The East Coast of the United States has some of the best-preserved historic sites from the early days of the United States. Each state has numerous sites that date anywhere from 50 years ago to 500 years ago. It’s incredible, what you can find when you look. If you’re planning on seeing historic sites on the East Coast, these are definitely some of the ones you shouldn’t miss.
The Statue of Liberty
By Erin of Traveling Thru History
One of the most iconic historic sites on the East Coast is the Statue of Liberty. It is a universal symbol of freedom and democracy designed by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. The people of France gave this neoclassical sculpture to the people of the United States in 1885. It arrived disassembled via steamer ship and could not be reassembled until a pedestal could be built to hold such a large work. Lady Liberty was reassembled in 1886, after the pedestal base was completed.
The Statue of Liberty stands 151’1” high and weighs 450,000. Bartholdi intended Lady Liberty to be a symbol of enlightenment, but emigrants to the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries saw her as a welcoming figure to their new home. The Statue of Liberty’s association with immigration became stronger when nearby Ellis Island became the location for processing newly-arrived immigrants.
Visitors can reach the statue via Statue Cruises, the only ferry service authorized to transport visitors too and from Liberty Island and Ellis Island. Ferries depart from Battery Park in Manhattan and Liberty State Park in New Jersey. The current price for ferry tickets is $19.25 per person and is separate from your ticket to tour inside the Statue of Liberty.
There is no fee to wander around the pedestal, though a reservation is recommended due to occupancy limits. If you would like to tour the crown, you will need to purchase a $3 ticket in advance. Reservations are required and should be purchased 6-8 months in advance as they sell out quickly.
By Sean of Living Out Lau
When you think of historic sites on the East Coast, your mind might immediately go to the Statue of Liberty. While the Statue of Liberty is an unmissable attraction in NYC, there are other historically significant sites that many visitors might overlook, such as Ellis Island. If you are going to visit the Statue of Liberty, be sure to also visit Ellis Island before or after your visit to Liberty Island.
Ellis Island is a small island located in the New York Harbour. It was the United States’ busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 to 1924. More than 12 million immigrants (mostly from southern and eastern Europe) arrived in America through the Ellis Island Immigration Station. A staggering 40 percent or more Americans have ancestors that passed through Ellis Island.
Before becoming an immigration station, Ellis Island was the site of Fort Gibson. The fort opened in 1892 and became a detention center in 1924. The United States military used the fort to detain prisoners of war. After WWII, the buildings were left mostly abandoned until 1990. At that time, the main building and several other structures were completely renovated.
Nowadays, Ellis Island is a museum that provides excellent information on the incredible history of immigration in the United States. The immigration complex houses exhibits and artifacts from both America’s history and immigrants who once passed through the island on the way to a new life. Free guided tours and audio tours are available for all visitors at certain hours of the day.
Similar to Liberty Island (where the Statue of Liberty is located), there is no fee for admission. However, you must pay for your ferry from either Battery Park in Manhattan or Liberty State Park to Ellis Island.
By Melissa of Navigation Junkie
When thinking about American history and important historic sites on the East Coast, Gettysburg is at the top. The Gettysburg Battlefield is the site of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, which lasted three days and became a turning point in the war. Union soldiers successfully halted the progress of Confederation soldiers, who were attempting to invade the Northern United States. President Lincoln chose this location for his famous Gettysburg Address that same year.
Along with being able to tour the battlefield, visitors can visit the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. It is near the battlefield and is a must-see stop prior to entering the field. The visitor center houses a large museum where you can pick up a guide to the sites, which is very helpful on your visit. This museum also features hundreds of artifacts from the war, a film outlining the war, and an impressive cyclorama.
There are many ways to view Gettysburg. There are roads running throughout the battlefield, so you can easily drive through on your own to see all the highlights. Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, Culp’s Hill, the Wheatfield, and the location of Pickett’s charge are all easily accessible by car. There are also many guided tour options available. You can tour by horseback, in a horse drawn carriage, on a segway, bikes, bus, and by foot. A licenced battlefield guide can help you arrange the tour option that best suits your needs.
Visiting the Gettysburg Battlefield varies in cost, depending on what you choose to do. Entrance to the battlefield site is free while guided tours range from $30 to $200. The Visitor Center is also free to enter, but the film, museum, and cyclorama can all be enjoyed for a single cost of $15.
