From the high peaks of the Rockies to the low wetlands of the Everglades, North America is a truly extraordinary place, full of diverse culture, architecture, and natural beauty.
But with so much to see on this vast continent, it can be difficult to know where to start if you’re thinking about planning a visit.
To help, we’ve teamed up with Cosmos – who, for more than 50 years, have been providing budget-friendly tours to the world’s most captivating places – to bring you 10 unmissable North American experiences.
1. Big Sur
Driving up the California coast from Los Angeles, it’s difficult to imagine that this spectacular part of the world can get any more beautiful. But, about six hours north of the City of Angels, you’ll see the Santa Lucia Mountains rise dramatically out of the sea, and you’ll know that you’re in Big Sur.
Big Sur is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places in North America and is also one of the most undeveloped stretches of coastline in the U.S – so it’s a haven for nature lovers.
If you’re into hiking, there are plenty of spectacular routes – from the coastal trails with brilliant views at Andrew Molera State Park to well-worn tracks that wind their way through towering redwoods in places like Pfeiffer Falls.
There’s also plenty of wildlife to see in Big Sur. California sea otters, which can be spotted lounging in the tidal waters near kelp forests, are among the famous residents, as well as grey whales, which can be spied off the coast from December to April. There’s also lots for birdwatchers to see, like peregrine falcons and the rare California condors.
On Cosmos’ Golden West Adventure, you can experience Big Sur, as well as plenty of other unmissable experiences in the South West, including Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and Las Vegas.
Experience the beauty of the Big Sur
2. The French Quarter of New Orleans
The French Quarter in New Orleans is the cultural epicentre of the city, if not, all of South East United States. Also known as the ‘Vieux Carré’, it’s home to some of the U.S’s oldest and most historic buildings, and is designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Established by French settlers in the early 1700s, the French Quarter was New Orleans’ first neighbourhood, with the city as we know it today having spread outwards from this district. Over the centuries, it’s been influenced by its wide range of residents, from French and Spanish to West African and Caribbean – making it a vibrant and culturally diverse place.
There’s plenty to see and do here. Bourbon Street, New Orleans’ most famous road, is a must-visit. It’s lined with iconic Spanish wrought iron balconies, and bustling restaurants and bars. As the home of jazz, there are also lots of live music lounges where you can catch some bluesy tunes.
And if you really want to immerse yourself in the art and culture of this unique and fascinating place, then why not take a stroll through Jackson Square, where you can admire street artists at work and even visit a fortune teller? Or you can head to the French Market along the banks of the Mississippi and pick up a charming souvenir.
If you’re interested in visiting, you might want to check out Cosmos’ Southern Charms and Florida tour to experience not only the French Quarter but many more unforgettable places in America’s southern states.
Immerse yourself in the French Quarter
3. The CN Tower
There are loads of unforgettable experiences in Toronto – from attending the world-famous Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to escaping to the Toronto Islands; a small archipelago in the western part of the vast Lake Ontario, which plays host to some lush parkland. The Evening Standard described these islands as Canada’s Cotswolds.
Although, one of the city’s biggest attractions is the CN Tower. At 1,815 ft, it’s the tallest building in Toronto, and it was actually the tallest freestanding structure in the world from 1976 to 2007.
The CN is open to the public for a fee, and its multiple viewing decks offer extraordinary vistas of the city below, as well as Lake Ontario and the surrounding landscape. If you’d like, you can enjoy a meal with a view near the top. Or, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, the EdgeWalk experience lets you walk along the outside of the building at over 1,000 ft.
To experience the CN Tower, the wider city of Toronto, and more, check out Cosmos’ Ontario and French Canada Tour.
Take your adventures to new heights
4. Route 66
Running from Chicago all the way across the country to Los Angeles, Route 66 was the most impressive of America’s original highways. Spanning 2,448 miles and eight states, driving all the way along it would be like travelling up and down the UK twice over.
In the 1930s, during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, Route 66 became a lifeline for families who were forced to leave their homes and set off in search of a better life out West. So, for many, it’s more than just a road, it’s a perfect symbol of the American Dream.
But in the latter half of the 20th Century, when better and more efficient highways were being constructed, Route 66 fell into disuse and was eventually decommissioned in the 1980s. While not all of the original roads remain, travelling along what’s left has become what many consider to be the archetypal American road trip.
Twisting across deserts and farmland, through canyons and cities, following Route 66 will give you a great understanding of America in all its varied forms. Plus, many of the diners, gas stations, and motels that sit at the roadside are preserved in that quintessential 20th-century American style – it’ll make you feel like a character pulled straight from a Steinbeck novel.
To experience everything that this legendary journey has to offer, why not set off on Cosmos’ Highlights of Route 66 Tour?
Find freedom on the open road
5. The Rocky Mountaineer
For unbelievable experiences in nature, you won’t find many places better than Canada. With lush forests, majestic mountains, and millions of shimmering lakes, this veritable Eden will be impossible to forget. And if you want to see the best of what this impressive country has to offer, why not take a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer?
The Rocky Mountaineer is a luxury, scenic train that cuts through the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Each of its four routes is specially plotted so that passengers can get the best snapshot of this magical corner of the world. Its high, ice-topped peaks and calm green valleys are mesmerising, and there are plenty of opportunities to spot a range of beautiful wildlife.
The First Passage West route, a legendary two-day journey which takes you from the coastal city of Vancouver to Banff, is the Rocky Mountaineer’s most popular route. Highlights along the way include the tumultuous white water at Hell’s Gate – an abrupt narrowing of the Fraser River – and the towering Castle Mountain.
