Top 10 for 2013: North America

While New York continues to draw in visitors by the thousands, there's much more to North America than the Big Apple. There's Canada for starters. And Detroit, Dallas, San Francisco, Pennsylvania and even New Mexico. Whether it's ogling the Northern Lights in Canada's wild north, road-tripping to a new National Park in sunny California, or living it up in downtown Pittsburgh, read on for the top 10 places to visit in the USA and Canada in 2013...

Words: David Whitley

  • Detroit, Michigan

    The byword for urban blight is on the up. Desperate attempts to rejuvenate Motor City have seen rents slashed, with artists and tech entrepreneurs taking advantage. A made-over downtown area – especially the sprawling new riverside park – helps. It’s the light to the ghoulish dark, driving around abandoned houses in virtually deserted neighbourhoods. But when the residents fight back, magic happens – the Heidelberg Project is as heartwarming as it gets, with a whole block turned into a giant quirky-meets-political art canvas.

    Picture credit: Vito Palmisano

  • Yukon, Canada

    NASA scientists have predicted that 2013’s Northern Lights will be the brightest for 50 years, and Canada’s wild north is the best place in North America to ogle the aurora borealis lightshow. If the skies aren’t dancing, the Northern Lights Centre in Watson Lake explains the science part, while moose-spotting expeditions and exploring the giant ice field of the Kluane National Park offer a perfect excuse to test out a new winter coat.

    Picture credit: Robert Postma/ Tourism Yukon

  • San Francisco, California

    San Fran hardly needed any sexing up, but the arrival of the Americas Cup through the summer months should give it extra sailor chic. If you’re not sitting in a yacht on the bay, you can still see all walks of life in The Mission, drink by firelight on Ocean Beach or restaurant-hop through The Haight. 2013 also marks 50 years since Alcatraz Island ceased to be a prison. A boat trip out there is as much about its unlikely new wildlife haven status as the Capone years and escape attempts.

    Picture credit: Visit California

  • Pinnacles National Park, California

    A wilderness of swooping condors, dazzlingly clear night skies and barely-visited caves, the US’ newest National Park offers a virtually crowd-free alternative to overly popular Yosemite. The major bonus is that it’s just off the main highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles – a perfect journey breaker for road-trippers wanting a dose of deep canyons and mountain magic between the big city bright lights.

    Picture credit: David Gubernick/ Monterey County Tourism

  • Toronto, Canada

    For years, Toronto has been Montreal’s less cool cousin. But it is now finding its own groove rather than being just a gateway to Niagara Falls or a poor man’s New York. The Toronto International Film Festival in September helps – it’s the one big flickfest on the global calendar where the stars and ordinary public mingle properly. If you have to pick two of Toronto’s highly individualistic neighbourhoods, make it the indie shopping and art hotel strip of Queen Street West, and the world-spanning foodie hub of Kensington Market.

    As for getting there, budget airline Air Canada Rouge adds to the options in June with new flights from Edinburgh.

    Picture credit: Toronto Tour

  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

    A contender for the title of most unexpectedly gorgeous city in the world, downtown Pittsburgh is sandwiched between two rivers and countless spectacular bridges. The skyline and natural setting have made it a film favourite – the Dark Knight Rises is amongst the movies shot there – but the cultural scene gives it the current X-Factor. The Andy Warhol Museum, with six floors devoted to the hometown hero, is the spearhead but the Mattress Factory installation gallery is also world class.

    Picture credit: David Whitley

  • St Johns, Canada

    North America’s oldest and most easterly city is surprisingly close – flight times of four-and-a-half hours bring it into short break territory. Nature lovers can watch humpback whales and icebergs fly past, or ogle puffin colonies, while George Street supposedly has the most bars per square metre of any street on the planet. It’s a city that pulls off quaint – check out the colourful wooden houses and pub singalong sessions – and cool at the same time.

  • New Mexico

    If your Breaking Bad box set has given you hankerings for the great American desert, then New Mexico is where it’s shot. It’s a state of epic natural monuments, surprisingly snowy mountains, native American pueblo villages and alien conspiracy theories near Roswell. Throw in the surprisingly arty cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and there’s a two-week wide-open-space road trip that most countries can’t match.

    Picture credit: New Mexico True

  • Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

    If Daniel Day-Lewis has inspired a lust for all things Lincoln, Gettysburg is the place for an Honest Abe Fix. 150 years ago, he made his legendary Gettysburg Address there – 272 words of speech-writing majesty that ingrained freedom and equality as goals worth fighting for worldwide. Amongst Gettysburg’s battlefield memorials and graveyards is a world class visitor centre that goes into the fight against slavery. Like the film, it’s worthy but excellent – and undeniably worth the couple of hours’ drive from Washington DC.

    Picture credit: Carl Shuman/ Gettysburg CVB

  • Dallas, Texas

    The assassinated presidents jamboree continues in Dallas, which marks 50 years since JFK was shot in 2013. It’s a little macabre, but chatting to the conspiracy theorists as you check the angles from the grassy knoll at Dealey Plaza is half the fun – while the Sixth Floor Museum at the Book Depository Building is the place for more reliably in-depth investigations. Elsewhere in big city Texas, you can go for class in Dallas’ extensive Arts District or join the line-dancing, bull-riding cowgirl madness at Billy Bob’s – the world’s largest honky tonk.

    Picture credit: Rhonda Hole/ The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza