Explore the States on Your Gap Year

Fact File: USA

Geography

Capital: Washington, DC

Location: North America, bordering both the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean, between Canada and Mexico.

Climate: Mostly temperate, but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the great plains west of the Mississippi River, and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are ameliorated occasionally in January and February by warm chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

Terrain:

Vast central plain, mountains in west, hills and low mountains in east; rugged mountains and broad river valleys in Alaska; rugged, volcanic topography in Hawaii.

Lowest point: Death Valley -86m

Highest point: Mount McKinley 6,194m

People:

Population: 301,139,947 (July 2007 est.)

Nationality: Noun: American(s) adjective: American

Ethnic groups: White 81.7%, black 12.9%, Asian 4.2%, Amerindian and Alaska native 1%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.2% (2003 est.)

Religions: Protestant 52%, Roman Catholic 24%, Mormon 2%, Jewish 1%, Muslim 1%, other 10%, none 10% (2002 est.)

Government type: Constitution-based federal republic

Languages: English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)

Visa Requirements

As long as you have a machine-readable EU passport, you're probably entitled to a free 90-day stay. Beyond that, it gets more complex.

Getting there

Main international airports: Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco.

Land borders: Canada, Mexico

Climate Advice

The South can be very warm during the summer and east of the Rockies is usually hot and humid. Florida, Southern California and Hawaii have tropical climates and are warm all year round; the more northern parts of the US can have very harsh winters. April to October is the best time to visit if you are looking to cover the whole country, as the weather will be bearable wherever you go. Travel in Alaska outside of these months is strongly discouraged. Autumn can be one of the best times to visit New England and the Great Lakes; the fall colours are incredible.

Ideas and Things To Do

First things first, the USA is a massive place. Which means that there is a massive amount to do there. Home to some of the World's most exciting and diverse cities, trying to sum everything up in a few pages is darn near impossible. Nevertheless, we've had a bash at narrowing down the things you might want to visit if you drop by the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Whether you're a nature lover, a thrillseeker, an avid hiker, a set jetter, a culture vulture, a shopaholic, a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker, this country will have more than enough to get your blood pumping.

Some Top Things To Visit in the USA

  • Grand Canyon, Arizona
  • Disneyland, Florida
  • Hollywood and the Walk of Fame, LA
  • White House, Washington
  • Niagara Falls, New York State
  • Statue of Liberty, New York
  • Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
  • Yosemite National Park, California
  • Various sets from top films and TV shows
  • San Diego Zoo, California
  • Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
  • The Strip, Las Vegas
  • UFO Capital of the World, Nevada
  • Monument Valley, Utah
  • Loads, loads more...

Nevada is UFO capital of the world

Etiquette and Stuff

Tipping (usually 10-15%) is expected by anyone in the service industry: bar workers, waiters and waitresses, drivers, porters and generally anyone who helps you personally. Wages in the service industry are very low and staff rely on tips to bring in a decent wage. Fail to tip, or leave less than expected, and expect a dressing down, or even to be followed out of a restaurant asking why you're so tight.

If you're heading out of the cities or visiting national parks, please do not feed the animals or drop litter. While it can be very cute to have a picture of you feeding the local wildlife, thousands of animals each year have died, or been shot by rangers because of this; some animals lose the ability to hunt, others ingest plastic packaging of tourists' leftovers and are no longer able digest food. The majority of bear attacks in the National Parks (and all reports of bears breaking into cars) have come about due to tourists feeding them, either at the time or in the past. National Parks have been set up to protect America's wild spaces and its wildlife and to educate visitors.

Please don't give to panhandlers or beggars on the street. There are large numbers of homeless and needy people on the city streets but not all those asking for money are genuine. If you want to help, give your spare change to organised collections, and ensure your money goes to those who really need it.

