21 U.S. Places That Will Remind You of Cities Around the World
Updated: October 11, 2023
AAA Travel Editor Laurie Sterbens
International travel is off the table for now, but you may be surprised to discover cities and towns near you that resemble destinations around the world. We turned to AAA’s inspections team for recommendations for fun places to go in the United States that reminded them of some of their favorite faraway places. AAA’s inspectors aren’t just hospitality experts; they’re avid travelers who love venturing to distant locales whenever they’re not on the road in North America. This list includes everything from small Midwestern towns to familiar vacation spots, but even if you’ve visited one before, maybe next time you’ll see it in a new way.
At press time, wildfires in the western United States could affect travel to some destinations. Phone lodgings and attractions in advance to make sure they’re open. Find more tips for planning a road trip at AAA.com/TripCanvas.
Courtesy of The Biltmore Company
1. Asheville, North Carolina
A majestic castle, sprawling gardens, rolling hills and forests that were once the playground of royalty — it’s a setting you’d find in a European destination such as Chambord, France. You can visit a similar estate in Asheville, North Carolina, home of the stunning Biltmore Estate. Built in 1889 to 1895 for George Washington Vanderbilt II, this grand 250-room mansion is surrounded by 8,000 acres of formal gardens, pastures and forests. Beautiful mountain views only add to the splendor.Inspector tip: Guests who want the full experience have options to stay at The Inn on Biltmore Estate or the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, which is set in the heart of a small shopping and dining village. Both AAA Diamond hotels are on the estate grounds and have easy access to Asheville’s vibrant art scene and its many microbreweries and restaurants.
Courtesy of Lone Star Riverboat
2. Austin, Texas
Tourists visit Amsterdam in the Netherlands to enjoy scenic, leisurely boat rides along its canals, its many shopping and dining options and exciting nightlife. One AAA inspector makes a good case for Austin, Texas, as a domestic alternative. Though Austin isn’t crisscrossed by canals, the scenic Colorado River flows into downtown’s Lady Bird Lake reservoir, where you can rent a canoe, swan pedal boat or stand-up paddleboard. You can also enjoy a sunset cruise aboard the Lone Star Riverboat to see Austin’s famous bat colony emerge from beneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. Austin has a lively food scene, with options ranging from a downtown food hall to elegant fine dining. As for nightlife, Austin is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World” and comes to life at night with performances at music and performing arts venues all over the city.Inspector tip: Stay at The LINE Hotel Austin. This hotel is nestled right along the river in downtown Austin, near the "Austin bats," and offers an artist residency program that features works by musicians, visual artists, writers and chefs.
3. Cape May, New Jersey
4. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
If you dream of visiting Monaco, you can go to , California, suggests one AAA inspector. With a sunny climate similar to its Mediterranean counterpart, the coastal Pacific town is home to more than 40 world-class restaurants, incredible shopping and cultural amenities including art galleries, theater productions and art and music festivals. Its white sand beach is a popular spot for swimming and surfing, and whale-watchers can spot blue, gray and humpback whales offshore.Travel editor tip: Spectacular coastal views can be found both north and south of Carmel-By-The-Sea along the AAA’s Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip. For a shorter scenic drive, head to nearby Pebble Beach for the 17-Mile Drive, a AAA GEM (Great Experience for Members) attraction.
5. Charleston, South Carolina
If you can’t visit Amsterdam, you can visit , for a similar vacation experience. Much like Amsterdam, Charleston is rich in history, offers a world-renowned culinary scene and has plenty of art and history museums worth exploring. As in the bicycle-friendly Dutch city, you can cycle around Charleston using its convenient bike-sharing program. Cobblestone streets and a church-steeple skyline add to its European-style charm.Inspector tip: Stay at The Charleston Place in the heart of the historic downtown.
