On Sunday 6th September 1620, The Mayflower - captained by Christopher Jones - set sail from Plymouth on a momentous, yet treacherous journey across the North Atlantic that would take just over two months. From the 132 pilgrims, settlers and crew on board a remarkable 30 million US citizens can today trace their ancestry back to this epic voyage. Be a part of the celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary by exploring the key sights and events that marked the birth of the United States of America. You might even find a few US cousins you didn’t know you had!
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Boston, one of the oldest cities in the USA, was established in 1630 as part of the Massachusetts Colony. To gain an overview of the city, start with the city’s Freedom Trail on picturesque Boston Common - the USA’s oldest city park and stroll your way around 16 of Boston’s key historic sites. Encounter the Old State House, the site of the Boston Massacre, a catalyst in 1770 for the Revolutionary War with England. The Old South Meeting House was an integral piece to the Boston Tea Party and you’ll also come across the Kings Chapel Burying Ground, the oldest cemetery in Boston and final resting place for many of the city’s earliest and prominent residents. The trail ends at Faneuil Hall which played a crucial role in events leading to the Revolutionary War.
Clamber aboard brig Beaver or ship Eleanor at the Boston Tea Party Museum in Boston Harbour and re-enact the famous event that forever changed the course of American history in 1733. Fully guided tours are available and 3D reenactments plus there’s a delightful Tea Room & Terrace with views over Boston's skyline.
Distance: 97 miles
On your way to Plymouth, consider a slight detour to Salem - notorious for the witch trials of 1693. This charming town is a joy to stroll with a visit to the Witch House Museum, the only building still standing that’s linked to the trials. Before you arrive in Plymouth you’ll pass through Quincy and the Old House Peacefield in Adams National Historic Park, birthplace of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, the second and sixth presidents of the USA.
Plymouth was the first permanent Puritan settlement and the landing site for the Mayflower in 1620. Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum is dedicated to telling the history of Plymouth Colony from the perspective of both the Pilgrims and the Native Wampanoag people. The museum is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate that includes the Wampanoag Homesite, 17th-Century English Village, Craft Center, Plimoth Bread Company, Plimoth Grist Mill and Mayflower.
Visit Pilgrim Memorial State Park, home of the famous Plymouth Rock, the exact spot where the Pilgrims stepped ashore. Close to this is the heart of this quaint village’s historic district and the Mayflower Society House, an eighteenth century dwelling. Behind this mansion are the offices and library of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. Stop by to visit the library, manicured grounds and take a tour of the home.
For details of the historic Plymouth 400 Commemoration event taking place here in April 2020 - click here.
Distance: 66 miles
In the mid-1600s, the USA’s smallest state, Rhode Island, became a popular destination for people seeking religious freedom. Formerly known as Providence Plantation, the state offers an abundance of culture and incredible coastal walks.
Settled in 1639, Newport, became the largest of the four first settlements in the Providence Plantations colony and one of the country’s major trading ports, gaining a reputation as a haven for pirates. Visit the magnificent mansions perched on the cliffs overlooking the crashing ocean waves. America’s wealthiest families from the Carolinas and the Caribbean, flocked to escape the intense summer heat in their quaint summer cottages which in reality were opulent, stately homes. You can tour these colossal mansions and retrace the American development from the colonial era right through the Gilded Age.
Distance: 182 miles
En route to the Big Apple, drive along Newport’s Ocean Drive and enjoy the views over Narragansett Bay. Across the bay it’s scenic highway all the way to Old Saybrook, Connecticut, one of the state’s oldest coastal towns. Stop next in New Haven, home of Yale University, and visit the New Haven Museum dedicated to the New Haven Colony that was settled here in 1638. Continue along the Long Island Sound to New York, home of the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and the Empire State building.
Drop your car off in New York as the city is easily navigable on public transport.
Some of the city’s oldest streets can be found in Lower Manhattan and Battery Park where New York City began as a Dutch settlement in 1625. Wall Street, originally built by the Dutch to stave off the English, is home to the Federal Hall National Memorial, the site of the Washington’s inauguration and America’s first Capitol Building. St Paul’s Chapel is where George Washington prayed after his inauguration as President in 1789. The chapel is open daily to visitors and worship takes place every Sunday. Hop on a New York Harbor cruise for views of the Statue of Liberty and New York’s iconic skyline. Across from Battery Park, the National Museum of the American Indian is located in the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere. Step back in time with a stroll along Stone Street, famous for its cobbles and being one of New York’s oldest streets. Flanked by restored lofts and warehouses from the late 1830s, it is considered one of the best dining destinations in Downtown Manhattan.
Further uptown you’ll discover the New York Historical Society at Central Park West. Founded in 1804 as New York’s first museum, learn about New York’s rise from a remote outpost to the city at the centre of the world today.
Travel by short train journey to Philadelphia, America's first World Heritage City and home to 'America's Most Historic Square Mile'. Within that square mile of this easily walkable city, you'll discover such sites as Independence National Historical Park home to Independence Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the Declaration of American Independence and U.S Constitution were drafted and signed. This is also the location for the USA's symbol of freedom, The Liberty Bell and the First Bank of the United States.
The Museum of the American Revolution, tells the dynamic story of the American Revolution using a rich collection of Revolutionary era artifacts and diaries. The President's House, is where Washington and Adams spent their presidencies ahead of the first White House being built between 1792-1800. Elfreth's Alley, dating back to 1702, was home to the tradespeople and backbone of Colonial Philadelphia.
Penn's Landing is a waterfront area named after William Penn, an English Quaker and the founder of the colony of Pennsylvania in 1682, it's a great place to dine with views over the river. For boutiques, art galleries and more places to dine, head to Old City and Society Hill - plus this Historic District is full of 1700s-era buildings.
