USA - Attractions
If civic politics is the American religion, then Washington DC is the nation's holy city. White houses, capital and pentagonal buildings, supreme courts - these monumental Lego shrines are rarefied with real power. A patriotic combination of history and histrionics: BYO wiretap.
Sightseeing in DC is a steady diet of museums and monuments. History, ethnography, flora, fauna, antiques and ancestral bones - anything you can display in a glass case, commemorate on a plaque, or stick in a cage - is available free of charge to the visitor.There's also a thriving fine arts scene, anchored by the landmark Kennedy Center.
Calling this quaint and charming city the 'Athens of America' might seem a bit braggadocio, but the city's 19th-century glory radiates through its grand architecture, its population of literati, artists and educators and its world-renowned academic and cultural institutions.
The image of brownstone Boston bounces off the shiny mirrored skyscrapers around it but, at street level, it's still a history buff's favourite American city. The past is everywhere, from colonial buildings downtown to grand 19th-century mansions in South End to cosy musuems.
Los Angeles has littered the world with its paraphernalia. Disneyland, movie stars, TV, fast-food and hype - it's all here in overdrive. LA may be a figment of its own imagination, but if you long to stand in the footsteps of stars and breathe their hallowed air, you've come to the right place.
Things to do in LA tend to gravitate around a common theme - stars. There are so many tours and shows to attend you could forget to do anything else. However, there is culture: it is housed at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. A night at the Hollywood Bowl is also a treat.
It used to be called 'God's Waiting Room' because of the many octogenarians eking out their last moments by the pool, but today the old folks mingle with fashion designers, bikini models and Cuban émigrés, and the city that once had the highest murder rate in the US now attracts millions of tourists.
Miami's steamy hedonism, stay-forever beaches and propensity for neon tack can blind the casual visitor to its more subtle charms. If you dig a little, you'll turn up some truly impressive art, and architecture aficionados and amateurs alike will be knocked out by some of its streetscapes.
New Orleans seduces with Caribbean colour and waves of sultry Southern heat. Enshrouding us in dreams and ancient melodies, its sweet-tasting cocktails are laced with voodoo potions. The unofficial state motto, laissez les bons temps rouler ('let the good times roll'), pretty much says it all.
The heart and soul of the city is undoubtedly the French Quarter, all of which is a National Historic District. Most of the city's museums, historic houses and markets are found here. The Tremé district was first home to the city's black population, and the cemetery here is a grisly highlight.
New York City
They don't come any bigger than the Big Apple - king of the hill, top of the heap, New York, New York. It's got its fair share of the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses, but it also has world-class museums, big statues, even bigger buildings, outrageous excess, and a whole lot of whooo-wheee!
From the top of the Empire State Building to the bottom of a glass in a Manhattan nightclub, New York has it all. For a closer look at the city, wander through Times Square, and the streets of Greenwich Village and Soho, check out the Wall Street super traders, or hop a ferry to Statten Island.
Although it's dear to the hearts of America's flag-wavers, there's a lot more to Philly than the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Despite the support of patriots and the cappuccino set, the 'City of Brotherly Love' has long been the butt of jokes by WC Fields and other laugh-a-minute types.
When the insults finally soaked in - just in time for America's bicentennial in 1976 - the city began renovating. The soon-to-follow Rocky films sentimentalised Philly's tough-guy reputation, born in the Ben Franklin fraternity of rebellious Constitutionaries.
One of the USA's most attractive cities, San Francisco's hilly streets provide some gorgeous glimpses of the Bay and its famous bridges. San Francisco has an atmosphere of genteel chic mixed with offbeat innovation and a self-effacing quality so blatantly missing from brassy New York and plastic LA.
The city's hills makes for some wonderfully panoramic viewpoints. Spread out below you is an appetising mix of colourful neighbourhoods, bohemian history, mind-teasing art, innovative architecture and restorative parks. Go explore - by foot if you're particularly sprightly, by cable car if not.