Crowds clog Edinburgh's Royal Mile, the main artery between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. The road is dotted with stores selling Nessie trinkets and lined with bagpipers and street performers pulling off dazzling tricks. But look beyond the tartan tourist traps, and you’ll discover tucked-away gardens, remnants of the city’s medieval past, and much more.Explore
You’ll start your day at the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, the large, flat area in front of the fortress’s gatehouse. It now teems with tourists, but once served a more sinister purpose. Witch hunts plagued Europe from the 15th through 18th centuries, when thousands of alleged witches—mostly women—were burned at the stake or hanged. In the 16th century, more women were murdered at this site than anywhere else in Scotland.
A memorial to the people killed at this spot sits on the cobbled street at the top of the Royal Mile, but it's easy to miss. Look toward the wall of the attraction called the Tartan Weaving Mill and Experience, and you’ll notice a cast iron fountain and plaque. Sir Patrick Geddes, a philanthropist known for his innovative thinking in urban planning and sociology, commissioned artist John Duncan to create the fountain in 1894. Examine the fountain’s details, and you’ll see the image of a snake ensnaring the witches’ heads, as well as foxglove, a plant used for both medicinal purposes and poison. A hole beneath the snake’s head once spouted water, but the fountain is now dry.
555 Castlehill, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2ND
Duck into the alley called Lady Stair’s Close, and you’ll find a small museum in a 17th-century building dedicated to three legendary writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Take the stairs down to the Stevenson room, where you’ll notice a handsome mahogany cabinet standing against the wall. At first, the piece of furniture seems out of place among Stevenson’s more obviously intriguing effects, which include a ring gifted to him by a Samoan chief. But the wardrobe, which once stood in the writer’s childhood bedroom, was made by none other than Deacon Brodie, the legendary craftsman believed to have inspired the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This piece of furniture is a surprising entry point into a wacky historical anecdote about the famous figure.
Brodie, whose name graces various pubs, was an esteemed 18th-century socialite. A locksmith and master cabinetmaker by trade, he was named Deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights, earning him power within the woodworking guild and a spot on the city council. But unknown to his admirers, the esteemed tradesman had a shadier side: He’d make copies of keys to his wealthy clients’ houses so he could later sneak into their homes and rob them. After a failed robbery attempt in 1788, Brodie’s darker tendencies were revealed, soiling his reputation as a morally respectable man.
Lady Stair's Close, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2PA
Constructed in the 1590s, Riddle’s Court is one of the oldest buildings on the Royal Mile. It’s lived many lives and seen several renovations during its four centuries of existence, serving stints as a merchant’s mansion, the setting of a royal banquet, and even a student dormitory. For more information about the building's history, pop into the Patrick Geddes Centre near the lobby. If you ask nicely, reception may let you peek into the nearby bathroom, where you’ll find a 21st-century toilet plunked right next to a gaping 16th-century fireplace and bread oven, relics of the old kitchen.
To explore the rest of the building—including walls, staircase fragments, and other architectural ghosts lingering among modern construction—you’ll have to take a guided tour. These are typically offered on Fridays and can be booked via Eventbrite.
To rest like a royal, you can reserve a night or two in the King’s Chamber, the room where King James VI of Scotland and his wife, Anne of Denmark, once held a dinner party for the Duke of Holstein. You’ll sleep beneath a ceiling decorated with paintings created for the 1598 feast, including emblems of a thistle and double-headed eagle representing the Crown of Scotland and the Holy Roman Empire.
322 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2PG
Detour down Victoria Street—and as you do, be sure to snap a photo of the colorful facades hugging the edge of the curved road. Instead of turning right onto the Grassmarket, head left down the Cowgate. There, nestled among the hostels and night clubs, is Magdalen Chapel. Built in 1541 for the Incorporation of Hammermen, the chapel is now the headquarters for the Scottish Reformation Society. Enter the unassuming church, and you’ll find a bright, airy interior hiding behind its grungy outer walls. Inside, capped by a light-blue ceiling and illuminated by the stray beam of Scottish sunlight, is an unexpected window into the past.
Magdalen Chapel houses the only significant stained glass that survived the Scottish Reformation in its original location. During the Reformation, religious art was destroyed by iconoclastic groups in favor of less-extravagant decor. But it’s believed these four stained-glass roundels were spared because they don’t depict religious imagery. Instead of Biblical scenes or saints, the glass shows heraldic designs representing the Royal Arms of Scotland, Mary of Guise (the mother of Mary Queen of Scots), and the husband and wife Michael MacQuhane and Janet Rynd, who commissioned the chapel. These rare relics, though dulled by age, draw the eye to the chapel’s center window, just as they have for nearly five centuries.
