It is very hard to determine what cities in the United States will be popular among tourist every year. Some places like New York City have been tourist hubs for decades but for most other cities, their popularity will wax and wane from year to year. But does every city live up the hype? The short answer is no.
There are always cities who welcome a ton of tourists but are not actually that fun, while on the flipside there are countless locales that have a lot to offer but are habitually ignored by most vacationers. This article will list 10 of America’s most overhyped cities and 10 that are severely underrated.
Because the two coasts are where the majority of U.S. tourists travel to, that is where most of the entries on this list come from. I have, however, included a handful of entries the Midwest, south, and Rocky Mountain regions. I have also limited this article to mostly large cities. If you have any cities that you have been to that exceeded their reputation (or didn’t live up to it), feel free to mention them in the comments section
20 Overhyped - Nashville Going Overboard With Its Theme
I understand that cities want to capitalize on any natural advantage that they have to attract tourism, but cities can sometimes go overboard with their specific themes. Take Nashville for example. Nashville was one of the first cities where country music became popular, so a lot of their attractions focus on that. The problem is that if you don't like country music, there is really no reason to visit Nashville.
All of their big attractions, from Radio City Music Hall to the Grand Ole Opry, rely mostly on country music, making their city only accessible to a narrow range of tourists.
19 Underrated - Bar Harbor: Just Check Out The Name
I recently moved to New England and I was very excited to get the chance to visit some of the coastal towns in Maine. I was disappointed, however, by the accounts of several locals who told me that the most famous of these towns, Bar Harbor, wasn't really worth visiting. I eventually went there for myself and I thought that it was a lot of fun.
Sure, some of the most popular restaurants and bars are tourist traps but that is the case with any major tourist city. Bar Harbor also has just about the coolest name of any town on the East Coast.
18 Overhyped - Do You Want To Melt in Phoenix?
For most of the cities that I have ranked as overrated, the cities businesses and politicians have made a series of mistakes that make these cities less friendly to tourists. Such is not the case with Phoenix, Arizona.
Phoenix has the distinct disadvantage of being in the hottest part of the country. It gets so hot in Phoenix that during the summer, you can literally fry an egg on the sidewalk. Most tourism in the United States happens in the summer, so the intense heat in Phoenix leaves it at a serious disadvantage.
17 Underrated - Not Only Casinos In Las Vegas
It is hard to call Las Vegas an underrated tourist destination, simply because so many people travel there every year. I do think, however, that there is a misconception that people only go to Las Vegas for one reason and one reason only. There are a lot of casinos in Vegas but there is also a lot of other stuff.
There are shows, entertainment, attractions, and a lot of really good restaurants. A lot of the public is still completely unaware that Vegas has as much to offer tourists as any other city in the country.
16 Overhyped - Racing Out of Indianapolis
I feel that too many times, people who are planning a trip to the U.S. only look at cities the east and west coasts when deciding where to go. This ignores the majority of the country. The problem with traveling to the Midwest is that a lot of cities don't see very many tourists, and are therefore ill-equipped to handle them.
Indianapolis, Indiana is a good example. Indy is a large city but they only a handful of attractions for tourists. Tourism is not a major industry there, so space and resources within the city limits are delegated to other things.
15 Underrated - There Is Nothing New About Newport
I limited most of this article to entries about big cities because those are the places that tourists tend to go when they visit the United States. It is worth stating, however, that small coastal towns like Newport, Rhode Island are definitely worth visiting.
Despite being the smallest population center on this list, Newport is home to a ton of great restaurants and attractions. The main commercial district runs right alongside the coast, giving this beach town it's authentic feel. It's hard to get that kind of experience anywhere else. One of the best seafood restaurants in town, The Lobster Pot, is nationally renowned.
14 Overhyped - Smug in Portland
Portland, Oregon went from one of the most sought-after destinations in the United States to an overhyped tourist trap faster than any other city in recent memory. With its unique hipster culture, Portland of the late 90s and early 2000s had a lot of cool things going on. As more and more hipsters began migrating to the city, however, it lost a lot of its charm.
Portland has become increasingly expensive and the more popular destinations in the city can get very overcrowded. To make matters worse, the inhabitants of the city have recently been ranked as some of the least hospitable in the country.
13 Underrated - The Reinvigoration of Washington D.C.
Despite being the nation's capital, there was a time in the 1980s when no one wanted to travel to Washington DC. Sketchy activities in the inner city was a major problem and local law enforcement was unable to guarantee the safety of tourists. The Clinton Administration (along with some local officials) did a lot to clean up the city and now it is one of the best places in the country to visit.
There has always been a ton of stuff to do in DC and now you can do it easily and safely. The suburb of Georgetown, in particular, is very cool to visit.
12 Overhyped - Over-stimulation in New York City
New York City is one of the largest cities in the world, so I understand why so many tourists flock there every year. There are, after all, so many things to do in NYC but I would argue that there are too many things to see and do in the Big Apple.
I have been to NYC on multiple occasions and by the second day of the trip, I feel so tired and sluggish. My friend suggested that I was suffering from sensory overload, a common issue for tourists in the city. There are just so many sights, sounds, and smells in New York that the brain becomes overloaded and starts to shut down.
