New Orleans to Nashville – An Epic Deep South Road Trip Itinerary

New Orleans to Nashville – Deep South Itinerary

I have just returned from an amazing road trip through America’s Deep South. Unintentionally, the trip was a bit of a musical pilgrimage through some of the best music cities in the world – New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville, aka ‘The Blues Highway’.

I come from a musical city myself (Liverpool) and grew up listening to country, soul, blues and rock ‘n’ roll. I was in bands all through my younger years, so to visit the places that inspired the songs I love or where they were written, recorded and first performed was pretty magical.

Plus the area is rich with history, unique cultures and different landscapes. Each place we went had it’s own (very) distinct vibe. And the food – wow! I absolutely loved it. I may have even loved this trip more than my last two USA road trips to California & Vegas and Hawaii.

It’s always hard to plan a trip like this, which is why I like to write these type of posts (rather than just city guides), to tell you from my personal perspective, about what I did, what I did right and what I did wrong, to help you plan your own epic Deep South road trip itinerary. And, it keeps the memories alive for me too!

So if you’re looking to plan an incredible trip in America’s Deep South, starting in New Orleans and ending in Nashville (or vice versa), then this is the blog post for you.

ps. A special thanks to everyone who sent me recommendations of things to do (especially Jenn Richardson) and my friend Scott from Intrepid Escape whose vlogs were really useful in planning this trip!

Please Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you. Affiliate sales help with the running costs of this site, so thank you for your support!

New Orleans to Nashville – An Epic Deep South Road Trip Itinerary

Dolly Parton Mural, Nashville

Our Deep South Road Trip Itinerary Overview

There are so many places that you could add into a Deep South road trip itinerary (it’s a big old place), but the likelihood is that you will have limited time so you’ll need to pick a few must-visit places and build your itinerary around that.

The area known as the ‘Deep South’ is traditionally made up of the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. However, parts of Texas and Florida are often included in that too.

We had just over 2.5 weeks for this trip, and our main priorities were a dude ranch in Texas, Nashville, New Orleans and the Great Smoky Mountains, so we started there.

Our route went like this:

  • Day 1: UK to Austin, Texas
  • Day 2 – 3: Bandera, Texas (via San Antonio & the Alamo)
  • Day 4: Houston, Texas
  • Day 5 – 7 : New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Day 8 – 9: Memphis, Tennessee
  • Day 10 – 13: Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
  • Day 14 – 16: Nashville, Tennessee
  • Day 17: Nashville to UK

Now you’re probably thinking, Texas, huh? I thought this was a New Orleans to Nashville Deep South itinerary? Keep reading…

I absolutely loved our US road trip. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever done and we saw and experienced some incredible things. The music, the food, the people… so, so, good!

But as with most trips, there are parts I would keep exactly the same and there are things I would do differently – hindsight is a wonderful thing! I also picked up a lot of useful info/tips as I went, which I want to share with you in this post.

Racoon, Bayou

If I were to do the trip again, I would either:

  • make it just over 3 weeks and add another night in Austin, another night in Bandera, another night in the Smoky Mountains, oh, and Nashville… I could have stayed there forever.
  • or I would have flown direct into San Antonio (1 night isn’t enough to see much of or appreciate Austin), either stayed there and gone to Bandera the next day or gone straight to Bandera (via San Antonio and the Alamo if we’d arrived early enough).
  • or cut out Texas altogether and save that for another trip, flying into New Orleans instead. I LOVED Texas and the ranch, however it did mean that we were rushed in some places and the trip would have been more relaxed without it! We didn’t see much of either Austin or Houston. And Texas is a world unto itself.

But we only had a certain amount of time and these were the things we wanted to see, and you never know when you’ll have the chance to come back so we squished it all in! I don’t regret anything as it was all amazing, but it was just a teeny taster of what Texas has to offer.