41 Cowgate, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 1JR
Parliament Square is dominated by Saint Giles’ Cathedral. Head to the southeastern part of the structure, where you’ll step into a small chapel adorned with spectacular woodwork. The Thistle Chapel is a 20th-century addition to the 12th-century cathedral. It’s home to the chivalric Order of the Thistle, and knights’ coats of arms line the walls, surrounded by other intricate carvings. Hiding among these sigils and images of the natural world are three angels playing bagpipes—a detail charming enough to inspire the name of the restaurant across the street, Angels and Bagpipes. Eagle-eyed visitors to the chapel will spot two wooden angels—one above the top-right corner of the door, the other wedged in the corner across from the entrance—and a stone one overlooking one of the windows.
Once you’ve left the cathedral, pop into its back parking lot and go to space number 23. If a car isn’t parked there, you’ll see the rather unceremonial burial place of John Knox, one of the country’s most prolific and influential religious figures. Knox was a 16th-century preacher and key proponent of the Protestant Reformation. It’s said Knox wanted to be buried within 20 feet of Saint Giles, and he was interred in what was once a proper graveyard. After the site was tarmacked over, a plaque was installed to mark the approximate location of his now-lost grave.
Next, turn your attention upward, and you’ll see an equestrian statue towering atop a plinth in the square, with the cathedral in the background. This life-sized effigy of Charles II riding a trusty steed was erected in 1685, the year of the king’s death. It’s the oldest statue in Edinburgh, and is believed to be the U.K.'s oldest equestrian statue made out of lead.
Parliament Square, Edinburgh, Scotland
Continue around Saint Giles’ until you’ve made your way back to the Royal Mile. You’ll arrive at the Mercat Cross, a Victorian-era replica of the medieval market cross, which denoted the location of a market where important announcements were made. But you’re not here to listen to any government proclamations. These days, the Mercat Cross is the meeting point for the Blair Street Underground Vaults tours, which descend into a forgotten world that once thrived beneath the South Bridge (make sure you’ve booked your Historic Underground ticket in advance).
When the bridge was completed in 1788, the businesses that originally lined the overpass put its 19 vaults to good use. Cobblers and smelters transformed the caverns into workshops, merchants used them as storage spaces, and pubs even packed patrons into the dark quarters. But less than a decade after the vaults opened, the businesses began to abandon them because the bridge’s faulty seal caused leaks. Brothels, gambling pubs, and unlicensed distilleries soon flourished in the secluded spaces. Edinburgh’s poorest residents also crammed into the tight chambers, wedging entire families into a single windowless room.
In a mid-19th century effort to evict the unsanctioned residents, the city filled the vaults with rubble and sealed them shut. They remained forgotten until the 1980s, when they were accidentally rediscovered when Scottish rugby player Norrie Rowan found a tunnel that led to them. Today, you can carefully traipse through the vaults’ uneven, sloping terrain, as your tour guide’s torch lights the way. Once you’re back above ground, you’ll pass through a small exhibition space containing a smattering of objects found within the vaults, including a broken chamber pot and a child’s glass pistol toy.
High St, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 1RF
The Clamshell, a takeaway joint, offers a fast-food spin on haggis, Scotland’s national dish. Boiled sheep stomach stuffed with seasoned oats and offal is so beloved, it once inspired the country’s renowned poet Robert Burns to pen a poem. At the Clamshell, though, haggis gets the deep-fried treatment. The crispy orbs of sheep innards come drizzled with brown sauce and plopped atop a bed of chunky chips. Be sure to wash down your salty meal with a cup of Irn-Bru, the citrusy soda that’s more popular in Scotland than Coca-Cola. The fizzy drink tastes like a concoction of cream soda and artificial orange flavor—and some sippers even claim to detect a hint of rust. The Clamshell doesn’t offer sit-down dining, so you’ll have to tuck in on the go.
148 High St, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 1QS
Wind down Cockburn Street, a postcard-worthy road that connects the Royal Mile to Waverly Station, and turn right down Market Street. You’ll come across a stairwell that links Market Street back up to the North Bridge. Today, these stairs are an often-unnoticed work of public art, constructed from marble from the world’s major quarries. But this wasn’t always the case.
The original stone and concrete steps, 104 in total, were constructed in 1899 alongside the Scotsman building—a newspaper’s former home that now serves as a hotel. By the early 21st century, the passage had fallen into disrepair. People took to using it as a public toilet, their urine mixing with the trash that littered the space. In 2011, artist Martin Creed cooked up a new art project to revive the stairwell and give it a marble makeover. Creed used different stone to create each step, and the result is a cascading medley of pigments, with reddish purples, deep greens, and blush hues from places as far away as Turkey, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Bolivia.
Scotsman Steps, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 1QG
Turn left down Niddry Street and enter St Cecilia’s Hall, the country’s first building of its kind. The Edinburgh Musical Society built the hall in 1762, but sold it at the beginning of the 19th century after concert-goers began opting to visit the New Town instead—the area that went up in the 18th century, when wealthy people got sick of living in cramped, destitute quarters in the Royal Mile. The University of Edinburgh bought the building in 1959 and restored the concert hall to its original rounded shape, painting its walls pleasant shades of pink.
