Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Viator Travel Awards, an annual awards competition where we – along with our readers, travelers, and fans – select the top things to do and see in each of the major regions we serve, the top things to do in our most popular tour categories, and more.
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Welcome to the 2016 Viator Travel Awards: North America Edition! In this list, we’ve gathered a list of 25 of the most interesting and entertaining places to visit and things to do throughout North America. We think it’s the perfect place to begin brainstorming your next trip – and it also makes a lovely virtual vacation from wherever you are right now.
The tours and activities we’ve highlighted were chosen based on traveler reviews, data from the millions of people who check out Viator.com during the year, and information on which tours travelers book most often. We think there’s something for everyone here, no matter what destination is next on your list, and it might be the best place to start brainstorming your next trip.
You’ll find all kinds of activities listed below, including helicopter flights over New York City, archaeology tours of Mayan ruins, Niagara Falls visits from two different countries, icefield walks in Alaska, and guided tours of the Grand Canyon. Join us for this tour of the Top 25 Things to Do in North America!
1. See the Grand Canyon
It took millions of years for the Colorado River to erode the colorful rocks of the Grand Canyon, and it only takes one look to fall in love with this incredible natural wonder. It’s also the perfect natural antidote to all the neon of Las Vegas. Choose a bus tour of the Grand Canyon South Rim to see the majesty of the national park. Soar over the landscape with a Grand Canyon All American helicopter tour or a Deluxe Grand Canyon All American Helicopter Tour, landing deep in the canyon for a champagne picnic. Book a Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour from Las Vegas with a flight through Black Canyon on the way back. Or, for those not starting in Vegas, choose a 45-minute Helicopter Flight Over the Grand Canyon from Tusayan, Arizona.
2. Explore the Bay Area
San Francisco is such an exciting city to explore that it can be easy to forget how close nature’s grandeur is to the city center. The number of day trips you can take is staggering — especially when you consider that some of those day trips are to world-famous locations. Oenophiles will love a Napa and Sonoma wine country tour through two of the world’s most beloved wine regions. Explore the Muir Woods, see Giant Redwoods, and Sausalito on a half-day trip, or take a day trip to see Yosemite National Park and the giant sequoias. Combine wine and nature with a San Francisco Super Saver: Muir Woods and Wine Country Tour. To the south of the city, out towards the horizon, you’ll find the scenic romance of the Pacific coast on a visit to Monterey, Carmel and 17-mile driving day trip from San Francisco.
3. See New York City from above
Every city is packed with sights, but when it comes to Manhattan — one of the true world cities — the skyline is a sight unto itself. And there’s no better way to see that skyline than from above it. Get panoramic views of some of the world’s most famous buildings from 70 stories up at the Top of the Rock observation deck, or go even higher to 86 stories at the Empire State Building Observatory and Skip the Line Tickets. To trade the panoramic view for a bird’s eye view, a Big Apple helicopter tour of New York gives you a viewpoint like no other.
4. See the mighty Hoover Dam
Few monuments exemplify the human ability to bend nature to our will better than the Hoover Dam, one of the largest dams in the United States. It’s an important source of energy, and it also offers spectacular views from the top. Learn about this incredible feat of engineering with a Ultimate Hoover Dam Tour. See the dam from above and below with a Hoover Dam Tour With Lake Mead Cruise. Go for a combination Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam day trip from Las Vegas, with optional “Skywalk,” to experience two major sights and take a thrilling walk.
5. See the historic side of Chicago
You may not know it, given the prevalence of skyscrapers in cities around the world today, but Chicago is considered to be the birthplace of the skyscraper. Sure, there are plenty of great reasons to visit the Windy City, but to skip the chance to learn more about its trend-setting architecture would be a shame. Many tours will cover some aspects of Chicago architecture, but to get a fuller picture sign up for a Chicago Architecture River Cruise. You can also do a Chicago City Hop-on Hop-off Tour for a more DIY tour experience, or go 103 stories above the Chicago streets with the Skydeck Chicago Admission. You can also explore some of the Windy City’s more scandalous stories on a Chicago crime and mob tour.
