The 10 Oldest Cities in the U.S. Pack a Lot of History
Europeans love to say that the U.S. doesn't have a long history. Of course, that's an extremely, well, Eurocentric view that invalidates the history of people who were here before the Europeans arrived.
Sadly, most pre-columbian cities and towns were destroyed during colonization. And so, many of the continent's oldest cities are those built by European settlers. The oldest city in the U.S. was founded in the 16th century — what about the other nine to round out the top 10 oldest cities in the U.S.?
Read on to find out.
10. Newport, Rhode Island
Year founded: 1639
English settlers from Massachusetts Bay decided to break out on their own and buy land from the Narragansett tribe to settle Newport. The land's proximity to the ocean was one of the main reasons for the purchase and a deciding factor in the development of what is now a bustling city.
Today, you can still see colonial-era architecture and cobblestone streets reminiscent of the city's past. Other interesting architectural features include Gilded Age mansions that are surrounded by an oceanfront path. Those seeking more modern forms of entertainment can enjoy fine dining, concerts and festivals.
Where to stay: Historic Hill Inn
9. York, Maine
Year founded: 1631
Located in southern Maine, York was an important New England town settled in Abenaki tribe land. Though it's now overshadowed by cities like Bar Harbor and Portland, this was the first important town in the territory that now makes up the state.
History enthusiasts should check out the Museums of Old York to learn more about indigenous and colonial history or visit the Old Gaol, one of the country's oldest colonial jails. You should also check out the beautiful Cape Neddick Nubble Lighthouse — it's not a trip to Maine unless you see at least one lighthouse.
Where to stay: Union Bluff Hotel
8. Boston, Massachusetts
Year founded: 1630
Boston was the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which had John Winthrop as the leader. Unsurprisingly, the Puritan colonists first purchased land from the Massachusett tribe, but ended up subjugating and displacing the group as the town grew.
Like Newport, Boston boasts access to the sea, making it an important trade point. Overtime, the city became an epicenter of commerce and intellectual movements, playing a pivotal role in important historical moments like the American Revolution and the Civil Rights Movement. Visitors should make sure to visit landmarks like Paul Revere's House, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Boston Common, the country's oldest urban park.
Where to stay: The Liberty, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Boston
7. New York City, New York
Year founded: 1626
Though today New York City is synonymous with a large and chaotic metropolis, there was a time when it was but a small town surrounded by forest. The area was settled by Dutch colonies and was part of New Amsterdam, but the English took over it in 1664.
Unlike other places on this list, little is left over of the city's colonial past or of the Lenape people who lived here before the European-American encounter. To make up for it, the Big Apple offers one of the most dynamic and unique atmospheres of any city in the entire world — not to mention world-class museums like the Met and the MoMA, art house cinemas and the unrivaled magic of Broadway.
Where to stay: Blue Moon Boutique Hotel
6. Plymouth, Massachusetts
Year founded: 1620
To this day, Plymouth is mostly known for its colonial history. Though it wasn't the first nor the most important European settlement, its fame comes from the fact that the Pilgrims who landed here drafted the Mayflower Compact, which established a form of self-governance and semi-independence from England.
Thousands of people come to Plymouth to visit the rock where the Pilgrims arrived and learn the history of the settlement. This is also the spot mostly associated with the collaboration — and subsequent massacre — that set the foundations for Thanksgiving.
Where to stay: Hotel 1620 Plymouth Harbor
5. Albany, New York
Year founded: 1614
Another former Dutch colony in what is now New York state, Albany was, for a time, even more important than New York City. That's why it's still the state capital, despite now being a relatively unknown city.
The English took over in 1664 and continued to operate the landlocked city as an important trade center. Visitors today can enjoy the historic district, visit the state capitol and enjoy nature in the Hudson Valley and the Adirondack Mountains.
Where to stay: The Argus Hotel & Cocktail Lounge
3. Hampton, Virginia (Tie)
Year founded: 1610
A city in the Chesapeake Bay, Hampton (formerly known as Kecoughtan) was one of Virginia's earliest English settlements. Besides its role in the colonial period, the city was also important in the American Civil War because of the presence of Fort Monroe. Though the town was in the Confederacy, the fort was controlled by the Union. This meant thousands of enslaved people ran away and were granted freedom once they stepped inside the fort.
Without a doubt, the fort is the most important landmark in the city, but you can also enjoy learning more about Civil War history, go boating on the bay or enjoy cultural events.
Where to stay: The Landing at Hampton Marina, Tapestry Collection by Hilton
3. Santa Fe, New Mexico (Tie)
Year founded: 1610
The oldest state capital in the country, Santa Fe was the territory of the Pueblo people, who have some of the oldest settlements and towns in North America. The Spanish colonized the land and, though they were temporarily driven out in 1680, they regained control of the region from 1692 to 1848. The U.S. annexed it to its land on this year after the Mexican-American War.
Pueblos are still one of the most interesting things to do in the city, with eight located nearby. You can see traditional Pueblo architecture, buy crafts, learn about the group's history and even try pre-Columbian dishes. Other things to do include visiting the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, seeing the Palace of the Governors and hiking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Where to stay: Bishop's Lodge, Auberge Resorts Collection
2. Jamestown, Virginia
Year founded: 1607
Like Plymouth, Jamestown is still mostly famous for its colonial town. It's the oldest English settlement in the Americas that still exists today. This makes it an important tourist spot for Virginia, with families, schools and history buffs flocking to learn more about the town.
Of course, you can't miss the Jamestown Settlement, a museum focusing on life in the area in the 17th century. Historic Jamestown and the Colonial National Historical Park are also must-see spots. Plus, Jamestown is near Williamsburg, another Virginia city known for its well-preserved colonial landmarks.
Where to stay: Wedmore Place
1. St. Augustine, Florida
Year founded: 1565
No European-established city in the United States is as old as St. Augustine. This Florida city is full of charm, with imposing stone forts and a picture-perfect historic district. Because it has Spanish colonial architecture, it differs in style from many other old cities on the East Coast, most of which are either French or English.
Go to the Oldest Wooden School House, which touts that title for the entire country. And don't forget to visit the Fountain of Youth — or buy water from it.
Where to stay: Casa De Solana & Victorian House Bed and Breakfast