The United States of America is the country of Hollywood, New York and the Wild West. The USA is also famous for being the land of opportunities. For this reason, it is not surprising that, throughout the centuries, millions of people from all over the world travelled to the United States to make their ‘American dream’ come true. As a result of this, most Americans have ancestors who were born in different corners of the world. The resulting cultural diversity is still evident nowadays.

The United States is the third-biggest country in the world, with more than 300 million inhabitants. The most part of the population is concentrated on the east and west coasts of the country, whereas the centre of the USA is relatively scarcely populated. In fact, many of the famous national parks in the United States can be found there.

Its diversity, as well as its cultural and natural contrasts, make the United States a popular holiday destination. Here you will find further information about the history, the culture and the most popular tourist attractions in the United States.


Facts and figures

Capital Washington, D.C.
Surface 9,826,675 km2
Population 335.136.000 (2023)
Language There is no official language, but English and Spanish are the most spoken languages
Money American dollar (USD)
Religion Christianism: 70.6%, Judaism: 1.9%, Islam: 0.9%, other: 3.8%, atheism: 22.8%
Time difference Between 5 and 10 hours
Travel time 8 to 12 hours
Power 110 V (travel plug recommended)
Tap water Safe to drink
Visa Visa USA or ESTA required

Map

The United States shares its northern border with Canada and its southern border with Mexico. The country’s east coast is bathed by the Atlantic Ocean, whereas the west coast borders the Pacific Ocean. The United States is one of the biggest countries in the world and boasts a great cultural and climatic diversity. The country is formed by 50 states and the Columbia District. There are several remote areas which also belong to the USA:

  • In the Caribbean Basin: Puerto Rico (unincorporated territory of the United States in the Caribbean Sea), the Virgin Islands (purchased from Denmark in 1917) and Navassa Island (claimed by Haiti).
  • In the Pacific Ocean: Guam (ceded by Spain to the United States after the Spanish-American War), Northern Mariana Islands (a U.S. commonwealth), American Samoa, Wake Island and some other islands.


The five biggest cities in the United States are in this order: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Phoenix. All these cities have more than one and a half million inhabitants.


History

Prehistoric times
The area occupied by the present-day United States has been inhabited for thousands of years. It is not known exactly when the first humans migrated to the Americas. It is now believed that the first groups of hunter-gatherers migrated to North America around 20,000 BCE. These peoples, originally from northeast Asia, migrated in part across the Bering Strait, taking advantage of the bridge between present-day Siberia and Alaska that the ice age had created. It is also likely that groups of people in small prehistoric boats arrived in present-day America along the coastline.

Over thousands of years, these tribes spread throughout the Americas. In North America, the tribes continued to live primarily as hunters and gatherers, but there are also known sites where settlements developed and agriculture was practised. One of the most famous settlements is that of Cahokia, in present-day Illinois. This town, created under the Mississippian culture, is known for its numerous burial mounds. In the southwestern United States, the Pueblo culture emerged and established several settlements from the 11th century onwards.

First contact with the Europeans
In the Early Middle Ages, the Vikings also settled down in North America, but only for a short time. It was only when the American continent was rediscovered by Columbus that the migratory waves that changed the New World forever started. A large number of explorers and adventurers sailed to the American coast. Some of them tried to find a seaway towards Asia; others were searching for expensive raw materials to trade with.

Between the 16th and the 17th centuries, North America was colonised by several European powers. The Spanish advanced from Mexico and took areas that today are part of the North American states of California, New Mexico and Texas. The area corresponding to today’s Florida was ruled by the Spanish for a long time. The Dutch and British colonists settled on the American east coast, whereas the French seized large areas of present-day Canada and also conquered large inland areas of what is now the United States. The Danes and Swedes also managed to establish small settlements in North America.

