Bucket List: 6 Things British Expats Must Do Before Leaving America

(Photo: Fotolia)

Fourth of July fireworks. (Photo: Fotolia)

As we know, this country is huge and varied, so a real bucket list could fill a book. However, there are a few things I’d recommend all Brits in America do while they’re here. (Please feel free to add your recommendations below.)

Eat something you’d never find in the U.K.
Although many American food chains have crossed the Pond and Marks and Spencer now sell an “American style Mini Sub-Roll Platter”, there are still a lot of foods here that you either wouldn’t find, or wouldn’t try, back in Blighty. Go on, treat yourself to some State Fair food, a massive New England lobster chow down, pigs’ trotters, perhaps some Southern fried rattlesnake or Rocky Mountain oysters. It makes for great conversation at the very least!

Attend a sports event
Whether it’s baseball, (American) football, hockey or basketball, you can’t beat American sports events for pure atmosphere. They are often more of an occasion to drink bond with friends however, so Brits may find themselves unable to concentrate on the actual sport because of all the whooping, hollering and “visiting.” When my British brother attended a U.S. sporting event, I think his exact words were, “Why don’t they just sit down and watch the ball game?” And, in all the time I’ve been going to baseball games, where beer sellers walk the aisles and you can buy hard liquor along with your brats, I’ve never encountered violence. I’ve been sloshed down the back a few times as people pass the drinks along the row, I have to admit!

Visit an iconic sight or a national treasure
Obviously, your budget will dictate what you get to see in the U.S. but the good news is there are places of historic interest all over the country. This web site helps you find your nearest treasures, and there’s quite a range. From President Lincoln’s cottage in Washington D.C. to the Hotel de Paris Museum in Georgetown, Colorado, there are historical spots across the land and often off the beaten track. Alternatively, you could pick a few of the U.S.’s most iconic sights, such as the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Grand Canyon, the Willis Tower, the list goes on. They’re iconic for a reason and well worth a visit.

Do something “typically” American
Again, budget and personal preference dictate your choice here but options range from dude ranching (which, let’s face it, just can’t be replicated in the U.K.), attending a Macy’s parade, to July 4th fireworks. Or it could be something much simpler. Two decades ago, I worked with an Australian who wanted to eat Chinese out of a square paper carton and see steam coming out of a manhole. Whatever floats your boat; just make sure you check it off that list.

Experience the great outdoors
And not necessarily in your own state. With 49 others to choose from, there is a staggering beauty everywhere and hundreds of activities to suit everyone. Here’s a fantastic web site to give you some ideas in each state, although its suggestions for Indiana (“Enter a pie-eating contest”) and Pennsylvania (“Win a food fight”) aren’t quite what I had in mind. Colorado, for example, isn’t just a ski state; in the summer there’s also white water rafting, cycling, and hiking.

Take a road trip
Okay, so admittedly, this isn’t every Brit’s idea of a good time. We’re just not that into driving. However, as long as you don’t overdo* it, you could find yourself having fun. The key is to plan your trip rather than just driving from A to B. If possible, take a route with points of interest along the way and travel in a comfortable vehicle. There are some well-established routes, such as Route 66, or the Pacific coast route. It’s even better if you can do it in an RV, which is my personal bucket list item.

*Overdoing it is obviously very subjective. For me, it’s having to get up at silly o’ clock, driving for more than three hours without a stretch break, sitting in bucket seats or driving in extreme winter weather.

Want to discover the hidden gems of U.S. travel? Join @MindtheGap_BBCA and guest co-host @BBC_Travel on Twitter on Wednesday, September 3 from 2 to 3 pm ET for the inside information. Tweet your questions using hashtag #MindTheChat for a chance to win The Thick of It: The Complete Collection on DVD, courtesy of BBC Shop.

See more:
10 Affordable U.S. Travel Destinations – and How to Experience Them on a Budget
Traveling DIY Style: Tips for Brits Planning U.S. Holidays
Themed Vacations: Ideas for Brits in America


Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a British author who has lived in the USA since 1990. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom and The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students. She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV discussing US/UK matters.
View all posts by Toni Hargis.
  • Brittany

    You’ve never been to Philadelphia if you’ve never encountered violence at a sporting event. :)

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      Yup, there’s a reason why they call Wrigley Field “The Friendly Confines”, although I have to admit, I don’t sit in the bleachers.