By MacKenzie of Rainbow Travel Life
Fort Fisher is in Kure Beach, NC. It is one of 11 named beaches in the world where history was made. In January 1865, the largest amphibious operation and land-sea battle of the Civil War took place here. Union soldiers captured the last remaining supply route open to Robert E. Lee, making it one of the most influential battles of the Civil War. Before the fort fell to Union soldiers, Fort Fisher was integral to ensuring supplies reached Confederate troops. You can learn all about the battle and how Fort Fisher was used through outdoor exhibits, a museum, and a 10-minute audiovisual presentation.
Most visitors walk around unguided, but costumed guided tours are available on a limited basis. Visitors will enjoy a seeing restored palisade fence, 12-pounder seacoast gun reconstruction, and tour trail with exhibit panels encircling the ruins. Staff and volunteers fire the 12-pounder throughout the year when the site is busy. Be sure to make a reservation for your guided tour before arriving at the fort.
Prior to colonization, Fort Fisher was home to the Cape Fear Native Americans. Artifacts, such as arrowheads and pottery, are still found in the area. Research is being done to understand their use and significance.
Fort Fisher is also a State Recreation Area, so there is a 1.1-mile Basin Trail that features an observation deck and will take visitors past a World War II bunker where a hermit used to live. For SCUBA diving fans, the wreckage of The Condor, one of the best-preserved blockade runners, 700 yards offshore. The site is also near other fun things to do in the Wilmington area.
Admission to Fort Fisher is free, though donations are always appreciated. The fort is open from 9-5 Tuesday-Saturday. The site is closed Sunday, Monday, and major holidays.
Wormsloe Historic Site
By Erin of Savannah First-Timer’s Guide
The famous tree-lined drive at Wormsloe Historic Site is quite possibly one of the most photographed areas in all of Savannah. The site was originally home to Noble Jones, one of the first settlers to the state of Georgia. The tabby ruin that still remains is the oldest structure in Savannah.
Wormsloe is located about 15 miles outside Savannah, so you’ll need a car to get there. Once you enter the gates, you’ll drive down a stunning tree-lined drive for about a mile before arriving at a small museum. The museum features a short film summarizing the history of the area. Although the grounds once served as a plantation, you’ll learn that the original founders of Savannah were opposed to slavery.
On the grounds of Wormsloe, there are seven miles of trails leading through a maritime forest and past beautiful views of the marsh. (Note: Dogs are allowed on the trails, but not inside the museum.) The Colonial Life Area attempts to recreate the living environment of 18th century residents and includes a small home that visitors can explore. The park hosts regular demonstrations with actors dressed in period attire who show off basic skills from the mid-1700s.
A few other historic points of interest in the vicinity include Pin Point Museum and Bonaventure Cemetery. Afterwards, head to the Historic District to view more of the beautiful historic homes in Savannah!
Admission to Wormsloe is $10 per adult and $4.50 per child. The site is open 7 days a week from 9am-4:45pm and is closed for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Various events are also held at the site throughout the year, which can be found here.
TIP: If you visit during the summer months, be sure to bring lots of water and wear bug spray!
By Dhara of It’s Not About the Miles
Though not a site one would think of when listing historic sites on the East Coast, El Morro should be at the top of your itinerary, especially if you enjoy history and architecture. Castillo San Felipe del Morro, to give it its full name, is part of the San Juan National Historic Site and part of San Juan’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.
El Morro is one of the many forts built on the island of Puerto Rico by the Spanish. San Juan was a highly prized port in the New World, creating the need to fortify it heavily. The fort was built in the 16th century to guard San Juan Bay from sea attacks and spent the next 250 years being expanded and strengthened.
The fort was active until the end of the 19th century, when American forces shelled El Morro. Soon after, the US took control of the island. The only other time El Morro was taken was in 1598 when the Duke of Cumberland captured the fort. He held it for 5 months until English forces were too weakened from dysentery to remain. After the US took over the island in 1898, El Morro served as a US base during the two world wars, before being retired as a historic site.