Ideas of Cost

Your budget will vary hugely depending on where you're travelling and if you want to see the cities, National Parks or small towns: A hostel bed in New York costs around $30 (often more) whereas in many states you can find a motel room for that price. Hostel prices vary hugely within each city, generally speaking you get what you pay for, but there are many surprises. If you are travelling in a group of three or more it can often work out cheaper to share a hotel/motel room rather than paying for the separate beds in a hostel. Many motels come with fridges and microwaves so eating-in can be a cheap option.

Eating out can be excellent value for money if you stick to diners and fast food stands. If you walk just a block or two from the major sights the price of food can drop dramatically; prices are often dictated by a restaurant's decor or location, rather than the quality of food. Convenience stores can easily be found in almost any city and often have good value hot meals. Look out for all you can eat buffets or special meal deals; especially in hotels and casinos.

Alaska is the most expensive state for food and provisions; accommodation and activities are also more than most other areas.

A budget of $50 - $70 is reasonable for accommodation, meals and some entertainment.

Carry travellers cheques; they can be used as cash in virtually every store and restaurant and makes carrying large amounts of money safe; ATM machines are widely available.

Meals:

Budget: $3-$10, Mid-range $10-$25 Top of the pile: $25 plus

Accommodation:

Budget: $10-$70, Mid-range $70-$100 Top of the pile: $100 plus

Nightlife and Going Out

Clubs, pubs and bars

A typical night out in the USA could be... well, anything really. If trendy bars and saucily-named cocktails are your thing, head to the hippest cities like New York, Las Vegas or LA. If you're after a more chilled-out atmosphere where jeans and cowboy boots are the dress code and beer is served in dirty tankards, it's to the cities of the Deep South for you... drop by Mississippi, Louisiana or Tennessee. Boston, Chicago and Connecticut are home of world-famous universities (Harvard, MIT and Yale respectively) so if you want a student vibe and loads of academically-gifted folk to drink with, that's where you've got to head. Maybe even try to crash a few fraternity or sorority houses while you're there...

Legal drinking limit in the USA

The legal age for the consumption of alcohol in the USA is 21 years of age. The country is extremely strict on this law, so be prepared to be asked for your ID in every pub and bar you venture in to.

Some drinking establishments will allow you to enter if you are over 18 years old. You will simply have your hand stamped and will only be served soft drinks by bartenders for the evening. Ask the door staff of the pub or bar you're so desperate to get in to what their policy is.

Restaurants and cafes

The food on offer country-wide is as diverse as the nightlife, with literally thousands of restaurants and cafes to choose from. Chicago invented the hot dog, New York offers bagels, pretzels and delis, New Orleans whips up a flavoursome jambalaya, Mississippi has its mud pie, Texas put the Tex in Tex-Mex... The Americans also love their all-you-can-eat buffets - so get in there and fill your boots! There's lots of food on offer... you've just got to follow your nose.

Staying Healthy

FCO Guidelines: Medical treatment can be very expensive; there are no special arrangements for British visitors. The British Embassy and Consulates-General cannot assist with medical expenses.

Comprehensive travel and medical insurance is essential!

Staying in Touch

Remember that pants means trousers and you'll be fine.

Well okay, so maybe it's a tad more complex than that, but I'm sure we've all seen enough American TV to understand that sidewalks are pavements and a bum's rush is to be feared, misunderstood and avoided.

Recommended Routes

It takes the best part of four days to get from one side of the States to the other, and two days to travel down a major part of the Eastern or Western seaboard. In a short trip you can see a lot of what's on offer, as long as you're not too ambitious with what you want to do (New York to LA to Seattle then New Orleans is probably not the best way to spend a fortnight's holiday!) For longer trips, even if you're flying between major cities, you still need to allow a lot of time to actually get to places. Greyhound and Amtrak both offer maps of the States with major destinations broken down into travelling times (rather than distance), which can help you plan your time a lot easier.

