Everyone knows that the United States is a magnificent travel destination. Millions of foreign tourists head there each year while many Americans just travel around their own country. From majestic mountains to vast forests, from the driest deserts to the most beautiful beaches, and from colonial coastal towns to modern metropolises, the United States has everything you could possibly be looking for in a destination. The United States is also home to a significant number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which can range from buildings to forests and caves. In this post, we’ll cover the ultimate Eastern America World Heritage road trip.
This Eastern America World Heritage road trip will take you from New York City all the way south to Florida’s Everglades for a grand total of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The journey runs through more than ten U.S. states. However, half of them are merely passing-through states. Nevertheless, this road trip will give you a superb insight in life in Eastern America, from the business-centered North Atlantic to the warm and friendly South, from enormous cities to charming historic towns, from forest-covered hills to coastal wetlands.
The Ultimate Eastern America World Heritage Road Trip
Start: New York City, NY (3 days)
New York City is the absolute perfect starting point for this epic Eastern America World Heritage road trip. One of the world’s most iconic cities, the Big Apple is chock-full with highlights. If you’ve never been there, make sure to visit Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, One World Trade Center and the other star attractions. If this is your second (or maybe even third) visit, focus on the less-known attractions.
The reason you’re here, however, is the Statue of Liberty. Officially known as “Liberty Enlightening the World”, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is arguably the most famous symbol of Western civilization in the entire world, defining the very spirit of the United States. Start your Eastern America World Heritage road trip in New York City and with a visit to the imposing Statue of Liberty.
I would suggest spending three days in New York City. There’s always something going on and something new to discover in this bustling city. You’re there anyway, so it would be a shame to not take the time to enjoy it.
Drive: New York City – Philadelphia (100 miles – 2-3 hours)
After soaking up the NYC vibe for three days and admiring the Statue of Liberty, jump in your rental car and head south to Philadelphia. This 100-mile drive takes about 2 hours, if traffic isn’t too bad. Count on 3 hours, just in case.
If you leave New York City in the morning, you should be in Philly by noon. This gives you plenty of time to explore the next UNESCO World Heritage Site on your Eastern America World Heritage road trip.
Stop 1: Philadelphia, PA (1 day)
The original capital of the United States, Philadelphia is one of the world’s most historically significant cities. It was in the Pennsylvania State House that the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitution of the United States were drafted and signed. That happened respectively in 1776 and 1787. The principles laid out in those documents were groundbreaking at the time and have influenced law-makers and revolutionaries alike ever since. The Pennsylvania State House is essentially were modern democracy, the power of the people, was invented.
This massively important building is now known as Independence Hall. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 for the enormous impact it has had on humanity.
A tour of Independence Hall takes less than an hour and includes the Assembly Room and the Supreme Court Room. This leaves you with plenty of time to explore Independence National Historic Park, a National Park Service site in downtown Philadelphia that includes Independence Hall and the building that houses the Liberty Bell. The entire site, including Independence Hall, is free to visit.
Spending one afternoon in Philadelphia is plenty of time to visit and tour Independence Hall and see the Liberty Bell.
Drive: Philadelphia – Charlottesville (255 miles – 4.5 hours)
You can opt to spend the night in or around Philly and drive down to Charlottesville the next morning or leave in the evening. It doesn’t really matter. The drive takes about 4.5 hours.
Stop 2: Charlottesville, VA (2 days)
Whether you arrive in Charlottesville late in the evening or around noon the next day won’t affect your itinerary. A day and a half is enough to visit Monticello and the University of Virginia, the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in this charming small university town in central Virginia.
Charlottesville used to be the home of no fewer than three U.S. Presidents—Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. Jefferson is, of course, the most famous of the three. It’s his former home that was declared UNESCO World Heritage. Additionally, Jefferson also founded and designed the University of Virginia, which is the other half of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I recommend touring the University of Virginia on your first day in Charlottesville and visiting Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello the following day. You’ll probably have some time left on that second day, so consider visiting one of local wineries or craft breweries. Going for a stroll on the historic Downtown Mall is a wonderful evening activity.
Drive: Charlottesville – Great Smoky Mountains National Park (493 miles – 3 days)
Although the drive from Charlottesville to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not that long, relatively speaking, I strongly recommend setting aside three days to do this. While you can travel between these two destinations on the interstate, there’s a much more scenic option.
Almost the entire distance between Charlottesville and Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be covered on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This world-class mountain road connects Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, running along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This road is simply too great to skip.
Set aside three days for this, on the way enjoying a hike or two, historic homesteads, breathtaking views and Appalachian mountain music. This is also a great way to keep your Eastern America UNESCO World Heritage road trip relaxed and unrushed. By now, you’ve already taken in three sites and three cities in merely a week, so it’s time to slow down and enjoy one of America’s finest landscapes.
Stop 3: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC and TN (3 days)
Great Smoky Mountains is one of several national parks in the United States that are UNESCO World Heritage. The majority of them are in the West; the only other one in the East is Everglades National Park (see below). The reason this particular park is World Heritage is its immense biodiversity. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has almost as many tree species as all of Europe combined! There are also a bunch of endangered animals living there, including arguably the world’s biggest variety of salamanders.
This region is relatively unspoiled, which gives visitors the unique chance to see what temperate forests were like before humans arrived. Its biological importance is impossible to overstate.
You have now covered all urban World Heritage Sites on your Eastern America World Heritage road trip. From here on out, you will find yourself amid spectacular nature. The recommended time to spend in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is three days. There’s plenty to do there, from visiting historic homes to seeing waterfalls and hiking to mountain summits. It’s a diverse park in many ways, so don’t stick to one aspect of it. My advice is to make sure to do a little bit of everything.
Drive: Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Everglades National Park (831 miles – 2 days)
The drive from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Everglades National Park is the longest section of this entire Eastern America World Heritage road trip. More than 800 miles, this section will have to be split up in two days to keep things easy-going and unhurried.
There are a couple of interesting stops on the way, though. Consider spending the night in extraordinary historic coastal cities such as Charleston, South Carolina or Savannah, Georgia.
Finish: Everglades National Park, FL (2 days)
The Everglades is one of the most well-known natural areas in the United States. Moreover, it’s also one of the most expansive subtropical wilderness reserves in all of North America. Located at the border between temperate and subtropical climates, at the meeting point of salt- and freshwater, Everglades National Park is a unique biotope in the world. The park protects North America’s largest mangrove ecosystem and most important wading birds’ breeding grounds.
Two days in Everglades National Park is a minimum. You can spend them in a variety of ways, ranging from alligators tours to fishing, bird watching and hiking.
This is the end of your Eastern America World Heritage road trip. Take the time to relax before heading back home!
This memorable Eastern America World Heritage Site road trip takes about three full weeks to complete. Of course, you can customize it to your preferences and wishes. With some tweaking and longer drives, it’s possible to do it in two weeks. However, that would be rushing it! If you can, do allow for three weeks.