So with that in mind, I am going to write about our itinerary starting from New Orleans and ending in Nashville, with a little detour to the Smoky Mountains, and I’ll write about Texas in a separate post! So it’s going to look something like this…

  • Day 1 – 3: New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Day 4 – 5: Memphis, Tennessee
  • Day 6 – 9: Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
  • Day 10 – 12: Nashville, Tennessee
  • Day 13: Nashville to UK

I will write about our trip exactly as we did it. However, if I were to do this part of the trip again, I would add an extra night in each place – just to make the trip a little more relaxed! And there are also lots of other places you could add if you had more time – places like Natchez and Jackson in Mississippi, Charlotte in North Carolina, Charleston in South Carolina or Savannah and Atlanta, Georgia.

And while it was great finishing with a bang in Nashville, if you wanted a more relaxed end to the trip, you could end in the Smoky Mountains and then drive to Nashville (3.5 hours) or Atlanta (4 hours) for your flight home or spend 1 extra relaxed night in either city. Or continue your trip elsewhere.

When to Travel in the USA’s Deep South

Generally the best time to visit is said to be March to May and September to November. The summer can become very hot and humid in these parts, especially in New Orleans.

We travelled in May which was nice, not too hot, but warm enough to wear shorts and t-shirts every day and all of the summer activities (white water rafting etc.) in the Smoky Mountains were open. We did get a bit of rain, but nothing too bad or cold and I think that was a bit unusual.

If you want to experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans, they pretty much celebrate from January all the way through to Fat Tuesday (dates vary depending on when Easter is that year). The best weekend to celebrate is the one before Fat Tuesday when they have some of the biggest parades.

Greetings from NOLA Mural

New Orleans, Louisiana

So the first stop on my Deep South itinerary is New Orleans. Or as the Americans say it ‘New Orlans’ (us British say ‘New Or-lee-ans’). Or just NOLA for short! It’s one of those legendary places that you need to visit!

The city is famous for many things – Mardi Gras, being the birthplace of jazz (and Louis Armstrong), great food, voodoo, vampires and ghosts (oh my!), the architecture and a unique cultural makeup.

Once I put it out there on social media that I was visiting NOLA, I had so many recommendations from friends and readers – and lots of people telling me how jealous they were that I was going! This set the bar high.

New Orleans has a reputation as a quirky, spooky, party city, which sounded right up my street. And after staying there for a few days I can confirm it is all those things and more! I loved it.

We spent 3 nights here, but I would have preferred an extra night if possible! I think 4 nights is a good amount of time to see all that New Orleans has to offer!

Sonder The Schaeffer, New Orleans
Sonder The Schaeffer, New Orleans

Where We Stayed: Sonder The Schaeffer

We stayed in a really nice 3-bed, 2-bath apartment in a really great and quiet location, just a 5-minute walk to Bourbon Street. There was a really nice coffee shop and bar on the ground floor and a Food-N-Fun convenience store a few minutes walk away.The only downside was it didn’t have much natural light or any kind of view, but the rooms were cosy, the beds were great and we didn’t spend much time in the apartment anyway!

Favela Chic, Frenchmen Street
Day 1 – New Orleans

We drove from Houston, Texas, leaving at around 8am and arriving in New Orleans at 3pm. We didn’t make many stops, but we did come across a Buc-ee’s in Baytown. For those of you who’ve never heard of Buc-ee’s (I hadn’t until I did this trip), it’s kind of like a supermarket crossed with a service station.

Except, as well as regular brands (like Coca-Cola etc.) they have Buc-ee’s everything – food, drinks, clothes, toiletries, toys… it’s a whole experience! You’ll mostly find them in Texas, but there are others throughout the southern US states and apparently they have the “cleanest restrooms in America”. Definitely try and stop at one if you drive any part of this route!


The landscape began to change as we drove out of Texas and into Louisiana. Once we reached Lafayette, the road turned into the Louisiana Airborne Memorial Bridge, a pair of 18-mile long parallel bridges that take you over the Atchafalaya Basin – there’s a whole lot of swamp in Louisiana – and it’s quite scenic! Similar to the bridges that take you to the Florida Keys.

When we arrived in NOLA, we settled into our apartment and then got an Uber over to Frenchmen Street, which is said to be the ‘more local’ version of Bourbon Street, New Orleans’ famous party street (which our local tour guides describes as “smelly and expensive” – not my words).