6. Go behind bars on Alcatraz
There are not many truly famous prisons in the world, but one of them lies just off the coast of San Francisco. Alcatraz is no longer a working prison, but its past involves some of the most notorious criminals – and one of the most mysterious escapes – in history. Cover the highlights of the island prison and the city with a Alcatraz and San Francisco City Tour. Tour the island and then enjoy time on the water during a Jail and Sail: Alcatraz Tour and Sunset Bay Cruise. To really get priority treatment, opt for a VIP early access visit to Alcatraz, plus an exclusive cable car sightseeing tour.
7. 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Many visitors to New York City these days don’t think their trip is complete without making their way to the former site of the World Trade Center – now the 9/11 Memorial and Museum – to pay their respects and see the remarkable museum built underneath the pavement. Opt for a simple 9/11 Memorial Museum Admission or book a 9/11 Memorial and Ground Zero Walking Tour with Optional 9/11 Museum Upgrade. Combine two of the city’s most iconic symbols with an exclusive tour of the Statue of Liberty Monument and special access to the 9/11 Memorial or add one more with a Viator VIP: Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and 9/11 Memorial combination.
8. Explore San Francisco
Hilly and full of stories, San Francisco has the unique ability to be trendy, historic, outdoorsy and urban all within the course of a day. When visiting the West Coast’s iconic city, get started with a San Francisco hop-on hop-off tour or Big Bus San Francisco Hop-On Hop-Off Tour to get to know the city by its most important landmarks. Take to the water for a fun adventure with a San Francisco Bay sunset cruise. Don’t waste time in a queue — instead get a skip-the-line ticket to the California Academy of Sciences and spend more time seeing the sights than waiting for them.
9. Take in the lights of Las Vegas
Las Vegas isn’t meant to be sipped slowly. Sin City is like drinking from a firehose. Everything about this city is meant to be over the top, so plan your trip accordingly with some excellent activities. Surprise your sweetie with a Las Vegas “Romance Package,” including Madame Tussauds, a gondola ride, and lunch or dinner at the Venetian Hotel. Climb aboard the world’s largest observation wheel with tickets to The High Roller at The LINQ. See the glittering Strip from overhead with a Las Vegas Strip Night Flight by Helicopter with Transport or Deluxe Las Vegas Helicopter Night Flight with VIP Transportation.
10. Experience New York
New York City has an energy unlike anywhere on the planet. It’s the hum of businessmen walking to work, the smell of food trucks in the early-morning air, and the pulse of visitors touring the sights in this city that never sleeps. There’s always something happening in New York, and on a Big Bus New York hop-on hop-off tour you can get your bearings and jump off whenever you like. See the city from a different perspective with a Circle Line: Complete Manhattan Island Cruise. Take a private ride in a horse and carriage in Central Park followed by a New York Dinner Cruise for the perfect romantic NYC day. Get yourself a New York CityPass to get the most out of independent exploration of this phenomenal city.
11. Visit Washington, D.C.
The capital of the United States has a powerful energy which isn’t found elsewhere in the country. The history, the monuments, the political happenings — they’re all a part of the D.C. fabric which make it such a popular place. While it can be overwhelming choosing where to visit in a city with so many sights, a good way to get your bearings is with a Big Bus Washington, D.C. hop-on hop-off tour – there’s even a Washington, D.C. hop-on hop-off trolley tour for a break from those giant double-decker buses. One magical way to see this unique city is at night when all the monuments are illuminated. Try a Washington, D.C. Monuments by Moonlight Night Tour by Trolley, or a guided night tour of Washington, D.C. by coach. To really see the best of the city, upgrade to a VIP “Best of D.C.” tour including the White House, Lincoln Memorial, and reserved access at the U.S. Capitol and National Archives.
12. Revel in the many sides of Hawaii
The islands of Hawaii are the most isolated landmass found anywhere on Earth. These volcanic outposts teem with adventure from the summits on down towards the sea, and exploring the islands of the Hawaiian archipelago is a magical dance with nature. Take in some of the islands’ history with a visit to the Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor and Punchbowl sightseeing tour or the USS Missouri, Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor and Punchbowl Day Tour. Both also pass by the Iolani Palace — the only Royal Palace on U.S. soil. Explore some of Hawaii’s agricultural history during an Oahu Grand Circle Island Day Tour with Dole Plantation. To wrap up a day, you’ve got your choice of luaus — including the Paradise Cove Luau on Oahu and the Old Lahaina Luau in Maui.