East coast of the United StatesThe first European colonists settled on the east coast of the United States

The Europeans soon came in contact with the original inhabitants of North America. Sometimes they traded peacefully, but there were also violent confrontations on a regular basis. Since European weapons were much better, Native Americans suffered heavy losses and had to cede more and more land.

The British colonies and the American Independence War
After a few centuries, the British became the dominant power on the American east coast. The influence of the French and the Dutch diminished during the 18th century. The Dutch possessions were taken by the British during the second half of the 17th century. For their part, the French suffered a major defeat in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), after which they had to cede their territories to the British. The Seven Years’ War was extremely expensive for the State Treasury and hence the British started to collect higher taxes, even in the colonies. The American colonists did not like those taxes, especially because they had no representation in the British Parliament.

In 1733, the situation exploded. The American colonists who did not agree with the British fiscal policy about tea sneaked into the Boston harbour, assaulted a British ship and threw cases of tea into the sea. In 1775, a group of prominent colonists drafted the Declaration of Independence of the United States. For the Americans, this Declaration of Independence is the most important document in their history. The British responded by sending the army, after which the American War of Independence broke out. During this war, American General George Washington emerged as a successful army leader. The war ended in 1783 with the defeat of the British, after which George Washington became the first President of the United States of America.

The Independence of the United States
The years following the independence of the United States were also troublesome worldwide. While the French Revolution triggered new wars in Europe, the United States tried to remain neutral. When French general Napoleon took power, he decided to give up French possessions in North America, and U.S. President Jefferson purchased these French territories. This event came to be known as the Louisiana Purchase. The acquisition of these territories doubled the surface of the United States in a single stroke.

Early American history was soon dominated by a second conflict with the former coloniser, during the War of 1812. This war between the Americans and the British broke out partly because of a dispute over trading rights, but also because the British were allegedly supporting Indian insurgents. The fighting took place mainly in the north of the United States and the current Canada territory. In 1814, the war officially came to an end. The Americans pledged to spare Canada, while the British renounced to support the Native Americans. After this conflict, the United States focused more on its domestic politics and began an ambitious expansion to the west. The original inhabitants of the United States suffered heavily during this period.

The original inhabitants of America
The relationship between the American colonists and the Native Americans were complicated from the beginning. Although a peaceful trade existed, more and more indigenous tribes were expelled. American President Jackson was in favour of a resettlement policy. This meant that many tribes that lived in the east had to move to the west, by force if necessary. The indigenous tribes did not have a say. Thousands of Cherokees lost their lives during the so-called Trail of Tears. The Seminole, a tribe from Florida, rebelled against this, but the American army bloodily suppressed the revolt. Because of these events, President Jackson is nowadays a controverted figure.

Pueblo houses These small mud and clay houses are characteristic of the indigenous Pueblo culture

The American Civil War
The European colonists practised slavery as early as in the 16th century. Initially they enslaved mostly Native Americans, but later many slaves were shipped to America from sub-Saharan Africa. Most slaves ended up on plantations in the southern United States. Here the climate was suitable for growing crops such as tobacco, cotton and sugar cane. As support for the abolition of slavery grew in the 19th century, the southern states vehemently opposed. The success of the southern economy was largely based on slavery.

The slavery question culminated in the American Civil War in 1861. The northern states fought for the abolition of slavery, while the southern states (also called the Confederate States) wanted to preserve the old system. In 1865, the Confederacy suffered the final defeat and slavery was outlawed throughout the United States.

America’s growing influence
In the 20th century, the United States began to play a more significant role on the world stage. After World War I and World War II, this role only gained more importance. America was seen in the West as the great liberator of Europe. Moreover, most of the world had suffered badly from the acts of war, while the American continent had been largely spared. As a result, the American economy had ample room to develop and steadily grew into a superpower.

On the other side of the world, the Soviet Union managed to expand its influence more and more. America and the Soviet Union had different ideologies and world views, which made them diametrically opposed. This eventually led to the Cold War, with the capitalism of the United States on one side and the communism of Soviet Russia on the other. Both countries began to produce large quantities of nuclear weapons and thus entered an arms race. Several times the tense situation almost got out of hand, but fortunately a world war could be avoided.

