An American city spree

Date Posted: 02/03/2011

Neil Murray picks out ten top cities for group visits to the US, featuring west coast, east coast, and mainland American states.

New York, New York

Travel time from London:  7 hours
Time difference: 5 hours behind

For most Brits, New York is their first glimpse of the hustle and bustle of big-city life, US-style, although TV and films have made many of the Big Apple’s sites as familiar as your local supermarket. A trip to the top of the Empire State Building reveals a great sky-high view of the city, while a Circle Line cruise highlights the famous NY skyline from the Hudson and East rivers. The Statue of Liberty is now open again to the public, although interior access will be limited later this year because of improvements. Nearby Ellis Island provides a fascinating glimpse into America’s immigration history. Shopping, eating out, museum-visiting and going to the theatre are all major lures on any visit to Manhattan and, while Fifth Avenue can be expensive, bargains can be found further afield.      

New York is great because:  There’s something for everyone at any time of the day - and it all seems so familiar.

Los Angeles, California

Travel time from London:  11 hours
Time difference: 8 hours behind

California here we come - and where better to start than the City of Angels? The lure of Hollywood, star-spotting, California beaches and two of the most famous theme parks in the world draw thousands of Brits every year. Universal Studios Hollywood (where King Kong 360 3D is the latest attraction) is in Los Angeles, while Disneyland and the California Adventure Park - Disneyland Resort’s two parks - are in Anaheim, 28 miles south of LA. Charge up your bank account and head for Rodeo Drive and you never know which stars you might see shopping there. Along the coast in Long Beach, a tour of the Queen Mary focuses on how the other half cruised years ago, whereas on the beaches of Santa Monica, Venice and Malibu, you can watch Californians living the outdoor life today.

Los Angeles is great because: Theme parks, beaches, movie stars - it’s got the lot.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Travel time from London:  10 hours, 45 minutes
Time difference: 8 hours behind

Countless TV shows and films have been filmed in Las Vegas, so the buzz and excitement of the ‘Entertainment Capital of the World’ should come as no surprise to newcomers. Slot machines greet you at the airport and the city’s giant hotels have massive casinos and some of the most spectacular shows you’re ever likely to see. Star names such as Celine Dion, Barry Manilow and Donny and Marie Osmond abound, Jersey Boys and PhantomThe Las Vegas Spectacular are huge draws, and the amazing Cirque du Soleil company has seven permanent shows in the city, including Viva Elvis and The Beatles’s Love. Shopping is now a major attraction of any visit to Vegas and you will never be stuck for anywhere to eat. Several companies offer helicopter flights to the Grand Canyon.

Las Vegas is great because: It averages 320 days of sunshine a year and has an amazing choice of shows to see and places to eat in.

Boston, Massachusetts

Travel time from London:  6 hours, 35 minutes
Time difference: 5 hours behind

If there’s one city in the States that’s likely to remind you of home, it’s Boston. British links abound, the city is awash with familiar names, however one of its main attractions - the hugely-popular 2.5-mile-long Freedom Trail - highlights the historic sites and events in America’s battle for independence from Britain. Museum buffs are in for a treat, with enough in the city to occupy them for a week, but attractions such as the New England Aquarium and the Prudential Centre (head to the 52nd floor for a magnificent view of the city) are worth visiting too. Boston is a great walking city, but it also has an underground system that can whisk you to Cambridge Common and Harvard University, as well as countless water tours on the Charles River for stunning views of the Boston skyline.

Boston is great because: You can feel at home but still get a great taste of the US.

San Francisco, California

Travel time from London:  10 hours, 45 minutes
Time difference: 8 hours behind

San Francisco has a reputation as Europe’s favourite US city and it’s easy to see why. Its inhabitant’s laid-back approach and laissez-faire attitude to life, combined with its climate, make it feel more European than most American metropolises. Its attractions are many - from ominous Alcatraz Island, where Al Capone and the Birdman served time, and the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge, to the inviting restaurants of Chinatown and the cheerful bustle of Fisherman’s Wharf. Golden Gate Park is home to the fabulous de Young Museum, the Conservatory of Flowers and the California Academy of Sciences, as well as being a great place to walk or cycle around. No visit to San Francisco is complete without a ride on a clanking cable car but if you want to have fun exploring, hire a GoCar - a 50cc, two-seater, three-wheeler with Sat-Nav.

