Readers Choice

10Best Readers' ChoiceChosen by readers of USA TODAY and 10Best

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    #10 - New Orleans

    in 1718, French colonist Sieur de Bienville established a port city named La Nouvelle Orleans near where the Mississippi River met the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the city was destroyed by fire during the brief period of Spanish rule (many of the city's historical buildings were built by the Spanish, not the French). The city came into U.S. control as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. New Orleans also witnessed the culminating battle of the War of 1812, where Andrew Jackson's troops - joined by Jean Lafitte -defeated British forces.

    Photo courtesy of Spondylolithesis/iStock

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    #9 - Philadelphia

    It's impossible to study U.S. history without exploring the history of Philadelphia, the birthplace of American democracy. Independence Hall, in the heart of what is now Philly's Independence National Historic Park, witnessed the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the formation of the U.S. Constitution 11 years later. While historians debate Betsy Ross's true role in creating the original American Flag, the famous seamstress made her home in Philadelphia.

    Photo courtesy of G. Widman for Visit Philadelphia

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    #8 - Santa Fe

    Pueblo settlements in and around Santa Fe date back to the 10th century, but the city itself wasn't established until 1607. It became the capital of the Spanish province of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico in 1610, making it the oldest state capital in the country, and it's also home to the nation's oldest public building (the Palace of the Governors) and the oldest community celebration, the Santa Fe Fiesta, first held in 1712 to commemorate the Spanish reconquest of New Mexico.

    Photo courtesy of MarkKane.net

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    #7 - Boston

    From baseball to higher education and everything in between, Boston's rich history is evident everywhere you look. Incorporated as a town in 1630, Boston saw the founding of the first college in North America - Harvard University - in 1630, just 16 years after the pilgrims first arrived. In 1773, the infamous Boston Tea Party was the first act of open rebellion against British colonial rule, setting in motion events that would eventually lead to the birthing of a new nation.

    Photo courtesy of coleong/iStock

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    #6 - St. Augustine, Fla.

    Nicknamed the "Old City," St. Augustine was the first European settlement in the U.S., discovered in 1565 some 55 years before the pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. History is in evidence throughout the city, from the preserved walls of 17th century Castillo de San Marcos to the beautiful Flagler College, built as a hotel by Henry Flagler during St. Augustine's rise in popularity as a winter resort town in the late 19th century.

    Photo courtesy of Floridashistoriccoast.com

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    #5 - Charleston, S.C.

    Founded by English colonists in 1670, Charleston was one of the continent's most prosperous and influential cities by the mid-18th century, thanks to its production of rice, indigo and cotton on large, slave-worked plantations. This prosperity would continue until Civil War fighting largely devastated the Antebellum city. Luckily, Charleston also produced one of the nation's earliest historical preservation societies, so walking through the historic streets feels like stepping back in time.

    Photo courtesy of Bill Stamatis/iStock

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    #4 - Savannah, Ga.

    Recorded history of Savannah begins in 1733, the year when General James Oglethorpe and the good ship Anne made landfall along the Savannah River front and the colony of Georgia was established. Considered America's first planned city, Savannah still has 22 of its original 24 public squares, thanks in part to the Historic Savannah Foundation who helped forge one of the country's largest National Historic Landmarks, Savannah's Historic District.

    Photo courtesy of Georgia Department of Economic Development

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    #3 - Williamsburg, Va.

    From 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg was the political and cultural hub of the largest and most influential American colony, Virginia. Not only does Williamsburg have a storied history, it's managed to bring that history to life right before visitors' eyes in Colonial Williamsburg, a re-creation of what the influential Virginia colony might have been like on the brink of the Revolutionary War.

    Photo courtesy of Brianna May/iStock

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    #2 - Annapolis, Md.

    Founded as a small English community in 1649, Annapolis was known by several other names before it was named after the Queen in 1702. During the early years of the 18th century, the colonial capital was a political, economic and cultural powerhouse, and the Maryland State House, built in 1772, is the first and only state house to serve as the nation's capitol, which it did from 1783 to 1784.

    Photo courtesy of VisitAnnapolis.org

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    #1 - Montgomery, Ala.

    In 1819, two small settlements of cotton plantations merged together to form the town of Montgomery. During the Civil War, Montgomery was home of the First White House of the Confederacy, where Jefferson Davis and his family lived, but its most important historical contributions came during the Civil Rights movement as the site of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The city also had the first electric street car system, and the first flight school set up by the Wright Brothers.

    Photo courtesy of VisitingMontgomery.com

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Montgomery, Ala. voted Best Historic City in USA

Annapolis, Williamsburg, Savannah, Charleston in top 5

Of all the historic cities in the USA, Montgomery, Alabama apparently most inspires the readers of USA TODAY and 10Best. This southern city's legendary place in history - as a cornerstone of the civil rights movement - helped it to garner the highest number of votes in this prestigious category.  

Beautiful Annapolis, Maryland - with its Colonial architecture and cobblestone streets - landed a solid second with our readers.  It was followed by iconic Williamsburg, Va.; gracious Savannah, Ga. (renowned for its many public squares); and lovely Charleston, S.C., which figured so prominently in early American history.   

The full list of winners in the 'Best Historic City' contest category for 10Best Readers' Choice is as follows:

  1. Montgomery, Ala.
  2. Annapolis, Md.
  3. Williamsburg, Va.
  4. Savannah, Ga.
  5. Charleston, S.C.
  6. St. Augustine, Fla.
  7. Boston
  8. Santa Fe
  9. Philadelphia
  10. New Orleans

Congratulations to all our winners!  Families, history buffs, romantics and explorers of all ages will enjoy visiting this inspiring list of US cities.

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Meet the Experts

Libby McMillan

A longtime travel journalist, Senior Editor Libby McMillan has visited all but two of the nominees.  She feels this group of Best Historic Cities is a perfect bucket list for American and immigrant families who want to get a full picture of American history outside the scope of tedious textbooks.  Libby will be keeping an eye on the voting tallies and is curious which cities will resonate most with readers of USA TODAY and 10Best.

Lydia Schrandt

Photo Editor Lydia Schrandt has extensively toured the United States and has ticked off many of the nominees from her personal must-see list.  She enjoyed learning even more about each of them during the research phase which led our panel to its 20 nominees.

Travis Seward

As Editor in Chief of 10Best since its founding 12 year ago, Travis Seward has absorbed more travel media than many readers come across in a lifetime.  He's also seen a good portion of the USA, and appreciates historic architecture, beautiful settings, and a great story . . . all of which are present in these 20 nominees.