Europeans who think of gambling, huge theme hotels and similar amusements in combination with the USA first think of the desert city of Las Vegas. However, almost 3,600 kilometres to the east lies a city that was already a huge entertainment metropolis decades before Las Vegas even exceeded the 10,000 population mark: Atlantic City.
Nowadays, Atlantic City is known mainly for its gambling. But Atlantic City is a city with an exciting history and numerous attractions that has much more to offer than "just" casinos.
This makes it a classic big city with a lively nightlife, great shopping opportunities and, above all, a unique location: Atlantic City is embedded in the Atlantic Ocean on many smaller and larger islands.
This was also the main reason why two inconspicuous settlements once became one of the most important entertainment metropolises of all. It is therefore worth taking a closer look at Atlantic City then and now.
Today, Atlantic City has just under 39,000 inhabitants, and the entire metropolitan region even has over 350,000.
Former US President Donald Trump even ran a casino here himself for a long time, but it was closed in 2014 and partially blown up in 2021. Many people see this as a symbol of the decline that the amusement metropolis is now experiencing - left behind by competitors such as the better-known and more popular Las Vegas.
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Atlantic City: Climate and best time to travel
Despite its unique location directly on - or in - the Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic City is not suitable for a classic beach holiday. This is due to its climate, as the city is located in the humid subtropical climate zone. It has a typical east coast climate, characterised by high rainfall and strong trade winds.
Nevertheless, it can be almost tropically warm here in summer and the winters are also comparatively mild. Accordingly, the landscape around Atlantic City is mainly characterised by evergreen wet forests, but also swamps, tall grass plains and laurel forests. It is also because of these "rainforests" that many visitors come to the region.
The best time to visit Atlantic City therefore also depends on the purpose of the trip. Those who come mainly for the casinos and entertainment will find what they are looking for all year round.
On the other hand, if you are planning a classic city trip with excursions in the region, it is best to choose the summer months from June to September. Then the average temperature is 23 to 27 degrees Celsius and there are up to eleven hours of sunshine per day.
Nevertheless, you can expect about ten to eleven rainy days per month. For those who like it drier but colder, Atlantic City also has a great atmosphere in November as well as December - with a bit of luck even covered by snow.
Atlantic City: Historical Overview
Atlantic City is therefore a diverse destination. The city's history began when the first hotel was built in the newly founded Atlantic City in 1854. Before that, there were two small settlements here called Galloway Township and Egg Harbor Township. Due to their unique location on the Atlantic Ocean, they were to serve as a holiday resort in the future and were henceforth marketed accordingly - under the uniform name Atlantic City.
America's first "Resort Town
In 1854, Atlantic City was incorporated and equipped with a train connection to Philadelphia. The first visitors quickly arrived in the still young city via this Atlantic Railroad. By 1874, their numbers had grown to around 500,000.
At that time, however, there was no sign of casinos and the like in Atlantic City. Instead, the city made a name for itself with boxing matches and beauty contests. This is how the former small settlement developed into America's first "resort town" and enjoyed great fame and popularity, especially around Philadelphia.
Boardwalk and Boom
Up to this point, however, Atlantic City was still more like a seemingly random collection of buildings, ranging from expensive hotels to cheap accommodation. So in 1870, Alexander Boardman initiated the construction of a promenade to give Atlantic City a focal point, so to speak, and "keep the sand away from the hotels as well as the railway", or so the story goes.
The so-called "Boardwalk" leads from the beach into the city and has been enlarged again and again over the course of time. It is still the hub of Atlantic City today and was a decisive milestone for the subsequent boom of the city.
This began after the end of the American Civil War. Atlantic City grew at a rapid pace and was expanded with more and more hotels and entertainment options. Even then, alcohol and gambling were important reasons for many visitors to come to the city. But this boom was abruptly ended by prohibition – at least for the time being.
Atlantic City is also often referred to as "Monopoly City". This is because the city played an important role in the genesis of the cult game. In the version that is still common in the USA today, the street names from Atlantic City and the surrounding area can therefore be found in Monopoly.
... and then came Prohibition
Prohibition began in 1920 and did not leave Atlantic City unscathed. The prohibition of alcohol led to fewer visitors coming to the East Coast metropolis. While the amusement establishments increasingly ran into problems, organised crime in Atlantic City experienced an upswing. Many a shady celebrity came to the city on the East Coast during that time, for example Al Capone.