Short Term (East Coast)

Pennsylvania - Just a short hop from New York, loads of history and Atlantic City is just round the corner (in case you can't make it to Vegas)

New York - Live it up in the big city; a place you simply can't miss if you're in the US. Tall buildings, busy streets loads to see and an even larger choice of places to eat.

Washington D.C. - Loads of sights, free museums and a great nightlife.

Boston - A great place to chill out and soak up a bit of history and culture. One of the most laid back cities on the East Coast.

Niagara Falls - A better view can be had from Canada, but they're impressive however you look at them.

Atlanta - An interesting stop off on the long journey to Florida. Florida Keys - Excellent diving and snorkelling, great beaches and a place to relax after all those long bus journeys. There are plenty of gators in the Everglades also.

Short Term (West Coast)

Highway 1 - If you're going from LA to San Fran, hire a convertible (or an old banger) and drive along this coastal highway for some incredible scenery.

San Francisco - One of Americas top cities, great views, excellent food and beautiful Californian women.

Yosemite National Park - Awesome views, lots of bears, but (unless you try hard to escape the crowds) there are considerable more tourists.

The Grand Canyon - It's on everyone's 'must see list' and you must.

Las Vegas - Try and extend your budget on the slot machines (it will most likely decrease; trust me), ride the coasters or fill up on the all you can eat buffets.

The Coast Starlight (it's a train) - Running from LA to Seattle and the best way to travel from San Fran up the coast; if there were views like this on the train to London you wouldn't mind the delays.

Seattle - The best views from any city in the US; looking over the bay, close to the mountains and enough coffee shops to keep you wired for a decade.

The Seattle skyline

Medium Term

A month will give you enough time to see all the major sights: Combine elements of the two short term tours and stop off at a few of these places on your way to the other side of the country. Alternatively stick to one coast and take your time getting to know the place; rather than a Greyhound, or Amtrak seat.

Chicago - Eclectic architecture and city art meets sandy beaches and one of the Great Lakes.

New Orleans - Jazz, blues and Cajun food rules. Go for the night life.. stay for the chance to get over your hangover.

Houston - Texas has to be seen to be believed (and understood) visit Mission Control or stop by a local diner for a steak the size of your backpack. Dallas is also worth a look.

Salt Lake City - Small and beautiful, a Mecca (well it's equivalent obviously) for Mormons and close to Great Salt Lake; which is just as its name suggests.

The Empire Builder (it's also a train) - Running between Chicago and Seattle, taking in Glacier National Park and the incredible scenery of the Northern States.

Long Term

You can see all the major sights above and have time to see those less visited, but just as impressive sights; Yellowstone, Bryce, Arches, Death Valley, Monument Valley the Finger Lakes and Great Lakes the Pennsylvanian Amish country, as well as those small but great cities: Nashville, Memphis, Atlanta, El Paso and the great states that don't have sights as such; just their greatness: Idaho, Montana, Oregon, the Dakotas. That's just for starters...

There are a few places that demand a little more attention also:

Alaska - You could spend your whole time here (unless you're a city type, then you'll get a little suicidal here). Travel from Seattle through British Columbia and the Yukon so the Canadians don't feel left out.

Hawaii - Cheap flights from LA and New York in the off-season (and even the expensive ones are worth it); a little hula and volcanoes should be on everyone's itinerary.

The Rockies - A few mountains, a little snow, some great little towns hidden in the valleys and enough activities to keep you as occupied as the bathrooms in a Bombay hostel.

Food and Drink

Eating out can be excellent value for money if you stick to diners and fast food stands. If you walk just a block or two from the major sights the price of food can drop dramatically; prices are often dictated by a restaurant's decor or location, rather than the quality of food. Convenience stores can easily be found in almost any city and often have good value hot meals. Look out for all you can eat buffets or special meal deals; especially in hotels and casinos.

As far as drink goes, the legal minimum age for alcohol consumption is 21. You'll need photo ID just to get into most bars. Chances are that they accept your student card or similar, but on occasion you may have to use your passport. Be careful with it though won't you?