San Francisco is great because: It’s civilised, sophisticated and fun - a great combination.

Washington, DC

Travel time from London:  7 hours, 20 minutes
Time difference: 5 hours behind

A capital city that guarantees a capital visit - that’s Washington, DC.  Fans of The West Wing will love it, but it has featured in so many films that most first-timers will still recognise many of the sites. The White House is an obvious attraction but tours are only for US residents through their Member of Congress (unless you contact the British Embassy in Washington first). The US Capitol building is open to the public however, while the 555-foot-high Washington Monument at the other end of the National Mall gives you fabulous views back to the US Capitol, as well as the White House. There’s a lot of fun, history and fascinating information to be had at the various Smithsonian museums (all free), while the International Spy Museum gives you the chance to check out your spy credentials.

Washington, DC is great because: There are so many sites to see, you’ll want to go back for more.

San Diego, California

Travel time from London:  11 hours
Time difference: 8 hours behind

San Diego, the birthplace of California, is the Golden State’s second largest city but it’s tops when it comes to attractions and sunshine. The world-famous San Diego Zoo is a major crowd-puller and is set in the glorious 1,200-acre Balboa Park, which also features 15 museums, eight gardens and 4.5 miles of hiking trails. SeaWorld San Diego and - 40 minutes north of the city - Legoland California, are big draws for family groups, while the massive USS Midway (once the largest ship in the world) and the Maritime Museum of San Diego make for educational visits. The city has beautiful weather year-round (the average daily temperature is 21.4-degrees-celsius) and there are 33 different beaches along the San Diego county coastline. The city is also only a trolley trip away from the Mexican border and a visit to Tijuana.

San Diego is great because: It has great weather, great attractions, great beaches - and it’s easy to go south of the border.

Chicago, Illinois

Travel time from London: 8 hours
Time difference: 6 hours behind

Get a taste for the high life and head for Chicago, birthplace of the skyscraper. The ‘Windy City’ - which Chicagoans will tell you is so-called because of the hot air from politicians boasting about the city, not from a comment about the weather - is home to 100 or so high-rise buildings, including the 100-storey John Hancock Centre, with its open-air Skywalk on the 94th floor, and the 1,450-foot-high Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, which has glass-sided platforms jutting out over the city, 1,350-feet above the traffic. Shoppers will be in their element along the Magnificent Mile - eight blocks with 460 shops and four major malls - while the 24-acre Millennium Park combines open-air activities with art and architecture. A cruise on the Chicago River highlights the stories behind these amazing buildings, while the city’s 30 beaches offer an opportunity to relax.

Chicago is great because: It has skyscrapers, shopping and beaches, what more could your group ask for?

New Orleans, Louisiana

Travel time from London:  9 hours, 15 minutes
Time difference: 6 hours behind

If there’s one place in America that deserves the title of ‘Party Town’, it’s New Orleans. The Mardi Gras city took a catastrophic hit when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and almost 1,900 people lost their lives, but it has bounced back since. The French Quarter missed the massive flooding and is still the place to visit, with music pouring out of every corner. Jackson Square, which faces the Mississippi River and marks Andrew Jackson’s defeat of the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, is a focal point, with street performers, artists, museums and shops to lure visitors. Foodies will be in their element in The Big Easy because of the vast range of restaurants, while history enthusiasts should head for the National World War II Museum. Alternatively, you can take swamp, cemetery, voodoo and plantation tours.

New Orleans is great because: It’s party time… and the livin’ is easy.

Dallas, Texas

Travel time from London:  9 hours, 30 minutes
Time difference: 6 hours behind

With news of the possible return of TV soap opera Dallas, the focus will turn again on the Texas city that claims to have more restaurants per capita than New York - and the best shopping in the south-west. While eating out is a major part of any visit to Dallas, so too is hitting the stores, with the Northpark Centre, West Village, Galleria Dallas and the Highland Park Village among the many places to head for. There is so much money pouring into new shopping and entertainment developments - such as the 75-acre, $6.5 billion Victory Park district - that it can be difficult to keep up. Dallas has 13 entertainment districts and its Arts District includes the new, highly-acclaimed $354million AT&T Performing Arts Centre. The Sixth Floor Museum on Dealey Plaza charts the assassination and legacy of President John F Kennedy.

Dallas is great because: It thinks big and delivers on the same scale.


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