13. Dig into historical Mexico
Before the fancy beach resorts there were boatloads of conquering Spanish, and before the Spanish was the ancient culture of the Maya. Though much has changed over the ensuing centuries and the Maya are no longer in power, the fascinating ruins which they once constructed still sit in the Mexican forests. You can take a break from your beach resort to visit these ruins and reach into the past on a Chichen Itza Day Trip from Cancun. If you’re a traveler who really knows your history or have a keen fascination to learn, a Viator Exclusive: Early Access to Chichen Itza with a Private Archaeologist or an early morning Teotihuacan Pyramids tour with a private archaeologist is an all-access pass to knowledge. Visit two historic sites on a Teotihuacan Pyramids and Shrine of Guadalupe tour from Mexico City. Combine visiting Mayan ruins with an exciting swim with a Cancun Super Saver: Tulum and Coba Ruins Including Cenote Swim and Lunch.
14. Venture into New Orleans beyond Bourbon Street
For many travelers, New Orleans may be synonymous with drunken debauchery, but the famous “let the good times roll” attitude of the city isn’t just about enjoying a night out at the bar. In fact, if you visit New Orleans and don’t get beyond Bourbon Street, you’re missing out on the array of activities that the city and region have to offer. Begin your exploration with a City Sightseeing New Orleans Hop-On Hop-Off Tour, but don’t stop there. Board the famous Steamboat Natchez for a jazz dinner cruise on the famous Mississippi River. Combine the two with a New Orleans Super Saver: City Tour and Steamboat Natchez Harbor Cruise. Get out on the bayou to see local wildlife on a New Orleans Airboat Ride. Explore the inhabited countryside, too, with a Cajun Country Experience, a swamp boat adventure and plantations tour from New Orleans.
15. Witness the majesty of Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is an impressive sight to behold no matter whether you’re on the American or Canadian side — and it’s even more impressive when you can see it from above. Take a Niagara Falls Canadian Side Tour and Maid of the Mist Boat Ride to see Horseshoe Falls and Queen Victoria Park. Across the border, choose a Niagara Falls American-Side Tour with Maid of the Mist Boat Ride to see the Cave of the Winds. Book a Best of Niagara Falls Tour to cover all of the massive landmark’s highlights in a 5-hour tour, or a Niagara Falls Boat Tour: Voyage to the Falls to see the impressive falls from below.
16. See where city meets nature in Vancouver
Mountainous, forested and incomparably scenic, British Columbia is where the world’s second-largest nation meets the big blue Pacific. Most of the action is in the southwest corner in the immediate vicinity of Vancouver, which you can enjoy on its own or use as a base for exploring nearby attractions. Begin your stay with an introductory Vancouver city sightseeing tour or a hop-on hop-off trolley tour of Vancouver. Spend a day in the city’s gorgeous wilderness with a day trip to the Vancouver North Shore, including the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain. The Vancouver to Victoria and Butchart Gardens Tour by Bus visits the immaculate garden on Vancouver Island that is one of Canada’s National Historic sites.
17. See U.S. history in Boston
Boston is an integral part of the history and founding of the United States, and it’s also a vibrant and ever-changing city to this day. Explore the historic and modern sides of this famous place with a Boston Hop-on Hop-off Trolley Tour to see the sights at your own pace or a Boston in One Day Sightseeing Tour for a comprehensive overview. Make sightseeing an adventure with a Boston Duck Tour. Get out of the city to see how the other half lives – or at least vacations – with a Day Trip to Martha’s Vineyard.
18. Experience Europe in North America in Montreal
Cosmopolitan Montreal offers a little bit of European culture in a distinctly North American landscape. The whole province gives visitors a chance to hone their French skills, and Montreal is one of the most charming European cities not actually in Europe. Get acquainted with this fascinating city on a Montreal hop-on hop-off tour, or a guided sightseeing tour of Montreal. Learn more about the city’s past with a walking tour of old Montreal to see historic architecture and markets.