It's not just a stereotype, food is often BIG in the USA

'Living' the History'

Boston - The Freedom Trail: Follow the red bricks set in the sidewalk to view Boston's historic buildings and sites.

Chicago - Magnificent Mile: Also known as Michigan Avenue and is home to Chicago's finest shops and buildings giving views over Lake Michigan.

Las Vegas - Limo Tour: Take a limo and see the city in style, free champagne and plenty of cars to choose from. Try a stretch Hummer or one with a Jacuzzi in the trunk. Err... history-wise this is where you book your Grand Canyon jaunt and you can go see where Casino was filmed.

Los Angeles - Hollywood: Mann's Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame or take a taxi up into the hills for a view of the Hollywood sign.

New Orleans - The Old French Market: Built in the 1800s this area has been recently restored to include several bars and restaurants; the market is still the place to go if you want to try some authentic Cajun food.

New York - Staten Island Ferry: A free ferry that takes commuters back and forth between Staten Island and Manhattan. A great view of the city and its bridges as well as a view of the Statue of Liberty without the long queues.

San Francisco - The Golden Gate Bridge: Walk across the bay to Sausalito to have one of the best views of the city.

Seattle - Pike Market: Watch out for low flying fish as you try some of the produce from the farmers market that is held here each week. Eat at one of the waterfront restaurants for excellent fresh seafood dishes.

Washington D.C. - Smithsonian Institute: The world's largest collection of museums (which also includes the National Zoo) most of these are on the Mall and all are free. The National Museum of American History, the Air and Space Museum and the Museum of African Art are a few of the highlights. The National Geographic Society is not part of the Smithsonian but has excellent exhibitions.

The Air and Space Museum in Washington DC

States to Visit in the USA

Alaska

Go there because... the land of the midnight sun is by far the largest state in area but one of the least populated. Going here is less about the people and more about the nature. Think majestic mountain spires, crystal-clear lakes, glimmering ice-blue glaciers: a place with abundant wildlife, rushing rivers and unspoilt beauty and you're almost there...

Arizona

Go there because... it might be dry, but that doesn't mean that all is has to offer is dust, coyotes and cacti, it's the perfect introduction to the wonders of the Southwest. This state boasts the awesome Grand Canyon, gamblers' paradise Las Vegas and the untamed deserts of Phoenix where Bill and Ted was filmed. Excellent...

California

Go there because... it's all about beautiful people, beautiful weather and beautiful beaches. Cali is a perfect example of why West is best with its stunning national parks and Hollywood magic in LA, museums and zoos in San Diego and the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz in San Francisco. California is everything you imagine America to be and then some...

Colorado

Go there because... it's home to the awesome Rocky Mountains, which stretch more than 3,000 miles. Grab your snowboard or skis or simply hike across the mountains. This state is also ace for kayaking, cycling, fishing and loads of other outdoorsy stuff. Plus with 40 state parks - including Yellowstone - you're bound to come across a cute/scary/weird animal or dozen (delete as applicable.)

Florida

Go there because... you'll get to fulfil your childhood dream of going to Disneyland amongst other things! Swing by the Kennedy Space Station, meet rare and colourful birds, alligators and crocs in the swamps of the Everglades National Park, swim with dolphins at the Marathon Dolphin Sanctuary and explore the Florida Keys as well.

Illinois

Go there because... of Sears Tower, the blues clubs and baseballs stadiums of Chicago, the wine trails and stunning nature of the southwest and the theme parks, shops and botanical gardens in the north. All that plus Route 66: a 20th century heritage trail that takes you through the heart of the cities and towns that define the 'real America'.

Louisiana

Go there because... their southern hospitality knows no bounds. The official state motto translates to 'let the good times roll' which makes it our kind of state. Head here for platefuls of tasty fried food, jazz music, frenzied dance clubs, musicians every which way you turn and plenty of locals who'll be happy to show you how to party well into the night...