Today, you can tour the five-level fortress, which offers magnificent views over the water. Visitors can explore by themselves or take one of the free guided tours. You can see life as it existed for the soldiers back then and the oldest lighthouse in Puerto Rico.
The fort is open seven days a week from 9am-6pm. The entrance fee is $7 for adults, which also includes nearby Castillo San Cristobal. Anyone under 15 is free. The National Parks pass is accepted as well.
The White House
By Thanh of Daily Tourist
One of the best-known historic sites on the East Coast is the White House. The White House is located in Washington, DC, and is arguably the most famous building in the entire country. Since November 1, 1800, the White House has been the home of every US president, starting with John Adams.
Construction on the White House started in 1792 and was completed in 1800. Over the years, many additions, renovations, and restorations have taken place. The famous West Wing was added in 1902 and the current Oval Office completed in 1934.
Poor maintenance and poor design choices for additions required a complete reconstruction of the White House in 1949. The interior of the White House was dismantled and reconstructed over a new internal steel frame, resulting in the loss of much of the interior plasterwork that was too damaged to reinstall. From 1961-1962, Jacqueline Kennedy undertook a painstaking process to redecorate the White House using artefacts which once resided there. She created themes for each room from different periods of the early republic. First Lady Pat Nixon furthered this work by bringing over 600 historic artefacts back to the White House.
Tickets to visit the White House can be obtained by contacting your local member of Congress between 21-90 days prior to your intended visit. Though many rooms are off limits to foot traffic, you will be able to see the Green Room, Red Room, West Wing, East Wing, China Room, Vermeil Room, State Dining Room, and several other significant areas on your self-guided tour.
Tips for visiting: Take public transportation or have someone drop you off as parking around the White House is limited. Arrive at least 20 minutes before your tour starts. There are no public restrooms in the White House and food and drink are prohibited.
By Derek of Robe Trotting
Philadelphia is arguably the most historic city in the United States. Two of the most well-known landmarks are Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, but there are some offbeat Philadelphia historical sites that shouldn’t be missed when looking for historic sites on the East Coast. One such destination is a tiny street in the Old City neighborhood called Elfreth’s Alley.
Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continuously-inhabited residential street in the United States. The quiet cobblestone alley came to be in 1702 when two property owners gave up a portion of their land plots to form an alleyway to the Delaware River. By 1713 the location attracted merchants and craftsmen to build homes on the alley and they’ve been occupied ever since. The 32 current homes on Elfreth’s Alley were built between 1728 and 1836 and 29 are occupied today. Some famous historical figures like Betsey Ross and Dolly Madison even lived on Elfreth’s Alley.
Elfreth’s Alley stretches from Front Street to Second Street and is located between Arch and Quarry Streets. It’s free to visit as it’s a residential alley with people living in the homes. The residents are used to tourists checking out their street and they take pride in its historical significance. Still, it’s important to remember that people live on Elfreth’s Alley and respect their property while visiting. The best time to visit is earlier in the morning when there is less foot traffic and you can most easily photograph the picturesque 18th century street.
Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village
By Erin of Traveling Thru History
Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village is the last active Shaker community in the United States. It was settled between 1782-1793. It is one of 18 Shaker communities built in Colonial America after the Shaker migration in 1774 and the only one remaining. Over the years, 26 buildings were built on the land, including the meetinghouse, a central dwelling house, barns, a blacksmith shop, girl’s shop, herb house, saw mill, wood house, stable, laundry building, garage, cart and carriage shed, and summer house. Of those, 17 of the original structures still remain.
While it may seem unusual to visit a religious commune, the Shaker village is a site of cultural and historic importance. You really shouldn’t miss it when visiting historic sites on the East Coast. Many achievements in social reform, agriculture, and technology have taken place here. The flat broom, circular saw, and spring clothespin were invented by Shakers, among other things. The Shakers are happy to share their legacy with visitors, by way of community tours, retreats, nature hikes, craftsmanship workshops, and their on-site museum.
Visitors can stop by the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village Monday-Saturday 10am-4:30pm. Guided tours of the community are $10 and take place hourly from 10:30am-3:15pm. Guided nature hikes take place at scheduled times with limited capacity, as are the workshops and retreats. Retreats are $300 each and are capped at 5-8 people, depending on the retreat. The 21 different craft workshops vary between $45-95 for the class, with some classes having additional features that can be added on. Most materials are provided for the classes. To schedule a retreat, nature walk, or workshop, be sure to check their website for times, availability, and supplies you’ll need to bring.
