City break central: 10 of the USA's best urban escapes

Robin McKelvie

Robin McKelvie

Few countries in the world, if any, can match the diversity, colour, and vibe of America's cities. It's not a question of if there's an American city for your ideal urban escape, more a question of which one.

The USA's most exciting cities to visit in 2019 © Eyetronic - Fotolia.com
The USA's most exciting cities to visit in 2019 © Eyetronic - Fotolia.com

We all know about the world famous attractions of the Golden Gate Bridge and Broadway, but what about kayaking with dolphins, drinking world class craft beers in rooftop bars, or learning to surf in the city? Read on to find the right US city for you in 2019.

Looking to fly stateside? Virgin Atlantic operates one of the most comprehensive schedules between the UK and USA, with flights to all the following cities. Check out the latest fares across the pond and give our bespoke destination finder a go if you're still unsure about where to go in 2019.

1. Atlanta

  • Depart from: London Heathrow (LHR) & Manchester (MAN)
  • Flight time: 10 hours
  • When to go: June
  • The right city for: buzzy Southern charm

This is a city that rose phoenix-like from the ashes after General Sherman's forces torched it back in 1864.

The rebirth has been impressive and the eclectic home city of Martin Luther King Jr and Coca-Cola boasts an urban buzz that ripples through its superb restaurants, renowned hip-hop culture and burgeoning movie scene. This is the 'Hollywood of the South' after all.

Take Atlanta's pulse at Ponce City Market, with its swathe of stalls and eating joints. It's also easy to see why Atlanta earns the epithet 'The City in the Forest' as a third of it's shrouded in trees and the locals like nothing better than getting active in nature.

Join them strolling or cycling on the Atlanta Beltline, which wraps its green tentacles for 22 miles around Atlanta.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall

Search flights to Atlanta >>

2. Boston

  • Depart from: London Heathrow (LHR) all year & Manchester (MAN) throughout summer
  • Flight time: 7.5 hours
  • When to go: June, July & August
  • The right city for: history lovers and cultured souls

This stately east coaster is one big history lesson and its reputation as the birthplace of American democracy is well earned.

This is the city of the Boston Tea Party, after all. Boston was one of the first settlements in the USA to emerge and today its grand red-brick streets are awash with heritage.

Historic Acorn Street in the Beacon Hill district, Boston © f11photo - Fotolia.com
Historic Acorn Street in the Beacon Hill district, Boston © f11photo - Fotolia.com

You could spend weeks exploring the rich layers of history. A highlight is the Freedom Trail, which sweeps through 16 historical sights in less than three miles.

Boston is a cultured, learned place and is, of course, home to Harvard, just one of around 50 colleges and universities. The seafood restaurants, famed craft beer breweries, and bountiful shops await those seeking less cerebral pursuits.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

Search flights to Boston >>

Read more: A first timer's guide to Boston & Alternative things to do in Boston

3. Las Vegas

  • Depart from: London Gatwick (LGW) although this will be moving to London Heathrow from 31 March 2019 & Manchester (MAN)
  • Flight time: 11 hours
  • When to go: April & October
  • The right city for: gamblers and thrill-seekers

There's only one Las Vegas, so strap in and the thrill-a-minute ride. Fortunes are won and lost in the casinos, which are not just all about roulette wheels and poker decks as they are real nightlife, eating and drinking hubs.

If you want to chance your luck you have come to the right city, but you don't need to trouble your bank manager either if you just want to just take all the infectious drama in.

Bursting beyond the casinos, Las Vegas is a great base for thrill-seeking out in the spectacular wilds that surround the city.

How about enjoying a breathtaking helicopter ride over and into the famous Grand Canyon? Or getting right in amongst nature bashing along the Colorado River whitewater rafting?

