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5 Historic American Cities Experiencing a Renaissance

Embrace old-world charm and urban allures in these cultural hubs across the country.

U.S. News & World Report

5 Historic American Cities Experiencing a Renaissance

Charleston, South Carolina, at the historic homes on The Battery.

These storied cities are awash with a new energy with up-and-coming chefs, trendy neighborhoods and interesting attractions. (Getty Images)

On a global scale, America has had a relatively short history. Our nation's 1776 origin makes the U.S. far younger than most European and Asian countries. But while our history only spans a couple of centuries, our oldest cities are steeped in rich culture, heritage and tradition. The biggest moments of our country are contained in stone buildings on the East Coast and iconic monuments scattering our nation's capital. And while we continue to celebrate classic institutions and our storied histories in top cities across the country, some places have evolved into flourishing hot spots in recent years. Here are five vibrant American destinations in the midst of a renaissance.

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston seems to have found a way to balance the old and the new like no other Southern city in America. The cobblestone streets and the horse-drawn carriage rides along Market Street are just two examples Charleston's unique culture and heritage. Beautifully adorned mansions remind visitors of a bygone era. However, those new to Charleston will soon find discover that there's much more to the city beyond its relics of the past, from hidden speakeasies and gastropubs from some of the hottest, up-and-coming chefs and mixologists in the country. Even the city's hotels are upping the cool factor with unique touches. Take The Vendue, which doubles as an art gallery, or The Restoration, which boasts a rooftop bar that would make any New York City hipster swoon. And every corner of this Southern locale brims with Instagram-worthy backdrops.


In Philadelphia, it's not uncommon to see lines of school buses waiting outside Independence Hall. After all, shipping high school students off to Philly to a close look at the location of America's genesis is a common occurrence. The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are just two sites that continue to draw history aficionados and student field-trippers, alike. Aside from its historical landmarks, Philadelphia also boasts some of the most delicious and decadent bring your own beverage restaurants in the country. Mercato, Lolita and Laurel are just three top eateries where you can bring your favorite bottle of wine or six pack of beer and chow down. This concept not only creates a culture that brings in young college students looking to cut costs, but also keeps new generations coming together to eat in the City of Brotherly Love over and over again.

Portland, Maine

A perennial favorite among New England residents, Portland offers visitors the chance to take park in quintessential pastimes such as exploring rocky coastlines, digging into lobster rolls and, brushing up on the area's fascinating role in our nation's history. While the area's beaches are one allure, Portland's impressive skyline is another top selling point. The chance to follow the Portland Freedom Trail or visit the famous Tate House appeals to history buffs, but Portland's main draw is its series of classically chic, nearby coastal towns that keep trendsetters on their feet. The newly reopened Cliff House Maine in Cape Neddick, just 45 minutes outside Portland, is just one example of a historical landmark that continues to evolve. The property opened its doors after the Civil War, but it continues to lure new visitors today with its trendy raw bar and magnificent ocean views.

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine isn't just one of America's oldest cities; it's also one of our continent's oldest cities. This northern Florida hub was originally occupied shortly after Ponce De Leon washed onto the shores of Florida in 1565. Later, the area changed hands between the Spanish, French, Spanish and British before it became a part of the U.S. after a long series of wars. Though St. Augustine stills celebrates its heritage – and highlights its historical sites like the Castillo de San Marcos – it is now a bustling beach town with a striking juxtaposition of old and new attractions. Restaurants such as Michael's Tasting Room and Costa Brava play off the Spanish influence from St. Augustine's past, while also providing patrons with modern tapas. Make sure to carve out some time to explore the beach for the stunning oceanfront views, along with the excellent Spanish cuisine.

Washington, District of Columbia

It probably comes as no surprise that our nation's capital is covered in historical memorabilia. Travelers from the world over visit the area to explore the monuments and memorials displayed around our National Mall. Many buildings across the district have deep-seated roots, but you may be shocked to hear that the political epicenter also boasts some of the most incredible food scenes in the country. Top-rated chefs are flocking to hip neighborhoods, such as Logan Circle and Shaw, to cook up mouthwatering dishes. The district's most famous chef, José Andrés, boasts a variety of crowd-pleasing restaurants across town, but even more impressive are his food and drinks laboratories, Minibar and Barmini. Casually placed in Penn Quarter, patrons are privy to drinks mixed with liquid nitrogen and floral embellishments and small bites such as smoked oysters and a new signature, a meringue rubber ducky filled with foie gras.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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