    • Dee Dee Rivers

      Or LA or SF when they’re playing each other. Two deaths in the last five years.

  • http://www.paulinewiles.com/blog Pauline Wiles

    I’ve never yet had to stop for a School Bus (nine years and counting), so clearly it’s not yet time for me to leave. I have, however, discovered I like PBJ sandwiches and (ahem) used a toilet seat with a cover. Making s’mores are a remaining item on my US-bucket-list.

  • therealguyfaux

    If you are going to be in the New York area, go to an Italian-American street fair. Many are held, in historically Italian-American RC parishes, throughout the summer. Not necessarily the San Gennaro festival– try the Mount Carmel Feast, right near Hipster Brooklyn in Williamsburg. Nothing different from the SG except an entertainment called the “Giglio,” a large column on a platform being borne by dozens of men, and they dance with it. Obviously this takes a lot of ability to be done right, without injury to the bearers. It’s held in July, as opposed to the SG in September. There are other fairs, but the MCF is in an area you might want to check out anyway. Needless to say, the street food is perhaps a bit pricey as well as (possibly) dicey, but it’s the only thing to eat– the sausage-and-pepper subs are absolutely mandatory.

    • Angelo

      The San Gennaro festival is one of the few remaining vestiges of Italian-American culture. My impression is that too many British tend to see the US as culturally uniform — one big Texas — but like any other society with immigrants, there exists different subcultures with different perceptions and experiences due to people being from varied backgrounds.
      While many people tend to disparage Hipsters, they have a very big influence on style and popular culture. Visit the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn if in the New York area, or Portland, Oregon if on the West Coast.

  • Irené Colthurst

    Visit Maryland, and upstate New York.

    • Scarlet

      TL;DR – a WNY tour itinerary.

      An Upstate NY sojourn along the Niagara River isn’t a long drive, but you may want to book into a motel somewhere along the way because there’s so much to see and do along this route.

      First, you must go to Niagara Falls – let’s face it, most of us aren’t headed to Venzuela or Uganda, so this is as good as it gets for massive waterfalls, and bonus, there’s 3 of them (American, Bridal Veil, and Horseshoe) in 2 different countries (US and Canada). Do Cave of the Winds, where they issue you rubber-soled sandals and guide you up stairs (reason for sandals) right up under the Bridal Veil, take the Maid of the Mist to see the Falls from the bottom (on the Niagara River), go up in the Observation Tower to see them from on high. There’s also a surprisingly good restaurant inside the NYS park, overlooking the Falls, for a spot of lunch.

      If you’re lucky, there may be a good concert series at Artpark in Lewiston. Caught Peter Frampton there a few years back, and their concerts are free. Bring a picnic hamper, a cooler, and a blanket or folding lawn chairs, as it’s an open-air venue with no seating (save for scattered benches near the food vendor area above the stage).
      Continue driving north and check out Fort Niagara, which has flown 3 flags (French, British, and US) and still has its original 1700s French Castle (officers’ HQ) standing, complete with its Haunted Well. It’s at the mouth of the Niagara overlooking Lake Ontario, the smallest, but the deepest, of the 5 Great Lakes. Period costumes, activities, and events like Warwick, only on a smaller, far less commercialized scale. Great fun if you’ve got kids along.

      Then go back to Niagara Falls (the city) and cross the Rainbow Bridge into Canada (don’t forget your passport). Ontario’s view of the Falls is superior to NYs, and it’s right out on the street in their city of Niagara Falls, as opposed to being tucked away in parkland. There’s a Hard Rock Cafe and a casino across the street, and walking up Clifton Hill presents you with a myriad of fun touristy things, anything from mini-golf to Madam Tussaud’s and everything in-between.