The civil rights movement
Although slavery was abolished after the American Civil War, black Americans remained second-class citizens for a long time. Segregation existed in many public places. For example, black Americans had to sit in a separate section of the bus or were allowed to enter buildings only through a separate entrance. In the 1950s and 1960s, there was increasing resistance to this segregation. Led by Martin Luther King and others, many demonstrations took place. Finally, segregation was outlawed in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act. From then on, black Americans officially had equal rights as white Americans, but racism was still widely present.

March WashingtonDuring the 1960s, there were many manifestations against segregation in the United States

Interesting fact n.1 about the USA

The Pilgrim Fathers
An almost legendary narrative in American history is the voyage of the Mayflower. This ship carried the so-called Pilgrims, strict believers coming from England who no longer agreed with the Anglican Church. In 1620, their vessel reached the coast of what today is Massachusetts, and there the Pilgrims founded an austere, strict religious community. Among other things, the story of the Mayflower symbolises the endless opportunities that America offered. As a consequence, many people are still today proud to prove that they descend from one of these Pilgrims or Pilgrim Fathers.


Culture

American culture has been dominant for almost one century. Important American brands and companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are worldwide known. The American music and cinema industries have dominated the media scene for years.

The diverse population of the USA
Most Americans descend from immigrants from the whole world, and this gives American culture an unprecedented diversity. A large majority of the population has European ancestors. For this reason, many Americans still identify as Irish, Italian or German, even if they do not speak the language of the country in question. Although English is the most spoken language, hundreds of other languages are also spoken in the United States.

The most spoken language after English is Spanish. Spanish or Latin American people are also called Latinos or Hispanics. Almost 20% of the American population belongs to this category. Hispanics live mainly in the southeast of the United States. In addition, a large part of the population is formed by black Americans, also called Afro-Americans. Many of them descend from slaves. This is the reason why many Afro-Americans live in the southeast of the country.

Roughly 5 million Native Americans live in the United States, too. The American government has recognised 572 tribes. These original inhabitants of America were considered second-class citizens for centuries, and it was only in the 20th century that they were granted voting rights. The United States has 326 so-called Indian reservations, that the government assigns to Native Americans. Native Americans themselves are responsible for the legislation in those areas.

Indian reservationThe Navajo Nation is the largest Indian reservation in the United States

Religion
In the last few centuries, many Christian communities migrated from Europe to America. These communities, often repressed in Europe, had room to develop in the New World. Partly because of this, religion still plays a very important role in the United States. Most Christian Americans adhere to Protestantism, although there is also a large Catholic community.

Besides Christianism, other religions shape the American religious landscape. Around 2% of the American population is Jewish, that is to say, at least 7 million Americans. This represents roughly 40% of the world’s Jewish population. Some typical American foods, like bagels, have their origin in the Jewish community. In addition, the United States has relatively small communities of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.

Interesting fact n.2 about the USA

The importance of sport in the American culture
Sport is an important part of the American culture. Basketball, baseball, American football and ice hockey are tremendously popular in the country. The Super Bowl, the final of the National Football League (NFL), is one of the greatest events of the year and normally attracts an audience of more than 100 million people.


Holidays
The United States has many festivities. When preparing your trip, consider that many (government) organisations are closed on those days.

