The Great Sphinx stoically guarding the Giza Plateau.
The Eiffel Tower sparkling with flashbulbs.
The Aurora Borealis illuminating the sky with swaths of gently undulating green.
There’s no shortage of natural beauty and cultural sites in the world — and don’t get us wrong, we want to see them all. But we’re often so preoccupied with seeing other countries’ claims to fame that we forget about the many landmarks right in our own backyard.
Below, we detail just a few of the dozens of world-class attractions you can see right here in the United States — no customs claims or phrasebooks needed.
1. World’s Longest Cave System
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Although only 10 miles of passages are open for exploration by tourists, more than 400 miles of the five-level Mammoth Cave system have been explored — so far.
Traveling as deep as 300 feet below ground level, visitors can see where the first visitors to Mammoth Cave — primitive miners navigating its depths for minerals — made their mark. It’s a rare opportunity to experience, possibly for the first time, that awesome feeling of being immersed in total darkness.
The cave system is formed from limestone and sandstone, making it exceptionally stable, but when it comes to hiking the often rough tunnels of this “grand, gloomy, and peculiar place,” claustrophobes likely will feel safer staying above ground.
Not to mention, if you’re hungry after all that amateur spelunking, you can indulge in another American original — creole cuisine — in nearby Bowling Green, Ky.
2. World’s Greatest (and Only) Collection of Native American Ruins
Including Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado; and Montezuma Castle National Monument, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, & Aztec Ruins National Monument, Arizona
There’s literally no better place on Earth for history buffs to see the remains of the architectural prowess and incredible culture of the many tribes of the Native Americans. Each place listed above offers a glimpse into the lives of either the Ancestral Puebloan (Mesa Verde, Montezuma Castle, Aztec Ruins) or Najavo (Canyon de Chelly) people of North America.
But the Aztec Ruins site is particularly spectacular for its age and degree of preservation. These cliff dwellings are thought to have been built more than 1,400 years ago and still display colorful walls (thought to represent clan designations) and ancient drawings depicting animals, people, handprints, and geometric shapes.
3. World’s Most Popular Theme Park
The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Florida
Given that seeing Mickey and all of his friends is practically a rite of passage for American children, chances are good that you’ve already visited the Happiest Place on Earth.
But did you know that more than 18 million people visited the Magic Kingdom last year — and that’s not including the more than 35 million others from around the world who ventured to the other parks that make up the Walt Disney World Resort?
All told, Disney World is bigger than Manhattan — and arguably provides just as much, if not more, to do. And now, with the inclusion of Beast’s Castle and the other attractions of New Fantasyland, even seasoned veterans can see something new.
And the world of magic doesn’t end at Disney’s doors. Visitors to Orlando can also enjoy playing detective over dinner at Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows, or learn the history of one of the happiest foods on Earth — chocolate — at the World of Chocolate Museum and Café.
4. World’s Tallest (and Largest) Trees
Redwood and Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Parks, California
Although the terms often are used interchangeably, Redwoods and Sequoias are two distinct types of trees of the genus Sequoia with one interesting similarity: their mind-blowing size.
Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), commonly known as coast redwoods, can reach heights surpassing 300 feet. These California giants boast among their ranks the world’s tallest tree: Hyperion, a 700- to 800-year-old monster standing at a staggering 379.3 feet.
Sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), commonly referred to as giant sequoias or Sierra redwood, don’t reach the same heights as their Redwood cousins, but they do grow up to 250 feet or taller. And, with trunks as large as 26 feet in diameter, they are the largest living things on the planet. Add to that lifespans longer than 3,500 years, and these trees tick a lot of boxes in the world record department.
5. World’s Largest Cathedral
The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York City
This Episcopal church, nestled among the skyscrapers of New York, has been under construction since 1892, earning it the nickname St. John the Unfinished. But it is this constantly evolving nature — and its jaw-dropping size — that makes St. John unique.
From the breathtaking Great Rose Window housed in the western wall — containing more than 10,000 pieces of glass created in true medieval style from sand and metal ash — to the seven apsidal chapels, each honoring a different nation in homage to American immigrants, St. John is a place where modern vision meets ancient tradition.
Want to add another truly American destination to your list? Only steps away from the cathedral is Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too, serving up traditional southern and soul food just the way Miss Mamie used to make.
6. World’s Largest Collection of Geysers
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park holds many marks of distinction. It shelters nearly 60 percent of the world’s geysers, including the world’s largest active geyser, the Steamboat. It is widely cited as being the world’s first national park and is home to one of the most predictable geographical features in the world (the immediately recognizable Old Faithful, which erupts approximately every 90 minutes).
But aside from its incredible geothermal activity, Yellowstone National Park is most notable for containing nearly 3,500 square miles of some of the most beautiful, untouched land on Earth.
7. World’s Largest Active Volcano
Mauna Loa, Hawaii
True, scientists have found the immense Tamu Massif under the Pacific Ocean, but Mauna Loa is still the largest subaerial (i.e., on the Earth’s surface, and therefore able to be visited by tourists) volcano in the world. One of five lua peles that make up the big island of Hawaii, Mauna Loa covers a land area of approximately 2,035 square miles.
But there’s one thing in particular about this giant that may be especially appealing for the adventure-seekers out there: Mauna Loa hasn’t flared up since 1984 — and, based on its history of more than 30 eruptions since the mid-1800s, is overdue — so there’s always a chance visitors may witness an incredible show from the almost-too-close-for-comfort town of Hilo.
We suggest watching the sparks over a surf burrito at Hilo restaurant Maui Tacos, located just miles from the peak.
8. World’s Largest Collection of Kitsch
Nearly every highway, USA
Ok, so your ex-pat friends may not be impressed by this particular wonder of our great country, but a trip around America simply wouldn’t be the same without the many roadside attractions our people have cultivated with love and near endless devotion. After all, we have the world’s largest ball of twine, the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle®, and the world’s largest pistachio nut (inedible, of course)! What more could you possibly need?
Looking for a way to add some more local flavor to your travels? Search for restaurants by zip code, metro area, or even landmark — and earn rewards for every dollar you spend dining.