There’s plenty more to see beyond the rosy room. The upper level, which is where you’ll find the concert hall, also houses the Raymond Russell Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments. These centuries-old keyboards are adorned with scenic paintings, and span two rooms. You’ll find harpsichords, clavichords, spinets, virginals, and a pianoforte that date from the 16th through 18th centuries. Some of the instruments bear scars from their past lives, with the paint on their fronts rubbed away by the dresses of the ladies who once stood before them.
50 Niddry St, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 1LG
Step into Tweeddale Court, and you’ll notice a shed-like structure jutting out from the western wall. This tiny building is believed to be a Georgian-era sedan chair house, a storage space for the human-powered carts that ferried Edinburgh’s wealthy residents around the Old Town. This mode of transit dates back to the days when the Royal Mile wasn’t the picturesque tourist thoroughfare it is today. People crammed into the closely built tenement buildings, chucking waste from their chamber pots onto the narrow streets below with a hearty cry of “gardyloo!” Rather than slosh through the sludge of sewage pooling on the cobblestones, wealthier people would climb into a tiny wooden compartment held aloft by two long poles. A pair or two of chairmen, usually from the Highlands, would then cart riders to their destinations. By the middle of the 19th century, the city’s sanitation had improved, and sedan chairs had fallen out of fashion. You won’t see any sedan chairs here today, but head a bit farther down the Royal Mile, and you’ll come across one in the Museum of Edinburgh.
Tweeddale Court, Edinburgh, Scotland
The canary-yellow Museum of Edinburgh is a trove of treasures that reveal the city’s past. Among the culinary artifacts, pottery exhibits, and centuries-old human bones are a few models of the Old Town that provide a historic bird's-eye view of the road you’ve just walked.
Models constructed in the 1950s show the Old Town and the Canongate, which was once a separate burgh, as they looked at the end of the 16th century. Gaze down at the glass case, and you’ll spot familiar structures like Saint Giles’ poking up among the clusters of buildings crowding the High Street, many of which no longer exist. The model of the Canongate is much less dense, with large pockets of space surrounding the buildings toward the foot of the Royal Mile.
For a more rustic interpretation of the past, look at the museum’s second model of Edinburgh as it was 500 years ago. This wooden, Victorian-era depiction of the city was displayed at the 1886 International Exhibition of Industry, Science, and Art. You’ll see the Flodden Wall, built in 1513, wrapping around the city. To the north of the Old Town lies a streak of blue representing the Nor’ Loch, an artificial lake that was drained in 1821 during the construction of the Princes Street Gardens.
142-146, Canongate, Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 8DD
Step into the Scottish Poetry Library and head toward the main desk. There, protected within a glass case, stand four paper sculptures. One shows a gnarled tree sprouting from the cover of a book, its delicate paper branches draping downward. The artwork, titled “Poetree,” was the first of the original 10 Edinburgh book sculptures to mysteriously appear across the city in 2011. Over the next few months, similar sculptures materialized at various cultural institutions, garnering international attention. “Poetree” arrived at the Scottish Poetry Library in 2011, gifted as a response to the cutbacks and closures plaguing libraries. Its creator remains anonymous, though her work continues to pop up throughout Edinburgh.
5 Crichton's Cl, Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 8DT
Cross the street and duck into Dunbar’s Close, and you’ll soon feel as though you’ve left the city entirely. There, along the western wall of the Canongate Kirk, is a meticulously manicured oasis. Though the garden was built in the 1970s, it was designed with a 17th-century aesthetic in mind. You’ll first step into a section where the path meanders between the shrubbery, shaded by trees. Keep going, and you’ll see six yew plots lining the path to your right, with a lollipop-shaped holly standing in the center of each. To your left, conical shrubs tower over beds of flowers. Fig and rosemary crawl across the western wall, and honeysuckle and jasmine climb the trellises. The air is hushed here, and the city’s din dimmed. Benches against the walls provide ample opportunities to marinate in the serenity before stepping out to brave the crowds again.
137 Canongate, Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 8BW
Holyrood Palace stands at the foot of the Royal Mile. Look at the pavement near the entrance, and you’ll notice a row of three brass letter “S”s. These shiny symbols were placed on the cobblestones to mark the boundary of a five-mile area once known as Abbey Sanctuary. Those attempting to evade their debt creditors could seek refuge within its confines. Food and housing were on offer, too—though with a heftier price tag than you’d find in the Old Town. People could stay in the sanctuary indefinitely, and could even leave on Sundays without fearing retaliation from their collectors.
After the law changed in 1880, debtors could no longer be chucked behind bars, rendering the sanctuary obsolete. Queen Victoria had many of the area's old buildings demolished, though one still stands and now serves as a gift shop. Peruse the store in search of a Scottish souvenir or treat, or turn right toward Holyrood Park, where you can hike up the crags or its extinct volcano for breathtaking vistas of the Old Town.
