The Mid-Atlantic region of the United States – Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia – is home to some of the country’s top historic and cultural sites. This bucket list contains everything from New York City’s most famous locations to the spot where the Declaration of Independence was signed to the US Capitol Building to whitewater rafting. Along the way you’ll see fantastic scenery, try some very good food, and maybe just learn a thing or two about American history. If you’re looking for Mid-Atlantic vacation ideas, this list has everything you could dream of.
- 1 Things to do in Delaware
- 2 Things to do in Maryland
- 3 Things to do in New Jersey
- 4 Things to do in New York
- 4.1 Visit the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor
- 4.2 Bike through iconic Central Park
- 4.3 See a show on Broadway
- 4.4 Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
- 4.5 Explore New York City’s most famous art museums
- 4.6 Get up close and personal with Niagara Falls
- 4.7 Visit the Baseball Hall of Fame
- 4.8 Tour the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier
- 4.9 Visit Women’s Rights National Historic Park
- 5 Things to do in Pennsylvania
- 5.1 See where the Declaration of Independence was signed
- 5.2 Hike the beautiful waterfalls of Ricketts Glen
- 5.3 Tour historic Eastern State Penitentiary
- 5.4 Enjoy a nature break at the Delaware Water Gap
- 5.5 Satisfy your sweet tooth at Hersheypark
- 5.6 Get a taste of the Great Lakes at Presque Isle
- 5.7 Have some hands-on fun at the Carnegie Science Center
- 6 Things to do in Virginia
- 7 Things to do in Washington, D.C.
- 8 Things to do in West Virginia
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Things to do in Delaware
Visit beautiful Cape Henlopen
Cape Henlopen State Park is located on the Atlantic coast in Lewes, Delaware. This gem of a park encompasses 5,193 acres of sandy beaches, expansive marshland, woodland trails, and historic sites. The Cape Henlopen Beaches are some of the most popular in the state, but there is way more to do than swim in the ocean or relax on the beach. You could spend a week here and not run out of amazing things to do.
If you do want to maximize your time on the shore, you’ll be impressed with Cape Henlopen’s beaches. There’s a swimming beach, a special surfing beach, a beach just for fishing, and a lovely bayside beach with quiet water for the families with littles. Free bike rentals make it easy to explore this huge park, and the Pinelands Nature Trail is a lovely way to spend the afternoon. You can also climb the observation tower at sunrise, rent kayaks for frolicking in the bay, visit the World War II bunkers at Fort Miles, or visit the nature center and aquarium. Tent and RV camping is available, as well as cute camping cabins for those who don’t want to rough it.
Bottom line? Cape Henlopen State Park is as lovely as any on the Atlantic Coast, and there’s plenty of room to spread out and explore. Find out more on the official site.
By Tara from Back Road Ramblers
See the site where Delaware became the first state
Delaware is known as the First State because it was – you guessed it – the first state to ratify the United States constitution in 1787. After it was written and signed in Philadelphia, it was presented to the states for ratification. Delaware had its convention at the Golden Fleece Tavern on the historic Green and as its delegates were the first to ratify the new Constitution, it officially became the first of the United States. The Green was also the site where the Declaration of Independence was first read aloud to the citizens of Delaware.
The Green and a few historic buildings are now preserved as part of First State National Historic Park, one of the newest National Park Service sites in the country. The park seeks to preserve Delaware’s colonial history, and also includes sites in Wilmington, New Castle, and Lewes.
Things to do in Maryland
Camp on the beach with wild horses
Assateague Island, Maryland
So you have decided to go on a camping trip. Except you are not in the woods. You are on the beach. And you are waking up to the sound of wild horses playing in the ocean as the sun rises. This is Assateague Island. The 37-mile barrier island, which is located in both Maryland and Virginia, is a hidden gem and must visit. It is easy enough to make a day trip to the island however spending a few days camping out on the beach is an experience that everyone should try at least once.
Camping on Assateague Island is only permitted on the Maryland side of the Island. There are two campgrounds to choose from. One is managed by the State of Maryland while the other is managed by the Assateague Island National Seashore. The state side offers warm showers and flushable toilets. The national side only has cold water showers (which are great in the summer), however it is less crowded.
Whether you are visiting for the day or staying the weekend, there is so much to see and do on the Island. You can spend a lazy day on the beach, go clamming or crabbing on the bay, explore miles of hiking trails, go kayaking on the bay. And the best part: take in the beauty of the wild horses that call Assateague Island home.
Assateague Island is a magical place. If you are looking for an alternative to a traditional beach holiday, pack up your camping gear and head to this beach. Find out more on the park’s official site.
