The 10 best U.S. Heartland cities to visit covers the American territory spanning across the Midwest that doesn’t sit along the border of the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean. The Heartland is technically a cultural region that has the people remain steadfast to traditional values that originally sculpted the United States of America to become an independent nation. According to the US Census Bureau, there are twelve states that make up the Midwest what it is. They are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. On an unofficial level, designated portions of Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming have also been identified as part of the Heartland. Within this vast expanse of territory, which are the best cities to visit?
10 Best U.S. Heartland Cities to Visit
#10 – St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri has served as the gateway city to the west ever since it was founded in 1763. Gilbert Antoine de St. Maxent sponsored Pierre Laclede in a Mississippi River expedition that led to the development of a fur trading operation for his company. The idea was to set up a location that wasn’t as prone to flooding as his previous location, Ste. Genevieve. St. Louis’s location sat just south of the confluence of the Illinois and Missouri rivers. When St. Louis was built, it took advantage of the forested area, as well as the rich agricultural-friendly soil. Interestingly enough, when St. Louis was first founded as a city, the government opted not to recognize it. This allowed Laclede to assume control of the city and its people which led St. Louis to its own golden age.
It wasn’t until 1765 the governments belonging to Britain, France, and Spain began to take notice. This displeased the Native American population as they didn’t take kindly to British forces seizing control of the area. In 1800, St. Louis was transferred to the French First Republic. Three years later, it became part of the infamous Louisiana Purchase. At this time, St. Louis became the capital city of a new territory the American government just purchased. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was commissioned by then-president Thomas Jefferson to explore the Missouri River and its territory with the hope it would have a water route leading to the Pacific Ocean. It didn’t. The expedition team had to go on land in the Upper West and reach the ocean from the Columbia River. When the two were done with the expedition assignment, Lewis and Clark chose St. Louis as their home.
1808 marked the beginning of St. Louis having its own municipal government. During the events of the American Civil War, the city found itself in a polarized position that included a violent 1861 clash against the Union when it blockaded the river traffic leading south of the Mississippi River. When the war was finally over, whatever financial turmoil the Union inflicted upon St. Louis quickly recovered as the city took advantage of business endeavors leading to the west. The Eads Bridge, which was built in 1874, played an instrumental role in the industrial development that turned St. Louis into a city that used both banks of the river to benefit from. Prior to the 1965 construction of the Gateway Arch Bridge, Eads Bridge was symbolic of St. Louis as a landmark. It still is, but it’s the Gateway that serves as the city’s top draw for tourists when they come to visit.
The rich history of St. Louis includes the 1904 World’s Fair and the Olympics. It was the first city outside of Europe to host this event. Forest Park still displays remnants of the fair, as well as other landmarks such as the St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Zoo, and the Missouri History Museum. From 1900 until 1929, St. Louis was a major hub of activity in the automotive industry. This changed when it realized it had the worst air pollution in the country. By 1946, the measures the city took to improve its air quality resulted in a seventy-five reduction in pollutants. As a city to visit, St. Louis is one that gives people the cause to come here as a tourist destination.
History of the Great Migration is rich in St. Louis as it played a key role in the city’s growth. St. Louis is known for jazz and the blues as one of the pioneering cities that led to musical genres that are still all-time favorites today. People come to St. Louis to take in the culture and the city’s impact as an industrialist city that so proudly served the American nation. At the moment, St. Louis is seen as a vital link to the future of the United States as recent challenges are turning to this city to help overcome them. This has prompted more people to pay it a visit recently, especially among travelers who are coming here as a working vacation.
#9 – Indianapolis, Indiana
Probably the biggest draw for visitors to come to Indianapolis, Indiana is the motorsports it hosts year after year. With about one million people who call it home inside the city, the metropolitan area of Indianapolis hosts about two million residents. As a city, it was founded in 1821 as a grid next to the White River. The name itself, in English, means “Indian Land.” Roads reaching it were completed before the arrival of the railway. This resulted in Indianapolis serving as an important transportation, dubbed the Crossroads of America.
Also dubbed Railroad City, Indianapolis owed its growth and development to industrialists in trade, transportation, and utilities. The infamous Indianapolis 500 is hosted here as the world’s largest single-day sporting event. Indianapolis is also home to the second-largest collection of monuments dedicated to veterans in the United States. Only Washington, D.C. has it beat. When the American Civil War ensued, Indianapolis sided with the Union and became a major logistics hub at that time. When the war was over, the Second Industrial Revolution placed Indianapolis in a unique position to grow as a city.
