If you don’t have any plans for Thanksgiving or aren’t motivated to throw together a big Thanksgiving dinner, you can travel instead. Exploring our country’s historic destinations can be a great way to spend Thanksgiving this year.
Thanksgiving is one of our nation’s oldest traditions. English colonists celebrated the first Thanksgiving day on December 4th, 1619, to give thanks for their successful crossing of the Atlantic.
The more famous event that gave birth to many of our current Thanksgiving traditions was celebrated by English colonists and local Wampanoag in 1621 when the Wampanoag gave the colonists sufficient food to survive the winter.
Today, while the holiday might focus on spending time with loved ones and eating, the Thanksgiving long weekend can also be a time to visit some of the locations where our nation began. You can visit the site of the first colonies, our first capital, or the cities that have defined the Thanksgiving holiday for generations.
Explore some of these destinations at this beautiful time of year and learn more about our country’s rich history.
1. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Colonial Williamsburg is the largest outdoor museum in the United States. A trip to Colonial Williamsburg is a trip back in time and an immersive experience of 18th-century life. With more than 40 authentic and carefully recreated sites, two museums, and hundreds of reenactors in period-correct clothes, you can get a taste of what life was like in colonial America.
The site is a recreation of colonial Williamsburg, founded in 1699 as part of the Middle Plantation of Virginia. The city served as the capital of the Virginia colony for 81 years from the end of the 17th century until Thomas Jefferson moved it to Richmond during the Revolutionary War. In the 1920s, the site was rebuilt to celebrate our nation’s history and honor our Founding Fathers and Mothers.
The site contains buildings from the period that can educate you about how people lived in the early 18th century. They have everything from blacksmiths, weavers, and other artisans who demonstrate how products were made to educational sites that discuss the religion of enslaved African Americans living in the colony.
Colonial Williamsburg also has several Taverns including the King’s Arms Tavern to show where citizens once met to discuss the issues of their day. Try their traditional Thanksgiving feast and dine and drink like our Founding Fathers on braised lamb, game pye, and smoked golden yard bird.
Visiting Colonial Williamsburg over the Thanksgiving holiday can help you connect with our nation’s history and better understand what life was like when the tradition of Thanksgiving began.
2. Plymouth, Massachusetts
The site of Plymouth rock and the Mayflower, Plymouth, Massachusetts landing spot is deeply tied to our nation’s history and the tradition of Thanksgiving. This town, around 45 minutes south of Boston, is a well-preserved look into America’s past.
In 1620 the tired, hungry passengers of the Mayflower made landfall on the coast of Massachusetts in a location they named Plymouth. Only one year later, they celebrated a harvest festival that gave birth to our tradition of Thanksgiving.
Many locals are direct descendants of the Mayflower colonists, and they consider their town to be Thanksgiving’s hometown. They claim the holiday as their own and are proud of their contribution to our nation’s history.
Thanksgiving is one of the best times of the year to visit Plymouth. The summer crowds have left this small town, but the rich, beautiful Fall foliage New England is famous for is still on the trees. You can visit Plymouth Rock, where the colonists first landed, or you can go aboard the Mayflower II, a near perfect replica of the ship that carried the colonists across the Atlantic.
Be sure to visit the Plimoth Patuxet, a recreation of a colonial farm from 1627, and a local Wampanoag village to get a taste of what the first Thanksgiving might have been like.
Or try the Tavern on the Wharf for a Thanksgiving feast that includes New England classics like fresh lobster, clam chowder, and Thanksgiving classics like Turkey and cranberries. You can even arrange to have your Thanksgiving feast delivered.
3. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Home to our nation’s oldest Thanksgiving Day parade and home to the Liberty bell, our nation’s first Capital is a great place to spend the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Philadelphia is packed full of fun things to visit, including Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted and signed.
You can also visit the Liberty Bell Center and Congress Hall, where our Congress met for the first time.
Thanksgiving time is one of the best times of the year to visit Philadelphia. Beyond the parade on Thanksgiving, you can visit the Wintergarden on the Greenfield Lawn, where you can enjoy beautiful holiday lights and Instagramable decorations, or visit the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market, where you can sample some local treats from one of the 40 vendors.
Drop by Fork in the Old City for traditional dishes or local favorites like Pennsylvania trout in brown butter for a great Thanksgiving meal.
