Three epic North American trips

By Chris Leadbeater

Photography by Feng Wei Photography/Getty Images

Skip to Navigation

March 2017

With awe-inspiring landscapes, exciting cities, and wide, open roads made for driving, the world’s third-largest continent delivers adventures of all kinds at every turn. Travel writer Chris Leadbeater picks three epic itineraries that you’ll want to add to your bucket list.

East coast city hopping

Best for... city-breakers with an intrepid spirit

Boston – New YorkPhiladelphiaWashington DC

The journey: 450 miles

One of the joys of America’s northeast is that it offers four of the country’s major cities in a close-knit cluster. This is a legacy of the way in which the fledgling USA developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. And it makes for an unforgettable road trip in the 21st century.

Begin in Boston. The Massachusetts capital was at the centre of the colonization of America in the 1620s. The Freedom Trail cuts a 2.5-mile path across the centre, connecting 16 prime sites, which played a prominent role in the breaking away from Britain in the 1770s and 1780s.

One of the joys of America’s northeast is that it offers four of the country’s major cities in a close-knit cluster

But there’s more to Boston than its yesterdays. In summer, visit Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. And the city revels in good food, whether it is the pizza and pasta joints of Little Italy, or top-notch fish restaurants such as Legal Sea Foods

Once you’ve had your fill, hire a car and hit the road in search of New York, which lies 215 miles southwest. You could spend a lifetime sampling its delights, from the cityscape visible from the roof of the Empire State Building to the gilded department stores of Fifth Avenue. Burnish your evenings by discovering the chic bars of Brooklyn – or the superb culinary scene that dominates West 46th Street in Hell’s Kitchen.

Philadelphia is an easy drive through New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. Priding itself as being the birthplace of American democracy, this underrated metropolis tells its tale in Independence National Historical Park, a cornucopia of the past where Independence Hall witnessed the debating of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The brilliant Museum of Art has works by Picasso and Dali, while Pat’s King of Steaks serves that meat-heavy sandwich and city signature – the Philly Cheesesteak.

  • Catch a baseball game at Boston’s Fenway Park © Alamy

    Home run

    The seats in Fenway Park stadium are all green, apart for one solitary red seat in the right field bleachers. According to the Baseball Almanac, seat 21 in section 42, row 37 marks where the longest home run ever hit in the stadium – by Boston Red Sox’s Ted Williams in 1946 – fell.

    Search flights to Boston
  • Head to lofty heights at the top of New York’s Empire State Building © Maico Presente/Getty Images

    An Empire state of mind

    Every year on Valentine’s Day, couples who marry on the 80th floor become members of the Empire State Building Wedding Club. They receive free admission to the observatory each year on 14 February (their anniversary) thereafter.

    Book tickets
  • Washington’s Lincoln Memorial honours the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln © Trevor Carpenter/Getty Images

    Did you know…?

    Though efforts to create a tribute to Abraham Lincoln began immediately after his assassination in 1865, it took more than 50 years to get the memorial built and open to the public. Due to delays in the project’s planning and construction, as well as World War I, the memorial didn’t open until 1922.

    Fly to Washington DC

From here, Washington DC is 140 miles southwest. Little needs to be said by way of introduction to the American capital. But if the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial are celebrated slabs of political tribute, and the Smithsonian Institution is arguably the planet’s greatest clutch of museums in one place (notably the National Air and Space Museum), then DC also has its “secrets”. U Street is a rich mixture of African-American heritage and stylish bars, while 14th Street NW has some of the city's most alluring restaurants – including Lupo Verde and its menu of delicious Southern Italian fare.

Where to stay

Each of these four fantastic cities is alive with exciting accommodation options. Boston has the Omni Parker House, a five-star pile which has been an upmarket presence in the Massachusetts capital since 1855. New York displays its hip side at the four-star McCarren Hotel, which is nestled in Brooklyn’s trendy Williamsburg. The Loews Philadelphia revels in Art Deco flourishes and black-granite floors to such an extent that it is listed as a National Historic Landmark. And the Washington Hilton is perfectly positioned for a break in the capital – located close to the central Dupont Circle.

When to go

May, when New York and Boston have both shaken off their winter chills, and Washington DC is yet to embrace the mugginess which can grasp it in high summer.

The best of the west (and beyond)

Best for fans of the American landscape

Los AngelesHonoluluPhoenix

The journey: 5,700 miles (mostly by air

Los Angeles is a city, which could easily snare your attention for an entire holiday. Always set in sunshine, it promises splendid slices of seafront galore, not least Santa Monica Beach. Throw in A-list notes of culture such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the razzle-dazzle mixture of theme park thrills and cinematic folklore that is Universal Studios Hollywood – plus the eateries of resurgent Downtown – and you have an urban adventure playground.