TIP: For those interested in this exciting phase in Atlantic City's history, the series "Boardwalk Empire" is recommended. The multi-award-winning series gives an insight into the city during Prohibition, linking real events with fictional storylines. The series is based on the book of the same name by Nelson Johnson.
A very early club scene
However, Atlantic City did not want to admit defeat and looked for new sources of income. At the latest since the first Miss America pageant was held in the East Coast metropolis in 1921, it finally achieved international fame. The club scene was also further expanded and after the end of Prohibition, the heyday of the entertainment metropolis began.
Again and again, attempts were made here to offer the guests something new and special. This led to the city being further expanded and literally built into the water. Parts of the promenade stood on artificial stilts in the sea and the piers extended deeper and deeper into the water. Atlantic City saw itself as a pioneer and this mentality was also reflected in the club scene.
Decline and resurgence
In 1976, gambling was finally legalised, and numerous casinos quickly sprang up. A new entertainment metropolis was born and thus one of the most popular destinations for a short trip on the US East Coast. Nevertheless, Atlantic City could never achieve the reputation of its West Coast counterpart: Las Vegas.
This is probably one of the reasons why the city was in decline towards the end of the 20th century, at least as a tourist destination. After gambling was also legalised in New Jersey's neighbouring states, such as New York and Pennsylvania, visitors increasingly stayed away.
More and more casinos and hotels had to close, including the famous "Trump Plaza" of the former US president. Thousands of people lost their jobs and the revenues of the casinos in Atlantic City plummeted by 45 percent since 2006. To save the casino industry, internet gambling was legalised, but this did not bring the desired effects.
Instead, Atlantic City is now also focusing on other assets to attract more visitors to the city again. Its identity is thus moving away from being a pure entertainment metropolis and towards becoming a valuable tourist destination. The focus is on Atlantic City's unique location, its sights and sporting events.
A resurgence can therefore already be seen - albeit at a slow pace. It is all the more exciting to experience Atlantic City in this unique phase, in the midst of upheaval and away from mass tourism.
Atlantic City: Arrival and accommodation
There are several ways to get to Atlantic City. The city has its own airport, but there are only a few domestic flights. International visitors coming from Germany, for example, usually land at Philadelphia International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport or Trenton-Mercer Airport. From these airports as well as other domestic points of departure, Atlantic City can be easily reached by train.
It is also possible to travel by bus or long-distance bus. The Greyhound Lines and New Jersey Transit are popular. Alternatively, travellers can also reach Atlantic City by boat or by road. However, those arriving by rental car must expect a difficult and expensive parking situation in the city.
Atlantic City: Special features for tourists
Gambling is thus still one of the main reasons for many national as well as international visitors to come to Atlantic City. However, gambling in the USA is only permitted from the age of 21. Those who are younger may be allowed to stay in the casino under certain circumstances, but may not gamble themselves without incurring criminal liability.
In addition, every player should have a basic knowledge of the respective games of chance that are available in the casinos. These include, above all, blackjack, roulette and slot machines. It is also important to know that poker is only played in a few casinos.
Instead, poker is played in special City Poker Rooms, which can be found all over Atlantic City. Here, too, a basic knowledge of the rules is essential in order to be able to participate in gambling. A little preparation for a visit to the entertainment metropolis can therefore be worthwhile for those who want to play.
Those who come to Atlantic City for the sporting events, on the other hand, have to reserve tickets early. Popular events such as the football games of the Atlantic City Blackjacks are sometimes sold out early. A visit is worthwhile, however, because the Blackjacks' home games take place in the Boardwalk Hall and thus in one of Atlantic City's most important sights.
Sights in and around Atlantic City
The sights are an important keyword, because they are reason enough for many visitors, especially those under 21, to travel to Atlantic City. After all, it is a city with an exciting history that has left its mark:
The Boardwalk was the starting signal for Atlantic City's success. To this day, the promenade is the hub of the city. It is therefore one of the most important sights and offers a variety of leisure and culinary activities over a length of six kilometres. The Boardwalk has a fairground atmosphere all year round with carousels and other attractions.