Philadelphia is served by a major international airport and Amtrak’s North East Corridor, making it easily accessible for tourists from around the country. You can get around the city using its excellent public transportation system to enjoy the sights without worrying about where to park. Just be sure to drop a penny on Ben Franklin’s grave before you leave for good luck.
4. Boston, Massachusetts
Fall is one of the most beautiful times to visit the North East, and historic Boston is an enjoyable location to spend a Thanksgiving getaway. This historic city is full of world class museums and historic sites, but with the largest population of college students in the country and a reputation for hard partying, it can be a great nightlife and dining destination as well.
Book a Thanksgiving lunchtime cruise if you’d like to have all the traditional foods you crave on Thanksgiving, and check out some of Boston’s best sites. This boat ride will take you around the harbor and up the Charles River, where you will see the skyline of downtown Boston, the U.S.S. Constitution, and the Old North Church, where Paul Revere began his famous ride.
For a taste of gorgeous fall foliage, check out the Arnold Arboretum for a relaxing stroll with all the colors that make this time of the year special in the North East. Or, if you want a taste of Boston’s obsessive sports culture, catch a Bruins game at the TD Garden the day after Thanksgiving or drop into any sports bar and cheer on the legendary Boston Celtics when they play the same day.
5. Washington D.C.
Our nation’s capital is a great place to spend Thanksgiving weekend. With 17 free Smithsonian museums and many national monuments, Washington has plenty of tourist activities. Visit buildings like the White House or the Capitol, or stop by the National Archives and the Library of Congress to see some of the most important documents in our history.
For a Thanksgiving treat, visit the Kennedy Center Opera for one of their showings of The Nutcracker, or go to the Hamilton Theater for Funksgiving, a show that celebrates DC’s funk music heritage, or go to a performance of A Charlie Brown Christmas.
If you want a fun twist on a traditional Thanksgiving meal, drop by Glo Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant for a sample of some of DC’s famous Ethiopian cuisine. Sample traditional dishes, all served on a large piece of savory unleavened bread.
If you want to burn off some of the calories you ate over the holiday, sign up for one of the many Turkeytrots around the Washington area. Don’t let the cold weather deter you. Run off your meal and the extra servings of pumpkin pie while enjoying some of the city’s beautiful neighborhoods, including historic Arlington and Alexandria.
6. New York City, New York
The Big Apple is home to the world-famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and much more. The turkey day parade itself is not to be missed. It starts at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving day and winds 2.5 miles around the city, beginning at the intersection of West 77th Street and Central Park West and finishing at the Macy’s store in Herald Square. Beyond floats, the parade has celebrities, Broadway performances, ballet, and marching bands.
After the parade, check out some of New York’s best fall attractions, like ice skating at Central Park, Rockefeller Center, or take in sweeping views of the Hudson River while on ice skates at The Sky Rink at Chelsea Pier.
Another great New York tradition around this time of year is all the Holiday displays at the department stores. From Macy’s to Bloomingdale’s to Saks Fifth Avenue, these elaborate displays will dazzle and wow you, even if the prices inside the store are not Black Friday deals.
When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, New York has almost too many good restaurants. Go to Amy Ruth’s for a delicious soul food Thanksgiving with side dishes like chicken and waffles, collard greens, and warm, soft cornbread. Or head to Buckley’s in Brooklyn for a meal with delicious turkey, roast beef, and all the fixings.
New York is our nation’s largest city, is packed full of activities, and has some of the best restaurants for your Thanksgiving feast. Check it out this Thanksgiving for an experience you’ll never forget.
Travel for Thanksgiving This Year
Thanksgiving is one of the best times of the year to travel. Although flights might be crowded in the days leading up to the holiday, many famous locations will be much less crowded, giving you a great opportunity to enjoy some places that are usually packed. Best of all, it saves you the hassle of throwing a big meal together or entertaining many guests.
No matter where you decide to travel, whether it’s to 15 cheap places to travel on a budget or if you want to splurge for a night in one of the 10 best hotels in the world, check out Tips-Travel before you make any plans.
We are your go-to guide to getting the most out of your vacation and seeing the world no matter how you travel or the size of your budget. Explore our website and pick your dream vacation today.