By Taima from Poor in a Private Plane
Eat some famous Maryland crab cakes
Various locations in Maryland
Maryland is a small state, but its residents can still find plenty to disagree about. After all, it was famously divided during The Civil War, and the state flag shows the colors of both the Union and Confederate sympathizers. But one thing that does not divide Marylanders is their love of crab cakes. It is traditional to use blue crab meat because the blue crabs are so abundant in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. According to many sources, the first person to associate the crab cake with Maryland in print was Crosby Gaige, who put a recipe for “Baltimore Crab Cakes” in 1930s New York World’s Fair Cookbook. But of course you can get proper Maryland crab cakes anywhere in the state, not just Baltimore.
My favorite place to get a crab cake is O’Leary’s Seafood in Annapolis because their cakes have very little breading so you get the full flavor of the fresh crab. But if you’re looking for a fun twist on the tradition, try the crab pretzel at Davis’ Pub in Annapolis’s neighbor, the Maritime Republic of Eastport, Maryland. Enjoy your crab cakes however you like – just don’t forget the Old Bay Seasoning!
By Stella Jane from Around the World in 24 Hours
Explore the marine life, history, and food of the Inner Harbor
One of my favorite places in the Mid-Atlantic has to be the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, Maryland. And this may surprise you since many people hear about Baltimore and automatically think of dirt, grime, and urban decay. However, if you look past Baltimore’s less than stellar reputation, you’ll find an enchanting port city that is just waiting be explored. Walking through Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, not only will you find an assortment of lively restaurants and bars where you can have an authentic, Old Bay seasoned, Maryland Crab feast, but you’ll see a totally modern, seven story aquarium that is home to over 20,000 different animals. Looking out from the top floor of the aquarium, you might even see some historic ships floating in the harbor that you can visit and explore, like the famed USS Constellation which was built in 1797.
However, if history is not your thing, you can also head over to Camden Yards for an Orioles baseball game or wander over to the Walters and explore over 55 centuries of art that includes everything from medieval weaponry to classic French paintings. So if you’re looking for a fun and exciting place to visit in the Mid-Atlantic, then the Inner Harbor is the perfect choice. And if you have time, be sure to stop by Miss Shirley’s for brunch and taste some of the best Southern Comfort food that I have ever had in my life (Miss Shirley’s has been featured on the Food Network so you know it’s good!).
By Kelly from Girl With the Passport
Things to do in New Jersey
Explore the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk
Atlantic City, New Jersey
There is nothing more Jersey Shore iconic than a beachside boardwalk stroll. And my favorite seaside NJ town is by far Atlantic City! A walk down the famous Atlantic City boardwalk truly has something for everyone! Kids will love the Steel Pier amusement park, the central pier go-karts or playing games at one of the boardwalk arcades! For a cheap meal, grab a slice of pizza or an ice cream as you stroll. Looking to splurge? Kids will love a meal at the Sugar Factory or the Rainforest Café located right on the Boardwalk! Adults will love the Atlantic City beach, either sunning on the sand, or visiting one of the many beachside bars. Along the boardwalk, you can shop at the kitschy touristy shops or pop into the shops at Playground Pier. On a nice day, hit up the new Biergarten for craft brews and lawn games. And of course, try your luck in one of the many casinos! After all, that’s why Atlantic City is known as America’s Playground.
By Harmony from Momma to Go
Visit Thomas Edison National Historic Park
West Orange, New Jersey
I went to Thomas Edison National Historic Park while on holiday in New Jersey visiting friends. I thought I was going to see the place where the light bulb was born, and I came out of the park learning that Edison had been the “father” of 1092 other patented inventions. I expected one lab, and discovered an area with dozens of buildings – all labs – where over 200 scientists and researchers had worked, all at the same time. As if this was not enough, I also found out that the world owes the kinetoscope (the precursor of the projector) and the first movie studio (the Black Maria) to Edison, indeed.
Individual visits are generally not possible, nor do they make sense. The best thing to do is to get yourself a schedule of the guided tours of the individual buildings, and plan your visit accordingly so as not to miss what interests you most. At the end of the day, I overheard an excited 6-year-old-child (my son!) telling his father on the phone: “Today I have seen a factory where inventions are made!”
Find out more at the NPS website.
By Augusta from Mini Me Explorer
Things to do in New York
Visit the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor
New York, New York
The Statue of Liberty may well be the United States’ most iconic landmark, with its torch held high in New York Harbor. Taking a boat ride out to Liberty Island to visit it is one of the top things to do in New York City. Ferry service departs from Battery Park or from New Jersey, and includes stops at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Tickets to visit the Statue’s crown are available, but you’ll want to book them as soon as possible as the do sell out early – especially on weekends and peak travel seasons. If you can’t snag a crown ticket, try for a pedestal one. These are easier to get and while you don’t get to go all the way up to the top, you can still explore the base and visit the museum housed within it. If you don’t have time in your schedule to pay a visit, you can still see the Statue of Liberty from New York City, but you’ll want binoculars or a good camera zoom lens to get a good look.