Mississippi

Go there because... you learnt that cool rhyme at school to help you remember how to spell its name. Seriously though, Mississippi is the state for you if you're after a blend of city livin' and country chillin'. Float down the Mississippi river on a steamboat a-gamblin' as you go, try a slice of the famous mud pie, amble round the national parks or plod through the swamps (remember to keep your eyes peeled for crocs...)

New York State

Go there because... it's everything the movies made you think America was. Most notable city is New York where you'll visit the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Central Park, Times Square and loads more tourist-tastic bits and bobs. Plus there's loads of tours that will take you to the sets of your favourite films and TV shows that were shot in the state.

South Dakota

Go there because... you might not know exactly where it is, but you know what's there. Mount Rushmore (four former US presidents immortalised in the side of a mountain) and the Crazy Horse memorial monument are probably the two most famous attractions. So you if you like your dead presidents super-size and your sculptures bigger than any other in the World, then South Dakota might be worth a stop.

Tennessee

Go there because... there's a more to see in Tennessee than just the Graceland museum - have a blast at one of the top new water parks in the world, soak up the history at their wide variety of museums or go extreme and start caving in some of the largest cave networks in the United States. You can even see the exact spot where Blues music started...

Texas

Go there because... home to George Dubya, Texas offers rodeos and drawling accents a-plenty. Highlights include tours of the Alamo, the Texas State Aquarium, and endless opportunities for hillbilly-spotting (banjo sold separately). The more technically-minded might want the opportunity to visit the NASA Space Center in Houston.

Utah

Go there because... home to some excellent skiing in winter and fantastic hiking in the Uinta Mountains in summer, Utah is full of the wide open spaces and sense of freedom that the American west is famous for. If there's one thing you've gotta see, it's the Zion National Park, although the urbanites out there might prefer the busy capital of Salt Lake City.

Washington D.C.

Go there because... the capital of the United States and host of countless historical monuments, Washington D.C. is one of the top destinations for tourists in the US. Whether it's the appeal of the scientific Smithsonian Museum or the political and literary value of the Library of Congress, history buffs will be overwhelmed with sights to see in DC.

Cities to Visit in the USA

Anchorage

Go there because... even the areas not put aside as National Parks or protected areas are breathtaking, which really says something for the ones that are... Go ice climbing, fly over one of the World's largest ice fields, kayak up to a glacier, watch whales and bald eagles or camp and hike in some of the most stunning scenery nature has to offer.

Boston

Go there because... with easy access to Canada, Boston is a nice city with a bit of heritage. Re-live the history of the famous Boston Tea Party, have your photo taken outside the 'Cheers' Bar, catch a Red Sox game, take a whale watching cruise and visit Cambridge, home to the world-famous Harvard University.

Chicago

Go there because... the nation's third largest city is home to the Sears Tower and the 'Loop', which is what the locals call the historical center of downtown Chicago. 'The Windy City' also boasts incredible nightlife and is famous for being home of the hot dog. What better opportunity to stuff a cooked sausage down your gullet?

Flagstaff Grand

Go there because... there's only one reason why you'd ever visit Flagstaff, but it's a pretty big reason. 277 miles of a reason in fact. Flagstaff is down the road from one of the World's most impressive natural wonders, the Grand Canyon. You'll stay in this place if you plan to visit the most famous of chasms, otherwise you probably won't bother.

Las Vegas

Go there because... it's a hedonistic city far superior to any of its other gambling rivals. Even if you don't gamble a dime; watch the free shows, see the hotels or enjoy the huge buffets. Las Vegas is also home to the World's three highest thrill rides - all situated on top of a skyscraper. This city will leave you thinking 'Only in America...'

