19 of North America’s Oldest Towns That All History Lovers Must Visit

A visit to these historic towns in North America offers an unparalleled journey through time. This list of towns and former towns, with their well-preserved architecture, significant landmarks, and vibrant cultural heritage, provide a unique window into the lives and events that shaped modern North America.

1600s

19. Charleston, South Carolina (1670)

Charleston, South Carolina, founded in 1670, boasts a captivating history deeply intertwined with the American Revolution and Civil War, showcased in its beautifully preserved antebellum architecture and iconic historic sites like Fort Sumter. A must-visit gem in Charleston is the  Battery and White Point Garden, where you’ll be enchanted by stunning harbour views and elegant mansions, all while stepping back in time. For an unforgettable stay, choose the John Rutledge House, dating back to 1763. Once the residence of John Rutledge, a Governor of South Carolina and a Founding Father, this historic home offers a unique blend of luxury and heritage.

Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
18. New Castle, Delaware (1651)

Discover the enchanting charm of New Castle, Delaware, a hidden gem steeped in colonial history dating back to its founding by the Dutch in 1651. Immerse yourself in the allure of the New Castle Historic District, where time stands still amidst exquisitely preserved 18th-century homes, lush gardens, and captivating museums. Explore the echoes of the past and embark on a journey through the town’s captivating history, making unforgettable memories along the way.

17. Saint Mary’s City, Maryland (1634)
Embark on a journey back in time to Saint Mary’s City, the birthplace off Maryland, established in 1634. Delve into the heart of history at the Historic St. Mary’s City museum complex, where the past comes alive through meticulously reconstructed colonial buildings, immersive exhibits, and captivating living history demonstrations. Experience the thrill of stepping into Maryland’s early days firsthand, as you uncover the secrets and stories of this storied settlement.
16. Williamsburg, Virginia (1632)
Nestled in the heart of Williamsburg, Virginia, stands as a timeless testament to America’s rich heritage, tracing its roots back to its founding in 1632. Revered as the capital of the Colony of Virginia, Williamsburg holds a storied place in the annals of history. For an immersive journey into the past, Colonial Williamsburg beckons, a living-history museum that transcends time, offering visitors a remarkable glimpse into the daily life of the 18th century. Step back into a bygone era, where cobblestone streets echo with the footsteps of Founding Fathers and bustling tradesmen, and experience firsthand the spirit and resilience of early American settlers.
Williamsburg, Virginia horses
Williamsburg, Virginia
15. Saint John’s, Newfoundland (1630s)
Steeped in centuries of maritime tradition, Saint John’s, Newfoundland, stands as a resilient testament to the enduring spirit of coastal life. With its roots tracing back to a fishing outpost established in 1497, the city’s permanent settlement in the 1630s marked the dawn of a new era in its storied history. Amidst its rugged coastline and colorful streets, Saint John’s boasts an array of treasures waiting to be discovered. Among them, Signal Hill National Historic Site reigns supreme, not only offering breathtaking panoramic views of the city but also serving as a poignant reminder of its pivotal role in maritime communications and military history. Ascend to its lofty heights and immerse yourself in the echoes of the past, where every vista tells a tale of resilience, exploration, and the enduring bond between land and sea.
14. Albany, New York (1624)
Albany, New York, traces its roots back to 1624 when Dutch colonists established Fort Orange, marking the inception of a city steeped in history. As one of the oldest continuously chartered cities in the United States, Albany has played a pivotal role in shaping colonial and Revolutionary War-era America. Amidst its storied streets, the New York State Museum stands as a beacon of knowledge and discovery, delving into Albany’s rich 400-year history. Dive into the depths of the past and uncover the fascinating tales that have woven the fabric of this remarkable city.
13. Portsmouth, New Hampshire (1623)
Snug along the New Hampshire coastline, Portsmouth beckons with its timeless allure, tracing its origins back to 1623 as one of America’s enduring settlements. Immerse yourself in the captivating narrative of its maritime legacy, where the ebb and flow of history are etched into its very streets. At the heart of Portsmouth’s charm lies the Strawbery Banke Museum, a living testament to centuries past, where restored homes and exhibits offer a window into the soul of New England life across four remarkable centuries. And for an unforgettable stay steeped in history, the Three Chimneys Inn awaits in nearby Durham, its roots dating back to 1649, beckoning travellers with the promise of a cozy retreat infused with the echoes of centuries gone by.
12. Plymouth, Massachusetts (1620)
Plymouth, Massachusetts, stands as a hallowed ground of American history, where the Pilgrims’ storied landing in 1620 ignited the flame of European colonization in New England. Delve into the essence of early colonial life at the esteemed Plimoth Patuxet Musems, where the past comes alive in vivid detail, inviting visitors to step back into the tapestry of 17th-century America. And for a truly immersive experience, retreat to the timeless charm of the Red Lion Inn, a beacon of hospitality since its founding in 1704, nestled in the quaint embrace of Cohasset Village. Let history be your guide as you embark on an unforgettable journey through time in this storied corner of the world.
11. Saint George’s, Bermuda (1612)