Festivity Opening of banks, businesses and government agencies
1st of January: New Year’s Day Most institutions are closed
Third Monday in January: Martin Luther King’s day Most government agencies and banks are closed
Third Tuesday in February: President’s Day Most government agencies and banks are closed
17th of March: Saint Patrickʼs Day Irish festivity, most institutions are open
A Sunday in March or April: Easter Most institutions are open
Last Monday of May: Memorial Day Most government agencies and banks are closed
19th of June: Juneteenth Most government agencies and banks are closed
4th of July: Independence Day Most institutions are closed
First Monday of September: Labor Day Most institutions are closed
Second Monday in October: Columbus Day Most government agencies and banks are closed
31st of October: Halloween Most institutions are open
11th of November: Veterans Day Most government agencies and banks are closed
Third Thursday in November: Thanksgiving Most institutions are closed
24th and 25th December: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Most institutions are closed

Weather and best moment to travel

The United States is almost as big as Europe. The diversity of natural landscapes and climates is, therefore, huge. Northern states, like Washington and Wisconsin, suffer heavy snowfall in winter, whereas in Florida the temperatures are seldom lower than 15 degrees during the day, even in winter. Summers can be extremely hot in Florida, as in most southern states, while temperatures in more northern Maine are quite similar to northern European summers. It is better to avoid the desert areas of Nevada or New Mexico in the summer. Here, the temperature can reach 40 degrees or more for several days in a row. Therefore, the best time to travel depends on where exactly you are heading. In any case, temperatures in spring and autumn are nice in many places in the United States.


Tourism in the United States

The United States is one of the most popular touristic destinations in the world. The country is so versatile that it has something to offer to every traveller. Some travellers visit the United States to discover its big cities, whereas other travel there mainly to explore its famous national parks. Here are some of the most popular travel destinations in the United States.

The most popular cities in the United States
New York is probably the most famous city of the United States. It has countless popular touristic attractions, such as the Statue of Liberty, Times Square or Central Park. The city also has many world-renowned museums that attract millions of visitors every year. Accommodation in New York is very expensive, so travellers who wish to stay in the city should reserve both their trip and their accommodation as far in advance as possible.

Another very well-known American city is Miami. It is one of the biggest cities in Florida, and also one of the most southern cities in the United States. Due to its location, the average temperature here is often above 30 degrees during the summer months, and is also relatively high in spring and autumn. Therefore, the city is especially popular for its beaches and the sea. In July, the water temperature is close to 30 degrees. Miami is also known for its large Latino population. If you walk through the streets of this city, you will hear many people speak Spanish.

Los Angeles is best known for Hollywood and its many movie sets. As many as one in six residents of the city works in the creative industry. In addition, the city has a wide range of museums, amusement parks and, of course, the famous Venice Beach to offer. Here, you can not only enjoy the beach, but also take a stroll along the promenade and visit hundreds of small stores.

One of the most popular destinations on the west coast of the United States is San Francisco. Famous sights of this city are the Golden Gate Bridge and the former prison Alcatraz. San Francisco is also home to the oldest and largest Chinatown in North America. About twenty percent of San Francisco’s population is of Chinese descent.

Las Vegas, located in Nevada, is also called the gambling capital of the world. In the centre of the city is the Las Vegas Strip, a long street on which numerous casinos, hotels and stores are located. During a visit to Las Vegas, travellers can enjoy the special and dynamic atmosphere of nightlife.

Taxis in New YorkNew York is famous for its yellow taxis

The most beautiful national parks of the United States
Yellowstone, inaugurated in 1872, was the first national park of the United States. The geysers, the hot springs and the volcanic landscape of this natural reserve make Yellowstone one of the most famous national parks in the world. Besides its unique landscapes, the park boasts numerous wild species, like buffalos, moose and grizzly bears.

The most visited national park in North America is the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Many people visit this park to camp in its forest area. This park is also well known for its large population of black bears. Although black bears are less dangerous than grizzly bears, it is recommended to be careful when hiking through this natural park.

Zion National Park, located in Utah, is known for its canyons, high cliffs and green valleys. The park has dozens of hiking trails and many viewpoints, from which you can look out over the park for miles. Since the area was inhabited in the 19th century by Mormons, who also gave the park its name, many rocks and canyons have Biblical names.