Ellis Island played a crucial part in the immigration experience of the early 20th century. In fact, my own great-grandparents passed through the halls there when they arrived from their various locations in Eastern Europe. It was incredible to wander through the Great Hall and wonder what must have been going through their minds as they waited for their turn. The buildings on Ellis Island also include a small museum of immigration. There are several computers that you can use to do genealogy research, though their databases can be accessed online as well. Hard hat tours are also offered that take visitors through some of the unrestored buildings, including the medical facility on the island.
Find out more about the two islands on the National Park website and be sure to check out my NYC weekend itinerary.
Bike through iconic Central Park
New York, New York
Central Park is an oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle better known as Manhattan. Most people don’t realize how big it is or how much it has to offer. The best way to see the most of the Park in a short period of time is to bike around it. I’ve had so many great memories riding a bike in Central Park, it should definitely be on your bucket list. There are several places close to Central Park where you can rent a bike.
I recommend following the 6-mile loop around the Park. There are a few tough hills at the northern end of the park but the rest of the path is gentle. It’s worth the effort because you will pass by the Mall, Loeb Boathouse, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cleopatra’s Needle, Harlem Meer, the Pool, the tennis center, the Reservoir, the Lake, and Sheep Meadow. Plus, Central Park has interesting people-watching and Instagram-worthy spots everywhere. It’s best to go early in the day to avoid the crowds.
By Anisa from Two Traveling Texans
See a show on Broadway
New York, New York
Broadway is the epicenter of the American theater scene, and while it’s not exactly a budget-friendly option for your visit to New York, it’s well worth a little splurge to catch one of the shows. There are several theaters in the area with performances of new shows, classics, and Disney stories. You can catch evening shows during the week, and matinees and evening shows on the weekends.
For popular shows like Hamilton, you’ll need to book your tickets well in advance if you have your heart set on a seat. If your plans are more flexible or you’re looking for a way to save some money, you can buy same-day tickets at the TKTS stands in New York City. The most popular one is right in Times Square – Don’t let the long line put you off. We thought we were going to be waiting for an eternity, but there are so many counters that the wait flew by. – and you can get big discounts for select shows. Check the boards for available show times and the discounts being offered.
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
New York, New York
Walking along the Brooklyn Bridge is just about the best urban hike ever! The approximately 1.1 mile walk between Manhattan and Brooklyn boasts amazing views of New York City. For the best views, I recommend starting from Brooklyn and walking to Manhattan because you’ll get to see the skyline from beginning to end. The walk typically takes about 25 minutes, but it can vary depending on the amount of time you spend taking photos.
Throughout your walk, you’ll be able to see many sights of NYC, from Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty, Governor’s Island, and Brooklyn Bridge Park. Keep in mind that locals still use the bridge for commuting purposes – they will be walking, running, and even biking across the bridge. It’s helpful (and safer) to stay off the bike path, except when passing, and don’t forget to look both ways!
Some of the best photo-ops are located at the tower on the Brooklyn side, there the walkway widens and you’ll have great views of downtown Manhattan along with the tower. There are also plaques on the tower that talk about its history and construction. It’s one of the most beautiful spots in the New York City area, both the bridge itself as well as the views from the bridge.
See more about New York City by Constance at The Adventures of Panda Bear
Explore New York City’s most famous art museums
New York, New York
New York is surely on top of many travelers U.S. bucket lists and within New York City, one of the things you absolutely cannot miss is the collection of famous art museums! While New York has at least 20 art museums, two of the most famous are definite can’t-miss items when you visit. Of course, one of those is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the entire United States and one of the most visited art museums in the world with over 7 million annual visitors. I lived in New York for 9 years and visited the Met often; each time, I discovered new rooms full of never-before-seen art. This museum has everything, from Ancient Greek urns to reconstructed Egyptian temples to ornate 18th century portraits and even pop art and modernist works. The trick is not to try to see it all but rather to pick a few areas of interest and explore those more deeply. With over 2 million works in the permanent collection, it is literally impossible to see everything in a day.
Another museum you can’t miss in New York is the Museum of Modern Art, more commonly called the MoMA. Here, you can find some of the most important works of modern art in the entire world, such as Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night and plenty of works by Andy Warhol, Roy Liechtenstein, Henri Matisse, and other influential artists. Between those two museums, you’ll definitely be getting your culture fix in New York.