By Emma of Emma Jane Explores
The famous Independence Hall in the city of Philadelphia is home of American independence and is one of the most significant historic sites on the East Coast, if not the whole country. In this very building, the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and signed – changing the course of American history forever.
Independence Hall is located in the Independence National Historic Park near the center of Philadelphia. This treasured landmark has been designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site. Once home to all three branches of Pennsylvania’s colonial government, this historic building became the principal meetingplace for the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1783. A guided tour will take participants through the Assembly Rooms, still set up to demonstrate what the building would have looked like when it was in use.
Access to Independence Hall is only possible as part of a free guided tour. Hours of admission are 9am-5pm with shortened hours on holidays. The best time to take the tour is early in the morning. Even in the dead of the freezing Philadelphia winter, people line up to enter, so get in early to avoid the queues. Tours begin every 15 minutes and there are no bookings, so entry is on a first come, first served basis. Group sizes are capped at 9 people. The first floor of the building is fully accessible, too, so this is a great option for tourists with specific mobility requirements.
Independence Hall is walking distance from lots of other great Philadelphia attractions. Be sure to check out these and other fun things to do while you are in Philadelphia.
By Darcy of Plan, Ready, Go
Jamestown was founded in 1607 by the Virginia Company. This town was the site of the first permanent English settlement in the New World. From that tiny foothold on the James River in Southeastern Virginia came much of what makes up American history. This is where it all started.
Historic Jamestowne is part of Colonial National Historical Park and is the actual site of the original colony. It is part U.S. National Park and part active archaeological site. The three towns that make up the Colonial National Historical Park are some of the most-visited historic sites on the East Coast.
When visiting Jamestown, make sure you pick up a map at the Visitors Center. The guest services representative will tell you what tours or activities are available that day. The free tour, led by National Parks Service rangers, is recommended to help set the scene and provides important historical context as you walk through the park. The tour guide will help you picture what it may have looked like there 400 years ago since not much of the original town remains.
Regardless of whether you do the tour, use the official map to help you with your visit. It will guide you to important things to see such as the hundred-year-old Memorial Church, statues of Pocahontas and John Smith, archaeological dig sites, the site of James Fort, the Voorhees Archaearium, and the Ambler Mansion. The Archaearium displays many artifacts unearthed from the digs around Jamestown Island.
You can purchase your Historic Jamestowne ticket ahead of time online or at the Visitors Center. Admission is $20 for those 16 and older; children 15 and under get in free. Your ticket is good for seven consecutive days and includes admission to Yorktown Battlefield. The hours of operation are 8:30am-4:30pm.
African Meeting House
By Tegan of Why Not Walk
The African Meeting House, built in 1806, is the oldest standing Black church in the United States. It was the first Black church built north of the Mason-Dixon line. While not a usual site mentioned when recommending historic sites on the East Coast, this one is no less important.
This church was consecrated as the African Baptist Church of Boston and served as the nexus of the Black population in Boston. The church doubled as a cultural and educational center, and later as a hub for the abolitionist cause. Notable abolitionists like Maria Stewart, Sarah Grimke, William Lloyd Garrison, and Frederick Douglass all spoke here. It also served as a recruitment hub for the 54th Regiment, the first Black regiment to fight for the Union in the Civil War.
Along with being a church, the African Meeting House doubled as a school and community meetingplace. Classes were held in the basement until the Abiel Smith School was built next door in 1834. This school was the first public school for African American in the United States. For many years, it was the only school for African American children in Boston. It was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.
After being declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974, the African Meeting House, together with the Abiel Smith School became the home of the Museum of African American History (MAAH). The MAAH is open Monday through Saturday from 10am-4pm, and costs $10 for adults. Students with valid ID can get in for $8. Children 12 and under are free. You can visit the MAAH as part of your own itinerary or you can join the Black Heritage Trail tour, which ends at the African Meeting House.