Yosemite National Park is one of California’s most famous nature reserves. Many travellers choose to visit this park for its spectacular waterfalls, giant sequoias and steep cliffs. Visitors generally find Tunnel View to be the most beautiful viewpoint in the park. From here, one has a spectacular view of Yosemite Valley.

The Grand Canyon is probably the most famous canyon in the world. Consequently, the vast area and extraordinary red rocks of the national park of the same name attract millions of tourists each year. The canyon is 446 kilometres long in total. Most people come just to enjoy the view, but there are also plenty of hiking trails for enthusiasts.

Interesting fact about the USA n.3

Driving in the USA
In a city like New York, it is still possible to travel by public transportation. If you leave the big cities, however, you cannot avoid renting a car. This is because public transportation in the United States is very limited. There may be some buses, but there are no train connections. Fortunately, driving in the United States is relatively comfortable, as the highways are generally well maintained. The country also has some wonderful driving routes. Not surprisingly, many travellers choose to explore the country on a road trip.


Economy and currency

The United States has been the largest global economy since the end of World War II. American brands have dominated the global market for years, and the U.S. dollar (USD) is considered the world’s most important currency. The New York Stock Exchange is the most important stock exchange in the world.

The United States is known for its relatively high wages and low taxes. On the other hand, the cost of living is higher, health care is more expensive and there is a smaller social safety net. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of migrants, mostly from South and Central America, try to cross the U.S. border every year in hopes of finding a better life.

American dollarThe American dollar is the currency of the United States

The American dollar
The U.S. dollar comes in coins of 1 cent (also called pennies), 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents and 1 dollar. However, the coins worth 1 dollar are rarely in circulation. In addition, there are banknotes worth 1, 2, 5, 10, 50 and 100 dollars. In major cities, it is possible to pay by credit or debit card almost everywhere. Be aware that in this case, you often pay transaction fees.

Tipping is very common in American restaurants. In many cases, the salary of waiting staff is largely made up of tips. It is often assumed that guests pay about 20 percent tip.


Safety

The United States is generally a safe country to travel to. Read more about this on our travel advice for the United States.

You should bear in mind that the United States is periodically affected by natural catastrophes. The coast can be hit by hurricanes in the autumn. In the dry areas of the west, forest fires or tornadoes can occur in the summer. Always keep an eye on the local news so that you are alerted in case of extreme weather conditions.

If you are visiting one or more of the many national parks of the United States, bear in mind that it is generally more difficult to get in touch with the outside world in these remote areas and that emergency services will not be able to help you immediately in case of need. Many nature reserves are home to wild animals, such as bears. Be mindful of this and never leave food leftovers lying around. Before visiting national parks, always check the applicable rules and regulations.


Visa or ESTA

To visit the United States, you need a valid visa or ESTA. Most European travellers are eligible for the easy-to-apply ESTA. The ESTA is an electronic travel authorisation that is automatically linked to your passport number when granted. On average, ESTA applications are processed within 3 days.

Apply now for your ESTA

e-Visa.ie is a commercial and professional visa agency, and supports travellers in obtaining, among others, the ESTA USA. e-Visa.ie acts as an intermediary and is in no way part of any government. You can also apply for an ESTA directly with the immigration service (21 USD per ESTA, via esta.cbp.dhs.gov). However, not with our level of support. If you submit your application via e-Visa.ie, our support centre is available to you 24/7. In addition, we manually check your application and all the documents you provide before submitting it to the immigration authorities on your behalf. If we suspect any errors or omissions while doing so, we will personally contact you to ensure that your application can still be processed quickly and correctly. To use our services, you pay us 21 USD in consular fees, which we pay to the immigration service on your behalf, as well as € 30,52 in service fees as compensation for our services, including VAT. Our services have saved many travellers from major problems during their trip. Should an application be rejected despite our support and verification, we will refund the full purchase price (unless an application for a previous ESTA USA was rejected for the same traveller). Read more about our services here.