In addition, the souvenir shops and boutiques invite you to shop. Atlantic City is considered a real shopper's paradise, especially since shoes and clothing can be purchased tax-free in the East Coast metropolis. Furthermore, the Boardwalk has its own version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame with handprints of Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra and other celebrities.
The Steel Pier
The Steel Pier is a special kind of pier: in 1898, a steel pier was erected at the end of the Boardwalk for amusement. Therefore, the Steel Pier is home to numerous rides for all ages, from roller coasters to the latest addition: the Ferris wheel "The Wheel" stands almost 70 metres high and offers a breathtaking view over Atlantic City.
The steel pier is thus certainly one of the most unusual amusement parks in the world and perfectly reflects the typical city atmosphere. But there is another, lesser-known pier that is also worth a visit: Ocean One. Here you will find a high-end shopping centre and a music fountain worth seeing.
Not in Atlantic City, but in the immediate vicinity, is Ocean City. It is a popular destination for travellers with children or those who simply want to relax on the beach. Although the US east coast is not necessarily a bathing paradise, there are several sandy beaches near Ocean City that are ideal for swimming, boating, fishing, kayaking, kiteboarding and other water sports in good weather.
In addition, Ocean City itself is worth a visit, as the small town has been alcohol-free since its founding in 1879, and at the same time impresses with its historic city centre. There are also several amusement parks, a theatre and a historical museum about the history of Ocean City.
The Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall
The Boardwalk Hall is, as already mentioned, probably the most famous sight in Atlantic City - next to the casinos, of course. It was opened in 1929 and has since served as an event hall, for example for concerts.
Boardwalk Hall is also the home of the Miss America Finals and therefore enjoys worldwide renown. It is well worth a visit, whether in action at an event or behind the scenes, because it is home to the largest musical instrument in the world: an organ with 33,000 pipes.
The Atlantic City Art Center, Aquarium and Historical Museum
But it is also the smaller, lesser-known sights that are worth seeing in Atlantic City. On the one hand, there is the Atlantic City Art Center, a gallery with national and international art exhibitions. It is located on a city pier and thus in a unique setting.
On the other hand, the Atlantic City Aquarium is a real insider's tip, because there are interactive exhibits to see that not only show marine life from the region, but from all over the world. Those who are on site should also attend one of the exotic animal shows that take place here twice a day.
Finally, the Atlantic City Historical Museum provides information about the exciting history of the East Coast city, accompanied by fascinating photographs from times gone by.
The Absecon Lighthouse
Atlantic City's lighthouse can be seen from far away, as it towers more than 50 metres above the ground and is strikingly painted in black and yellow. The Absecon Lighthouse offers an impressive view of the sea, the surrounding islands and the city. The lighthouse was built in 1857 and has since been renovated several times and an interesting museum has been added.
Additional travel tips for Atlantic City
Atlantic City is therefore not lacking in sights. The city is therefore more than "just" an entertainment metropolis in the shadow of Las Vegas. It is a destination with exciting history and all kinds of entertainment in a unique landscape. So there are many good reasons to combine a trip to the USA with a detour to Atlantic City. However, the following tips should be taken into account.
Better not in the hurricane season
Atlantic City is repeatedly hit by tropical cyclones. Although devastating damage like that in 2012 rarely occurs, the trip is still recommended away from the hurricane season. This takes place in the months of June to November, although there may be annual fluctuations.
However, since the best time to travel is also in summer, it pays to be somewhat spontaneous when planning your trip. After all, hurricanes do not appear suddenly, but form slowly and can be predicted relatively well. So anyone travelling to Atlantic City during the hurricane season should keep an eye on the weather forecast.
Do not arrive on a diet
There is no shortage of temptations in the entertainment metropolis on the east coast, which also applies in the culinary sense. Anyone travelling on a diet will have to resist at every turn and will not be able to enjoy the trip to the full. Coming to Atlantic City should therefore also mean forgetting one's own rules for once and allowing oneself to be tempted by the city, at least to a certain extent.
Bring enough time for the sights
Even if the main focus of a city trip to Atlantic City is on entertainment, it is worth planning enough time for sightseeing. Because the sights presented here already make it clear that there is much more to discover here than just casinos.
The bottom line is that Atlantic City is a versatile destination with attractions to suit all tastes. In any case, the city should be visited during a trip to the US East Coast to get an impression of its exciting history and the entertainment industry for which the USA is so well known and popular.