See more New York City tips by Allison at Eternal Arrival
Get up close and personal with Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls, New York
The waterfalls collectively known as Niagara Falls span the Niagara River marking the international border between the United States and Canada. While the Canadians may have gotten the more impressive Horseshoe Falls and the better view, the American side gives you a chance to get closer to the roaring water and look straight down from the brink of the falls in Niagara Falls State Park. A visit to Goat Island – the island that divides the Canadian and American falls – allows you to get jaw-droppingly close to the waterfalls. You can drive to the island, but I prefer to park on the mainland and walk across the bridge to enjoy the sight of the water flowing over rapids on its way to Bridal Veil and the American Falls. From Goat Island, you can take a pathway to Luna island – the even tinier island that divides the two waterfalls on the American side. From the viewing platform here, you can look straight down at the rocks below and hear the roar of the water as it slams into them. Terrapin Point is right next to the bigger and more powerful Horseshoe Falls, and you can get an incredible sense of the sheer power of them standing at the viewing platform there. Further upstream, you can cross a series of foot bridges to visit the Three Sisters Islands to watch the water picking up speed as it rushes toward the upcoming waterfall.
If you want some more ways to experience the series of waterfalls, the famous Maid of the Mist boat leaves from a dock in the park. You can also visit the Cave of the Wings that will take you to the base of the American falls and give you a chance to look right up at the thundering water. If you’d rather stay inside, check out the restaurant in the state park that will give you a view of the rushing water while you dine.
Find our more about visiting Niagara Falls State Park here!
Visit the Baseball Hall of Fame
Cooperstown, New York
If you love baseball or don’t know anything about the game, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum should be on your bucket list. It is really two places—the Hall of Fame and the Museum. The Hall of Fame has plaques for 323 baseball players elected to the Hall of Fame. The gallery is impressive from the first class in 1936 – Babe Ruth and Ty Cob – to the most recent inductees. The Museum is chock full of exhibits, uniforms, videos and everything else connected to the game. Where else can you watch Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man Alive” speech or hear Babe Ruth talking about Baseball? Or see an exhibit on the Negro Leagues or Women in Baseball? You can easily spend the entire day at the Museum. The Museum is open year-round. The spring and fall are less crowded. The summer brings 100,000 of people to the Hall of Fame. If you plan ahead, Induction weekend is an amazing time to go. The ceremonies are open to the public and usually take place the 3rd or 4th weekend in July (in 2019, they are July 19-22).
See more about the Baseball Hall of Fame by Sue at Travel for Life Now
Tour the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier
New York, New York
Moored on the western side of Manhattan is the USS Intrepid, a former US Navy aircraft carrier which is now a museum. Commissioned in 1943, the Essex class carrier saw active service in World War II and served the Navy for almost 30 years until it was decommissioned in 1974.
Today, the carrier is the centerpiece of a museum which allows you to explore what life would have been like on the ship. You can visit the bridge for an impressive view of the flight deck, crew quarters, the ready room and the Hangar deck where aircraft were stored when not being used. An impressive Lego model of the ship can be found here too.
On the flight deck are several period aircraft such as the F14 Tomcat like Tom Cruise flew in Top Gun, a Harrier Jumpjet and the unbelievably fast Blackbird. Towards the back of the flight deck is a pavilion which contains the original prototype of the space shuttle Enterprise, whilst moored alongside is the USS Growler guided missile submarine.
The final attraction is the holder of the world’s fastest passenger crossing of the Atlantic – British Airways Concorde G-BOAD which crossed from New York to London in just 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.
See more about visiting NYC by Lee at One Trip at a Time
Visit Women’s Rights National Historic Park
Seneca Falls, New York
As a history nerd and a feminist, Women’s Rights National Historic Park had long been on my list of places to visit. It was the site of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, most famous for the Declaration of Sentiments, a document based off of the Declaration of Independence that asserted the radical notion that women were entitled to rights too. It took another several decades to get the vote, but in many ways the events at Seneca Falls helped push things along. Modern day visitors can tour a museum dedicated to women’s rights throughout the years, from the early days through the modern women’s movement. The Wesleyan Chapel where the actual convention was held underwent many changes throughout the years, but it’s partially preserved and can be toured. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s house is located nearby and can be visited seasonally.
Things to do in Pennsylvania
See where the Declaration of Independence was signed
Visiting the spot where the Declaration of Independence was debated and signed is an essential experience in Philadelphia. The Founding Fathers met in this small building, originally constructed to serve as the state capitol, to set in motion the events leading to the American Revolution. Several years later, long after the war had been won, delegates returned to Independence Hall to participate in the Constitutional Convention, which drafted the US Constitution in 1787. These important documents not only formed the basis of government in the United States to this day, but have influenced democracies in many other nations. Visitors can take a free guided tour of the building. Tickets are free if obtained on the day of the tour – they’re required from March-December. If you choose to order ahead of time, there’s a $1 handling fee.
Just across the street from Independence Hall, you’ll find an exhibition center that displays the famous Liberty Bell and has other information about the Revolutionary period. After visiting the historic park, check out some of the other important colonial buildings in the area, including the City Tavern, an old restaurant serving old-fashioned American cuisine that was popular with the Founding Fathers.
