Whether you’re an avid history buff or are planning a road trip, there’s no better place to travel than one of America’s oldest cities. Each one has its own historical and cultural influences since they were founded by European countries over the last several centuries. These are America’s 15 oldest cities founded by European settlers.
1. St. Augustine, Florida—1565
Deemed America’s oldest continuously occupied settlement with European origin, St. Augustine is a port city founded by Pedro Mendez de Aviles in 1565 and served as the Spanish capital for 200 years. France had previously tried to settle it without success. Located in northeastern Florida, St. Augustine is a popular tourist destination. Parts flooded during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, but much of the historic architecture survives.
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2. Jamestown, Virginia—1607
Originally established as “James Fort” in honor of King James I, Jamestown was founded by the Virginia Company of London in 1607, over a decade before the pilgrims set foot on American soil. It was officially developed as a permanent settlement in 1610 and served as Virginia’s capital from 1616–1699. Tourists visit Jamestown today to see the remains of the settlement.
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3. Santa Fe, New Mexico—1610
It’s easy to forget that the Southwest has a rich history, even though these states didn’t become states until relatively recently. Founded in 1610, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the U.S. Tour the city any time of year to step back in time; a lot of the historical architecture is intact. Make sure to visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, built in 1869, along with the Loretto Chapel’s floating staircase.
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4. Plymouth, Massachusetts—1620
Many assume Plymouth is the oldest American city but it’s not. The Pilgrims founded it after the Mayflower landed on its shores in 1620. They named the settlement after the English city they departed. Originally headed for Virginia, rocky coastline and bad weather prevented them from heading south so they ended up at Plymouth Rock. The rest is history.
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5. New York City, New York—1624
The City That Never Sleeps was founded in 1624 by the Dutch West Indian Company, thanks to explorer Henry Hudson. He spent 10 days in the area, searching for the Northwest passage to Asia. Although way off course, he did stumble on one of the greatest port cities in the world. It had previously been visited by Italian explorer Giovanni de Verrazzano in the 16th century. He was also searching for the Northwest passage to the Orient.
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6. Quincy, Massachusetts—1625
This city has an important place in U.S. history. Along with being the sixth oldest city, Quincy is the birthplace of two presidents: John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Plus, John Hancock — the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence — was born here. If that doesn’t impress you, Dunkin’ Donuts and Howard Johnson hotels were also founded in Quincy.
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7. Boston, Massachusetts—1630
Long before Sam and the gang became friends at Cheers, Boston was an important port. It played a major role in many major American events like the Boston Tea Party, Battle of Bunker Hill, Boston Massacre, and Siege of Boston. Millions flock to the city each year to see historic architecture and sites like the Boston Common.
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8. Newport, Rhode Island—1639
Founded in 1639, this city remains a major port to this day. It was also a significant part of the slave trade. In modern days, Newport has become famous as a summer resort for the New England elite, including Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. It also is a major Navy training center and home of the Naval War College.
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9. Annapolis, Maryland—1649
On the Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis is located a half hour from Washington, D.C. and 25 miles from Baltimore. Founded in 1649, the capital of Maryland was the country’s capital when the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolutionary War. Annapolis’s State House is where George Washington resigned as General of the Continental Army after the Revolutionary War. The town now houses the Naval Academy.
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10. Charleston, South Carolina—1670
First named Charles Town, after England’s King Charles II, Charleston’s harbor was an vital naval city throughout U.S. history, especially the Civil War. Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began, is accessible by boat from Charleston Bay. Today, South Carolina’s third largest city is known as a friendly city full of Southern charm. Visitors enjoy the historic architecture and preserved landmarks.
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11. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—1682
The City of Brotherly Love was founded in 1682 by William Penn, who received the land as payment for his father’s debt from King George II. Today, visitors can still see the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’s house, and Independence Hall. Philadelphia served as the country’s capital after the Revolutionary War until 1800. It also hosted Congress during this time.
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12. Biloxi, Mississippi—1699
In 1699, this French city was founded by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville as part of French Louisiana. Biloxi has been under both English and Spanish rule, yet its original French influences endure. Eventually, it became a vacation destination. Legal gambling began in 1992, and it’s now known as a world-class gaming destination with 26 miles of beachfront.
Next: This southern city was occupied by the French, British, and Spanish.
13. Mobile, Alabama—1702
First founded as the capital of French Louisiana in 1702, Mobile has a rich history with influences from all over the world. It became part of the U.S. in 1813 when it was captured from the Spanish. Heavily fortified by the Confederates in the Civil War, Mobile’s African American Heritage Trail pays tribute to the underground railroad and the Civil Rights movement.
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14. San Antonio, Texas—1717
Founded in 1717, San Antonio was the northernmost settlement of Mexico. The Texas capital is perhaps most famous for the Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution in 1836. Visitors can still tour the fort along with many Spanish missions. San Antonio maintains a unique culture of Texas and Mexican traditions. Paseo del Rio, the river walk, is a hot spot for tourists seeking a relaxing area to enjoy live music, food, and drinks.
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15. New Orleans, Louisiana—1718
The Big Easy has a rich history rooted in French culture. Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville founded New Orleans as La Nouvelle-Orleans in 1718. Spain controlled the city from 1763 until 1800. Three years later, in 1803, Napoleon sold it to the U.S. as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The city celebrated its first Mardi Gras in 1699.
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