Located on the picturesque shores of Bermuda Saint George’s beckons with its timeless allure, tracing its origins back to its founding in 1612. Revered for its pristine colonial architecture and distinguished status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this historic town stands as a living testament to centuries past. Immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Saint George’s at the esteemed Globe Museum, an architectural gem erected in 1699 under the patronage of Governor Samuel Day. Serving as one of Bermuda’s foremost cultural institutions, this treasure trove of history is lovingly preserved by the National Trust, inviting visitors to embark on a captivating journey through the island’s storied past.

10. Sante Fe, New Mexico (1610)

In the heart of the enchanting Southwest, Santa Fe, New Mexico, stands as a beacon of history and culture, boasting a legacy that spans centuries. Established in 1610, it proudly holds the title of the oldest state capital in the United States, bearing witness to the intricate tapestry of Spanish, Mexican, and American influences that have shaped its vibrant identity. At the heart of this storied city lies the iconic Santa Fe Plaza, a bustling hub of activity steeped in centuries of tradition. Here, amidst the charming adobe buildings and vibrant marketplace, visitors can immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of the region’s heritage. Surrounded by an array of museums and galleries, the Plaza serves as a gateway to exploration, offering a tantalizing glimpse into the diverse cultural mosaic that defines Santa Fe. And standing as a sentinel of the past is the historic Palace of the Governors, a revered landmark dating back to 1610, where echoes of history reverberate through its venerable halls, inviting visitors to embark on a journey through time.

Sante Fe, New Mexico
Sante Fe, New Mexico
9. Quebec City, Quebec (1608)
 Quebec City, established in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, stands as one of North America’s earliest European settlements. As the capital of New France, it played a pivotal role in both French and British colonial history. A must-see destination is Old Quebec, a UNESCO World Heritage site celebrated for its impeccably preserved historic architecture and charming cobblestone streets. For an unforgettable stay, consider the Auberge Place D’Armes, which blends elements from the early 1600s with modern amenities, offering a unique and eclectic experience.
Quebec City, Canada
Quebec City, Quebec
8. Jamestown, Virginia (1607)

Jamestown, Virginia, established in 1607, holds the distinction of being the first permanent English settlement in North America. This historic site played a crucial role in the formative years of what would become the United States, serving as a cornerstone for early colonial development and interaction with Native American tribes. One of the premier attractions is Historic Jamestowne, where visitors can delve into the rich history of the original settlement. Here, you can explore the archaeological remains of the original fort, view fascinating exhibits showcasing artifacts from the period, and wander through a meticulously recreated fort that vividly brings the early 17th-century settlement to life. This immersive experience offers a unique window into the struggles and triumphs of the early colonists, making it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts.