Hike the beautiful waterfalls of Ricketts Glen
Spanning more than 13000 acres, Ricketts Glen State Park (it very nearly became a National Park in the 1930s) is home to 24 significant waterfalls located in three different glens, and 26 miles of hiking trails, you can spend a whole weekend getaway just enjoying the park’s natural beauty. The Falls Trail, a 7.2-mile long trail which takes hikers past many of the waterfalls, is ranked as one of the best day hikes on the East Coast. There are several shorter and/or less difficult trails available as well. Don’t miss Ganoga Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park during your visit. It’s accessed via the 2.8-mile long Ganoga View Trail. If relaxing is more your thing, you can hang out at the beach along Lake Jean, which was created by a dam. Boating and fishing are also popular on the lake. The park also features cabins to rent and numerous campsites, some of which are in the campground along the shore of Lake Jean.
Tour historic Eastern State Penitentiary
There were numerous places on my list I wanted to see when I visited Philadelphia. Although many of these were directly related to the birth of America, some others included the Eastern State Penitentiary.
There were several factors that drew me into wanting to visit the penitentiary. A few of these were that it was once the world’s most famous, most expensive prison and one of its notorious prisoners was none other than Al “Scarface” Capone. Perhaps the biggest draw? The prison is considered haunted.
While I don’t know for sure that it is haunted, I can tell you that walking through the Eastern State Penitentiary was quite eerie and invoked a sense of “realism.” I don’t know exactly how to explain this, but let’s just say that I imagine it did a good job of what a penitentiary was supposed to do: inspire penitence in its prisoners.
The part of the prison I was most fascinated with was Cellblock 3 or the Hospital Block. I was there about a month before they opened the block to public tours so this was all I could see. Now, you can tour the Hospital Block and apparently, it leaves one with a heightened sense of what I call “realism”.
TIPS: We went on a Sunday morning in the spring and crowds weren’t even remotely a problem. It’s walkable from the city center, although a large portion on the way to the prison is uphill. So if this is a problem, I recommend Ubering to the prison and walking downhill on the way back! If you’re planning a Philly trip, check out my Best Time to Visit Philadelphia + 25 Places to See in 4 Days!
By Heather from Trimm Travels
Enjoy a nature break at the Delaware Water Gap
If you like hiking, waterfalls, rock climbing, kayaking, canoeing, small town charm, antiques, farm stands or just being in nature, the Delaware Water Gap needs to be on your bucket list. The Gap is 200 miles long and is essentially where the Delaware River cuts through the Blue Mountains in Pennsylvania and the Kittatiny Ridge in New Jersey. My favorite place to stay in the Gap is Milford, PA. Milford is right on the Delaware River with good restaurants, hotels and B&Bs. A few miles from town, you can go canoeing or kayaking on the Delaware. Dingmans Falls, Raymondskill Falls, Bushkill Falls are all nearby. The McDade Trail is just outside of town and runs 33 miles runs along a ridge right above the Delaware. There are a number of Native American archeological sites in this area as well. Raymondskill is a great place to take children for fossil hunting. Bring your bathing suit in the summer—there are some great places for swimming in the Gap.
By Sue from Travel for Life Now
Satisfy your sweet tooth at Hersheypark
For anyone with a sweet tooth, visiting Hershey, Pennsylvania is an absolute must-do. Their chocolate bars and other candies – I’m a Reese’s Cup girl, myself – have made many a person drool over the decades. You can visit the spot where it all started in eastern Pennsylvania and get up close to the chocolate-making process. The Hershey’s Chocolate World (the name itself sounds like heaven) offers a free ride-through tour that shows how their chocolate is made. The best part? You’ll get a free candy bar as you exit. I definitely rode twice. You can also dine in their food court, which features a few subtly chocolate-y dishes in addition to more standard American food and shop in a massive candy-themed gift shop. I’d be lying if I said my eyes didn’t get as big as saucers when I saw the wall of Reese’s Cups. There are also paid experiences, like designing your own custom bar of chocolate with fillings of your choice and its own special packaging. My candy bar was delicious, but sadly, “Kris’ Chocolate” doesn’t look quite as good on a label as the iconic HERSHEY’S.
If thrills are your thing, you can also check out Hersheypark right next door. The amusement park contains all kinds of family-friendly rides and a few good roller coasters as well. My favorite is Storm Runner, a speedy, looping coaster. You can also meet and take photos with life-sized candy bars, so if you’ve ever dreamed of hugging a Reese’s Cup, this is the place for you.
Get a taste of the Great Lakes at Presque Isle
Nestled along the shores on the smallest of the Great Lakes (smallest in volume but not in stature!) lies the town of Erie, Pennsylvania. Here you’ll find their brilliant escape to nature known as Presque Isle State Park. Located a short 15 minutes from the downtown core, this 3,200-acre peninsula is a must-see. Offering a number of recreational activities, you can enjoy the incredible sandy beaches and their views of Lake Erie, try your hand at fishing, go hiking and more in the warmer months. When the frost arrives, grab your skates, strap on some snowshoes or grab your cross-country skis for some winter fun. Be sure to stop at the Tom Ridge Environmental Centre as well as this state-of-the-art facility dives into the unique history of Presque Isle State Park along with its diverse ecosystems, wildlife and more. Whether you’re vacationing in town or just passing through, it’s definitely not to be missed! See more about the park on their official website.