19. Dive into charming Quebec City
If Montreal is a taste of Europe in North America, Quebec City is an oversized helping. It’s North America’s answer to every impossibly charming European village, and it’s a very good answer. See the highlights of this beautiful city with a Quebec City Sightseeing Tour or Best Quebec City Walking Tour. Explore the great outdoors nearby with a Half-Day Trip to Montmorency Falls and Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre from Quebec. Visit the city of Quebec and Montmorency Falls on a day trip from Montreal to see French Canada’s historic heart and a waterfall taller than Niagara.
20. Get to know the Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest cities of Seattle and Portland have long been known for the laid-back attitude of residents, the proximity to spectacular natural attractions, and a heavy focus on great food and wine. The cities have similarities, but to get a real taste of the whole region you’d be smart to visit both. Cover all the highlights of the Emerald City with a sightseeing tour of Seattle in one day, including the Space Needle and Pike Place Market. Let Mother Nature’s mountains impress you with a Mt. Rainier Day Tour from Seattle. Treat your inner aviation geek with a morning tour of the Boeing Factory from Seattle. On a day trip from Portland you can take in the stunning Columbia Gorge during a Portland Sightseeing Tour Including Columbia Gorge Waterfalls or a Multnomah Falls and Columbia River Gorge Tour from Portland.
21. Meet marvelous Miami
One of the things that makes Florida such an excellent vacation destination in North America is its variety. In one state, you can visit exciting cities, world-class beaches, and unique natural scenery – in fact, you can experience all of that right around Miami. Take a tour of the gorgeous Everglades on an airboat with transport from Miami. Enjoy the sights on a Miami city tour, the Bayside market, and a Biscayne Bay cruise. Check off several things on your list in one go with a Miami combo tour that includes city sightseeing, a Biscayne Bay cruise and an airboat ride in the Everglades.
22. See the Los Angeles area
There are two awesome reasons to hang out in Los Angeles: to enjoy the year-round gorgeous weather and to get a peek at how (and where) the other half lives. Either one is reason enough — and when you combine the two you have the makings of a very LA vacation. Sign up for the “grand tour” of Los Angeles or a Los Angeles hop-on hop-off double-decker bus tour to start to make sense of this sprawling and complex metropolis. Take a Warner Bros. VIP Studio Tour and Movie Stars’ Homes Tour or Skip the Line: Front of Line Pass at Universal Studios Hollywood to see the more celebrated side of the city.
23. Dive into southern culture in Savannah
The city of Savannah may not be huge, but it looms large on the southern landscape. It’s full of history, intriguing (and sometimes hard-to-believe) stories, lots of character, and a lush beauty you can’t ignore. Get to know the overall city with an introductory Savannah hop-on hop-off trolley tour. Tempt your taste buds with a Savannah historic and secret East Side food tour. Make learning history delicious with a Savannah Culinary and Cultural Walking Tour.
24. Kick up your heels in Nashville
Nashville is the self-declared Country Music Capital of the World, but it’s home to musicians from all genres who contribute to a thriving cultural scene. Get to know this city with a Discover Nashville tour to see the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium and Music Row. Choose a Nashville Showboat Lunch or Dinner Cruise on the General Jackson for some entertainment while you sightsee. Go behind the scenes with an Insider Tour of ABCs ‘Nashville’ Film Locations, including the Bluebird Cafe.
25. Enjoy shore excursions in Alaska
Alaska. The Last Frontier. Land of the Midnight Sun. Whatever you call it, the 49th state is one of the most scenic outposts in America. Even in the capital city of Juneau — a popular cruise stop in Alaska — there are wild experiences you can have that will blow your mind. Take a Juneau shore excursion to go whale-watching and tour the Mendenhall Glacier. Learn more about the historic city, too, with a Juneau shore excursion that includes a city tour, whale-watching cruise and Mendenhall Glacier visit. You can even soar above the city and surrounding wilderness with a Juneau shore excursion that includes a helicopter tour and guided icefield walk. The town of Skagway is further north along the Alaska Panhandle, another very popular stop for cruises in the summer. You can head inland for a Skagway shore excursion that’s a full day tour into the Yukon in Canada (just don’t forget your passport).
– Viator Travel Team