Why visit North America?

North America has something for everyone, whether you want to pay homage to your favourite Hollywood stars, see a real rodeo, meet Mickey Mouse, or simply go shopping. This huge nation has a wide variety of landscapes, from the skyscrapers of the big cities to the 'Big Sky' of Montana, and from the Rocky Mountains to the bayous of Louisiana. The cuisine is just as varied, with creole, cajun, Tex-Mex and barbecue among the dishes on the national menu, not forgetting the ubiquitous hamburger and fries.

Which US cities should be on your itinerary?

Classic destinations for those short on time are New York, for shopping and the Statue of Liberty, and Washington DC, the seat of the government. Las Vegas is memorable for its excess of light and sound, while San Francisco, where cable cars climb the steep streets, has a mellow feel. Other popular sites include Seattle's Space Needle, Chicago's waterfront, the beaches of Miami, and the historic buildings of Philadelphia.

What's the best time of year to visit North America?

Spring is the time to see the cherry blossoms in Washington DC, while the trees of New England look their best in the autumn, when the leaves turn red and gold. San Francisco's mild climate makes it perfect for a winter break, and New York is at its most magical around Christmas and New Year. Theme parks like Walt Disney World in Florida often put on special events for Hallowe'en, Independence Day, and other festivals. Summer is for barbecues, surfing, and picnics on the beach, and a great time to hit the coast of California.

What is the best way to travel around the USA?

Domestic flights let you cross the USA quickly and easily, useful if you're trying to fit in as many sights as possible. The rail system and the famous Greyhound buses will take you from city to city, and there are also scenic rail tours. For independent travel, however, it may be best to hire a car. Use the fast, efficient interstates, or hit the smaller highways to experience old-style motels and roadside attractions, perhaps even historic Route 66.

What are the main airports in the America?

Almost every large city in the USA has its own airport, with thousands of domestic and international flights taking off every day. Some of the busiest international hubs are New York's JFK Airport, which handled over fifty million passengers in 2013, Washington Dulles, Newark, Los Angeles, and Miami.

Which airlines fly to the North America?

From the UK, you have a choice of British and American services. American Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways fly from London's Heathrow Airport to a number of major US cities, as do British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Virgin also offers flights from Gatwick to Las Vegas.

How long does it take to reach the East and West Coast?

The East Coast of the USA is closer to the UK, making journey times shorter. You can fly from London to New York in under seven hours, while London to Washington DC takes another half hour or so. West Coast destinations take a few hours more to reach, with San Francisco and Los Angeles both around ten and a half hours' flight time away.

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USA climate

The US is a large country and the climate varies by region and time of year. It experiences four seasons, but some areas of the country see a more marked change between seasons than others. The Pacific Northwest has cool summers and mild winters, while just to the south, the West Coast is sunny and pleasant all year long. The Midwest sees a bigger change between seasons, with strong summers and winters and frequent tornadoes and thunderstorms. The East Coast fluctuates and many people head down to Florida to get the warmest winters on that side of the country. Travelling in the off-season can save you a lot of money.

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When to fly to USA

There is not really a bad time to visit the US, but New York is nicest in the spring and autumn. May and June have the most comfortable hot weather. For visiting Los Angeles, August and September are the hottest months.

San Francisco is an all-year-round type of place with warm temperatures. Las Vegas is best experienced during spring and autumn. Orlando is a family favourite. Its best months are July and August coincide with school holidays (and higher-priced Orlando flights), although temperatures can climb to 37 degrees Celsius.

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Getting around USA

The car is king in America, but there are dozens of low-cost airlines including Southwest, the granddaddy of all the no-frillers, JetBlue, AirTran and Spirit Airlines to name just a few.

Rent a car and take to the open road, Route 66, and all that. The major car rental outfits all have a presence at most US airports including Budget, Dollar, Hertz, Thrifty, AAA Rent-A-Car and Payless. Your arrival airport will generally have this information.

By bus: GotoBus.com sells line run bus tickets and tours throughout the States. Travellers can search by destination and compare all the options for a given route from one screen. The site sells tickets for more than 100 bus companies ranging from low-fare to luxury.

By rail: AmTrak covers the States and Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal in Canada. See where you can ride the rails, and check for weekly specials.

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USA insider information

  • New York is a Mecca for shoppers. To make the most of your time there, book a tour of one of the shopping districts. Shop Gotham runs two-hour walking tours from about $25 (about £14), which have been described as like having a knowledgeable (and shopaholic) friend to tell you the latest retail gossip and coolest places to shop.
  • There's no need to feel lost in Los Angeles. Purple People Greeters answer questions, provide directions, make referrals or even call the police if things go awry. They're easy to spot. The Greeters travel in pairs, wear purple teeshirts with “District Safety” or “Downtown Guide”, and can be visited at their Service Center at 801 S Hill St.
  • Feed your inner vulture some culture. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents hundreds of recitals and concerts by students, faculty and guest artists each year. Most of the performances are free.
  • Orlando - there's not a giant mouse in sight in Harry P. Leu Gardens, 50 acres of lush vegetation in the middle of the city. There is also a restored farmhouse which harks back to a time when space travel was barely imaginable and citrus, not theme parks, was king. The gardens are open every day, from 9am to 5pm. Adults pay $5, school children pay $1, and Monday mornings are free (excluding tour groups).
  • Las Vegas - eat well and save money by starting the day with an all-you-can-eat buffet. The Spice Market Buffet at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, a “killer whale in a sea of buffets”.
  • Whatever you do, don't forget to tip. Between 15 and 20 per cent is acceptable. Angry waiters have been known to follow customers onto the street to ask why they did not leave more money.
  • If you're searching for accommodation in the US, a popular site for user reviews is Trivago. Take a look at their pages on hotels in New York, hotels in Los Angeles or hotels in Orlando.

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USA airports

Major airports in the US:
New York: JFK; LaGuardia (LGA) and Newark (EWR)
Los Angeles (LAX)
San Francisco (SFO)
Orlando International Airport (MCO)
Las Vegas (LAS)

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Passport/Visa

Britain is one of the Visa-Waiver countries and British passport holders do not need a visa. However, prospective travellers will need to provide certain details (name, address, date of birth, passport number etc) at least 72 hours prior to travel. This is known as an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation or ESTA. It is valid for two years (or the validity of the traveller's passport whichever is shorter) and costs $14. Apply online (esta.cbp.dhs.gov).

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Entry requirements

Passports should be valid for the length of your stay in the US. The UK has an agreement with the US that extends the validity of a passport for six months beyond the passport's expiration date.

Have more questions about US entry requirements? Read our in-depth Guide to Getting into the US travel tip.

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Oonagh Shiel
Content Manager at Cheapflights whose travel life can be best summed up as BC (before children) and PC (post children). We only travel during the school holidays so short-haul trips and staycations are our specialities!
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