America's oldest cities offer more than just a history lesson. Some are still small towns compared to other areas. Others have grown into thriving world focal points. But all of them represent the enduring spirit of this country. Whether you are looking for a home with history or a vacation spot with a story to tell, here are seven of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the United States.

Key Takeaways

  • Founded in 1556, St. Augustine, Florida, has a booming tourism industry.
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico, is the oldest American capital.
  • Plymouth, Massachusetts was unofficially named in 1620.
  • Hampton, Virginia, is the birthplace of the first African born in America and began the first teaching of African-Americans.
  • New York State is home to two of the country's oldest cities: Albany—the capital city—and New York City, which was first known as New Amsterdam.

St. Augustine, Florida

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the longest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States. A treasure trove for history buffs, the city boasts numerous historical landmarks and 42 miles of beaches. With a 2020 population of 15,072 people, it is a quaint town full of history and fun.

According to the U.S. census, the median age in St. Augustine is 41.5 years. The median income is $51,364. The average home price is $272,000 and the cost of living index is 101.9 while the national average is 100.   The biggest industry is retail, with accommodation & food services coming in second.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

The name Santa Fe means holy faith in Spanish. It was founded between 1607 and 1610 and is the oldest American capital. It is immersed in Native American culture surrounded by Pueblo lands, which are Native American territories. The city also reflects ancient Mexican and Spanish occupation.

Santa Fe is located at 7,000 ft above sea level in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and offers numerous hiking and biking trails, golf, and other outdoor activities.  The high desert climate draws two million visitors per year. Santa Fe is taking steps to preserve not only its historic places but also the environment with detailed sustainability initiatives.

The city has a population of 82,980. The median price for a home is $402,285 and the median annual income is $53,922.  The city's unemployment rate is below the national average. Santa Fe has a large concentration of artists and is considered to be the third-largest art market in the country.

Plymouth, Massachusetts

There's no proof the Pilgrim's Mayflower schooner actually landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, but the rock—and the legend—still exist today. The town that officially began in 1620 was incorporated into what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Hearty Pilgrims from England celebrated the first Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth.

The town survived and today has a population of about 63,411. Plymouth could be considered a distant suburb of Boston, which is only 40 miles away. The port still exists, but tourism is the biggest industry. Health care, research, and finance and insurance are also prominent in the town.

Like other historic places, there are plenty of museums, re-enactments, and historical replicas. A typical New England sea town, temperatures range from 20 degrees to 81 degrees. The median income is $87,595.

Hampton, Virginia

Founded in 1610, Hampton is the first English-speaking settlement. The first aviation research center, the Virginia Air & Space Center, was the first training ground for U.S. astronauts and is located in Hampton.  Hampton is the birthplace of William Tucker, the first person of African descent born in America. It had the first public education system. As the first town to begin teaching African-Americans, the historically black Hampton University is a still well-respected institution today. 

Hampton is one of the seven cities that make up the Hampton Roads metro area.  The city is also home to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel—the world's first bridge-tunnel to man-made islands—which connects the Hampton Roads harbor with the city of Norfolk.

The city began a major revitalization program in the 1990s. With a population of 137,436 people, it is located on a plateau and covers 55 square miles.  The climate is mild with temperatures ranging between 34 and 89 degrees. Hampton's major industries include government, aerospace, medical and telecommunications.  The median income is $52,021.  Hampton is slightly below the national average in terms of the cost of living. The current unemployment rate is 13.4%.

New York State is home to two of the country's oldest cities: Albany and New York City.

Albany, New York

Dutch explorer Henry Hudson is credited with exploring the river that bears his name in 1609. Based on his discovery, the Dutch sent settlers who found Albany in 1614, which later became the capital of New York. The city, which is one of the oldest European settlements, has a rich history of manufacturing and commerce including the birthplace of toilet paper and the Ferris wheel. State and local governments are one of the biggest industries along with education, health care, and high technology.

Albany's perch on the Hudson River attracts many visitors to numerous cultural attractions. The 1899 capital building itself is a sightseeing destination. It is an example of historic government spending costing $25 million and taking more than 25 years to complete. Albany's diverse population of 96,460 reflects the city's immigrant history. The median home value is $186,300.

New York City

New Amsterdam was part of a Dutch colony that began in 1624. The English named it "New York" in 1664. The history of the city is renowned throughout the world and has long been one of the most recognizable locations on earth. The city is known for some of the world's most famous and iconic landmarks including Times Square, Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, the World Trade Center, and the Empire State Building.

New York's ethnically diverse population hovers around 8.3 million people and continues to grow as the tide of immigrants has yet to cease. The median value of homes is $652,300.

The city continuously reinvented itself while maintaining historic leadership in finance, commerce, education, art, and culture. New York City is much more than skyscrapers and 842 miles of subway tracks. Pride-filled citizens often laud the rich heritage of the many neighborhoods which make up its five boroughs.

Jersey City, New Jersey

Jersey City was founded in 1660. The Hudson River offered opportunities for commerce and finance including inventing and manufacturing the yellow pencil still commonly used today. The diverse culture of the area reflects its history with the slave trade and the struggle of slaves to escape from bondage.

The city was once a hub for shipping and manufacturing and now has a vibrant, rich culture. It's located between the Hackensack and Hudson Rivers and covers about 15 square miles of land. Jersey City is considered to be part of the New York City metro area.

The present population is estimated to be about 262,075—the second most populated city in the Garden State after Newark.  The median income is $72,561. The median home value is $500,395. The city's biggest industries include finance, insurance, and real estate.

Historic Pride

What most old cities have in common is a vibrant tourism industry. In fact, the original English settlement, Jamestown, Virginia no longer exists as a working town. The remains of the fort and town are a historic preservation site. Visitors of old cities explore the artifacts of America's past, but the current population mixes modern living with the old world charm of our first cities to keep them vibrant and healthy.