Chart a Course: Famous Ships You Can Visit Across America and Beyond

USS Alabama Battleship at Mobile


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USS Alabama Battleship at Mobile

Walk the Planks

Ahoy, mate! Vacations often revolve around road trips to national parks, theme parks, or beaches, but for a more nautical-themed adventure, may we suggest climbing aboard a ship? Across America and around the world, historical ships have docked at museums and ports, awaiting new shipmates to explore its decks. From World War II battleships to 19th century clippers, these ships should play a starring role on your next vacation.  

USS Constellation Baltimore

USS Constellation


As the only surviving ship from the Civil War era, the USS Constellation is steeped in American history. Built in 1854, the ship, now located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, spent its early days preventing the illegal importation of Africans to America by capturing slave ships en route. It was then used by the Union army during the Civil War, aiding in the capture of the Confederate ship CSS Sumter. The USS Constellation was decommissioned after 100 years of service, and can now be visited at Pier 1 in Baltimore, where visitors can take a tour, pop into the galley, or participate in a Parrott rifle drill. 

Tampa, Florida - USA - September 2018: American Victory Mariners' Memorial and Museum Ship
Florida Chuck/istockphoto

SS American Victory

Tampa, Florida

The American Victory Ship and Museum celebrates the history of the SS American Victory, a 455-foot-long ship that first launched in 1945 and was used in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The fully-functioning vessel invites ship enthusiasts to explore its three-level cargo holds, steering stations, crew cabins, and the Captain’s quarters, along with uniforms, rare artifacts, and photos. Three types of tours are offered: A self-guided tour, a QR-code tour, and a docent-guided tour. 

Star of India San Diego
Star of India San Diego by Jot Powers (CC BY-SA)

Star of India

San Diego 

The Star of India — originally known as Euterpe — got off to a rocky start. Launched in 1863, the sailing ship experienced collisions, a mutiny, and the loss of a captain on its first few trips, before finding success making trips to India as a cargo ship and sailing 21 times around the world. It is now the world’s oldest active sailing ship, and still occasionally sails in the ocean with a volunteer crew. Find it at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, which also houses the HMS Surprise, the Steam Ferry Berkeley, and the USS Dolphin, among others.

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USS Alabama Battleship at Mobile

USS Alabama

Mobile, Alabama

Battleship Memorial Park is home to the USS Alabama Battleship, a World War II behemoth that served in the North Atlantic and South Pacific waters. Commissioned in 1942, the ship was a key player in events like the Asiatic-Pacific Raids and the Okinawa Gunto Operation; it later made the journey home to Mobile through the Panama Canal. Open to the public since 1965,  you can now explore the USS Alabama’s 12 decks, including crew cabins, a mess hall, and a communication center.

uss aircraft carrier hornet in port at San Francisco

USS Hornet

Alameda, California

With fighter planes serving as the “stinger,” the USS Hornet was a vital aircraft carrier during World War II, carrying fighter, bombing, and torpedo squadrons. It helped sink over 70 enemy ships and was awarded nine Battle Stars in World War II, operating for 16 continuous months. Today, tours of the storied ship include a History Mystery Tour, an after-hours experience that highlights “paranormal hot spots” and other eerie spaces. At the museum, two rotating galleries showcase exhibits like “Battle of Midway: Turning the Tide of the Pacific War” and a collection of more than 25,000 artifacts from the ship’s history. The Hornet is currently closed until June 30, but a July 4 celebration is planned. 

Related: Eerie Shipwrecks Around the World

USS Cobia and Manitowoc River

USS Cobia

Manitowoc, Wisconsin

A central attraction at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, the USS Cobia set out from Connecticut in 1943, making its way to the Pacific where it sank over a dozen Japanese vessels in the summer of 1944. In 1996, Cobia was dry docked before undergoing a massive restoration process, returning the vessel to its 1945 version. Visitors are able to peruse exhibits like “USS Cobia Below the Surface,” a model ship gallery, and the Aquatic Invasive Species Lab. End your visit at the Sub Pub, a rooftop bar selling local beers and other beverages. 

Related: Awe-Inspiring Memorials and Other Places Honoring Our Vets

Tower Bridge London

HMS Belfast


Built for the Royal Navy, the HMS Belfast was among the first to fire shots on D-Day and played a pivotal role in the Arctic convoys of World War II and the Korean War. Visitors can wander around the ship’s nine decks, experience Belfast’s involvement during D-Day through an immersive sound installation, listen to crew members’ stories, and snap a photo in the captain’s chair. The battleship is family-friendly, and offers kids the chance to “steer the ship” or organize a rescue mission using touchscreens.

