The Alamo

Top choice historic building in San Antonio

Image by Dean Fikar Getty Images

For proud Texans, the much-fabled Alamo, entered freely off San Antonio’s central plaza, is not so much a tourist attraction as a place of pilgrimage. Many visitors get downright dewy-eyed as they explore the site of the 1836 siege, in which a few hundred revolutionaries, including Davy Crockett, William Travis and James Bowie, died defending the fort against thousands of Mexican troops.

Built as a mission church from 1755 onwards, the main building is now known as the Shrine. Beyond that, various exhibition areas tell substantially the same story – not that historians entirely agree on the details – in different ways. Thus living-history enactors perform in the Cavalry Courtyard, while there’s a more traditional museum in the Long Barrack, originally a residence for the Spanish priests and later a hospital for Mexican and Texan troops. A 17-minute film provides another perspective on the battle, and makes an excellent opportunity to escape the heat.

If you're interested in walking the front perimeter of the old fort, and learning more about its history, you can take a 33-stop self-guided audio tour ($7 per person), or join a one-hour guided tour ($15).

Strange but true: having amassed the world's largest private collection of Alamo memorabilia, British singer Phil Collins has donated it to create a brand-new on-site museum, due to open in the next few years.