11 Underrated - Pittsburgh: No Longer The Steel City
It is no secret that the automation revolution has dominated the country's rust belt. Cities like Detroit and Cleveland relied on heavy industry plants for jobs and those cities have never recovered from the loss. Some cities in the rust belt have tried to adapt. One city, in particular, that has been successful in changing their culture is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Pittsburgh was once totally reliant on the steel industry. Instead of constantly mourning over these lost jobs, city officials have focused on the tourism industry. This is cool for the people that live there and also, for anyone that visits.
10 Overhyped - Hartford Has Given Up
When you visit a city, it quickly becomes clear whether this city is actively trying to promote tourism. Large billboards welcoming you to the city are an easy indication but the number of restaurants and hotels in the city center is also very telling. One city that has essentially given up all hope of ever becoming a major tourist hub is Hartford, Connecticut.
Hartford is the largest city in the state but it is so close to New York City that it has little hope of attracting large numbers of tourists.
9 Underrated - Middle America
This next entry is not about a specific city but the things that I talk about here are applicable to any number of cities in the central part of the United States. They call the states in the Midwest "flyover states" because supposedly there is nothing in the Midwest worth stopping for. I completely disagree.
Chicago, St. Louis, and Lincoln are all major cities in the Midwest that have a lot of stuff going on. Don't let an east or west coast bias limit your traveling experience. There are plenty of things worth visiting in the middle part of the country.
8 Overhyped - That Philadelphia Charm
I blame the Rocky movies for a lot of the hype that Philadelphia, Pennsylvania gets. These movies romanticized Philly as an honest, working-class city. All of these things may be true but that still doesn’t mean that I want to go to eastern Pennsylvania on vacation.
There are a fair number of attractions within the city but the area as a whole is super unfriendly to tourists. Hotels near the best attractions are hard to find and the city is riddled with sketchy behavior. Philadelphia is only a major tourist hub for a few months out of the year, so if you go there outside of tourist season, many of the best attractions will be closed off to you.
7 Underrated - Still Some Fresh Air Mile High
I am starting to get worried that the recent legalization of a certain plant in Colorado will start to have an adverse effect on Denver’s tourism industry. But for now, the Mile High City remains one of the top vacation destinations west of the Mississippi.
A lot of people go to Denver for the nearby ski slopes but even if skiing isn’t for you, there is still plenty to do in the city itself. The nightlife in Denver is consistently ranked as one of the best in the country and the city also has a great food scene. Denver might be a city worth checking out before it starts to get overrun by tourists.
6 Overhyped - The Downfall of Atlantic City
No city should ever take their popularity among tourists for granted. Different migration patterns and cultural shifts can have a serious impact on which cities and locations that travelers find desirable. Perhaps no city has felt this truth more harshly than Atlantic City, New Jersey.
There was a time when Atlantic City was the premier tourist destination on the East Coast of the United States. It is not unfair to compare it to the current status of Las Vegas. But after decades of resting on their laurels and not a small amount of influence from the development of Las Vegas, Atlantic City has seen its tourist numbers decline every year. It is now only a shell of its former self.
5 Underrated - Hook'em in Austin, Texas
I have been to almost every entry on this list. But one city that I have not been to, but would really like to, is Austin, Texas. Austin may not be as big as the major cities in Texas like Houston or Dallas, but it has abandoned the major industries of those two cities in favor of a friendly tourist atmosphere.
The city is especially popular among young people and the nearby University of Texas at Austin guarantees that there will be plenty of other 21-year-olds in the bar. Also, Austin supposedly has the best food scene in the state of Texas.
4 Overhyped - What Do People Do In Miami?
One city that always shows up as one of the country's top tourist destinations is Miami, Florida. Miami is the largest city in the state, so it makes sense that it would get a large portion of the plethora of tourist that come to Florida every year. But what I don't get is why so many people like to go to Miami. I mean sure, the weather is nice and there are a ton of nearby beaches but these are things that you can get in practically any part of Florida.
In Miami, you have to deal with the high price of hotels and restaurants, plus the inflated level of behavior to be careful for around the city.
3 Underrated - Salt Lake City
I talked in the introduction about how I think more people should visit the Rocky Mountains and Midwest regions of the United States. When I was thinking about the coolest cities that I have visited in those areas, one of the first places that came to mind was Salt Lake City, Utah. Granted, I went to Salt Lake during the 2001 Olympics, so there was definitely more to do there than normal. But still, there are a lot more things to do in Utah than you would expect from such an unknown state. Because Salt Lake City is so desperate for tourism, they have put in a very impressive tourist infrastructure.
2 Overhyped - Big Dallas Gets the big 0
I have never been more bored in a major city then I was the time that I visited Dallas, Texas. Growing up, you always see TV shows and movies based in Dallas and you get the impression that it is a major metropolis where fun and exciting things are constantly happening. This is simply not the case.
Dallas is a major industrial hub, and it was not a city that was designed with tourists in mind. Because of that, there is not a heck of a lot to do for people who are visiting there. The only positive thing that I can say about Dallas, is that the inhabitants of the city give a good representation of what Texas is all about. This, however, is not worth taking a special trip there for.
1 Underrated- Charleston knows southern hospitality
As someone that grew up a few miles outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, I have my own reservations about the history and culture of the Deep South. I do have to admit, however, that Charleston, South Carolina is a pretty cool city. I have talked in other articles about the cool restaurants and nightlife there but it is worth noting that there is a unique “feel” to the city that you just don’t get in the northeast or on the West Coast.
There is something to be said for southern hospitality, the stores and hotels in Charleston are consistently ranked as some of the friendliest in the country.