Abbey Strand, Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 8DU
Maryland has the distinction of being one of the first states to officially join the Union in 1788—and as such, it’s played both big and small roles in various battles across the nation's history. Here are eight nods to its military past, ranging from a furnace that produced George Washington’s cannonballs to an unusual museum dedicated to the U.S.'s cryptographic history. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
The state of Colorado is a gold mine of natural beauty: It's famous for its picturesque deserts, dramatic canyons, and shimmering, snow-capped peaks. But the Centennial State also deserves some love for its many unnatural wonders. There's a psychedelic church, a 231-pound sticker ball, and a cryogenic mausoleum. And who can forget the blue horse with neon-red eyes that towers outside the Denver airport? If you're looking to skip the ski slopes and hiking trails in favor of Colorado's strangest sights and most curious creations, this is where to start. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
South Carolina is known for its picturesque coastal cities and Southern charm. Given its firm placement in the Bible Belt, the Palmetto State is home to many churches—but it also holds fascinating ruins of houses of worship, wondrous works of art inspired by African traditions, and historic holy grounds hiding in plain sight. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Vermont may be known for its maple syrup and homey coziness, but beneath that rustic veneer lies a solid history of mineral industry. Here's a history of the Green Mountain State from the ground up. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Knoxville, Tennessee, is a small city that’s made a big impact on the world. Founded by George Washington’s administration as the capital of the new Southwestern Territory, it was the 16th state’s capital — twice — for almost 20 years. Tucked in the heart of the valley along the Tennessee River, Knoxville is home to more than 120 parks and more than 160 miles of trails and greenways. It witnessed culmination of the women’s suffrage movement, played host to the 1982 World’s Fair and hosts the oldest symphony orchestra in the South. It’s also home to the University of Tennessee and its Volunteers, the fans of which bleed orange and white, the prominently displayed school colors. Need to give your feet a break as you explore the natural beauty, history, and culture of this thriving Southern city? Hop aboard the free Knoxville Trolley, the transit system operating since 1876. No matter how you choose to get around, there’s much to discover in Knoxville.
Glitz, glamour, guitars, honky-tonks, sequins, and neon are synonymous with Music City and its country music roots. While there’s perhaps no other city that embraces big hats, big hair and big personalities quite the way Nashville does, there’s much more to Tennessee’s capital than meets the eye. Its rich history of food, culture, and innovation makes it a haven for creatives of all stripes. Though the city shimmers with energy, it’s easy to commune with nature and enjoy the pristine beauty of East Tennessee, starting with the Cumberland River that runs right through the heart of downtown. Whether you’re looking for a brush with history, a chance to enjoy the great outdoors or an opportunity to hear some of music’s biggest stars, Nashville has it all. If your boots don’t feel like walking the entire route, Old Town Trolley offers hop-on-hop-off tours around the city, with a stop just outside Graduate Nashville.
Climate, globalization, trends, employment rates, lobbying—it all influences what we eat. As time marches ever-onward, recipes are forgotten, traditions fade into quiet obscurity, and institutions are abandoned. But some entities that seem slated for cultural demolition are kept alive in Arkansas. From brewing beer using the spring water of a once-infamous bathhouse to serving historic Appalachian home-cooking hot off of diner skillets, these seven Arkansan spots savor and celebrate relics of regional heritage. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Maybe you love your cat a lot—maybe even enough to commission a little painting of your furry companion. But the people of Alabama can do you one better. Here, you’ll find a whole cemetery devoted to hounds, a heartfelt memorial to a fish, even a statue of a pest that drove farmers batty before it also spurred them toward ingenuity. Alabama knows how to fete Fido, as well as his scuttling, swimming, and spacefaring compatriots. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
The Rockies may be bigger, but there's something special—and sometimes spooky—about the Appalachians. With dense forest cover, long history, and the shadowy hollows ("hollers," locally), they seem at times to be full of secrets. In West Virginia, the mountains and hills hold tales and myths, and a lot of places that were used and then abandoned. If you get excited about the feel of a shiver down your spine, you'll find a lot to love. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Pick an object. It could be a bottle of mustard. Or a life-size troll sculpture. Or a metal sculpture with big Victorian-steampunk energy. It doesn't really matter, as long as you collect or create so many of them that your collection becomes a roadside attraction and a cherished local landmark. A remarkable number of Wisconsinites have chosen this life path, and the result is a truly remarkable collection of collections scattered across the state. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
One of the great resources of the Mount Rushmore State is millions and millions of years old: fossils. The state has long had pride of place in the paleontology world for the dinosaurs and mammoths that have been excavated there. And that history seems to have provided inspiration for the state's menagerie of massive megafauna. Here are some of our favorite places that celebrate dinosaurs, huge animal art installations, mammoths, and ... a prairie dog? As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