      Go north to Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake (formerly Newark, the first British colonial capital of Upper Canada before those honors went to York AKA Toronto), also on Lake Ontario. The Niagara is very narrow at that point and you can see where you’ve been (Fort Niagara) and realize just how close these dueling forts were in the War of 1812 and why the Niagara Frontier became one of the conflict’s primary battlegrounds. Niagara-on-the-Lake is Ontario’s vineyard country, so be sure to plan ahead for some wine-tasting or at least grab a bottle or 2. They’ve also got an excellent Shakespeare repetory company in town.

      You could take the Queen Elizabeth Highway (called after the Queen Mum) further north to Toronto from there, if you wish. It’s really a city you shouldn’t miss if you happen to be in the neighborhood (about an hour’s drive from the fort).

      If not, continue south along the river and marvel at the Niagara Gorge, which is where the Niagara becomes unnavigable due to rapids (this is why you can’t get on a boat and travel the connected Great Lakes in one go). The river scenery is absolutely gorgeous. Brock’s Monument (he was killed at the Battle of Queenston Heights) is along the way. Then there’s the Laura Secord House, where the Canadian heroine of the War of 1812 lived. (Not sure if they ever made it across the pond, but Laura Secord chocolates and puddings are yummy and they sell them in the gift shop there.)

      By this point you will have passed the 2nd of the 3 bridges (the Lewiston-Queenston), so continue south to the city of Fort Erie and cross back into NY via the Peace Bridge. You’ll be in Buffalo and ought to head for the Erie Basin Marina. The marina has beautiful gardens in the fully British sense of the term. At its Naval and Military Park, you can tour not just a museum, but WWII-era aircraft, a battleship (the USS Little Rock), and a submarine. There’s a tour boat called the Miss Buffalo that embarks from the park and will take you on a river cruise, or you could hire a sailboat or speedboat at the marina.

      The city of Buffalo has tons of attractions. For architecture buffs, there’s the Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin-Martin House and his Fontana Boathouse, St Joseph’s Cathedral (terrifically Gothic), the Buffalo Central Terminal (restored railroad hub), and the spectacular Art Deco-style City Hall, which has a great view for miles in all direction (including across your 2nd Great Lake of the expedition, Lake Erie) if you go all the way to the observation deck. The Wilcox Mansion is a Gothic Revival house where Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president after William McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo by one of those pesky Eastern European immigrant anarchists.

      Two art galleries right across the street from each other, the smaller Burchfield-Penney fronting the campus of Buffalo State College, and the internationally-acclaimed Albright-Knox, and next door to the A-K is the Buffalo Historical Museum. Behind them both is the huge Delaware Park (designed by Frederick Law Olmstead), and in the summer they also have an excellent free-to-attend Shakespeare company (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been, and if they’re doing The Tempest, it was a fabulous performance). Nature enthusiasts will enjoy not just that park, but the Buffalo Botanical Gardens and the Tifft Nature Preserve (bring hiking boots for the latter).

      The Pierce-Arrow Museum, a short drive from the galleries, is a fascinating look at the history of the American automotive industry, with vehicles up to 100 years old at which to gawk. Downtown Buffalo has a great theatre district (Curtain Up, the start of the new season, happens in October). A little something for everyone to enjoy around these parts.

  • MontanaRed

    Stop in Cody, Wyoming, for the Cody Night Rodeo, held every evening during the summer season. See the Reed Point, Montana, sheep drive. See the Battle of the Big Horn re-enactment. Experience the culture of the first Americans: attend Crow Fair, Crow Agency, Montana, or the big annual pow-wow in Billings, Montana. Take in the ancient pueblos of the Southwest and learn about traditional weaving and pottery making from Navajos. Visit a Seminole village in south Florida (lots has changed there, but they try to hang on to some of their cultural traditions). It’s an amazing country, with layers upon layers of history and cultures. (Semi-apologies for my wordy enthusiasm.)

  • fordman

    visit philadelphia birth place of america

    • Scarlet

      The *birthplace of America* is considered to be Jamestown, Virginia, the first (successful; Roanoke disappeared) British colony, established in 1607. Although there may be some argument on that designation regarding 16th century French and Spanish settlements, particularly the oldest city in the US, St Augustine, Florida (settled 1565). Philadelphia wasn’t founded by William Penn until 1681.

