The U.S. is an incredibly diverse country with many regions and areas so different from one another, they could easily be mistaken for different countries. Here are the most popular attraction in the U.S., ranked by the number of annual visitors. Some of them are likely to surprise you.
By Jim Ferri
We head to the far corners of the earth on our vacations, oohing and aahing at the wonders of England and Italy, Australia and Thailand, South Africa and every other place imaginable.
But have you ever taken a good look around you at the USA? It’s also one of the most popular tourism destinations in the world, not only for foreigners but also for countless other Americans. Roughly the size of Europe, the USA is a country of incredible diversity.
Here are America’s top attractions, ranked by number of visitors, as listed by Forbes magazine. According to Forbes, in defining a tourist attraction, they considered sites of historical or cultural interest; natural phenomena and landmarks; and officially designated entertainment and recreation centers. They also included commercial areas, such as Times Square and the Las Vegas Strip, but excluded shopping malls and casinos. Well-known roads and walks were considered, but long stretches of highway did not meet its definition of a tourist attraction.
1. Times Square, New York, New York, the Most Visited Attraction in the US
#1 among the most visited attractions in the USA is Times Square in New York. For decades New York City’s Times Square has been called the “Crossroads of the World” and for good reason: about 80% of all visitors to New York come to the famous intersection. With its garish neon lights, giant billboards, Broadway theaters, electronic ticker tape and television studios, Times Square is the hustling, bustling heart of Midtown, the epicenter of New York excitement. It’s come a long way since its dismal days in the 1970s..
2. Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, Nevada, Another Popular American Attraction
A piece of roadway that stretches approximately four miles, the Las Vegas Strip is a place of showgirls and slots, blazing lights and dancing fountains, chaotic action that continues round-the-clock, and then some. It’s a street of dramatic architecture, ranging from a dramatic pyramid to the Eiffel Tower, the New York skyline to a huge circus tent that caters to instant gratification. Designated as a National Scenic Byway, it’s lined with 15 of the world’s 25 largest hotels.
3. National Mall and Memorial Park, Washington, D.C.
Because it is the Washington one sees in movies and on TV, for many tourists the National Mall is Washington, DC. A two-mile long green expanse bookended by the US Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, it is lined with major museums, including the famous Smithsonian Castle. Even though it is one of the most visited attractions in the USA, the mall is more than just a tourist attraction and is a slice of living Washington. During the year it is also filled with throngs of Washingtonians who come here to enjoy the Cherry Blossom Festival or the spectacular 4th of July spectacular.
4. Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, Massachusetts
Adjacent to historic Faneuil Hall, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a 250-year-old marketplace that is actually in three restored Neoclassic and Greek Revival 19th-century buildings. Also known as Quincy Market, it sprawls over 6.5 acres on the waterfront right in the heart of downtown Boston. Throughout the year it attracts millions of tourists and Bostonians with its scores of shops and restaurants, street performers and lively festivals.
5. Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida, Another of the Most Visited Places in the US
Its likely no surprise that one of the most visited attraction in the USA is Disney’s famed Magic Kingdom – home to Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland – attracts more than 17 million visitors every year with its fairytale atmosphere that is known around the world. It enchants both adults and children with its classic entertainment and attractions, as well as its backstage tours and classic Disney characters, and continues to be the focal point of many Florida vacations in all seasons.
6. Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco Bay Area, California
A U.S. National Recreation Area administered by the National Park Service, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is also another of the most visited attractions in the USA. But it’s not a single park but a series of parks and recreation areas spread over three counties in northern California. Spreading along nearly 60 miles of San Francisco Bay’s coastline, it encompasses beautiful Muir Woods National Monument, a number of National Historic Landmarks, including popular Alcatraz Island, as well as archaeological sites and historic military forts that span several centuries of California history back to the times of the Spanish conquistadors.
7. Disneyland Resort, Anaheim, California
Outside of Los Angeles, this is the theme park that started it all with Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Space Mountain and a host of other attractions, the place where imagination remains king for the young, the old and everyone in-between. Disneyland promotes itself as “The Happiest Place on Earth,” and it just may be it. For although other theme parks may have higher roller coasters or more lively nightlife, none can beat Disneyland for pure charisma.
8. Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, California (tie)
Who would have though that an old pier would one day be one of the most popular attractions in America? Well, if you add a combination of scores of shops and bustling, popular restaurants, plus the Aquarium of the Bay, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and The Cannery, and you begin to see the attraction. It also doesn’t hurt that three cable car lines converge on it either and there’s the popular Embarcadero isn’t far away. And, oh yes, there’s also that view of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.
8. Hollywood Walk of Fame, Los Angeles, California (tie)
This popular American attraction stretches about 2½ miles along Hollywood Boulevard, meandering past Grauman’s Chinese Theater and that bastion of the Oscars, the Kodak Theater, and it contains about 2,400 stars honoring the famous in the movies as well as on television, radio and in drama. The star notes the category each was honored in. Some tourists complain that they expected a lot more of the Walk of Fame, or that it’s a tourist trap. Come on, it’s a sidewalk in Los Angeles, cracks and all. No one promised movie stars hanging about. You’ll need to take one of those bus tours of their homes to see that.
10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
It’s shocking to many that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not only one of the most visited attractions in the USA, it’s also the most visited National Park in America.
Set on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the 520,000+ acres of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park comprise the most visited national park in the USA. Bisected by the famous Appalachian Trail, it has 10 campgrounds and more than 700 miles of fishing streams which help attract almost 10 million visitors every year. While this is a place where rhododendrons, dogwood and mountain laurels burst into bloom every spring, and ancient hemlocks still reach skyward, it’s the magical haze that gives the Great Smoky Mountains their name that many people remember.