The city is part of the Southern Great Lakes forest region, as well as the Eastern Corn Belt Plains. Indianapolis and its neighbors are well noted for its agricultural land. It was also recognized by the National Wildlife Federation as one of the ten wildlife-friendliest cities in the United States. Among nature enthusiasts and environmentalists, Indianapolis is one of the favorite Heartland cities to visit. The uniqueness of Indianapolis as a city includes approximately two hundred farms within its municipality. When visiting Franklin Township, finding corn fields and equestrian farms between suburban development are commonplace. Indianapolis pumps as a Heartland city unlike any other in the nation and is an easy favorite for visitors who stick to the same traditional values that originally sculpted America into a proud nation.
#8 – Columbus, Ohio
Named after famed explorer Christopher Columbus, this city in Ohio has about a million people calling it their home. The metropolitan population is over two million. It is the second most populous city in the Midwest, sitting behind Chicago, Illinois. The history of Columbus begins with a collection of Native American settlements along the banks of the Scioto River. Founded in 1812 as a city, Columbus sat at the confluence of the Olentangy and Scioto rivers. It wasn’t until the 1950s did it experience substantial growth as a city.
As a city known for its diverse economy, Columbus is home to the world’s largest private research and development foundation, Battelle Memorial Institute. It also has the largest clearinghouse of chemical information, Chemical Abstracts Service. The Ohio State University is one of America’s largest. Columbus, Ohio serves as the headquarters of six major corporations belonging to the U.S., including the Fortune 500. The attractiveness of Columbus as a city has lured visitors from all over the world as they discover the natural beauty of Ohio as a state. As the largest city in the state, as well as its capital, Columbus has thrived as one of the strongest Heartland cities in America. That strength comes from holding traditional American values near and dear while at the same time opening up the door to cultural and social diversity.
The appeal of Columbus includes its dedication to the historical impact Christopher Columbus made when he came to America. The replica of Santa Maria was one of the biggest tourist attractions that graced the city’s downtown waterfront from 1991 until 2014. The Discovery District and Discover Bridge are named in reference to the discoveries Columbus made as an explorer. Throughout the city, monuments and parks are in place celebrating the man and his accomplishments. Visitors wanting to reel in such history find Columbus one of the best cities in the United States to do it and without prejudice. This means history as-is and not redefined by activists looking to change certain aspects of it.
#7 – Cleveland, Ohio
Inside Cleveland, Ohio is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Since 1995, it has drawn tourists in from all over the world just to visit this museum. The chronicles of the popular genre’s historical impact on society are found in this massive complex. The city sits on the southern shore of Lake Erie. This is another major attraction as locals and visitors enjoy the views from the city’s waterfront. The city population is approximately four hundred thousand people and the metropolitan area is home to over two million residents. As a city, it was first established in 1796 by the Connecticut Land Company. Originally named Cleaveland, it was named after American Revolutionary War General Moses Cleveland. It was he who oversaw the New English-style design that would dictate the architectural layout of the city’s downtown area. Although the city was originally designed with his vision, the general never stayed. He went back to Connecticut, never to return.
During the War of 1812, Cleveland served as a supply post for the United States military during the Battle of Lake Erie. In 1814, Cleveland was officially incorporated as a community. Thanks to its access to the Great Lakes, the early development of Cleveland. When the Ohio and Erie Canal was built, this served as an important link between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes. From there, products coming from Cleveland could travel along the Saint Lawrence Seaway to the east, as well as to the Gulf of Mexico to the south. The installation of the railroad links also played a key role in Cleveland’s growth as a city. Cleveland also played an important role as a major stop for the Underground Railroad as African-American slaves trekked their way to Canada. For history buffs, Cleveland has many stories to tell. The ecclesiastical landmarks feature neoclassical architecture found in buildings such as the Old Stone Church and the St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral.
#6 – Bloomington, Minnesota
The infamous Mall of America sits in Bloomington, Minnesota, offering over five hundred stores in a complex that first opened its doors in 1992. In addition to spending hours shopping, visitors can also entertain themselves with the Great Wolf Lodge Water Park, SEA Life, and Nickelodeon Universe. Although in Minnesota, the suburb city was named after Bloomington, Illinois. The location of this city sits on the north bank of the Minnesota River, which connects to the Mississippi River to the south. The population of Bloomington sits at about ninety thousand people within the city limits. The metropolitan area has approximately four million residents in total. Bloomington’s appeal includes Hyland Lake Park Resort and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. So, if shopping isn’t exactly your thing, those popular attractions may do the trick.
The founding of Bloomington by European settlers began in 1843 with Peter Quinn and his wife, Louisa. The couple was sent to teach the Native American population farming techniques. They were accompanied by a Christian missionary named Gideon Hollister Pond. In 1849, the Bloomington Ferry was established as a means to pass across the Minnesota River in the region. This remained operational until 1889. That was the year the Bloomington Ferry Bridge was built. What makes Bloomington so attractive as a city to visit does start with USA’s second-largest indoor shopping complex but there is so much more to the city than that. The extensive park system makes this an attractive city to enjoy.
