Exploring the history of a place is often the best part of travel, and one doesn’t have to be a history buff to truly appreciate the stories and events that have made a place what it is today. When traveling the world, you can go back to ancient times in far-flung places, visit the oldest cities in the world, and learn more about iconic landmarks. Some of the best travel spots can be places that seem to scream history, giving off a quaint and historic charm.
Small towns often hold quite a bit of history, and with not much population and not as much tourist traffic as big cities, they tend to hold onto it better. You’ll find that many American small towns feel like something out of a painting or a textbook, transporting you back in time with their era-specific architecture and lack of high-tech culture. If you’re looking for a trip back in time that’s both picturesque and interesting, step into a history book in these charming small towns.
A romantic town serves as the setting of Nicholas Sparks’ novels “A Walk to Remember” and “The Choice,” Beaufort lies on the eastern tip of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast in the famous Outer Banks and stands as one of the best coastal towns in America. Stroll along the pier or check out one of the many historic homes Beaufort is known for, the oldest of which is the Hammock House of 1698, once an inn where it is said that the infamous pirate Blackbeard was a regular customer. In fact, the town’s biggest claim to fame is the 1996 discovery of Queen Anne’s Revenge — Blackbeard’s ship — under 20 feet of water in the Beaufort inlet. While much of it remains underwater, restoration and retrieval of artifacts are ongoing and travelers can visit the site and enjoy many pirate-related activities.
One of the most romantic small towns in America, Bisbee is a quaint artistic town that began as a bustling mining camp in Arizona’s Mule Mountains. You can see the city’s history in its old architectural styles and the old saloons and brothels that have found new purpose by being turned into shops and breweries.
With a population of just over 700, Chesapeake City is often underrated as a destination, but this gorgeous town located on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal is one of the most scenic spots in the mid-Atlantic region. In addition to a beautiful, tree-lined waterfront, you’ll find quite a few buildings and homes here that date back to the 19th century — many of which have been converted into restaurants, lodging, and local history museums.
The most charming town in the state of Indiana, Crown Point was incorporated in 1868, a fact very much apparent in its architecture. Enjoy its Victorian-era vibe by foot or on the town’s trolley which is used during the summer and for special events. The centerpiece of the town square is the Old Lake Country Courthouse, where you’ll find stores and restaurants, as well as special events during holidays, and a museum on the second floor.
Established as a Bavarian mission colony for Lutherans in 1845, Frankenmuth continues to have a distinctively old German feel. Its classic German architecture and the Bavarian culture that pervades the town, as well as the German language evident in local signage and spoken by many residents, has earned the town its nickname of “Little Bavaria,” and it’s also known for its epic Christmastime celebrations thanks to the presence of the world’s largest Christmas store.
A surprisingly charming American town, Galena was named after the mineral that was being mined in the area; today, it’s a beautiful and historic getaway. Visit the historic district, which has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places, take a stroll down the charming Main Street that overlooks the Galena River, and go for a scenic drive through the town’s rolling hills.
A beautiful island that’ll send you back in time, Mackinac has a motor vehicle ban that results in a truly enchanting getaway. Bring a bicycle and enjoy its Victorian charm and activities for everyone. A wonderful spot for adventurers, it’s a great outdoor escape with hiking, biking, horse-riding, and paddling. Stay at the Grand Hotel resort if you’re looking for a more upper-class experience, and make sure you don’t step off the island before trying its famous fudge.
A prosperous town prior to the Civil War, Natchez is home to a plethora of antebellum houses, and year-round tours of them can take you through a vivid Southern history. Walking, driving, and even horse-drawn carriage tours are available to take you through Natchez’s gorgeous historic district. Witness exceptional scenery and over 10,000 years of history on the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444-mile drive that’s the most photogenic spot in the state.
Sitka is a severely underrated small town perfect for any outdoor adventurer who loves to hike, boat, kayak, climb, or fish. Located on the harbor between the Sisters mountain range and the Gulf of Alaska, the town and its surrounding area have been home to Tlingit people for over 500 years, as evidenced by the many totems throughout Sitka National Historical Park. Russians have also long had a presence here, with immigration beginning in 1799, and the mix of the two cultures is seen in Sitka’s architecture and local art.
Founded in 1911 by Danish immigrants, Solvang continues to exhibit a strong Danish influence through its many Danish restaurants, stores, and bakeries, as well as a replica of Copenhagen’s famous Little Mermaid statue and a smaller scale of the famous capital’s Round Tower. Not only will this American small town make you feel like you’re in Europe, but it’ll take you back in time with classic thatched roofs and horse-drawn carriages in its streets.
A gorgeous off-the-beaten-path destination, St. Augustine is full of cobblestoned streets and has over 400 years of history. Check out the country’s oldest masonry fort and the many quaint stores down St. George Street, or stop into one of its delicious restaurants for a bite.
Colonial Williamsburg is definitely an American bucket list attraction; the 301-acre living history museum brings to life the nation’s colonial days with multiple parks and attractions perfect for American history lovers. There’s quite a bit of more fun than just that in this town, however — it's also home to Busch Gardens, where you can explore multiple areas modeled after European countries and cultures in the form of one of America’s best amusement parks.