In the 1700s and 1800s, Philadelphia was the center of medical scholarship in the United States. The city not only attracted the brightest minds, but also the most curious cases and characters. From the oldest quarantine facility in the country to a museum that memorializes a traveling dental circus, here are six places to marvel at the trials, errors, and triumphs of medical history in Pennsylvania. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
They say that Virginia is for lovers. If you love a little mystery, then they’re definitely right. With its mountain ranges, deep forests, and proximity to the nation’s capital, the state is filled with unusual corners and overlapping histories. From a Cold War bunker turned recording archive to a Styrofoam Stonehenge, these places in Virginia are more than meets the eye. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Every state in the union has graves, and their share of unusual burials or cemeteries, but there's something about the Tarheel State's final resting places that carry a sense of history and mystery, from long-forgotten graveyards, to eternal resting places for conjoined twins, to a politician that had himself buried inside a giant boulder. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
The Continental Divide runs through Montana, separating the mountains and glaciers on the west from rolling plains to the east. Much of the state is built on a bed of rock that dates back more than a billion years, to the Precambrian, or the earliest era in Earth’s history. The geology of Montana has shaped the state, from the mountain ranges to that draw hikers to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks to mineral deposits that drew prospectors during the Gold Rush to the vast plains that have long supported hunting and agriculture. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Along with the rest of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon has been shaped by volcanic activity. Active volcanoes, Mount Hood among them, dominate the skyline, and the city of Portland was built atop an extinct volcano. Over tens of thousands of years, these geological hotspots have left many holes in their wakes, including deep craters, narrow canyons, and subterranean lava tubes. Here are a few of the most intriguing voids that Oregon has to offer. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Sure, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, got headlines, but the Wright Brothers were Ohioans through and through. That's where they had their print and cycle shop, and established the world's first airplane factory. From Dayton's Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, to NASA's Glenn Research Center, to Congress officially declaring Ohio the “birthplace of aviation,” and much more, no other state takes to the skies and beyond like the home of the Buckeyes. Here are some of our favorite places to feel the wind beneath your wings. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
The deep, moody forests of Washington state are filled with secrets and stories. From springy mosses to towering Douglas firs, rocky outcrops, and glacial deposits, it’s easy to see how the landscape helped set the tone for stories like David Lynch’s trippy TV series Twin Peaks and the teen vampire romance that is Twilight. Across the Evergreen State, human- and nature-made oddities are rarely far from reach. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Yes, we know, Hawaiʻi is surrounded by water—the state is a watery wonder in and of itself. But the ocean is only the beginning. The volcanic islands' dramatic topography, unpredictable coastlines, and high rainfall mean that water in and around the Paradise of the Pacific cavorts in all sorts of stunning ways: waterfalls, blowholes, pools, and more. (Plus rainbows. Lots and lots of rainbows.) And you can enjoy all of these natural showstoppers without having to get your feet wet. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
For superb pizza, most people look to New York. Excellent burgers are available in every one of the 50 states. But where can you find hamburger recipes caught in the early 20th-century, cooked in steamers or served on toast with absolutely no ketchup allowed? Or, for that matter, fancy cheese made by trailblazing nuns who launched their dairying business at a time when Velveeta was still the norm? Connecticut may be an odd place to designate as a culinary cradle, but the state contains everything from the last of a generation of feminist vegetarian restaurants to what the Library of Congress dubs the very first place to have served up a hamburger. Unique culinary institutions cropped up in every corner of the state. Some have survived, while others have fallen by the wayside (R.I.P. to the Frisbie Pie Company). Here are six remarkable gastronomic institutions in a place that has proved to be fertile ground for unusual eats. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
In the arid and remote expanses of New Mexico's landscape, booms and zooms abound. From the volatile effects of the Manhattan Project to the otherworldly possibilities of Roswell's UFO, the Land of Enchantment has never shied away from the controversial or far-reaching. Here are several places to encounter those legacies across this southwestern state. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
The Sunflower State has a reputation for being flat—in fact, scientists have shown that it is objectively way flatter than a pancake. Far from being featureless, though, Kansas can be mind-bending in its own weird way. Maybe it all started with The Wizard of Oz. From a missile silo that once dominated the world's LSD supply to rock formations shaped like mushrooms, roadside art that will make you think you've been whisked away by a tornado, and a giant pile of sock monkeys, Kansas is full of treasures that are sure to make you do a double take. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
New York has been described as a playground for the rich and powerful, but the state's history is full of ordinary people who have overcome extraordinary struggles. What if Seneca Falls, the village that launched the fight for women's suffrage, were as famous as Niagara Falls? What if Weeksville, the historic free Black community in Brooklyn, were as well-known as Williamsburg? From immigrant sanctuaries to the Survivor Tree, here are sites where New York has shown its resilience. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