Plymouth, MA

Mayflower II

Plymouth, Massachusetts

Even though it’s a reproduction of the original, the Mayflower II is a spitting image of the ship that first transported the pilgrims to Plymouth in 1620 (though the reproduction features a modern staircase and electric lights, two items that were not on the original boat). Climb aboard the historic vessel and explore its main deck, orlop deck, and half deck, then visit some of Plimoth Patuxet Museums’ other attractions, including the Patuxet Homesite, 17th-Century English Village, and Plimoth Grist Mill. 

Related: The 40 Best Places in America to Travel Back in Time

HMS Victory

HMS Victory

Portsmouth, England

Across the pond, the HMS Victory is located at Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard, and is part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy. The Victory gained critical acclaim for its role leading fleets in the American War of Independence, the Napoleonic War, and the French Revolutionary War, but its crowning achievement was serving as the flagship of Vice-Admiral Nelson during Britain’s victory over the French and Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar. Climb aboard the storied ship to hear tales of sea adventures, descend into the dry dock, and peruse the Victory gallery.

Khufu ship
Khufu ship by Olaf Tausch (CC BY)

Khufu Ship


As one of the oldest ships from antiquity, the Khufu Ship is an Ancient Egyptian solar barque that was buried within the pyramid of pharaoh Khufu around 2500 BC. Yeah, it’s that old. In 2021 it was relocated from the Giza Solar boat museum to the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is set to open in late 2023. While the function of the Khufu Ship remains unknown, it reportedly would still be able to sail today in a lake or river.

Military Battleship Docked at Norfolk, VA, Navy USS Wisconsin

USS Wisconsin

Norfolk, Virginia

The USS Wisconsin is a sight to behold: As one of the largest battleships built by the Navy, it weighs 45,000 tons and is 887-feet long. The Iowa-class battleship served in World War II and the Korean War before primarily acting as a training ship; in 1991, the Wisconsin rejoined forces in Operation Desert Storm — the last time an American battleship has served in a foreign war. On the Wisconsin, visitors can walk through the CPO Mess, dining areas, barber shop, and the brig, and virtual tours are available for those who can’t physically tour the ship.

Battleship U.S.S. Missouri in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii

USS Missouri


Head to Hawaii to visit the USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor, the site of the infamous attack on the United States by Japanese forces. Constructed in 1941 and launched in 1944, this is actually the third U.S. Navy ship to be named Missouri. The ship participated in the bombardment of Okinawa, became a flagship for Third Fleet and Admiral “Bull” Halsey, and was the site of the Surrender Ceremony marking the end of World War II. Learn more about this historic vessel with a guided or virtual tour, and take in exhibits like “Missouri In The Movies” and “Divine Wind: Kamikaze and the Battle for the Pacific.”

Cutty Sark Clipper Ship at Greenwich in London UK

Cutty Sark


As the world’s last surviving clipper, the Cutty Sark dates back to 1869, when it launched from Scotland before making its initial expedition from London to Shanghai in 1870. It acted as both a cargo ship, carrying close to 10 million pounds of tea between 1870 and 1877, and a training ship, and was known as one of the fastest ships of its time. Today you can climb Cutty Sark’s masts for a bird’s eye view of London, take the ship’s preserved wheel into your own hands, and walk the main deck while imagining what life must have been like on the historic vessel.

Bridge Of USS Midway Aircraft Carrier

USS Midway

San Diego 

It can be awe-inspiring to climb aboard the USS Midway, a former United States Navy aircraft carrier that was, until 1955, the largest ship in the world. After serving in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm, the carrier was decommissioned in 1992 and settled at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego. Exhibits on the hangar deck, flight deck, and below deck allow visitors to climb into cockpits, take a tour of the officers' cabins, and explore dozens of restored aircraft and helicopters.

Related: Historic Ships That You Can Actually Sail Aboard

The replica of the Golden Hinde, the UK' famous ship

The Golden Hinde


It may be a replica, but the Golden Hinde is a spot-on reconstruction of the galleon used by Sir Francis Drake to circumnavigate the globe in the 16th century. Since its launch in 1973, the Golden Hinde has made voyages of its own, sailing to San Francisco, Japan, the British Isles, and through the Panama Canal to Vancouver. In 1996, the ship docked in London, where it now hosts school activities, concerts, and self-guided tours, as well as overnight programs for students, where they can learn about Elizabethan seafaring and spend the night on the ship. 

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