand Teton, Wyoming: I’m not a huge fan of outdoor activities but even I was awed by this natural wonder. It’s truly a bucket list place that you must visit!
- National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN: When I visited Memphis for a conference, I knew this museum, housed in the actual location where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot, was a must-see. It’s poignant and inspiring, and I’ll never forget the experience.
- La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, CA: It can be hard to find historical sites while visiting LA’s concrete jungle but this prehistoric site is one that I’ll never forget. I really felt like I was in The Flintstones while viewing its mucky tar pits and the bones in the museum. And I like that you can visit the tar pits anytime outside of museum hours! It is a very different place than most historical sites!
Top Ten Favorite European Historical Destinations
- Normandy, France: This is probably my top historical destination of all time, and I don’t see how any other location could replace it. To be standing in the very places you’ve seen in movies or pictures – Omaha Beach, the American cemetery, the cliffs near Pointe du Hoc – is awe-inspiring. Knowing that young men not much older than my children died on these very shores defending my freedom is hard to grasp, but standing there, looking out over the French countryside and hearing the words of gratitude still given to Americans by the locals, it really sinks in.
- Anne Frank’s House, Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Anne Frank’s home and museum, which includes the bookcase door that hid her family for years, is a must-see. I’ll never forget the feeling of walking past the bookcase and up the narrow stairs to her hideaway. Knowing how her story ends, it is all the more heartbreaking to see her magazine cut-outs of movie stars and Princess Elizabeth pasted on her bedroom wall.
- Rome, Italy: From walking in the dusty footsteps of Roman soldiers to the earliest martyrs in Christian history, Rome has history lurking around every corner, every step, every breath. My favorite historical site has to be the Ancient Roman sites like the Colosseum, but I also love the more recent historical sites dealing with WWII.
- Churchill War Rooms, London, England: It’s hard to narrow down my favorite WWII sites in England but this museum housed in the very rooms where Churchill lived and worked has to be at the top. I last visited 25 years ago and plan to go back this year. I can’t wait to show my kids!
- Ireland: This island is one of my favorite places to go, the place I feel most at home in Europe. I love learning about the history of the Irish people from the Vikings who ravaged its shores to the civil wars that erupted throughout the centuries. It’s a sad history but one of a people who are built to survive and thrive through music, dance, and cheer. Plus its natural beauty can’t be rivaled! My favorite destination on the entire island is the Cliffs of Moher, a stunning sight!
- Stratford-Upon-Avon, England: This quaint town where Shakespeare was born and lived is one of my favorite nostalgic historical destinations. I spent two weeks here in college, soaking in its atmosphere and attending all of the Shakespeare plays. I even got to meet up-and-coming actors (two are now mega stars, Joseph Fiennes and David Tennant!) and learn about Shakespeare’s life and times. I can’t wait to go back this summer!
- Pompeii, Italy: This historical site of one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history is not to be missed. I loved walking the same roads as the ancient Pompeiians, under the same Vesuvius that could erupt at any moment!
- Versailles, France: I visited this enormous palace 25 years ago and hope to go back soon. It’s opulence and grandeur can’t be conveyed in pictures, and its history fascinates me.
- Edinburgh, Scotland: While I only spent a few days here on my college study abroad tour, it made a huge impression. From the gloomy stone buildings to the alleys (called closes) jutting off the main streets, this city is literally built on its history. I even did a tour of its legendary underground city that still haunts me to this day! I can’t wait to take my kids there this summer!
- Palace of Westminster, London, England: While on a tour of these buildings which house the government of the United Kingdom, I got to stand in the very spot where the prime minister speaks and sit in the green-backed benches in Parliament. I’ll also never forget standing in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the complex dating back to the 11th century. What an amazing place!
Top Ten Bucket List Destinations
- Prince Edward Island, Canada: As a lover of all things L.M. Montgomery, this is my top wish list destination!
- Salzburg, Austria: I have to see this home of “The Sound of Music” and I can’t promise to not embarrass my family by singing the entire time!
- Mount Rushmore, South Dakota: My most patriotic must-see destination!
- Grand Canyon: The natural wonder I’m most excited to see.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder homes: I grew up loving Wilder’s book, and I’d love to see the Ingalls homestead and the banks of Plum Creek!
- Germany – Berlin, Munich: I’ve been to Germany but very briefly. I can’t wait to see Berlin for its WWII history and Munich for its Bavarian ambiance.
- Provence, France: My husband went to Provence for a bicycle trip last year and raves about its beauty. I’d love to visit the towns important in the French Resistance during WWII, the ones I’ve read so much about in my favorite historical fiction novels.
- Vicksburg, Mississippi: I came soooo close to visiting this top wish list site this summer, but we couldn’t fit it into our trip. I want to see the Civil War battlefield but also learn about the civilians in the town during the siege.
- Abraham Lincoln Historic Home, Museum, and Burial Site, Springfield, IL: Lincoln is my favorite president, and I’ve been to many historical sites related to his history, including his birthplace. High on my list is visiting the city where he lived with Mary and raised his children before the move to Washington, DC.
- WWI/WWII sites in France/Belgium: While I’ve been to Normandy, I barely scratched the surface of WWII sites there and in the countryside spreading east. Not to mention the WWI sites like Verdun and the Somme.
What’s on your favorites list? Do we have any in common or have you been to one of my bucket list sites? Let me know!