Los Angeles

Go there because... LA is a great place to do the tourist thing like star spotting, checking out film sets and the like which is probably exactly why you're heading there! Get your snap in front of the Hollywood sign, stroll down Sunset Boulevard, strut your stuff on Venice 'Baywatch' Beach, nosey around the stars' homes and visit Universal Studios too.

Memphis

Go there because... according to the legend 'Blues sets the mood, Rock 'n' Roll adds the rhythm, and the good times never end in Memphis'. It was also home to the King, Elvis Presley, and you can still swing by his pad, Graceland. Get your Elvis T-shirts, your Elvis mugs and your singing Elvis toilet seats here... you're sure to leave All Shook Up.

Miami

Go there because... you like staring at beautiful lads and lasses in their swimming gear. Will Smith dedicated a song to it, so the place has gotta be cool. Miami is all about soaring temperatures, hot clubs, white sandy beaches, Cuban sounds and cracking shopping opportunities. Plus it's a top spot for some A list star spotting/stalking...

Nashville

Go there because... it's the birthplace of Country and Western music, pardner. Everywhere you turn in this city, music and history lurk. Visit one of the oldest presidential homes, swing by the Nashville Zoo and gorge yourself on Texan steaks. Then it's time to hit the local bars for a bit of toe-tapping and a rootin' tootin' good time...

New York

Go there because... it's a top city packed with history, tourist attractions, film and TV locations, Broadway, amazing baseball stadiums, famous shops, interesting people and the sort of food you only see fat cops order on the telly. The Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Empire State Building, Central Park; the list goes on and on...

New Orleans

Go there because... it's the home of jazz, man. Hurricane Katrina couldn't crush this city's spirit. Soak up the atmosphere as you stroll along the French Quarter listening to local musicians do their thing. Try a spot of Cajun dancing, waste a few dollars at the blackjack tables, learn how to make a traditional jambalaya and then there's the swamps to explore...

Orlando

Go there because... you like your meals super-size, your rides pant-browningly scary and your cartoon mice seven feet tall. Home to DisneyLand, the Epcot Center, Seaworld, the Kennedy Space Center, the Orlando Magic basketball team and a whole host of theme parks, Orlando has so many tourist attractions, it could be accused of being selfish.

San Antonio

Go there because... it's a unique hybrid of Texan and Mexican cultures. Top attractions include the Alamo, the most famous spot in Texas. Stroll down the Riverwalk for three miles-worth of shops, enjoy a breathtaking view of San Antonio from the Tower of the Americas observation deck and visit the many zoos, parks, saloons and ranches nearby.

San Diego

Go there because... it's a quintessential Southern California beach city with a twist of Central American culture. Nestled next to Mexico, San Diego is also home to the famous San Diego zoo. Plus it boasts a cracking coastline, a multitude of museums, swell surfing and the sun shines almost every day. A great city to visit for an introduction to Central American life.

San Francisco

Go there because... it's one of the most cosmopolitan places on Earth. Check out the awesome Golden Gate Bridge, do a tour of Alcatraz Island, look around the Asian Art Museum (one of the biggest and best of its kind), swing by Yosemite National Park for unmatched scenery and bears and see more than 800 sea lions on Pier 39.

Seattle

Go there because... the Emerald City has both beauty and brains. Climb 520 feet to the observation deck of the Space Needle, stroll along the stunning waterfront, see Pioneer Square, barter your heart out at Pike Place Market, visit Woodland Park zoo, take a ferry around the surrounding islands and tour the many museums that the city has to offer.

Washington

Go there because... this capital city is just bursting with history. Take a tour of the White House on Saturdays, visit the Lincoln and Vietnam Memorials, take a gander at the Pentagon, swing by Capitol Hill and take time out to see JFK's old house. You can even tour the FBI building whilst you're in town...

Attractions to Visit in the USA

Central Park, New York

Go there because... with over 25 million annual visitors, Central Park is the most visited city park in the entire United States. Although it looks natural, it's been carefully landscaped, and is a haven for migrating birds. Joggers and cyclists might want to make use of the 10km track circling the park - we suggest a 6am wake-up call if you want some elbow room.