By Lindsay from I’ve Been Bit
Have some hands-on fun at the Carnegie Science Center
The Carnegie Science Center is highly regarded as one of the top science museums in the country. Visiting it is one of the best things to do in Pittsburgh with kids or without. There are several hands-on exhibits that introduce visitors to the many branches of science, and it’s an absolute blast. I loved the astronaut experience where you get hooked up in a harness and try to perform tasks while at simulated zero G. Space fans will also love the replica of parts of the International Space Station. There’s even a whole area the size of a gymnasium devoted to learning through motion and sports. It allows you to do fun, active things like a high ropes course, reaction time tests, and bat speed measurements with tie-ins to local professional teams. Whichever activities you decide to try while you’re there, you’ll definitely leave with a smile on your face and a little bit more knowledge in your brain. Be sure to wear shoes with socks if you want to participate.
Things to do in Virginia
Visit Arlington National Cemetery
Established during the Civil War, more than 400,000 people are buried in Arlington National Cemetery—many of whom are fallen American service members—and it solemnly pays tribute to countless more. No visit to the cemetery is complete without witnessing the Changing of the Guard, a ceremony that occurs at the top of each hour (as well as every half hour from April-September) at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The monument honors American service members who died without being identified. Members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment continuously guard the tomb, even in rain, snow, and sleet.
Arlington National Cemetery is also the resting place of President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Visiting the eternal flame burning at their gravesite is another important stop on a cemetery tour.
But perhaps the most sobering part of any visit to Arlington National Cemetery is seeing the endless rows of simple white headstones marking the graves of thousands of brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The cemetery is free to enter and open 365 days per year.
By Carrie from Maple and Maps
Take a scenic drive through Shenandoah National Park
Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia
Head to this National Park in northern Virginia for miles of incredible scenic drives through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The park’s main attraction, Skyline Drive, stretches for 105 miles cutting through the entire length of the park and continues southward as the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. Fall is one of the best times of the year to visit Shenandoah as the colors of the foliage stretching out through the valley are a sight to behold.
In addition to 75 overlooks featuring spectacular views of the Shenandoah Valley, Skyline Drive also provides access to numerous hiking trails, campgrounds, waterfalls, and more. The park also features an access point to the Appalachian Trail. If you want to summit the park’s tallest peak, you can take the moderate Hawksbill Mountain Trail, a 1.7-mile out and back trail beginning at mile post 45.6 to the top of the 4,051 foot tall mountain. Because you’re starting from an elevation already, you only gain 690 feet on the hike so it’s not too strenuous. If you’re looking for waterfalls, try the one-mile trail to Dark Hollow Falls that begins at mile marker 51.
Read more about visiting Shenandoah National Park here.
See where the final battle of the American Revolution was fought
The Battle of Yorktown ended on October 19, 1781 and marked a decisive victory by the American and French armies over British troops led by General Cornwallis. The battle not only boosted faltering American morale and revived French enthusiasm for the American Revolutionary War, but it helped undermine popular support for the conflict in England. During our tour of the battlefield, a National Park employee explained the battle, sights, and surrender flags situated throughout the battlefield. We loved being able to spatially orient ourselves and imagine the 18th century scene.
The American Revolution Museum, another aspect of Yorktown, is an outdoor living museum with people dressed in period costumes, illustrating how people in that time period would have lived from day to day. Officially dedicated on April 1, 2017, the museum boasts 22,000 square feet of exhibition space with films, interactive galleries, and artifacts. Just outside the main museum building is the Revolution-era farm site, complete with log kitchens and attached brick chimneys. The museum posted procession times and we decided to hang around outside so we could catch it live. The fife and drums procession was absolutely amazing to hear live!
A tour of Yorktown will be more than a history class. It will come to life right before your eyes. This tour was more than an educational field trip for our family, and especially our two teenage boys!
There are a few ticket packages you can purchase to visit Yorktown and one popular package is called the America’s Historic Triangle which encompasses entrances to Yorktown, Jamestown, and Williamsburg. To really experience first-hand Colonial America, we purchased this package.
By Cynthia from Mackintosh Travels
Visit a living history museum in Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg is considered a living history museum where tourists walk through a restored colonial town and can participate in various activities to explore daily life in the 18th century. It is a must-do when visiting Virginia, as it brings history to life. People can simply walk around the town and watch the artisans making crafts, have lunch at a British tavern, or tour the governor’s palace.