Back on the train to Richmond and the car-hire pick up on arrival.
Formerly the Capital of the Confederacy (the southern states who sought independence from the north) in the Civil War, Richmond is the modern day state capital of Virginia. The streets are lined with beautifully preserved architecture from the 19th century, including the grand mansions of the Fan district and the State Capitol building, designed by the 3rd US President, Thomas Jefferson.
Watch re-enactors revive the Second Continental Congress made famous by Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death” speech at St. John’s Church in Church Hill. Visit General Lee's Headquarters at Dabb House Museum, or take a step back in time at Henricus Historical Park where everyday 17th-century life, in the second successful English settlement, is depicted.
Distance: 51 miles
Not long on the road to Virginia's early capitals - Williamsburg and Jamestown.
In Jamestown, the first English settlement in the New World, replicas of the three ships that sailed from England to Virginia in1607 are on display along with the colonists’ fort and a Powhatan village. The Jamestown Settlement offers more reflection on the settler’s lives in this living history museum.
Take the Colonial Parkway, a scenic byway linking Jamestown and Yorktown to Williamsburg, which was founded as the capital in 1699. In Colonial Williamsburg, a 300 acre living history museum, stroll around the restored buildings where stories are brought to life by historical characters.
Continue on the Colonial Parkway to nearby Yorktown, where a battle effectively ended the war for independence. Explore the American Revolution Museum, home to an army encampment and other historical exhibits.
Distance: 137 miles
North Carolina's Outer Banks are a 130-mile stretch of barrier islands which are synonymous with uncrowded beaches, ship wrecks, quaint hamlets and historic sites. They are also the location for one of the greatest mysteries from the Colonial era – The Lost Colony of Roanoke. Established in July 1587 by Sir Walter Raleigh, Roanoke Island was settled by 117 men, women and children, the first settlement of its kind in the Americas. The settlers made a life for themselves in this new world and set about repairing a fort on the island.
Amongst the settlers was John White, his pregnant daughter, Eleanor Dare and the Indian chief Manteo, who had become an English ally during a previous visit in Britain. On August 18, 1587 Eleanor Dare gave birth to a daughter she named Virginia, thus earning the distinction of being the first English child born on American soil. Ten days later, John White departed for England promising to return with more supplies, little did he know it would be the last time he would ever see his family. When John returned to Roanoke three years later, he found the settlement abandoned and overgrown with no sign of the settlers. Before he could make further exploration, he was forced back to England and was never able to raise the funds to return to search for the colony.
Raleigh had given up hope of settlement and White died many years later, ignorant to the fate of his family and the colony. The 117 pioneers of Roanoke Island had vanished and today their fate is subject to many theories and controversies. Visit Roanoke Island and the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site to learn more about their disappearance and see the story reenacted every summer during performances of The Lost Colony, the nation’s longest symphonic drama.
Distance: 214 miles
Your drive today continues on roll-on-roll-off ferries along this string of barrier islands. Consider a stop at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills to see where Orville and Wilbur took off on the first flight on 17 December 1903. The Flight Room here has a replica of the plane Wright Flyer.
Pirates began to make an appearance along the Eastern Seaboard soon after large clusters of colonists arrived. Tiny Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks was a favourite plundering ground for many of these including the notorious Black Beard! Head for Teach's Hole where Blackbeard met his demise and take a stroll around the pirate-themed museum here.
Nestled between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, Wilmington was incorporated in 1739 and is a quintessentially Southern town. Experience the city's past in its 230 block National Register Historic District, one of the largest in the USA.
Distance: 173 miles
South Carolina's Atlantic coast was another favourite haunt for pirates who were after the treasures on the cargo ships headed to the south. The area from Little River to Georgetown was known as the Grand Strand, and dotted with coves and inlets where it's alleged pirates, including Anne Bonny, one of the most famous female pirates of the 18th century, hid their riches in the marshes and islands.
Named in honour of King Charles II, Charleston was first settled in 1670 and became one of the most important ports in the colonies. Today, it's a joy to explore its historic district by horse-drawn carriage, stroll along its Waterfront Park, or dine on award-winning cuisine in quaint Southern restaurants hidden down cobbled streets. Be sure to make time to visit the location in Charleston that changed the face of America. Exhibits at Fort Sumter National Historic Site, reachable only by ferry boat, tell the story of the construction of the island and of the fort that lead to the infamous day in April 1861 when the first shot was officially fired in America’s Civil War.
Just outside of the city, you'll find Middleton Place National Historic Landmark and Museum. This former rice plantation is home to the oldest landscaped gardens in the USA. Also nearby is Drayton Hall, founded in 1738, it's the oldest preserved plantation house in America still open to the public.
Distance: 118 miles
Travel further south and stop in charming Beaufort on Port Royal Island. Used as a backdrop for many historic movies, here the streets are lined with colourful antebellum homes and Spanish moss drips from the ancient magnolia trees. This town is best explored on a leisurely walking tour where you discover one stunning Civil War era home after another—many with stunning waterfront views.
Cross the border into Georgia and you'll come across one of the friendliest and prettiest cities in the South, Savannah. Graciously welcoming travellers since 1733, Savannah is Georgia's oldest city and one of the first planned cities, set up on grids with squares in between. Historic preservation has saved many of the iconic buildings that the city is known for and the 22 park-life historic squares in the city are a real focal spot for visitors.
Chippewa Square, in the delightful Historic District, is where you'll find a statue of the British General James Oglethorpe - this 13th colony's founder. Dine and stroll along cobbled River Street and then enjoy a gentle cruise on The Savannah Paddle Wheel Riverboat, some nights you'll find jazz bands or gospel choirs on board.