As far as countries go, the United States of America is still very young. Yet, in such a short time it has amassed a remarkably rich history and culture. Nowhere is this more evident than in many of the United States' most significant landmarks that tell the tale of the nation’s triumphs and failures. Here are five historical landmarks that tell the story of America.
Independence Hall, Philadelphia
It seems most appropriate that you begin your exploration of American history at the country's birthplace, in Philadelphia. Independence Hall is the very spot where the nation's birth certificate — the Declaration of Independence — was first debated and adopted, and its bell tower once housed the ubiquitous Liberty Bell. Today, historical re-enactments help tourists discover the inception of the United States.
Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Penn.
Next, pay a visit to Gettysburg where, four score and seven years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, the nation faced its greatest test. Often thought of as the turning point in the American Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg was a defining moment in American history.
Today, Gettysburg National Military Park commemorates those who fought the bloody three-day battle with a broad range of historical exhibits and attractions. Tourists can explore the history of Gettysburg in a 22,000-square-foot visitor's center, and traverse the battlefield along a network of walking trails that pass key battle sites. With over 1,300 monuments peppered across the park, Gettysburg is home to one of the largest collections of outdoor sculptures in the world. If possible, try visiting in early-July, when Civil War re-enactments commemorate the momentous battle.
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.
One of the capital's most iconic landmarks symbolizes numerous key moments in American history. The neo-classical building and 19-foot marble statue at the Lincoln Memorial were built to commemorate the life and achievements of America's 16th president. In the 1960s, the memorial became a symbolically sacred site for the Civil Rights movement, as the venue for numerous historic civil rights. Most significantly, it was the site of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech.
Ellis Island, New York City
Immigration helped build and define America, as individuals from every race and creed came to this country in search of peace and prosperity. For the hundreds of millions of Americans whose ancestors originally arrived from overseas, Ellis Island is a reminder of these origins. During its 62 years as the main entry point for immigrants, the island processed some 12 million people. The island was restored and reopened in 1990, and now offers visitors a glimpse at the harsh life and struggles of their ancestors.
John F. Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Fla.
The moon landing represented the culmination of American technological and scientific ingenuity. It was a true testament to all that was possible with human cooperation and determination. This achievement was a major victory for America in the Space Race and was emblematic of the Cold War tensions that came to characterize much of the 20th century. Perhaps no historical site represents modern American achievement better than the space center from which that momentous flight was launched. Today, the Kennedy Space Center invites tourists to celebrate the achievements of the past.