Swirl in horse riding, hiking, and biking, and you won't be gambling on having a good time in the great outdoors here.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall

Search flights to Las Vegas >>

Read more: 8 unmissable day trips from Las Vegas & 7 things that don't involve gambling in Las Vegas

4. Los Angeles

  • Depart from: London Heathrow (LHR)
  • Flight time: 11 hours
  • When to go: April, June, July & August
  • The right city for: fans in search of A-listers and Hollywood glamour

LA is a city that is both impossible to ignore and equally impossible to define. What's without doubt is that it continues to attract some of the most famous people in the world, who enjoy the buzz of life and the unmistakable glamour that you too can tap into.

Stroll the Hollywood Walk of Fame or getting behind the scenes on a tour of Universal Studios Hollywood.

Los Angeles California, City of Angels © Chones - Fotolia.com
Los Angeles California, City of Angels © Chones - Fotolia.com

The City of Angels boasts more than just stars. How about learning to surf in one of the city's surf schools and then taking on the breaks of famous Venice Beach?

Or how about making the most of your luggage allowance with a trip to one of the city's giant shopping malls? Whatever you savour world-class Californian wines and a diverse foodie scene await afterwards.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

Search flights to Los Angeles >>

Read more: Los Angeles for beginners

5. Miami

  • Depart from: London Heathrow (LHR)
  • Flight time: 10
  • When to go: April & May
  • The right city for: serious party people

What could be more refined than sipping a cocktail on Ocean Drive in the shadow of an art deco hotel as a Ferrari eases past beneath the swaying palms and bountiful sands of South Beach?

Miami is a serious party hub with Miami Beach the oasis that is the heart of the action. Think poolside bars, chic restaurants and pumping nightclubs.

Hotel on Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, Florida © Ucumari Photography - Flickr Creative Commons
Hotel on Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, Florida © Ucumari Photography - Flickr Creative Commons

Much of Miami's nightlife bursts from its Latin American population. Delve further on a tour of Little Havana as you savour the best Cuban cuisine outside Cuba.

A guided tour of Miami Beach's art deco gems tempts too, while beyond the city boundaries the Everglades and their alligators await.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

Search flights to Miami >>

Read more: Where to go and what to see in Miami, Top 8 sights in and around Miami Beach, Everglades & Florida Keys & Your guide to Brickell, Miami

6. New York

  • Depart from: London Heathrow (LHR) to New York (JFK) & Newark (EWR); Manchester (MAN) to New York (JFK)
  • Flight time: 8 hours
  • When to go: June, July & August
  • The right city for: everyone, anyone and the rest

The Big Apple has a large chunk of what you want waiting for you no matter your tastes.

It's all here, from the iconic Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building, through to premieres on Broadway and gigs at Madison Square Garden, and on to world-class restaurants and some of the most thrilling retail therapy on the planet.

America's truly global mega city, the ultimate city break destination, never disappoints.

Midtown Manhattan - just part of New York's inimitable skyline © Kmiragaya - Fotolia.com
Midtown Manhattan - just part of New York's inimitable skyline © Kmiragaya - Fotolia.com

New York feels like one giant movie set, alive with unforgettable experiences. You stroll through Central Park, catch that view of the epic skyline from the Staten Island Ferry and have your senses blown away in Times Square.

One of the most remarkable things about NYC is that it constantly offers little surprises, like beaches nearby, superb dirt cheap fast food joints and lots of chances to save a buck or two when you follow the locals.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

Search flights to New York >>

Read more: 13 fantastic museums to visit in NYC, Cheap things to do in New York & Top tips for a weekend break in New York

7. Orlando

  • Depart from: London Gatwick (LGW) & Manchester (MAN) all year round plus summer flights from Belfast (BFS) & Glasgow (GLA)
  • Flight time: 9.5 hours
  • When to go: March & April
  • The right city for: families and theme park lovers

No wonder Orlando is renowned as the 'Theme Park Capital of the World'. This Florida hub is the ideal base for exploring the world's most famous theme parks and water parks.

They are all here: in particular, Walt Disney World (with its range of parks) and Universal Studios Orlando (with its choice too) are global icons. The list goes on and on. Handily all are easily accessible from Orlando.

