Tourism in the United States is a large industry that serves millions of international and domestic tourists yearly. Tourists visit the US to see natural wonders, cities, historic landmarks, and entertainment venues. Americans seek similar attractions, as well as recreation and vacation areas.
Tourism in the United States grew rapidly in the form of urban tourism during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By the 1850s, tourism in the United States was well established both as a cultural activity and as an industry. New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, all major US cities, attracted a large number of tourists by the 1890s. By 1915, city touring had marked significant shifts in the way Americans perceived, organized, and moved.
Every day, 10,000 people enter New York’s Grand Central Terminal—with no intention of catching a train. They come to slurp bivalves at the Oyster Bar or cocktails at the Campbell Apartment. They gawk at the ceiling embellished with gold constellations, browse shops, and take tours. It’s enough to make the landmark one of America’s top five most-visited attractions.
Location, of course, plays a role, and many of the most popular attractions are found in major cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. Size, too, matters. While the National September 11 Memorial had an impressive 4.5 million visitors during its first year (it opened on Sept. 12, 2011), it was dwarfed by Central Park with 100 times the area.
Yet for every traveler drawn to the big city, there are others who embrace the great outdoors. With its accessibility and size, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a natural choice for millions—more than 9 million to be precise, making it the No. 16 most-visited attraction in the nation.
Like it or not, the white-tailed deer, black bears, and brilliant foliage of the Great Smokies can’t quite compete with the popularity of Disney among Americans and international visitors; five theme parks made it into the top 20. To determine these rankings, we gathered the most recent data supplied by the attractions themselves or from government agencies, industry reports, and reputable media outlets.