  • Betsi Townsend

    go to a rodeo, Woodstown NJ has one.

  • Virginia Putnam

    New Englander here, so pardon the Yankee slanted suggestions. The article mentioned having lobster. I suggest going to a Maine lobster shack such as Red’s eats in Wiscasset instead of a sit down restaurant. Also visit Vermont in the fall for the foliage or in the spring to visit a sugar house. I know Canada makes maple syrup too, but here it is made by Yankees many of whom come form families that have been making it for generations. Lastly go to a Red Sox game, particularly one against the Yankees in Fenway Park.

    • Scarlet

      TL;DR – New England places of interest.

      When I visited New England, I particulary enjoyed Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the Mayflower fetched up (though I must say Plymouth Rock was a huge disappointment). There’s a replica of the Mayflower in the harbor, and Plimoth Village, which is a replica of the Purtian settlement, with the usual period costumes, events, and activities. (Williamsburg, Virginia also has the old colonial town set up like that, and it’s a lot larger than Plimoth, takes days to really get through.) Autumn is a good time to go there because it’s all about that American holiday of Thanksgiving that time of year.

      Salem, Massachusetts is also a great place to go in New England (but don’t book a motel down the pike in Saugus!). The tourist industry there is, of course, based around the Salem Witch Trials. Loved that you could get on a bus for a whistle-stop tour, get off at whatever struck your fancy, then hop aboard the next one by and carry on.

      In Boston proper, the USS Constitution (famous for its win in the War of 1812 naval battle with the HMS Guerriere) is at dock and can be toured. It’s the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat. There’s a self-guided walking tour called the Freedom Trail for those with an interest in sites pertaining to the American Revolution. Fanueil Hall’s marketplace was worth a look-in.

      Sadly, The Old Man of the Mountains fell off a few years back, but the trip up into New Hampshire to Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains is still a lovely drive. Mount Washington at 8000-ish ft is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, and you can take a (rather harrowing hairpin) drive up to the top by car, for which you get rewarded with a bumper sticker for bragging rights about the accomplishment. Even if it’s high summer, take a jacket, as the temperature at the top is usually half that at the bottom, and it’s really windy. In Portsmouth, which is located on NHs 12 miles of coastline, the Isles of Shoals boat tour is a nice way to spend the afternoon.

      Ogunquit, Maine, is an art colony antique shop-filled town right on the Atlantic, with lots of fascinating finds to behold, and a lovely, sandy, public beach (not rocky as many of the UK beaches are). There are several coast towns in Maine where you can board ship for a whale-watch cruise out into the Atlantic. They’re humpbacked whales and the sightings are simply breathtaking.

      You could always travel to Bangor and try to scare up Stephen King 😉

  • scootergirl

    may i suggest that you visit Northern Californias REDWOODS…. for sheer AWESOMENESS (is that a word?)…. the oldest living creatures on the planet… as I am native to this land… it holds a particular place in my heart… the ‘Giant Creatures’ DO live in this ancient forest……. I have seen one…….. the forest is a glimpse of our LAND BEFORE TIME………………………………..

  • Becky Martinovich

    The Grand Canyon or Lake Powell. The Mogollon Rim in northeastern Arizona. Zion National Monument and Bryce Canyon in Utah. Just a few places to visit for the nature lover.

  • terentiaj63

    If you are living anywhere on either coast, take a trip to flyover country. Visit the Midwest, or the Great Plains and, as great as Chicago is, that is not what I mean. See the Great Lakes. Cross the Mackinaw Bridge: a 5 mile long, 600 ft high suspension bridge spanning the straits where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, connecting the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. It’s gorgeous! The US is a huge country. Pin up a map, throw a dart, go there and I guarantee you will find something amazing

  • Scott

    I haven’t been on the Oregon or Washington parts of the pacific coast route, but for most of the route in California, it is _not_ suitable for an RV. It’s narrow, twisting road with no real place for you to turn off to let faster cars by–and the road is too narrow along much of it to let them pass an RV.
    Did I mention that it goes through downtown San Francisco as surface streets, and when you do get to LA, you’re driving through the beach communities on surface streets that could be described as “pre-congestion charge” London.
    Seriously–if you want to use a part of the coast route to get to a place to park the RV it’s fine. If you want to drive it in a “The road is the destination” sense, then leave the RV behind and do it in a car.