You could spend weeks at the theme parks and still not cover everything, but there's plenty in and around Orlando to keep you busy too. The city boasts a great choice of restaurants these days, as well as parks and museums to explore.

Getting out and about in Orlando is also a great way to glean local advice on new attractions and insider tips on getting the most out of the theme parks.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall

Search flights to Orlando >>

Read more: Orlando away from the theme parks & 7 reasons Orlando is not just for kids

8. San Francisco

  • Depart from: London Heathrow (LHR) & Manchester (MAN)
  • Flight time: 11 hours
  • When to go: September
  • The right city for: west coast historical charm by the ocean

You'll feel you've been to San Francisco even if it's your first visit as its icons are seared across the global consciousness.

This Pacific Ocean charmer sports the Golden Gate Bridge, the notorious prison island of Alcatraz, and those rumbling streetcars you've seen in a million movies. You can explore this rich tapestry of history in the city's wealth of museums and galleries.

The famous Hyde Street cable car, San Francisco © Tono Balaguer - Fotolia.com
The famous Hyde Street cable car, San Francisco © Tono Balaguer - Fotolia.com

San Francisco is a cultural melting pot too, and you won't forget the sights, sounds, and flavours of Chinatown in a hurry.

Or the myriad flavours of Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market in what today is a serious foodie destination. Some of the best wine touring in the world awaits in the Napa Valley, which is teasingly close, as are beaches for swimming and surfing.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

Read more: How to holiday like a local in San Francisco, Where to relive the summer of love & San Francisco after dark

9. Seattle

  • Depart from: London Heathrow (LHR)
  • Flight time: 9.5 hours
  • When to go: July
  • The right city for: hipsters and cool city slickers

Arguably the coolest city in the country is where the big tech companies choose to settle, and both Google and Apple have a big presence here, and Amazon calls it home.

Hipsters flock to the lively centre in search of some of the finest coffee in the country at the original Starbucks, while the rich counterculture scene that fires the city's creativity remains very much intact. Take Seattle's pulse with a gig; this is the city that spawned Nirvana and grunge, after all.

One of Seattle's chief charms is its idyllic setting in America's spectacular Northwest. Washington State is known as 'The Evergreen State' for good reason as it's an oasis of mountains, rugged coastline and islands.

You can set off to explore it on two feet, two wheels or - most dramatically - in a kayak where you can spot dolphins or whales with Seattle coffee still coursing through your veins. Remarkably, over 40% of Seattle's city area is water.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall

Search flights to Seattle >>

Read more: How to spend 48 hours in Seattle

10. Washington DC

  • Depart from: London Heathrow (LHR)
  • Flight time: 8.5 hours
  • When to go: June
  • The right city for: politicos

If you've ever been entranced by the drama of events swirling around the epic White House imagine actually standing right in front of the epicentre of American power.

Washington is awash with sites of political or historical significance, from the Washington Monument and Capitol Hill, to the National Museum of American History, where you can dig deep into American culture and heritage with lighter exhibits like Dorothy's original slippers from the Wizard of Oz.

The United States Capitol in the heart of Washington DC © Amanda Walker - Wikimedia Commons
The United States Capitol in the heart of Washington DC © Amanda Walker - Wikimedia Commons

Washington these days offers much more than politics. The many museums include the National Air and Space Museum and the curious International Spy Museum.

Forget intrigue as you follow the gentle exertions of giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian at the National Zoological Park, plus the 20,000 other residents.

As the sun sets head for one of the rooftop bars that have been big news in recent years offering views to go with your locally brewed craft beers.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall

Search flights to Washington DC >>

Read more: A newbie's guide to Washington DC, USA

Destination finderDestination finder

Back to search

Don't forget: Virgin Atlantic frequently runs online sales with great value fares to cities across the USA. Try the destination finder above and remember to visit our collection of current offers from Virgin Atlantic for 2019/2020 as well.

Robin McKelvie

Robin McKelvie
Posted on Wednesday 28th November 2018 in: City Culture North America

Related posts

Back to Blog Top ^

icon