Compared to other nations around the world, America is far from ancient. Despite being relatively young, the United States has certainly witnessed its fair share of fascinating history – from colonists who traveled across the ocean, to the native people who were already here.
Not everything can stand the test of time, but luckily, America has preserved plenty in some of the oldest, history-filled cities. It’s in these cities that we can learn about how our country came to be. The streets, important sites, historic buildings, and landmarks stand as testaments to the nation’s evolution.
While you will find history around nearly every corner of the country, there are some cities and towns that are extremely special. These are some of the oldest and most interesting historic cities in the U.S.
Plymouth, Massachusetts might be the most famous pilgrim settlement in the U.S. It was settled by those who came over on the Mayflower in 1620. They were originally bound for Virginia and got off course. This is where the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621. The alliance between the settlers and native Wampanoag people is one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.
If you want to feel like you stepped back in time and experience life as it was in the Plymouth Colony, the Plimoth Patuxet Museum really brings history to life. Here you will find a recreation of a 17th-century English village. There is a craft center featuring crafts and herbal remedies and the Plimoth Grist Mill. Visit the Mayflower II, a full-scale reproduction of the original Mayflower, which is docked here. And visit Historic Patuxet to learn about the native peoples who have lived here for more than 12,000 years.
The very first permanent English colony in the Americas was Jamestown, Virginia. It remained the English capital of the area until 1699 when the capital was moved to Williamsburg. Much of the original Jamestown was burned down in 1676 as part of a rebellion, rebuilt, and then abandoned.
Although the original structures of Jamestown no longer exist, you can visit Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum that reimagines what life was like for colonists in the original Jamestown. There are recreations of a 1610s fort, a Powhatan Indian village to explore, and reproductions of the three ships that sailed from England to the settlement in 1607. You can also tour the Historic Jamestowne archeological area, where the foundations of the 1607 James Fort and plenty of early colonial artifacts have been discovered.
Founded in 1626 by English colonist Roger Conant and a group of immigrants, Salem predates the settlement of Boston by a few years. Although it was originally named Naumkeag, the settlers preferred to call it Salem, which was derived from the Hebrew word for peace. Ironic, considering what the town became infamous for: the Salem Witch Trials.
You can absolutely learn about the history of America’s tragic witch trials, with many landmarks still standing – including Proctor’s Ledge, where the actual hangings took place. With all those restless spirits, Salem is home to one of the best ghost tours in the U.S. But the town also has several First Period Colonial homes still standing, built between 1620 and 1720.
St. Augustine, Florida
Often referred to as America’s Oldest City, St. Augustine was founded back in 1565 by the Spanish. That makes it the oldest permanently occupied European settlement in the country. It predates the founding of Jamestown, Virginia by several decades. St. Augustine was founded a full 55 years before the Mayflower brought pilgrims to Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Clearly, this is where you want to come to step back in time. The historic part of the city is full of centuries-old buildings and monuments. You’ll find the oldest wooden schoolhouse here, Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth, and the Castillo De San Marcos. There’s an amazing blend of architecture here, since the city has been controlled by Native Americans, Spanish, British, and the Spanish (again!), all before becoming part of the U.S. in 1845.
Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
Taos Pueblo sits just a mile north of Taos, New Mexico. The Spanish established Taos in 1615, but the indigenous tribe of Puebloan people were living here well before that. The adobe buildings have been inhabited for over 1,000 years. Taos Pueblo is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States, predating the nation by several hundreds of years.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is open to visitors. There are daily guided tours available, and there are artists from the community at the visitor center. Here, you will find adobe buildings that look much like they did when the first Spanish explorers arrived. The buildings were most likely constructed between 1000 and 1450 CE. About 150 people live within the Pueblo full time. There are more than 1,900 Taos Indians living on Taos Pueblo lands outside the old walls.