There are numerous demonstrations with actors dressed in colonial garb throughout the day depending on your interests. One can take a carriage ride through the main street, learn how a metalworker crafts a sword, watch a fife and drum parade or visit an apothecary. Entrance is free to walk the grounds, however, to enter a house and watch a trade demonstration you’ll need tickets. You can also include a trip to nearby Yorktown and Jamestown too. Visiting Colonial Williamsburg is like stepping back in time and being right at the center of it all – I highly recommend it if you enjoy history. See more on the official website.
By Margie from DQ Travel
See marine life on a dolphin watching cruise
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach has loads of beautiful shoreline perfect for taking a swim. You could easily spend a whole vacation just relaxing on the beach. You’d be missing out on my favorite Virginia Beach activity though – dolphin watching cruises. These boats leave regularly to take passengers out along the coast with the hope of spotting some dolphins. We were incredibly lucky on our cruise as a pod of dolphins followed behind our boat for several minutes. We spotted a few others a little further away, but watching the dolphins leaping through the waves the boat was making was the real treat. As an added bonus, the evening cruise I picked allowed me to watch sunset from the water.
Cruises last 1.5 hours, most of which is spent cruising along the shoreline. Dolphin sightings are never guaranteed, but the company offers a guarantee that will allow you to do another cruise if you don’t see any on your first. The boats even have a snack bar and regular bar if you’re like me and prefer to have food available at all times. Find out how to book here.
Things to do in Washington, D.C.
Visit the world class museums of the Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian museums in Washington DC should be a part of your East Coast bucket list because it’s a collection of items from America’s history with something for everyone. The Smithsonian isn’t just one stop, it’s actually 17 museums, plus the National Zoo. So plan your trip with extra days if you want to see them all! There are 11 museums and galleries located downtown along the National Mall and 6 others spread out around the DC area. My three favorites are: (1) the Air and Space Museum at Dulles airport where you can see the Space Shuttle Discovery and the Enola Gay, (2) the National History Museum where you can spend a few hours wandering among displays of dinosaurs, space rocks, and the stunning Hope Diamond, and (3) the American History Museum with Dorothy’s Ruby Red slippers from the Wizard of Oz and the most iconic of the First Ladies’ dresses. For art lovers, there are a handful of museums covering different styles of art such as the classy American Art Museum full of landscapes from American artists, the Portrait Gallery, the Hirshhorn with its collection of modern art exhibits, and more. Lastly, children and animal lovers will love visiting the National Zoo to check out the adorable baby pandas.
By Lindsay from Excursion Everywhere
Tour the United States Capitol Building
If you’re interested in American politics and history, there is no better activity in Washington, DC than a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building. This is the home of American law, policy and public debate.
Free, hour-long tours of the Capitol start with a short video. Then you visit the Rotunda, the National Statuary Hall Collection and the Crypt. You’ll learn about the dome, the “Statue of Freedom” on top, and some of the building’s quirks — including John Quincy Adams’ “whisper spot.” The architecture is amazing and the history is fascinating.
I highly recommend reserving a ticket online in advance. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you can also arrange a visit through your Representative or Senators’ offices — with the added bonus of getting a pass to visit the House Gallery, where you can watch a legislative session. Time your visit for when controversial legislation is on the House floor and watch how American government really works!
Security is very tight at the Capitol. You can’t bring anything that could be construed as a weapon. Basically leave everything at home except your wallet, keys, and a water bottle. There is a free coat check.
By Carrie from Trains, Planes and Tuk Tuks
Check out this tour that includes reserved Capitol admission so you don’t miss out!
See the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in person
Bucket list travel comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s an amazing natural wonder or ruins from an ancient civilization. The National Archives might not seem like it belongs on the same list, but it can’t be beaten if you want to truly connect with a piece of our nation’s history. You can find the Archives on the National Mall with the many Smithsonian museums.
One of the best things about the National Archives is that you aren’t allowed to take pictures. I know it seems a little counterintuitive, but it forces you to be in the moment and truly take in the history around you. Seeing THE Declaration of Independence and THE Constitution really bring you back to what the founding fathers must have felt when they were drafting these documents. You can also see the original Bill of Rights, and the Magna Carta is sometimes on display. My favorite item, by far, was the annotated copy of the Constitution from George Washington. Looking at his notes in the margin and his corrections to the wording, it makes those moments for the founding fathers even more real. While they might not draw as many people as the Hope Diamond in the Museum of Natural History, I would argue that the documents in National Archives mean more to the United States than all of the other treasures on the National Mall. This makes them the ultimate bucket list item for your trip to Washington, D.C.!
See more about visiting Washington, D.C. with kids by Sarah at The Moment Mom
This tour gets you skip the line access to the National Archives and a guided tour!