    • Kim

      You’re talking absolute sense Scott. I (a Kiwi) had the bright idea & mentioned to my (U.S.) husband to take the Pacific Hwy route. We traveled out west in our RV from the south to California & then up the coast & settled in Oregon. Didn’t get too many pictures up that way coz I couldn’t take my hands away from my eyes. It was the scariest drive I’ve ever had. Would love to go back & do it in a car though…that would be fabulous!!

      • Scott

        It’s wonderful in a car, it really is. If we’ve had a wet winter, you’ll usually get stuck a couple of times for road work (parts of the hillside come down, and take a chunk of road with it), but when the weather is nice, it’s a glorious drive

  • maggie

    Old Home Days in several towns here in NH are fun to visit as is the Deerfield fair. Go to the top of Mount Washington which till 2010 had recorded the highest wind gusts on earth. You can get to the top via the Cog Railway or the Auto Road. BTW pigs trotters can be obtained back home. My grandparents would often get them.

  • Vane

    If you ever find your self in Chicago, don’t do The Taste of Chicago take it from a Chicagoan. There are plenty of other food festivals to choose from with better prices and food! The only reason I can think of for going to The Taste, is for the turkey legs.

  • MacksDad

    Stay/arrange your visit for Thanksgiving. Fantastic holiday about, well, just being thankful. No religious tub-thumping thankfully – just family, friends, football, food and lots of booze. And a 4 day weekend.

    • Scarlet

      Not a 4-day weekend for those who work in retail, what with Black Friday in the mix. Pretty soon Thanksgiving will no longer be a holiday as the major retailers have all been open that evening for the last few years, and keep pushing the time they do it.

  • Thor

    if anyone been to the 4 corners well lest to say that is off by a mile or 2

  • Ian Flannagan

    Go to a licensed gun range where you can rent and fire a pistol. Regardless of your politics, it will enhance your understanding the issue, and nothing could possibly be more American.

  • Lesley

    Many new York counties hold agricultural fairs during the summer months which are fantastic – our local county fair is a huge event over 6days, not only with farm animals but lots of food, fairground rides, arts and crafts and lots of other stuff. Totally different to ones in the uk.

  • FR3

    The International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. People should go there at least once in their lifetime.

  • Mandy

    If you’re here in mid-August and anywhere near New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh (though it’s a stretch), or Washington, DC, Williamsport Pennsylvania and the Little League World Series are just a few hours away. With 180,000 teams world wide, Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world. This year we welcomed teams from South Korea, the Czech Republic, and Venezuela, among others. These kids -and their coaches- are fantastic role models for hard work, dedication, and good sportsmanship. Professional athletes could take a few lessons from them.

  • thom1111

    For the curious Brit, I would suggest renting the movie “Paul” (Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and the voice of Seth Rogen travel around the American southwest, attempting to encounter every sci-fi trope and callback in existence). And “Yes” they did rent an RV. Some very nice backdrops for the movie

  • moreta

    Try some local events as well. In the spring, we have the Apple Blossom Festival. http://www.appleblossomparade.com/

    Local festivals can really give you a good insight into just how different we all are, even though we are one nation. Another good place to go would be Kishacoquillas Valley, better known as Big Valley in Pennsylvania. They have a huge auction and flea market with good food. The area is largely Amish and is beautiful part of the country.

  • http://www.algoreisabidfatidiot.com/ Rev Jim Jones

    Don’t fall for the mountain oysters. They can be had anywhere but if you know what it is you won’t.

  • Steven F. Scharff

    If you plan on visiting Las Vegas, just remember that “The Strip” is in Unincorporated Clark County and not in the City of Las Vegas! If you truly want to say you were IN Las Vegas, go down to Fremont Street…and watch your wallet! The pickpockets are VERY good at what they do!