#5 – Rapid City, South Dakota
Named after Rapid Creek, Rapid City, South Dakota has been dubbed Gateway to the Black Hills. Due to the downtown’s collection of life-size bronze statues of presidents, it’s also referenced as the City of Presidents. The city’s population is approximately seventy-five thousand people. Additional contributions to tourism include Art Alley, Chapel in the Hills, Dinosaur Park, Main Street Square, and Storybook Island. Fans of the Old West will find nearby Deadwood worth visiting as well. From Rapid City, the Black Hills region is where the Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Mount Rushmore, and Wind Cave National Park are located. These have been major tourist attractions for years that keep Rapid City busy as a tourist town. East of the city is also Badlands National Park. Rapid City’s development began in 1874 after gold was discovered by George Armstrong Custer and his Black Hill Expedition. One unsuccessful group of miners founded Rapid City two years later and promoted it as Gateway to the Black Hills. Originally, it was known as Hay Camp.
Fueling the economy of Rapid Creek comes from government-related services and tourism. Another popular event in the city is the motorcycle rallies as visitors come year after year. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is in Sturgis, which is close enough to Rapid Creek for the city to be kept busy with servicing the visitors with all their needs.
#4 – Denver, Colorado
Colorado is one of America’s most beautiful states when it comes to the splendor of natural landscapes designed by Mother Nature. Denver’s development and growth as a city have served as one of America’s best Heartland cities since the beginning. The scenery in this city is truly top-notch. Although there are a few skyscrapers, Denver enjoys the view it has of the mighty Rocky Mountains. The city itself has over seven hundred thousand residents. The metropolitan population sits at about five million people.
Denver’s location is in the Southwestern United States, in the South Platte River Valley, and on the western edge of the High Plains. This is just east of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Downtown Denver sits on the east of the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River. The city was named after a former Kansas Territory governor, James W. Denver. Dubbed the Mile High City, Colorado has an elevation that is exactly one mile above sea level. The Denver Union Station is a popular tourist attraction, as well as a major transportation hub for the city. As far as the U.S. News & World Report is concerned, Denver is considered one of the best cities to live in the United States.
It is also one of the best to visit. While it was originally the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in 1858 in the Rocky Mountains that initially began the city development of Denver, the beauty of its surroundings made it appealing enough to call home. The earliest days of Denver as a city did meet with high levels of corruption but it still managed to thrive, thanks to the heart of the people who refused to let that stand in the way of enjoying a respectable quality of life. When it comes to tourism, Denver has over two hundred parks that cater to locals and visitors as scenic attractions. Denver takes pride in its parkland and parkways every bit as much as it takes pride in the mountain parks surrounding it.
#3 – Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha, Nebraska has a reputation as a vibrant independent music scene that influences the United States of America. It’s also where Facebook Inc. has its newest data center. The unique blend of culture in this city has turned Omaha into a hotbed of growth and activity when it comes to cultural and industrial innovation. The appeal to visit Omaha has steadily increased over the years as it increasingly caters to the world stage. The city itself has about five hundred thousand residents. The metropolitan population sits at about a million. Various Native American tribes called Omaha their home before the 1804 Meriwether Lewis and William Clark Expedition passed the riverbanks. After the team met with tribal leaders at Council Bluff, Omaha started its development as a fur trading outpost. In 1812, Fort Lisa was the first of several to be built. There was fierce competition between fur traders at that time. When John Jacob Astor created the American Fur Company, he created a monopoly that forced the competition out.
The pioneering days of Omaha included a heavy population of Christians and Jewish. Many of their historical churches, synagogues, and cemeteries still stand in the city today. The Transcontinental Railroad was also an integral part of Omaha’s development as a city. As parks, they serve as a major draw for tourists who visit this Heartland city. So do the musicians. Omaha’s crime rate is significantly lower than most American cities of similar size. When it comes down to traditional cultural, family, and social values, Omaha exists as one of the best cities of its size when it comes to public safety. Its Henry Doorly Zoo is considered one of the world’s finest zoos in operation. It has the world’s largest indoor rainforest and the largest nocturnal exhibit and indoor swamp. It also has the world’s largest indoor desert. This zoo has attracted at least twenty-five million visitors per year for over four decades.
