“Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain.” The beloved patriotic song “America the Beautiful” hints at some of the country's diverse, majestic landscape, which is certainly one of many reasons to visit the US but there are so many others.
From its vast plains, snow-covered mountains, deep forests and strange rock formations, to soaring skyscrapers and a thunderous cultural scene, the USA is a collage of extremes. Nothing can prepare you for your first glimpse of Manhattan's unforgettable skyline, your first ride in a yellow cab, the ubiquitous hamburger joints, yawning expanses of prairie, the sweet strains of New Orleans jazz, or the neon-lit excesses of Las Vegas.
When it comes to the natural landscape, you’re hard pressed to find an area more diverse. Marvel at the thunderous spectacle of 12,000-year-old Niagara Falls in northern New York, or seek an antidote to urban chaos amidst the flat farmland of the Midwest. Then there are the black hills of South Dakota, the dramatic mountain and ocean landscape of California's Pacific Coast Highway and of course, there's the world-famous Grand Canyon, just one of the 397 parks in the National Parks systems.
There's the manmade landscape, too, which is as impressive as the natural. Though New York City is the most densely populated with soaring skyscrapers, including the iconic Chrysler Building and Empire State Building, other cities have admirable architecture as well, including Chicago's Sears Tower, and of course, the White House in Washington DC.
The current US government shutdown unfortunately means that some of the country's biggest attractions may be closed whilst the politics plays out. Some key sights and national parks will be closed to the public. Frustrating as the closures might be, a visit to the US is as much shaped by the people you'll encounter as by the attractions.
And what about those people? The US has always been known as a pioneering country and it has long been a land of promise for people around the world eager to pursue “the American dream.” Generations of immigrants have made the culture of the country a unique mix of varied influences, and immigration continues to shape the national identity, from food and language to music and pastimes. In fact, the most diverse neighbourhood in the world is in New York City and almost 45% of the total population of the US is comprised of immigrants.
The USA is a huge country to explore and there truly is something here for every traveller. For lovers of the outdoors, the great American West still retains much of the allure that it did for early pioneers pushing past the Mississippi. Awe-inspiring natural formations such as the geysers of Yellowstone and the seemingly endless “Big Sky Country” of Montana make one feel as if the US goes on forever.
For those who love music, New Orleans is an obligatory visit, with its jazz, Cajun, and Zydeco tunes. The Crescent City is also known for its food, which is unique to the region-- po' boys, crawfish boils, gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, muffulettas, and beignets-- and, of course, its parties. Mardi Gras is a raucous, rocking good time.
Although the history of the US is short compared to that of Europe, there are plenty of places where you can learn more about seminal moments in the country's development. Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. all have important historic sites that commemorate the young nation's history, and battlefields, statues, and structures around the country provide additional opportunities to learn about great moments in the American story.
Though Americans may not enjoy the best reputation abroad, both cities and small towns alike are filled with friendly people who love to show off their home to visitors. Travellers to the US frequently remark on the warmth and hospitality of its people and more likely than not, you’ll return home with a better impression of Americans than before you left.