North Dakota is not quite the flattest state in the U.S., but it's pretty close. (In one analysis, it placed third, after Illinois and Florida.) During the last Ice Age, glaciers moving across the terrain had a planing effect on the land, dropping sediment that filled in any valleys, creating sprawling prairies and open, big skies. These large expanses are home to more than a few sky-high structures, both natural and human-made. From rocky peaks and multi-ton animal statues to one of the tallest buildings in the world, these are some of the most impressive structures that North Dakota has to offer. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
For about half of any given year, much of Arizona is too hot to handle. But even in peak summer, the state is home to a stunning spread of geographic diversity and a mysterious magic that emanates from the landscape—and we don’t just mean the mirages. Locals and visitors alike flock to higher altitudes, recreation-friendly bodies of water, and indoor spaces that are so heavily air-conditioned they practically require a jacket. Here are eight sheltered spots to retreat from the heat, from natural formations to an immersive art exhibit that invites lingering. We've even added a couple cool places (220 feet underground or a mile above sea level) to dream about spending the night. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Originally named “Venice of America,” Venice, California, owes its existence to a wealthy developer’s dream of a canal-laden resort town west of Los Angeles. The dream didn’t last long: After opening in 1905, the city went broke before joining Los Angeles in 1926. The decades of neglect that followed earned Venice the nickname “the slum by the sea,” but its affordability also attracted artists, beginning with the Beats in the late ’50s. Venice’s identity as a rough-around-the-edges artist haven endures more than 60 years later, though its affordability less so. If you’re looking to plot a trek across Los Angeles pavement and beaches, zero in on Venice with a run that oscillates between fast-and-furious and slow-and-curious. Take on this 5.2-mile run in one go, break it up into multiple runs, or do it in reverse. With the right running shoes, you’ll be ready to navigate Venice’s storied past and its eternally eccentric personality.
A run through New York City demands a delicate balance: Zoning out versus keeping your eyes peeled. On the one hand, there’s the clear-headed, in-the-zone mental state that any good sneaker-to-pavement exercise requires. At the same time, well, it is New York City. You can hardly walk two blocks without uncovering a hidden gem or noticing some new detail that’s actually been lurking in plain sight for decades. This 5.3-mile run takes you along a scenic route to discover some of these hidden gems. You can run the entire route, break it up into multiple runs, or do it in reverse. With the right running shoes, you’re bound to pick up on one of the million tiny, fascinating details along the way.
Long before California was home to tech campuses, freeways, and palm trees, Native inhabitants etched huge designs into the landscape. Even before that, at roughly the same time that the Pyramids of Giza were under construction, a tree that still survives today began taking root. And even farther into the past, glaciers and mammoths created enduring monuments to antiquity. Across the state, the distant past is still within easy reach. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
There’s a time-tested saying about things being large in Texas—and it certainly holds true for the state’s artworks, many of which are so huge or sprawling they could only reasonably live outdoors. Across the vast expanse of the Lone Star State are artistic testaments to some of the area’s oddest characters and stories. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
The smallest state in America is often the butt of jokes. Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island, and it was once famously parodied in the now-defunct website “How Many Rhode Islands”—a simple tool that allowed you to see just how many Rhode Islands could squeeze inside a given country. The United States could contain 3,066 Rhode Islands, and Russia could hold 5,445. But the tiny state has a rather grand history. Rhode Island was founded on the principle of religious freedom, was the first of the Thirteen Colonies to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown, and was one of only two states not to ratify the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Many of the state’s attractions still loom large, including a 58-foot-long blue fiberglass termite and an improbably large blue bear slumped under a lampshade. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Famous for country music and hot chicken, Tennessee is also filled with natural wonders. Across the state, caverns beckon. Venturing into some of Tennessee's strangest subterranean haunts is a great way to experience the depths of the state's spell-binding charm. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Louisiana has long had a complex relationship with the wet world. Chitimacha, Choctaw, and Atakapa peoples built communities among the knobby knees of bald cypress trees; French fur traders and pirates eventually made their own marks. Later still, modern engineers attempted to corral waters with levees and dams, or to reclaim land where there had been none. Across the 50,000-odd square miles that make up the state, troves of special places are becoming concealed by rising water. Here are seven places water has revealed or covered up. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Michigan is famous for its steep, sweeping sand dunes, freckling of lakes, and unique fossils—but across the state, you'll find slews of automated wonders, past and present. From old animatronic toys to the ruins of early assembly lines, here are seven places to be dazzled by industry. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Here at Atlas Obscura, we have a fondness for the forbidden, a hunger for the hidden, a gusto for the grim. (You get the point.) But it wouldn’t be so intrepid to simply highlight Nevada’s underbelly, would it? There’s more to the state than extraterrestrial-themed brothels and nuclear bomb test sites. Kids and grandparents might enjoy enormous Ferris wheels, unusual geysers, or pristine parklands. Even Nevada—home to Sin City—has a family-friendly side. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Maine is widely known for its mottled red crustaceans and stony-faced lighthouses, as well as bucolic towns and the top-notch hiking outside of them. But before all that, Maine was all about one thing: trains. As America industrialized in the 19th century, there was an insatiable demand to build and a hunger for lumber. Maine had plenty of it, and the state’s rivers became swollen with the fallen bodies of pine and spruce, much of which was hauled by rail. Trains did the heavy lifting to coastal hubs including Bangor and Ellsworth, and by 1924, there was enough railroad mileage in Maine to get from London’s King's Cross station to Mosul, Iraq. Over the years, some of the old cars were fashioned into eateries, but many were simply abandoned in the woods. Now, relics of Maine’s railroad history are scattered in museums, restaurants, and more. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
Picture Alaska. You might see in your mind's eye the granite and stark white snowcaps of Denali National Park, or the dark seas that surround 6,000-plus miles of coastline, or the muted olive of its tundra in the summer. But as anyone who's been there knows, the country's largest, most sparsely populated state can absolutely burst with color, from the luminous green of the Northern Lights, to the deep aqua of its glaciers, to the flourish of wildflowers fed by its long summer days. Here are some places to see the full spectrum of The Last Frontier. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
The District of Columbia is home to a number of places that you need to flash the right ID to access. From restricted rooftops to government storage facilities and underground tunnels, the city is filled with places that are off-limits to the average visitor. What’s more, many of them are hidden within popular tourist destinations and densely populated neighborhoods—so you might catch a glimpse of them, but never get any closer. These are a few of our favorite restricted spots in D.C., and the stories behind them. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
If you thought Pensacola, Florida—with its powder-white sand beaches, near-perfect weather, and fresh seafood—was just a place to soak up the sun, think again. In fact, the city and beach of the same name is the site of the first European settlement in the continental United States. Established by Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna in 1559, it was christened Panzacola, a name of Native American origin and the precursor to the city’s modern name. The destination is also the birthplace of U.S. naval aviation and is still home to a naval air station and the thousands of service members stationed there, as well as the Blue Angels, the flight squadron famous for their death-defying fighter plane stunts. This delightful coastal city is an ideal, if somewhat quirky, blend of historical sites (on land and underwater) and activities to get your adrenaline flowing.
The people of Tucson have been eating off the land for 4,100 years. From grains to livestock to produce introduced by missionaries in the 1600s, this UNESCO City of Gastronomy is home to some of the oldest farmland in North America. What once was old is new again in The Old Pueblo where ancient flavors are found in nearly every dish — trendy to traditional.
Any travel enthusiast would be hard-pressed to open any social media channel and not see photos of Iceland, with its jaw-dropping peaks, natural hot springs, pure glaciers, northern lights and snow-covered landscapes. But the island nation’s appeal goes well beyond the well-worn paths of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and the southern region's countryside. Travel to the untamed north along the Arctic Coast Way to discover otherworldly beauty—sans crowds—around every bend.
In 1967, 100,000 artists, activists, and hippies gathered in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood for the Summer of Love. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix played free concerts for fields of college dropouts, and San Francisco established itself as a countercultural capital. More than 50 years later, in a city increasingly known for Twitter and tech rather than art and activism, travelers who come on a pilgrimage are often disappointed to find expensive, skin-deep psychedelia. But if you know where to look, you’ll find a walk down Haight Street to be wonderfully weird, full of historic links to hippiedom and modern takes on the vibe.
More than eight million diverse individuals call New York City home, and many of them share their heritage through food. Whether it’s a billiards hall that serves stellar Bhutanese fare or a mosque where Malian vendors sell snacks for just a few hours each Friday, the city offers a vast culinary landscape for those willing to explore it. Venture beyond the flashy hotspots with months-long waiting lists and you’ll find New York’s true flavor lies within the small restaurants and stands rooted in its thriving immigrant communities.
It may be famous for Mardi Gras, but New Orleans has subtle, surprising wonders on tap all year long—even in the touristy French Quarter. Around every cobblestoned corner, you’ll find historic ephemera, bits of Creole culture, environmentalism, and no shortage of spooky stories, whenever you happen to visit.
From the street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is hard to miss: The institution’s two-million-square-foot main building, at 1000 Fifth Avenue, spans four New York City blocks and stretches into Central Park. Inside the galleries, you’ll find thousands of objects spanning 5,000 years of world history. With so many treasures under one roof, it's inevitable that some fascinating pieces are tucked into the museum's lonelier nooks and crannies, hiding in plain sight. The next time you spend a day at the museum, keep an eye out for these overlooked wonders.