Castillo de San Marcos
By Sharon of Baby Journey
A top historic site on the East Coast that shouldn’t be missed is the Castillo de San Marcos in St Augustine, Florida. It was built by the Spanish in the late 1600s to defend the Atlantic trade route and Florida. Castillo de San Marcos is the first masonry fort built in the US. As St Augustine changed hands between the Spanish, British and the US, so did the name. It was known as Fort St. Mark during the British occupation and Fort Marion when it was given to the United States. In 1924, the fort was declared a National Monument and renamed Castillo de San Marcos.
One notable piece of information is that the fort changed hands between Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War without a shot being fired. When Union soldiers withdrew from Florida, only one man was left to care for the fort. The caretaker refused to surrender the fort to advancing Confederate soldiers without a receipt from the Confederacy. Once the receipt was obtained, he turned the fort over and left. After the war, the fort was used as a military prison.
Today, the fort is home to a museum where you can learn all about this history. On weekends, there is a cannon fired every half hour by a group of volunteers dressed as Spanish soldiers. To get the most from your visit, download Castillo’s park app which will take you on a self guided tour.
Castillo de San Marcos is open Wednesday-Sunday from 9am-5pm. It is closed Mondays, Tuesdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Tickets cost $18 for 16 years and over and are free for kids. This gives you access to the site for seven consecutive days. There is paid parking on site.
By Stella of Around the World in 24 Hours
There are many popular historic sites on the East Coast related to the Civil War. But one of the most important is Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston, South Carolina. After all, it is at this fort that the first battle of the Civil War began on April 12, 1861. The Confederate Army defeated the Union Army in a little over a day. Fort Sumter was also important during the American Revolution. It was both a site of victory (in 1776) and the greatest defeat (1780) for the Patriots.
Once you are at Fort Sumter, you can watch park rangers give demonstrations on various topics from how to load a Civil War-era gun to the proper way to wear a Civil War uniform. The presentations are full of fun facts, like why it was a requirement for Civil War soldiers to have at least two working teeth. Tours can be arranged, but are not regularly scheduled.
From Fort Sumter, you can get a great view of Fort Wagner, where the Massachusetts 54th Regiment fought a devastating battle. (The movie Glory starring Denzel Washington covers the history of this regiment.) Expect to spend a little over two hours exploring Fort Sumter, not including the boat trip.
Fort Sumter itself is free to visit, but you can only get there by a boat from Charleston. The only company authorized to transport visitors is Fort Sumter Tours and tickets cost $24 round-trip, per adult. You can take a boat from either Liberty Square in Downtown Charleston or Patriot’s Point in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Be sure to book your reservation on the boat in advance. The boat departure schedule changes regularly. Be sure to check the Fort Sumter Tours website for their current departure schedule and to book your reservation.
By Erin of Traveling Thru History
Colonial Williamsburg is one of the oldest settlements in the United States. This restored village inside a city is one of my favorite historic sites on the East Coast. Settled in 1699, the town has become a living history museum of what life was like in the early days of America.
Visitors will find restored and reconstructed buildings, along with a few historically accurate additions, to make the area a more immersive historic experience. The original structures, which include the Courthouse, the George Wythe House, the Peyton Randolph House, the Magazine, and the Bruton Parish Church, have been restored to their original look. Raleigh Tavern, the Capitol, and the Governor’s Palace have been reconstructed on their original sites with the aid of period illustrations, written descriptions, early photographs, and informed guesswork. You’ll also find tour taverns, two of which also function as inns. Throughout each of these sites, and many others, costumed historic reenactors demonstrate, act out, and explain what life would have been like during colonial times.
Craftsman workshops were added to demonstrate the tradesmanship of the era and add to the historically immersive experience. These include a printing shop, a shoemaker, blacksmith, a cooperage, a cabinetmaker, a gunsmith, a wigmaker, and a silversmith. Visitors will also find a variety of colonial shops selling souvenirs, books, reproduction toys, pewterware, pottery, scented soap, and a variety of other colonial replica items.
Visitors can wander freely through Colonial Williamsburg and visit some of the shops without purchasing a pass. Touring the inside of several buildings, gardens, and tradeshops require tickets. You will also need tickets for performances on Charlton Stage and in Hennage Auditorium, and the exhibits in the Art Museum. You can purchase single-day passes for $30.99 per adult on the Colonial Williamsburg website or at the visitor’s center.