Chinatown, San Francisco

Go there because... it's the largest and most vibrant Chinatown outside Asia. Whether you lie awake at night dreaming of fresh Dim Sum, or you've religiously followed every instruction you've ever received from a fortune cookie, the San Fran Chinatown will draw you into 150 years of history and culture. Architectural highlights include the Sing Chong building and the Bank of Canton.

The Crazy Horse Memorial, S. Dakota

Go there because... it's the world's largest sculpture, and has been in progress since 1948 - the job is now being finished with explosives. The memorial includes the Native American Cultural Center, and during the summer, Native American artists and craftsmen descend on the site to display their skills to the tourists. History, art and explosions - what more could you ask for?

Epcot, Orlando

Go there because... until 1998, it was the largest Disney theme park in the world, and you can't go to Florida without getting a snap of the golf-ball-shaped Spaceship Earth! Ride on Mission: SPACE, check out one of the largest indoor aquariums in the World or just sit back and admire the Star Trek architecture of Disney's 'community of the future'.

Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

Go there because... there's just so much to do! Ferry rides to Alcatraz, the Pier 39 shopping centre, Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not Museum, the Maritime Museum - the list goes on! Oh, and there's the Bushman, who makes a living from jumping out and scaring people. Seriously.

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Go there because... it was once the largest suspension bridge in the world, and it's still the international symbol of San Francisco. More people have taken photos of this bridge than of any other, so we think it's your utmost responsibility to make sure this doesn't change.

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Graceland, Memphis

Go there because... there's just nowhere else to go if you're a real Elvis fan - you can pay your respects to the King by visiting the Graceland museum on his estate. An estimated 40,000 people took part in the 2002 procession of the anniversary of his death. Expect the various Graceland tours to cost between $20 and $60. No hound-dogs allowed.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

Go there because... it's a truly breathtaking sight. Made up of brightly-coloured layers of rock and rich in wildlife, it's a 227 mile-long hole in the ground, which is up to a mile deep in places. In a word, awesome. Hiking down to the Colorado River, or just watching a sunrise from the rim, will leave you awestruck at the power of nature.

Film and TV Sets

Go there because... America is chock-a-block with sets, from the glamour of Hollywood to tours of New Jersey for the Sopranos fan club. Check out the Warner Brothers studios in California for many more, including a tour of good ol' Central Perk. Gunther not included.

Take a Hollywood Tour, LA

Go there because... there's no better way to stalk the stars and see the studios! Whether you're on a tour of Universal Studios or house-hunting your idols in Greater Los Angeles, there are so many World-famous sights to see here that it's almost impossible to list them all. So we won't.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Go there because... the star-studded paving of Hollywood Boulevard is an icon of the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown. Spend hours tracking down your favourite actors and taking pictures of their stars, or simply scuff your shoes on Adam Sandler's - 50 First Dates wasn't that bad, y'know.

The Las Vegas Strip

Go there because... it's one of the few roads in the World considered a tourist destination in its own right. The four miles of The Strip plays host to some of the largest (and gaudiest) hotels, casinos and resorts in the world. Will appeal to photographers, oil tycoons and compulsive gamblers.

The Vietnam and Lincoln Memorials, Washington D.C.

Go there because... they're two of the most potent reflections of American history, and are recognised globally. The 1982 Vietnam Memorial is a place of quiet reflection, visited by over three million people every year, while the Lincoln Memorial has been the site of more famous speeches than we can remember. Take a stand and proclaim: "I have a dream!"

The Loop, Chicago

Go there because... it's the historical centre of downtown Chicago, and is home to the Sears Tower, tallest building in the US (see below). Perfect for shoppers and anyone interested in the history of skyscrapers. And more shopping.