Frenchmen Street Art Bazaar

We went to both streets whilst we were in the city – Frenchmen Street has a bit more of a mixed crowd, is more relaxed, cool and hipster, whilst Bourbon Street is a little more touristy, rowdy and I guess… lowbrow (I was looking for the right word for a while – and I am not judging, I don’t mind the odd lowbrow, rowdy night out – they can be fun).

However, there were plenty of tourists (I was one of them) on Frenchmen Street too and it did become pretty lively later on – it’s no longer a local secret and I feel like it may become another Bourbon Street over time. But both streets are fun and just different, depending on the kind of night you want.

Spotted Cat Music Club, New Orleans

Now… if we had arrived earlier, I would have liked to have done a New Orleans food tour and then gone out. I love doing food tours and think they’re a great way to see and learn about a new city, so this would be my personal recommendation. Or maybe do one another day if you have time.

We started off early in a little bar called the Spotted Cat Music Club, where we had a few drinks and watched a great jazz band called Chris Christie’s Hot Quintet. Next we wandered into the Frenchmen Art Bazaar which takes place every night from 6pm. Here you can find lots of local artists and craftspeople selling their wares.

Bamboula's, New Orleans

When you get hungry there are quite a few places to eat on Frenchmen Street. We ended up eating at the next bar we went to, Bamboula’s, as we were really enjoying the music and the food was pretty good! We ate at the Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro another night, which I really enjoyed (although it was pretty cold with the AC on) but my friend recommends going to Jacque Imo’s, which she says is her favourite restaurant in New Orleans!

Then for the rest of the evening, my advice is just to have a wander down the street, going into different bars when you hear something you like and taking in all the excellent music! Then get an Uber home when you’re done!

Jackson Square, New Orleans
Day 2 – New Orleans

In the morning, we’d booked onto a Free Tour By Foot French Quarter tour, meeting at the Andrew Jackson Statue in Jackson Square at 10am. On the way, we stopped to pick up breakfast and coffee from PJ’s Coffee which is a local favourite. You’ll see that there are very few chains, like Starbucks, in New Orleans. They’re a very independent city!

Now, I recommend doing some sort of tour (walking, food or hop-on, hop-off) whenever you arrive in a new city. You’ll get great info about the city and the guides will give you their personal and local recommendations/tips – which are invaluable and can really change the trajectory of your trip!

The LaBranche House, New Orleans

Our guide was called Daniel. He was entertaining and great in telling us about the history of the city and how it all came to be. You can immediately see that New Orleans is quite different from anywhere else in the US, and they are very proud and vocal about that.

He told us all about the Louisiana Purchase, Napoleon’s involvement in the city, how the French Quarter is actually Spanish, the Ursuline Convent, the Creole influence, the difference between a gallery and a balcony and why the houses in NOLA all have lanterns burning outside them pretty much 24/7 (which adds to the spooky vibe of the city)!

Po' boy, New Orleans

It was very informative! At the end, you pay what you think the tour is worth. They recommend $20 – $40 per person.

The tour lasted about 2 hours, by which time you’ll be hungry! I recommend grabbing a po’ boy, which is basically a sandwich served on French bread. These are very famous in New Orleans! There are plenty of places to get them, however Daniel recommended Parkway Bakery & Tavern (best all-rounder), Dilomilise’s Po-Boys and Bar, Verti Marte (open 24 hours, a perfect post-Bourbon Street snack – our ghost tour guide, Meri, also recommended this one) and Melba’s (open 24 hours).

French Quarter, New Orleans

Killer PoBoys and Johnny’s Po-Boys are also pretty popular choices, right near Bourbon Street. And Meri also recommended Short Stop Poboys in Metairie which is outside the CBD, but she said it’s the best! She also said if a po’ boy looks pretty, it’s a sandwich. They should look messy.

And for desert, don’t forget to pick up some of the famous pecan pralines from Leah’s Pralines, Aunt Sally’s Pralines or Loretta’s Pralines. Many of the gift shops sell them too!

Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo, New Orleans

Next we went in a few shops. New Orleans has some great shops selling all kinds of cool stuff (as well as lots of tacky crap too). You have to visit Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, where you can buy all kinds of weird and wonderful things. Although VERY different to the voodoo markets I’ve been to in Benin, where voodoo originates from.

Afterwards, we were booked on to the Steamboat Natchez for a lunchtime jazz cruise. This is a really fun way to spend some time, sailing (or steaming in this case?) up and down the Mississippi River on a traditional steamer.

Steamboat Natchez, New Orleans

You will hear the boat before you see it, as they play very loud pipe organ music whilst you’re waiting to board. It’s an interesting sound, like a hundred kids playing the recorder all at once – maybe it doubled as a torture device back in the day? Thankfully it stopped when we got on!

I really enjoyed the boat and listening to the jazz trio onboard. They offer morning, afternoon, and evening cruises, with the option to book for food as well. However, we decided to skip the food option and simply found ourselves a spot on deck to enjoy the view – although it’s not the most scenic boat trip I’ve ever been on.

Natchez, New Orleans

One of my top tips is to head towards the area where you board/disembark as you near the dock on the way back. We did this by accident and ended up being among the first to disembark. Meanwhile, others were waiting for quite some time!

After the cruise, we wandered down the waterfront to Cafe Du Monde, a historical New Orleans cafe. Daniel told us we had to go here for the beignets (deep-fried choux pastry dough with powdered/icing sugar, said like ben-yays) and café au lait (which in NOLA is chicory coffee with milk). So obviously, I wanted to try this local experience.

Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans

The cafe was packed, but it didn’t take long for us to get a table as most people are literally just making a quick stop – and there is a takeout queue too if you don’t want to sit in. Now, the cafe itself is a bit, I would say, scruffy and there’s powdered sugar all over the floor and tables – which isn’t surprising with the amount they sprinkle on top of the beignets.

Please don’t hate me New Orleans, but I wasn’t that blown away. I mean the beignets are nice and all, but nothing special and nothing better than similar things I’ve had in other countries (and I didn’t care much for those either). They’re quite dry and I thought the amount of sugar was a bit of a waste. But, my friend LOVED them. So I guess it’s personal taste!

Cafe Beignet, New Orleans

And the coffee, it was ok… but again, I didn’t love it. I’m glad I went, but I won’t be rushing back to NOLA for the beignets and café au lait, let’s put it that way – although I would go back for pretty much everything else! Still go try them, it is a true NOLA experience, and please tell me what you think!

Cafe du Monde isn’t the only place serving beignets. Cafe Beignet is another place you can go and they have 4 different locations around the city (and they’re very pretty), including one on the riverfront (Decatur Street), near to the Natchez. After that we went back to the apartment to get ready for the evening as we were off to Bourbon Street!

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar, New Orleans

We started our evening at one of the oldest bars in New Orleans, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar. An interesting and dimly lit bar that looks like something from Pirates of the Caribbean (that’s it above, but during the day). Here, I decided to try a Sazerac (sometimes pronounced Zazerac), one of New Orlean’s most famous cocktails.

It wasn’t quite my cup of tea! I don’t mind an Old Fashioned (and this is similar), but the absinthe took it to a dark place. Nope, not for me!

Pat O'Brien's, New Orleans

Our next stop was dinner. We hadn’t planned anything, so we tried The Court of Two Sisters (which has daily jazz brunches if you get the chance to go – booking recommended) but there was a bit of a wait, so we popped around the corner to Pat Obrien’s (which is famous for inventing the “Hurricane” cocktail) and the food and the cocktails were pretty good.

From there, we headed down Bourbon Street, New Orleans notorious party street. It hadn’t been too busy during the day but started to get pretty lively as we finished dinner (although nothing like Nashville on Memorial Weekend – which I’ll get to later). It was Saturday night, so I can imagine it’s a little quieter during the week.

Bourbon Street, New Orleans

Walking down Bourbon Street, you get hit with all kinds of aromas – a mix of stale beer, incense, drains and weed. There’s live music blasting out of every bar, people are partying and drinking in the street, which you’re allowed to do in New Orleans (this is the same for Beale Street in Memphis), as long as your drinks are in plastic glasses. So bar-hopping is a lot easier than it is in most places.

