The Best American Cities From A Tourism Perspective, According To Rick Steves

As a travel guru, Rick Steves has built much of his media empire around the idea of visiting Europe, though he hails from Edmonds, Washington. His website introduces him as "America's most respected authority on European travel," and for 11 seasons, he hosted the longest-running travel show on public television, "Rick Steves' Europe." Its 12th season landed on YouTube, where you can also see full episodes from previous seasons. For some U.S. viewers, however, those episodes may act more as vicarious vacations to Old World destinations that they can't afford to visit anytime soon.

This raises the question of where else a stateside Steves fan might go. Given his emphasis on broadening one's horizons, Steves would probably advise exploring somewhere new, even if you're just enjoying the budget-friendly travel trend of a "nearcation." With his folksy voice, disarming manner, and PBS pedigree, he's been likened to a slightly edgier version of Mr. Rogers, who's not afraid to ditch his neighborhood for some of the world's great cities.

In a November 2023 interview with Johnny Jet, Steves named four places as his favorite American city "from a tourism point of view": New Orleans, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. Each of these cities has made an appearance in magazine profiles on Steves or his own firsthand travel accounts. Even in the case of his least favorite American city (more on that later), there's still something to be learned from Steves' perspective on it and what there is to see beyond it.

New Orleans

On his travel blog in 2012, Rick Steves wrote, "I think I had more fun in New Orleans than any city I've visited in the USA. While full of tourists, it's also bursting with culture and a contagious love of life that seems to thrive oblivious to its many visitors."

New Orleans is a place where you can legally drink alcohol from a "go-cup" while strolling down Bourbon Street and ducking into live music venues without a cover charge. It was Steves' first time visiting, and he and his daughter took in sights like the French Market (home of the famous beignet joint, Cafe du Monde) and Jackson Square, where the central landmark of St. Louis Cathedral stands. Built almost 300 years ago, this is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continuous use in America, and it's just one example of how the home of Mardi Gras overflows with as much history as hedonism.

It's the food that really makes a New Orleans trip extra memorable. "I can't remember enjoying eating anywhere in the USA as much," Steves wrote. While in town, he dined at the restaurants August, Boucherie, the Ruby Slipper, and Elizabeth's, which are all still open as of this writing, with some of them accepting reservations online. If you want to follow in his footsteps (or in the wake of their paddle wheel, as it were), Steves and his daughter also rode the Steamboat Natchez, which resumed its cruises down the Mississippi River in November 2023.


In June 2023, Rick Steves brought Europe to Beantown in a two-night concert event with the Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall. Dubbed "Rick Steves' Europe: A Symphonic Journey," this event saw Steves acting as a historical guide onstage in between performances of European anthems from the Romantic era. For fans of Steves' travelogues, the event may have also served to add the Boston Pops to their sightseeing bucket list. Among other things, the orchestra is known for its "Holiday Pops" concerts at Symphony Hall and its annual fireworks spectacular on the Fourth of July. The televised fireworks event, which has been going since 1974, is free to enjoy live along the Charles River (but get there early).

On Facebook, Steves also wrote of visiting the Boston Public Library while in town. Founded in 1848, this was the country's first public library. On its free art and architecture tours, and in areas like the cavernous reading room, Bates Hall, it's still a marvel to behold.

As for what makes Boston such a tourist-friendly city in Steves' view, it may have something to do with how walkable it is. He touched on that in a June 2023 episode of his podcast, where he interviewed Boston-based author Jeff Speck about his book "Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time." Thanks to paths like the historic Freedom Trail, Boston and Steves' other three favorites also made our own list of the most walkable cities in the U.S.

New York

In March 2019, The New York Times Magazine profiled Rick Steves, drawing a contrast between his worldly knowledge of Europe and his relative unfamiliarity with Manhattan. Steves himself admitted, "In the Western Hemisphere, I am a terrible traveler." On a cab ride through Manhattan the previous March, he even mistook the Queensboro Bridge for the Brooklyn Bridge, arguably one of New York City's most easily identified landmarks. When he realized the Queensboro Bridge (officially the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge) was the same one Simon and Garfunkel sang about in their folk hit, "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)," he turned giddy, saying, "Gosh, that's cool," and whipping out his phone to make a short YouTube video for his fans.

New York is such a center of culture that it's likely to have the same giddying effect on many visitors. The fact that Manhattan's buildings and energy could inspire such gee-whiz enthusiasm even in a seasoned world traveler like Steves is a testament to its tourist appeal.

In 2023, as reported by Forbes, New York ranked among America's five safest large cities. Both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge have pedestrian walkways you can access to stroll across the East River. Though the latter bridge is more fenced in, it gives glimpses of sights like the famous Roosevelt Island Tram. Steves also made an appearance at Barnes and Noble, and since 1999, the one at 105 Fifth Ave. has held the Guinness World Record for "largest bookshop."

Washington, D.C.

Though Rick Steves is from Washington state (where he was born and still resides, and where his travel business is based), he cited the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., as another one of his favorite American cities from a tourism point of view. "A trip to our nation's capital comes with great museums, galleries, and restaurants," Steves told his YouTube viewers in December 2019. It was two different social causes that brought him to D.C. that year, however.

At the U.S. Capitol, Steves lobbied for an end to world hunger and the decriminalization of marijuana. The former is a cause he supports through the Christian advocacy organization Bread for the World, while the latter is an issue he's discussed in videos and blog posts, with his stance being partially informed by what he's seen of European cities like Amsterdam and how they handle drugs.

In his Washington, D.C. videos, Steves shows popular landmarks like the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial. He can also be seen walking the halls of Congress, where he ran into Jon Stewart, former host of "The Daily Show." You can likewise take a tour of the Capitol, which has undergone millions of dollars in repairs since the attack on it on January 6, 2021. Just don't wander off from your tour group, since even one-time "Daily Show" correspondent Stephen Colbert's current late-night team (including the cigar-chomping puppet, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) has been detained while filming comedy skits there.

Beyond Orlando

When Johnny Jet asked him to name a place where he had no desire to go, Rick Steves gave a one-word answer: "Orlando," referring to Central Florida's popular theme park destination. This goes back to what Steves said at a 2020 town hall event in Sarasota, Florida, where he told the audience (via Sarasota Magazine), "My mission is to inspire and equip Americans to venture beyond Orlando." That makes it sound like Orlando isn't so much his least favorite U.S. city as it is a symbol of people's untested travel boundaries.

As neat as it may be, for instance, to see international cities simulated around Epcot's World Showcase Lagoon, Steves has been to the real Norway and Morocco. Traveling abroad, he suggested, can help challenge people's ingrained "ethnocentrism" and notions of "how scary it is overseas."

Not everyone has the budget for overseas travel, of course, which may be why Steves also devoted a 2017 episode of his podcast to "Orlando Beyond Disney." There are many things to do in Orlando besides Disney World, though Steves and his podcast guests spent more time talking about attractions in the greater Central Florida area. This includes Kennedy Space Center, where you can see entire rockets and shuttles on display and rediscover the country's lost heritage of space exploration. Another offbeat destination, recommended around the episode's 11:15 mark, is Cassadaga, Florida, a psychic town and Spiritualist camp that bills itself as the oldest continuously active religious community in the Southeastern U.S.