6. Finger Lakes, New York
Comprised of 11 lakes that create small to large “fingers” in central New York, the Finger Lakes area is best known for the wineries that surround the two largest lakes (Cayuga and Seneca). Much like the Rheinhessen region of Germany, many of the vineyards slope downhill toward the water, providing ample sunlight to the grapes and beautiful views year-round. On Lake Seneca, Watkins Glen State Park, a AAA GEM attraction, is perfect for hiking, with scenery including rock formations and 19 waterfalls. Quaint surrounding towns offer walkable central districts to explore. Aurora, New York, on the banks of Cayuga Lake, is home to a small college and several historic B&Bs. Inspector tip: Stay at one of these AAA Diamond-designated properties: Aurora Inn, Rowland House, Wallcourt Hall or the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel.
7. Frankenmuth, Michigan
Nicknamed “Little Bavaria,” Frankenmuth, Michigan, is a great place to go if you can’t get to Germany this year. The town, on the Cass River about an hour and a half north of Detroit, has buildings influenced by 18th-century Franconian-German architecture. Highlights include a European-influenced shopping district, fun attractions and restaurants including Zehnder's of Frankenmuth, known for its family-style chicken dinners.Inspector tip: One of the largest hotels in the area is the Bavarian Inn Lodge. The walls are lined with historical photos of the area and the history of the inn. There are also four indoor pools (one for adults only), a miniature golf course and what is said to be the largest game room in the state.
8. Grand Canyon National Park
If you can’t get to Machu Picchu in Peru, one AAA inspector suggests that you visit a domestic wonder of the world instead: , noting that because of the lack of international travelers, this AAA GEM attraction is less crowded than usual. The view from the top is amazing, but you can also hike or ride a donkey to the bottom of the canyon.Inspector tip: Stay right outside the park at The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon or in the park at El Tovar Hotel.
9. La Conner, Washington
Travel editor tip: Find fun things to do and places to eat in La Conner in .
Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce
10. Leavenworth, Washington
If you can’t make it to Munich this year, visit . This Bavarian-style village will make you feel like you’ve been whisked away to Germany, one inspector said. Foodies can feast on brats, pretzels and schnitzels here, and wash it all down with a great selection of German beers. No need to fret about those extra calories; there are year-round outdoor activities here including hiking, snow skiing and whitewater rafting.
Inspector tip: Two of the best times to visit are during Leavenworth Octoberfest celebration and the special Christmas lighting ceremonies.
flickr / CC BY / designatednaphour
11. Lindsborg, Kansas
With the nickname “Little Sweden,” the European counterpart to , is no mystery. This small town, about an hour north of Wichita, Kansas, offers delightful Swedish charm, with Scandinavian architecture and hand-painted Dala horse sculptures throughout its downtown. The Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery is dedicated to the works of Birger Sandzén, a Swedish-born artist known for his bold landscape paintings. Founded by Swedish immigrants, Lindsborg is home to Svensk Hyllningsfest, a biennial festival celebrating traditional Swedish culture and customs.
12. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
While might not transport you to Munich or Berlin, it resembles smaller towns in the Bavarian region of southern Germany, according to one AAA inspector. Wisconsin’s topography and climate are like those of Germany, and immigrants who settled here on the shores of Lake Michigan brought with them a rich German influence and culture, as well as a love for beer that led them to establish breweries as soon as they arrived. Though it’s no longer the top beer-producing city in the world, Milwaukee is still home to a major brewery and a growing number of craft brewers, so there are ample opportunities for tasting unique brews here. The city offers many restaurants, beer halls and beer gardens, some of which have been operating for more than 100 years.Travel editor tip: Mader’s German Restaurant has been serving traditional German fare since 1902. Nearby Old German Beer Hall is fashioned after the beer halls of Munich.
Courtesy of Napa Valley Wine Train
13. Napa, California
Can’t go to the Tuscany region of Italy? One AAA inspector suggests a trip to Napa, California, to experience similar scenery and taste award-winning wines. The Napa Valley Wine Train is a AAA GEM attraction that offers a scenic, 3-hour tour past vineyards and wineries, with gourmet meals, an extensive wine list and a wine-tasting bar.Inspector tip: Stay at The Meritage Resort and Spa, which offers al fresco dining, live music and yoga classes among the vines.
14. New Orleans, Louisiana
Travel editor tip: Pick up a classic French pastry with your morning coffee at La Boulangerie (4600 Magazine St., #1518) and dine on classic French fare at Café Degas, La Crepe Nanou and Lilette Restaurant.