If you’d like to experience this epic journey for yourself, and explore the wild paradise of the Canadian Rockies, check out Cosmos’ Western Canada by Rail Tour.
Journey through the Canadian Rocky Mountains
If you’re a music buff, then Graceland, Elvis Presley’s palatial home in Memphis, Tennessee, is an unmissable experience. Bought by the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ when he was just 22 years old, it’s where he and his family lived until his death in 1977, at the age of 42.
Since 1982, the estate has been open to the public and has seen more than 21 million visitors. Not only can you tour the mansion itself but you can also visit Elvis Presley’s Memphis at Graceland; an entertainment and exhibit complex located on the grounds. Here, you can learn about the star through a variety of displays. Highlights include the dazzling jumpsuits he performed in, his guitars, and even his famous pink Cadillac.
There are plenty of other things to look forward to at Graceland. You can stay in The Guest House – the estate’s very own resort hotel – or even catch a live gig at Graceland Live, which plays host to a wide range of big names in music.
To experience Graceland and many more musical highlights – including Sun Studios, where Elvis recorded his first ever song, and the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville – check out Cosmos’ Southern Sounds tour.
Enjoy a unique musical experience
7. Niagara Falls
If you want to experience the power of nature at its height, why not plan a visit to Niagara Falls?
Straddling the border between Canada and the U.S, Niagara Falls has the largest water flow rate of any waterfall in the world. It’s so powerful that the cloud of mist it creates can be seen from miles around.
Not many people know this until they arrive, but the falls are actually made up of three distinct waterfalls: the Bridal Veil Falls, the American Falls, and the largest of the bunch, the Horseshoe Falls.
There are loads of ways to experience the falls. For example, you can admire them from the land, on observation decks; from the water, on boat tours like the Maid of the Mist; or you can marvel at the views from a helicopter.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could even take the Journey Behind the Falls; a tunnel which leads you behind the rushing waters. Or, why not zipline over the gorges?
The falls are just one of many unforgettable stops on Cosmos’ New York City, Niagara Falls, and Washington DC tour.
Visit the world-famous Niagara Falls
8. Old Québec
Upon arriving in Old Québec, you might think you’ve landed in one of the walled towns and cities of Southern France, like Carcassonne and Avignon.
This neighbourhood in Québec City is the capital of Canada’s largest province and one of the earliest European settlements in North America. You can see it in the exquisite architecture of many of the buildings.
Often referred to as the ‘birthplace of French North America’, Old Québec is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most-intact fortified town north of the Mexican border.
There’s plenty to see and do here. So why not first take a stroll down streets like rue Saint-Jean and rue Saint-Louis, and discover the charming restaurants and boutiques there? Or, if you’re a lover of grand architecture, you can walk to the top of the hill and admire the Château Frontenac Hotel, with its elaborate spires and towers.
Beside the château, at Dufferin Terrace, there’s even a toboggan slide, where you can slip down the hill at speeds of up to 70kph, all while enjoying the spectacular views of the city and harbour below.
If you’d like to experience Old Québec and many more of Canada’s most unforgettable places, take a look at Cosmos’ Ontario and French Canada tour.
Discover the charm of Old Québec
9. The Empire State Building
What list of North American experiences would be complete without a nod to its most iconic piece of architecture? Constructed in the early 1930s, this Art Deco masterpiece plays host to around four million tourists every year – and for good reason.
From one of its observation decks, you’ll be treated to unparalleled views of the city below, as well as further afield. In fact, on a clear day, you can see up to five different states at once. Many locals recommend going up first thing to catch a sunrise. This way, as well as beating the crowds, you could be treated to a beautiful blue and gold skyscape.
The views aren’t the only reason to visit this wonder of engineering. The stunning, three-storey Art Deco lobby is truly something to behold. And, on the 2nd and 80th floors, there are various immersive exhibits that chronicle the journey of the Empire State to becoming the tallest building in the world – a title which it held for 40 years.
If you’d like to visit the Empire State Building and make some unforgettable memories in the Big Apple and beyond, take a look at Cosmos’ New York City, Niagara Falls, and Washington DC tour.
Experience incredible views
10. Yellowstone National Park
Famous for its dramatic and spectacular landscape, as well as its diverse wildlife, a visit to Yellowstone National Park is an unforgettable experience.
Spanning nearly 9,000km² and three states, this seemingly untouched corner of the world was named America’s first National Park back in 1872.
Its plunging canyons and dense green forests are amazing, but what’s even more special about this place is its geothermal features, like hot springs and geysers. The most well-known of these is a geyser named ‘Old Faithful’ – which is named as such because its eruptions are very predictable, making it a popular spot with tourists.
Yellowstone is also a one-of-a-kind place to spot a variety of flora and fauna. It’s home to an impressive 300 species of birds and is the only place in the central 48 states that still retains all of the mammals that lived in the area before the European settlers arrived. Popular mammals to spot include wolves, bears, and moose.
Yellowstone is only one of America’s gorgeous and diverse National Parks. To experience the best of them in a single holiday, why not consider Cosmos’ America’s National Parks tour?
Admire breathtaking scenery and spectacular wildlife
The continent of North America is vast and varied, so there are endless impressive sights and magical experiences to get immersed in. If you’re considering a trip out west, we hope that this list has given you some ideas. Or even if you haven’t, maybe it’s inspired you to plan a visit.
For more content to satisfy your wanderlust, why not head over to the travel section of our website? And to check out more tours offered by Cosmos, you can visit their website.