  • Paradise found: Hawaii’s Oahu © Robert Cravens/Getty Images

    Fit for a king

    Hawaii is the only US state that still honours a monarch. Locals celebrate King Kamehameha Day on 11 June to celebrate the man who united the Hawaiian islands in 1810 and became the archipelago’s first leader.

    Discover Hawaii

But if the beaches of LA are photogenic, spare a thought for the powdery crescents that decorate the edges of Hawaii. Spare five hours too, and you can glimpse them yourself. British Airways’ oneworld partner American Airlines flies direct from LAX to Honolulu, the glittering Hawaii state capital, on the south coast of the island of Oahu. Here, you can doze on the shore where the famous Waikiki Beach is kissed by the blue Pacific, or take in the sombre history of Pearl Harbor and the sunken memorial of the USS Arizona in World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Or you can hike up the flanks of Diamond Head State Monument, the volcanic monster that frames the city.

You could, of course, retrace your jetstream trail to Los Angeles. But American Airlines also flies from Oahu to Phoenix. Like Philadelphia, the capital of Arizona is a little underappreciated – Phoenix Art Museum is a treasure trove of visual creativity, boasting works by Georgia O’Keeffe. Better still, the city is also a gateway to Grand Canyon National Park, the greatest geological scar in the soil of the American West.

Where to stay

Enticing accommodation is as much a part of this journey as the places you may encounter. The Andaz West Hollywood delivers a dose of unbridled luxury (and a heated rooftop pool) to Los Angeles’ most coveted area. As its name hints, the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resortheads straight for the sand in Honolulu. And the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa proffers four-star relaxation near to Phoenix in Scottsdale.

When to go

April. LA and Oahu are always sunny, the Grand Canyon is a joy in spring.

Canada’s mighty National Parks

Best for… road-trippers who want something different

Calgary – Banff – Jasper

The journey: 468 miles

Toronto is a loud bubble of big-city buzz, and Vancouver a sophisticated sliver on the lip of the Pacific. But there is much to be said for a Canadian road trip, which charts the mountainous westerly province of Alberta. Here, Calgary is an obvious start-point. The cosmopolitan enclave soothes its soul to the classical music of its Philharmonic Orchestra, and obeys its stomach at fine restaurants such as carnivore heaven Charcut. It’s also worth climbing to the top of the Calgary Tower for sky-high vistas.

Add a hire car to your booking and venture west. Almost as soon as the city vanishes in your mirrors, the Rockies appear in the windscreen. You could pause to take in the raw beauty and forested slopes of Kananaskis Country. Or you can forge on into the maw of Banff National Park whatever the season – it’s renowned for its ski runs in winter, while in summer, it’s a wonderland for hiking.

Continue northwest along the Icefields Parkway, which passes the enormous Athabasca Glacier. It also clips through the town of Lake Louise, where the water feature of the same name is a turquoise jewel. Finally, the road drops you into Jasper, another feted ski destination, where you can pass autumn nights star-gazing under the clear skies of Jasper National Park.

  • The Grand Canyon at sunset © SumikoPhoto/Getty Images

    Did you know…?

    The temperature in the canyon can vary greatly depending on the time of year and location. In the winter months, the North Rim can drop to -23˚C, while the inner canyon can reach 47˚C in the height of summer. At any given time of year, the North Rim will be 1-2˚C cooler than the South Rim.

    Book a tour
  • The vertiginous view from Calgary Tower © frankreporter/Getty Images

    Don’t look down

    As well as providing 360-degree views of the city and the Rocky Mountains from its 191m observation deck, there is also a section of glass floor off the deck that allows visitors to stand over 9th Avenue SW and Centre Street North.

    Book tickets
  • Philadelphia’s historic Independence Hall © Travelif/Getty Images

    Independence Day

    Though the Fourth of July marks Independence Day in America, most of the delegates didn’t actually sign the Declaration of Independence until August 1776. However 4 July 1776 marks the date that Congress officially adopted the Declaration.

    Discover Philadelphia

Where to stay

The Fairmont Palliser is a four-star slice of tradition and atmosphere at the very core of Calgary, while its sibling retreat the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise supplies a dash of country-house majesty and Gallic refinement to Banff National Park.

When to go

February to catch the best of the ski season, June to take to the hiking trails.