#2 – Detroit, Michigan
Over six hundred thousand residents call Detroit, Michigan their home. The metropolitan population comes to over four million in total. This is the largest U.S. state bordering its Canadian neighbor and is also the closest. In about ten minutes, you can travel across the Detroit River’s Detroit Windsor Tunnel into Windsor, Ontario, Canada, by car. As a Heartland city, Detroit’s close proximity to Canada shares a special bond with traditionalism while at the same time embracing the trends of today. Detroit is a major hub of cultural activity that ranges from the arts to music and to various industrial endeavors. Also referred to as Motor City, Detroit’s historical connection to the automotive industry is unparalleled. For motor vehicle enthusiasts, passing the opportunity to visit Detroit seems unacceptable. Even as EV units pave the way for the future of automobiles, Detroit remains in the picture as a key contributor.
Often cited as one of the world’s greatest cities to explore, Detroit’s legacy as a city began in 1701 when it was founded as Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit by Alphonse de Tonty and Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. Let that second name sink in for a moment and how the Cadillac brand began. At one point, the Detroit River was the busiest commercial hub in the world. Now it’s also busy with tourism as outdoor enthusiasts take advantage of this watery escape from city living. The diversity of Detroit’s culture comes from its Motown influence, which was the first genre to play a key role in the music industry. Techno-pop would do so again, putting the world on notice Detroit simply isn’t a city that builds cars. It built some of the greatest musical talents ever to hit radio and television. It still does so today. On average, the tourist appeal of Detroit sees about sixteen million visitors each year.
#1 – Chicago, Illinois
In the American Heartland, Chicago, Illinois is the largest city overall. Of the ten million people who live in the metropolitan area of Chicago, over three million of them live in the city itself. The original roots of Chicago begin with the Native American tribe known as the Potawatomi. During the 1780s, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable was a French African who established a settlement in what we know as Chicago today. The United States military and the Potawatomi often met in conflict with each other from 1795 until 1833 which ultimately sent the indigenous people west of the Mississippi River. When Chicago started out as a city, it only had two hundred people. It grew quickly, becoming America’s fastest-growing city for decades.
As a city, Chicago was uniquely situated as an important crossover city. By rail, by road, and by water, the Chicago Portage served as a transportation hub between the American east and the American west. The Galena and Chicago Union Railroad and the Illinois and Michigan Canal officially opened for business in 1848 and played instrumental roles in the development of Chicago as a cultural, economic, and political powerhouse. The city’s canal also allowed ships and steamboats to connect to it via the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Going into the 1900s, Chicago was the “go-to” city to escape racial oppression from the South. When referencing the Roaring Twenties, Chicago is the first city that comes to mind. Gangster legends such as Al Capone and Bugs Malone built their empires here while the 1919 Prohibition was enforced by federal lawmakers.
Chicago’s appeal as a city rich with splendid architecture, rich culture, and history makes it one of the all-time favorite cities for tourists from all over the world to visit. Chicago’s waterfront overlooks Lake Michigan, serving as a playground with its marinas and parks. The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal connects to the Illinois River, which leads into the mighty Mississippi River. The design and landscaping of Chicago make it an incredibly appealing city to live in, as well as visit. During the Great Migration, the African-American population of Chicago rose dramatically, influencing its culture with the Chicago Black Renaissance. Whenever visiting Chicago as a tourist, the vibe of some of the music industry’s greatest blues and jazz legends can be felt here. Among visitors more into visual arts, Chicago’s art culture in that regard is among the finest in the world. The galleries and museums are definitely worth the time, especially if you want a feel of what made the American Heartland beat as well as it did.
Due to the size and tourist appeal of Chicago, it’s not without its division between two very different points of view when it comes to politics and everyday living. Chicago is home to one of the largest LGBT communities in the United States. Since 1931, Chicago’s mayors have been aligned with the Democrats as this political party took over once the Great Depression set in that crippled the nation to the brink of total devastation. What cities as big as Chicago deals with isn’t much different than the others. However, what sets Chicago as the best Heartland city in the United States is its uncanny ability to not let political and social divisions get in the way of achieving the common goal to keep this jazzy city on the top as a great place to visit.
10 Best U.S. Heartland Cities To Visit article published on BigCityReview.com© 2023
BigCityReview.com claims ownership of all its original content and Intellectual property under United States Copyright laws and those of all other foreign countries. No one person, business, or organization is allowed to re-publish any of our original content anywhere on the web or in print without our permission. All photos used are either Amazon affiliate photos in which we make a commission on any products purchased from Amazon, public domain creative commons photos or photos licensed officially from Shutterstock under license with BigCityReview.com. All photo credits have been placed at end of the article.
We are not responsible for any items purchased or locations visited based on our recommendations as we do not sell or manufacture any of the items we have reviewed. All health and beauty reviews are for entertainment purposes only and are not a substitute for medical advice.