Miami Beach, Florida

Go there because... nothing can beat the sight of Art Deco South Beach at night, and during the day you've got all the sun, sea and sand you could ask for, and then some. Spend time sunbathing or sneak out celebrity-spotting - either way, with Miami you get fantastic days and an excellent nightlife - a win-win situation no matter what floats your boat!

Niagara Falls

Go there because... it's a bloody great waterfall and one of the natural wonders of the World. Gawp at it from afar or ride in under the Falls on the Maid of the Mist boat where you're sure of a soaking. An absolutely breathtaking spectacle that's not to be missed by anyone backpacking in the States.

The Rockies, Colorado

Go there because... in winter, the spine of the Rockies (the U.S. continental divide) offers some of the greatest skiing in the world. Even when the snow melts there's plenty to do - grab your hiking boots and your tent (possibly even a fishing rod) and head off for a magical hiking experience!

Mount Rushmore, S. Dakota

Go there because... there's nothing that says you've been to the US more than a photo of Mount Rushmore. The four carved presidents represent the first 150 of American history, and over two million tourists visit every year. While you're there, take a look round the Lincoln Borglum Museum or hike the Presidential Trail walking track.

San Diego Zoo, California

Go there because... you'll find over 4,000 animals of over 800 species in one of the largest zoos in the World, including a group of giant pandas - almost extinct outside mainland China! With the choice of a bus tour or a gondola ride, there's plenty to see in fully recreated natural habitats. Well worth a look!

Sears Tower, Illinois

Go there because... it's the tallest building in the United States, and is therefore a necessary entry on your itinerary. On the 103rd floor is the Skydeck: an observation platform 1353ft above the ground. On a windy day (common in Chicago!), you can feel the building sway!

Seaworld, Orlando

Go there because... it's one of the World's premier marine mammal parks, and showcases killer whales, sea lions and dolphins - although there are plenty more displays of other marine life. Add hydro-rollercoasters and a planned water park to the mix and you've got the perfect way to cool down in the Orlando afternoons!

The Sierra Nevada, LA

Go there because... they're one of the most inspirational sights in the western States. The Sierra stretch for 400 miles, and are packed with awesome landscapes. Glacier-carved canyons, Yosemite National Park (see below) and Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous US serve to make the Sierra a must-see if you're in California.

Statue of Liberty, New York

Go there because... it's impossible to visit NY and not see the sculpture of Liberty Enlightening the World - visit the museum on the second floor of the pedestal (9/11 forced the closure of the staircase to the Lady's crown).

Steam boat tours, Mississippi

Go there because... the Mississippi is World-famous for its steam boats, of which only six are now left. Whether you're a fan of Mark Twain or you just like the old-fashioned feel of a steamer, a day out on Ol' Man River might be just up your street. Or river.

Times Square, New York

Go there because... it's the only place in the US that the signs are known as 'spectaculars', and the only neighbourhood where the tenants are required to display them. A must-see if you like lights, glamour, and a tourist fix of great shops and restaurants. If you're there for New Year's, expect nearly a million revelers to show up. Par-tay!

The White House, Washington, D.C.

Go there because... how could you visit Washington DC and not the home of good ol' George Dubya? it's the symbol of American power and government worldwide, and public tours are available Tuesday through Saturday. Shouting "Bomb!" is not advised.

The Stratosphere, Nevada

Go there because... it's probably the most famous hotel/casino on the Vegas Strip, and has an observation deck, a revolving restaurant, and four of the tallest high-speed thrill rides in the World - definitely one to check out if you're heading for the Strip!

Yosemite National Park, California

Go there because... three million visitors a year can't be wrong. Eighty nine per cent of the park is dedicated to wilderness which means the chances of seeing some really cool plants and wildlife are pretty darn high. We're talking bears, coyotes, golden eagles, great grey owls and falcons here. You'll also see sequoia trees with 11 metre-wide trunks. Wild...