Detroit and Nashville are synonymous with two all-American music genres. It’s no surprise that visitors flock to these cities each year to get a feel for the places where artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton began their careers. A (relatively) straight, north to south route connects the two cities, as does musical heritage. Load up the RV, make sure your speaker system is in tip-top shape, and create a playlist filled with old-school Motown and Country hits. If you're not driving on the trip down south, you should be dancing.
The terrain along the Gulf of Mexico is sometimes called the “Third Coast,” but for an offbeat road trip, it’s second to none. Starting in Houston and ending in Pensacola Bay, this journey takes you through some of America’s most diverse landscapes. You’ll cross Cajun swamps, drive along sparkling white sand beaches, and even spend some time in the Big Easy. Take an RV and camp along the way to truly immerse yourself in this wondrous region. The world’s largest gulf, it turns out, holds some of America’s best-kept secrets.
The Coachella Valley and its environs boom in the spring, when tens of thousands of music lovers flock to catch their favorite artists perform in front of a dramatic, mountainous backdrop. But this region stays wonderfully weird all year long. If the festival drew you to the area and you only have a day to explore, choose a direction: Either head north, toward Joshua Tree and Landers, or southeast to the Salton Sea and nearby oases for a blissful respite. If you can spare a couple of days, lucky you—go forth and see it all.
Los Angeles’ Highland Park is a diverse, eclectic neighborhood that Native Americans and Latinx communities have inhabited for centuries. Celebrated for its history, art scene, ethnic diversity, and cuisine, Highland Park is filled with surprising delights that more and more people are discovering every day. Exploring the neighborhood's nooks and crannies is one of the most rewarding ways to spend a day in L.A.
Once referred to as “The Coney Island of the Pacific,” L.A.’s beachfront neighborhood of Venice has long been a popular tourist destination. Its colorful characters, quirky architecture, and carnivalesque atmosphere are well-known the world over. But take a moment to look past the kitsch, and you’ll discover a place where artistic ingenuity thrives more than a century after Abbot Kinney endeavored to bring a grandiose version of Venice to America. The bohemian beehive has always attracted artists and performers, and everyone is welcome to enjoy the show.
The 1970s brought a wave of artists into this former industrial area in Downtown Los Angeles. They sparked a fuse of creative imagination that burned for years. Up-and-coming creators took advantage of the then-low rents and built a foundation for the creative mecca that exists here today. In its infancy, L.A.’s Downtown Arts District came to life behind-the-scenes, with artists mostly working in closed studios. Today, the art has spilled onto the streets in the form of colorful murals, attractive gallery spaces, and stylish storefronts. But the curious explorer can still find literal and figurative traces of the ‘70s. In addition to the more historic spots that remain, a creative, entrepreneurial spirit abounds.
Wedged between Charing Cross and Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square is known for the throngs of people flocking to its famous attractions. Weave around the tourists on the National Gallery stairs and dodge the crowds clogging the street corners. Instead, duck down dreamy alleys and pop into unique, overlooked museums and shops. There, a secret side of this busy area waits to reveal itself.
Few cities on Earth are as well-trodden as New York–but as any intrepid traveler knows, the more you explore a place, the more wonders you find. You may not be able to discover all of these spots in a single trip, but that could be a good thing. No matter how many times you return, the city that never sleeps never ceases to surprise. Visit NYCGo to uncover more of the city’s secret spots.
Anchored by the Zócalo plaza and the architectural splendor of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City's historic center rightfully draws scores of visitors from around the world. If you look, smell, and taste carefully, you’ll also find a universe of culinary offerings that tells stories of immigration, adaptation, and imagination. With the help of Culinary Backstreets, we assembled a primer on eating and drinking your way through the district.
Hollywood Boulevard is world-famous—for the Oscars and the Walk of Fame, for schlocky souvenir shops and crowded tour buses. But beyond the terrazzo stars and the occasional celebrity sighting, there’s plenty left to discover. Here’s how to make Hollywood’s acquaintance, whether you’re a visitor or a local who keeps a practiced distance from these busy, saturated blocks. Look closer and you'll find a neighborhood full of nature, history, and wonder.
There's the Times Square you know, full of blazing billboards, selfie sticks, and costumed characters. Then there's the less familiar one, beyond the lights—the nooks and crannies that most visitors to Midtown Manhattan overlook. They're not obvious, but surprises can still be found along this world-famous stretch of real estate.
Follow along on our 2,200-mile adventure with NPR's 'All Things Considered.'
Forge your own path in this tourist magnet, toward places that are less crowded but no less wondrous.
Find faded grandeur and vibrant street life in Argentina's largest city.
Just when you thought you knew the Windy City, it finds new ways to surprise you.
Find secret vistas, labyrinthine bookstores, and eclectic public art.
In the homeland of explorers, your best bet is to keep looking.
Go beyond the beaches in the continental United States’ only truly tropical city.
New York City's most diverse borough is also its most rewarding.
Southern California's second city holds plenty of sparkling secrets.
Find surprises around every corner in a U.S. city that embraces history like no other.