15. Niagara Falls, New York
Here’s an easy one: You may not be able to travel to Niagara Falls, Canada, but you can still see the majestic falls from Niagara Falls, New York, which offers lots of fun things to do without crossing an international border. Float close to the falls aboard the Maid of the Mist, a AAA GEM attraction. The Cave of the Winds Tour, also a GEM attraction, takes visitors to the bottom of the Niagara Gorge to view the falls. Learn about the history of the falls as you ride the Niagara Scenic Trolley through Niagara Falls State Park.Travel editor tip: Find more things to do, as well hotels and restaurants near the falls, in .
16. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
When you imagine visiting Spain, Pennsylvania’s “Steel City” may not seem to be an obvious match. But ’s twin sister city is Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque Country of northern Spain, and the two share many common traits. Both cities sit at the convergence of two rivers and have many bridges, tunnels and waterways. They are both known as industrial cities and share some architectural similarities as well as citizens who are hard-working and down-to-earth, said one AAA inspector. Like its sister city, Pittsburgh offers a wide variety of culinary specialties influenced by its immigrant populations.Travel editor tip: Ride the Duquesne Incline in a restored cable car that climbs to the top of Mount Washington for a panoramic view of downtown Pittsburgh.
Wikimedia Commons / CC BY /Infrogmation
17. Providence, Rhode Island
You’ll find a slice of Italy along Atwells Avenue in the walkable Federal Hill section of . The road is lined with incredible Italian restaurants, bakeries and import shops. DePasquale Square is an Italian-style piazza in the center of Federal Hill where you can toss a coin in the fountain, dine al fresco at one of the surrounding restaurants and enjoy prime people-watching.Travel editor tip: Find -designated hotels near Atwells Avenue in the AAA TripTik Travel Planner.
18. Sedona, Arizona
So you can’t go to Mount Everest this year. Your domestic alternative: . How could a desert spa town possibly be like an icy Himalayan peak? Bear with us; this actually works. Popular activities for visitors to Mount Everest include hiking, mountain biking and climbing. In Sedona, you can also enjoy hiking — easier, with beautiful views of red mountains rather than snowy peaks — as well as mountain biking and climbing. Mount Everest has rafting; Sedona has kayaking. Everest has helicopter tours; Sedona has helicopter tours and balloon rides. Sedona also offers spiritual vortex sites, places where the earth’s energy is said to have healing properties.Inspector tip: Stay in a canyon at Enchantment Resort and Mii amo Spa or in the center of town at 126641- El Portal Sedona Hotel.
19. Solvang, California
20. Tucson, Arizona
If you can’t make it to Mexico this year, Tucson is a great alternative, as it’s only 50 miles from the Mexican border. The well-known All Souls Procession weekend festival in early November (virtual in 2020) celebrates the diversity and beauty of Mexican American heritage as it pays homage to the popular Día de los Muertos holiday in Mexico. Arizona borders the Mexican state of Sonora, and restaurants throughout the city showcase Sonoran-style Mexican cuisine.Travel editor tip: Find fun things to do, great places to eat and -designated hotels in Tucson at AAA.com/TravelGuides.
21. Whidbey Island, Washington
The charming seaside villages of Wales may be out of reach at the moment, but a similar experience is just a short drive from on Whidbey Island. One AAA inspector compared the towns on the island to the seaside villages seen on a road trip from the Bristol area along the coast to the Gower region of Wales. Whidbey Island’s Deception Pass has a suspension bridge not unlike a smaller version in the Clifton neighborhood of Bristol. Small towns such as La Connor, Coupeville and Anacortes offer charms like those of Mumbles, Tenby, Chepstow and Clifton in Wales.
Inspector quote: “Great seafood, rocky beaches, outdoor activities (we hiked along the Gower in Wales, and Whidbey Island is known for its outdoor activities), green and beautiful. No castles in Washington, but you can’t win ’em all.”
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AAA Travel Editor Laurie Sterbens
Laurie Sterbens is a AAA Travel Expert.