Explore the monuments at the National Mall
The collection of monuments at the National Mall is one of the top tourist attractions in Washington, D.C. The two most iconic ones face each other across the long, narrow Reflecting Pool and honor presidents Washington and Lincoln. Washington’s monument can be seen towering over the buildings, and visitors can ride an elevator to the top. Fun fact: if you look closely, you can see that it’s made of two different colors of marble. The Lincoln Memorial houses a larger-than-life statue of him inside an elaborate marble Greek revival building with two of his most famous speeches carved inside. You’ll also find monuments to Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt nearby. Martin Luther King Jr. is also honored in a very moving monument in the area.
The National Mall is home to monuments for three different wars as well. The Vietnam Memorial is perhaps the most famous, with its somber black wall featuring the names of those killed in the conflict. There are usually flowers and candles left nearby by family members who still mourn their losses. The Korean War Memorial is located on the opposite side of the Reflecting Pool and features statues of troops slogging through the fields there. The newest addition to the National Mall memorializes those who fought during WWII and is located at the end of the Reflecting Pool opposite the Lincoln Memorial. The extensive monument features pillars honoring the combatants from all 48 US states and eight territories (Alaska and Hawaii weren’t states yet at the time). The most moving part of the memorial for me was the wall of over 4000 gold stars, each of which represents 100 Americans who died.
The monuments at the National Mall are open 24 hours a day, and they’re just as spectacular at night with their dramatic lighting as they are during the day. They’re free to visit, and you can stop by one of the National Parks booths for information and maps. Find out more on the official NPS site.
See the cherry blossoms in the spring
Every spring, tourists flock to Washington, D.C. to see the famous cherry blossom trees blooming. The cherry blossom trees, originally a gift from the mayor of Tokyo though many more have been planted over the years, reach their peak bloom in early April, though the dates vary a bit year-to-year. The majority of them are located around the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial and the Potomac Park, though you can find a sprinkling of them throughout the rest of the National Mall and other areas.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival runs from late March to early April and includes three weeks of festivities. Depending on your interests, you can experience a kite festival, bike tours of the Tidal Basin, sushi and sake demonstrations, a kimono fashion show, or a fireworks display. You can also witness dignitaries gathering at the Tidal Basin to light a 300-year-old ceremonial stone lantern that was a gift from the Japanese ambassador. The last Saturday of the festival also features a parade.
You can even sign up for a Segway tour of the cherry blossoms!
Things to do in West Virginia
Experience the legendary white water rafting and scenery at New River Gorge
Glen Jean, West Virginia
Recently, my family and I enjoyed a three week road trip through the mid-Atlantic and New England states. As we are apt to do, we try to check off as many national parks and monuments as we can along the way. On our way home through West Virginia we were pleased to visit New River Gorge National River and Bridge. The New River Gorge National Bridge was completed in October, 1977, as a solution to the difficult navigation down the curvy mountain roads into the gorge and across the river. By the way, you can still access the old route which we highly recommend if you have time to do so. The vantage point of the bridge from underneath is as awe inspiring as from above. As you can see from the picture, the bridge is sight to behold. The bridge sits 876 feet above the river and is over 3000 feet long. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can purchase tickets for around $70 a person and walk on a 24” wide catwalk that runs directly underneath the roadway of the bridge. We, however, had children too young to participate as you must be at least 48” tall and 8 years old. Phew! I was glad to escape that one.
Speaking of adventures, the white water rafting on New River is an extremely popular and famous activity in the area. New River Gorge National River includes 53 miles of rapids. The upper (southern) part of the river has some longer pools and easier rapids up to class III. The lower (northern) section, also called, “the Lower Gorge” has very large rapids ranging in difficulty from Class III to Class V. There are several licensed outfitters in the area offering guided tours for the inexperienced.
By Amanda from VeraVise Outdoor Living
Visit Harpers Ferry National Historic Park
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
West Virginia is one of the most beautiful and often overlooked states on in the Eastern US. Those lucky enough to visit West Virginia always agree – it is a very pretty state. One particular favorite with visitors is Harpers Ferry, the hidden gem of West Virginia. At this historic town, the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet. Harpers Ferry has been a significant landmark from the history of Native Americans, through the Revolutionary War and ever since.
The heart of the town is Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Many famous Americans, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, W.E.B. Du Bois, and John Brown have left their mark on Harpers Ferry.
Harpers Ferry is the perfect destination for nature lovers. It is a great location for water activities – kayaking, white water rafting, and river tubing. The park has around 20 miles of hiking trails within its boundaries, including the mid-point of the Appalachian Trail. These trails are considered some of the best walking in America. Hiking through Harpers Ferry’s amazing, lush, hilly landscape is simply satisfying.
You can’t help humming John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” – especially when you realize that you’re surrounded by everything in the song’s lyrics like the scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains and looking over the Shenandoah River. Harpers Ferry is a special place that should be on your bucket list for the Mid-Atlantic region.
By Halef from The Round the World Guys
If you’re visiting other parts of the US, check out these other bucket list guides:
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