When it comes to history, the Northeast and East Coast of the United States are steeped in notable figures and destinations. While mostly noted for its place during the American Revolutionary War, the region is also the scene for many other significant sites and characters during the French and Indian War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
Here are a few suggestions for history buffs or just curious travelers to take in the sights and artifacts that shaped, and continue to shape, the nation. At many of these sites, visitors trace the paths some Founding Fathers took when blazing the country.
Freedom Trail Foundation Walking Tours
A lot of Revolutionary War history is clustered along the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail, marked by a narrow brick pedestrian pathway that winds through downtown Boston. Significant stops on the trail include the site of the Boston Massacre and the Old North Church, where Paul Revere instructed patriots to hang lanterns signaling British troop movement: “One if by land, and two if by sea.”
The Freedom Trail Foundation, which produces official maps and brochures for the trails, also offers a number of walking tours staffed by costumed and knowledgeable re-enactors.
“It’s an amazing group of people,” said Freedom Trail Foundation creative director Sam Jones. “It includes a few Ph.D. historians, some master’s degree historians, as well as some SAG [Screen Actors Guild] and Equity actors who work for well-known theater companies. It’s a special class of tour guides.”
Though popular figures such as Samuel Adams are available by request, most guides are relatively unknown players who were doing very interesting and influential things before and during the Revolutionary War.
The most popular route, which leads from Boston Common to Faneuil Hall, is three-quarters of a mile long and reaches 11 of the 16 sites along the Freedom Trail.
9/11 Memorial Museum
The recently opened 9/11 Memorial Museum, located on the site of the former World Trade Center, is dedicated to the most significant and tragic event in recent U.S. history: the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The 110,000-square-foot institution, located down at the bedrock level of the former colossal structures, has a number of exhibits documenting the events of the day and displaying artifacts from the fallen buildings — including the now-iconic Last Column — as well as from the rescue effort and the attacks’ aftermath. While the adjacent 9/11 Memorial pays tribute to the lives that were lost, the museum also features an interactive exhibit, culled from thousands of hours of interviews with family and friends, celebrating the victims’ lives.
“It’s very uplifting in a way,” said Kim Wright, the organization’s vice president of sales and tourism. “It’s about the lives that they lived, where the memorial is very much about the day that they died, so it furthers the fact that these were people just like you and me.”
To keep crowds at a manageable size, guests receive tickets with an admission time, and a downloadable application for smartphones is available to help visitors navigate self-guided tours.