7. Phippsburg, Maine (1607)

Phippsburg, Maine is renowned as the location of the historic Popham Colony, the first English settlement in New England, albeit short-lived. Established in 1607, the colony endured for just over a year before being abandoned. Resettlement of the area did not commence until 1679, marking a new chapter in its history. The site was later redeveloped into a Civil War fort and now stands as the Fort Popham State Historic Site, a place rich with historical significance and stunning coastal views. Just a short distance away, visitors can find the charming Squire Tarbox Inn, which dates back to 1763. This beautifully restored 18th-century farmhouse offers a unique and cozy stay, allowing guests to experience the historical ambiance of the region while enjoying modern comforts.

6. Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia (1605)
 Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, founded in 1605 as Port Royal, is one of North America’s oldest European settlements and served as the capital of Acadia and Nova Scotia for over a century. Two must-visit sites in this historic town are the Fort Anne National Historic Site, Canada’s oldest National Historic Site, and the Habitation at Port Royal National Historic Site. These attractions provide a fascinating glimpse into the region’s colonial past. For a memorable stay, consider the Bailey House Inn, a charming establishment dating back to 1770, located on the harbour of Annapolis Royal. This inn offers an excellent base for exploring the rich history of the former capital of Acadia and Nova Scotia.

1500s

5. Roanoke Island, North Carolina (1587)
Roanoke Island, North Carolina, is renowned as the location of the first English settlement in America, established in 1587, which vanished under mysterious circumstances. Since 1937, the island has hosted “The Lost Colony,” an outdoor pageant dramatizing this enigmatic chapter of history. A visit to the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is a must, providing valuable insights into this captivating historical event and the area’s rich colonial heritage.
4. Saint Augustine, Florida (1565)

Saint Augustine, Florida, established in 1565 by Spanish explorers, holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the continental United States. The city is celebrated for its well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture and historic landmarks, notably the iconic Castillo de San Marcos. For a truly historic stay, consider the Casa de Solana, built around 1763, which stands as Saint Augustine’s most storied accommodation.

Pre-1500s

3. Gilla Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico (1200s AD)
The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument  in New Mexico safeguards the remarkable homes of the Mogollon people, constructed in the late 13th century. Nestled within the rugged beauty of the Gila Wilderness, these dwellings provide a fascinating window into the daily lives and culture of an ancient community that once flourished in this remote region. Visitors to the monument can explore the well-preserved structures and gain insights into the architectural ingenuity, social organization, and survival strategies of the Mogollon people, offering a profound connection to the rich history of the American Southwest.
2. L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland (1000 AD)
L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland is a site of immense historical significance, where Norse explorers established a settlement around 1000 AD, representing the first known European presence in North America. This UNESCO World Heritage site offers a unique glimpse into early Viking expeditions to the New World. The premier destination here is the L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, where visitors can explore meticulously reconstructed Norse buildings, including sod houses and a communal hall. Additionally, the site features well-preserved archaeological remains that provide deeper insights into the daily life and activities of the Norse settlers. Interactive exhibits and knowledgeable guides enrich the experience, offering a comprehensive understanding of this remarkable chapter in history and the broader context of Viking exploration.

 

1. Mesa Verde, Colorado (600 AD)
 Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is dedicated to preserving the extraordinary cliff dwellings and archaeological sites of the Ancestral Puebloans, who inhabited the region from roughly 600 to 1300 AD before mysteriously abandoning it. Among the park’s many wonders, Cliff Palace stands out as the largest and most renowned cliff dwelling. This impressive structure showcases intricate stone masonry and offers profound insights into the daily lives, architectural ingenuity, and social organization of its ancient inhabitants. Visitors to Cliff Palace can marvel at the craftsmanship and explore the cultural legacy left behind by the Ancestral Puebloans, making it a must-see destination within the park. Additionally, guided tours and interpretive programs enrich the experience, providing a deeper understanding of the historical significance and the mysteries that still surround this remarkable civilization.
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde, Colorado
Mesa Verde, Colorado
 

While only a select few of these historic towns may be widely recognized by the general public, North America boasts a wealth of diverse civic history waiting to be uncovered and explored. From the cobblestone streets of New England’s colonial settlements to the sun-drenched plazas of the Southwest’s Spanish missions, each town holds a unique tale of triumphs, challenges, and cultural heritage. Why not seize the opportunity to embark on a journey of discovery today?

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