We had a great night, going from bar to bar, listening to bands, chatting to random strangers (actually, that was just me) but my friend said “it’s changed” since he was last there, and not for the better. Bourbon Street won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it is fun and you should at least go and see it at night, even if you just look and go home!

Now my advice, go easy on those cocktails. They are free-poured and they have a ton of sugar in them. You know what that means? It means getting messy drunk and a terrible hangover!

Day 3 – New Orleans

On our last day in New Orleans, we started the day by visiting the Garden District, one of New Orleans most beautiful neighbourhoods. We just had a walk around, however you can take Garden District tour which I think would be a nice way to experience the area and learn more about it.

In this area, you’ll also find one of New Orleans best and most famous restaurants, the Commander’s Palace. The restaurant hosts jazz brunches at the weekend, and is open for lunch on Thursday and Friday, but is only open for dinner Monday to Wednesday. They do have a dress code, so you can’t just rock up in shorts or ripped jeans, well not if you want to be let in! And you will need to make a reservation!

Miette, New Orleans

On the way to the District we passed a beautiful and interesting shop called the Haus of Hoodoo which is the place to go if you’re interested to learn more about Hoodoo (which is different from the Voodoo religion) and buying some Hoodoo products.

I would also suggest having a wander down Magazine Street, a 6-mile road running from Audubon Park to the CBD, which has lots of cool boutiques, cafes and the ‘Greetings for NOLA’ mural which is at 2014 Magazine Street at the corner of Josephine Street.

Greetings from NOLA Mural, New Orleans

You don’t have to walk the whole street, we just saw the small part of it that’s in the Lower Garden District, but it’s definitely worth a visit! If you don’t have a car and don’t want to walk, you can get the tram!

In the afternoon, we went on an airboat swamp tour (it was a busy day) which take place a little way out of the city. The swamps are beautiful and you’ll have chance to see all kinds of animals. We saw alligators, herons, dragon flies, a catfish, a water snake, a mullet, a vulture, turtles, and a racoon it was like a little safari!

Swamp Tour, New Orleans

Now, swamp tours are contentious. Whilst it’s a beautiful experience to see the swamps, almost all companies (including the company I went with, which I didn’t realise), feed the alligators with raw chicken and marshmallows, to lure them to the boat for pictures… as apparently the marshmallows look like eggs.

This doesn’t sit right with me – you don’t feed wild animals, as it makes them associate humans with food and the alligators, who are naturally shy and afraid of humans, will lose their fear and that then ultimately makes them more dangerous.

Racoon, New Orleans

So, with that in mind, here are a few companies that DO NOT feed the alligators:

Whilst I enjoyed the swamps, the scenery and seeing the animals, I don’t agree with them feeding them and I didn’t love how loud the airboat was. We had to wear headphones and this wasn’t pleasant for me and I’m sure the animals hate the noise too. I’m at that age where I turn the radio down in my car to see better.

Alligator, Bayou

It felt weird not being able to hear anything but muffled engine whilst whizzing through such a beautiful and natural place. So in conclusion, next time, I would take a tour in a quieter boat (like the companies above use) or a kayak so I could enjoy the nature better and not disturb the animals so much.

Afterwards, we headed back to town and pretty much went straight out as I just fancied a walk around town. I love planning my own little walking tours or just having a wander as you never know what might happen!

Firstly, we went to the Carousel Bar & Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone, which is a very nice hotel, right in the centre of town. The bar spins (very slowly) and is cool to see, although it’s not easy to get a seat at the actual bar, but you can sit elsewhere.

Carousel Bar, New Orleans

Then we wandered a little. At one point I was looking at my Google Maps and a guy came up and asked if we were lost. We got to talking – his name was Dennis, he loved the fact that we were from Liverpool and he loved The Beatles. Weirdly he also looked like Paul McCartney.

Turns out he was also a tour guide who loves his city and he gave us tons of information about the city! He was a lovely guy, so if you need a tour guide in NOLA, look him up. You can find his website here.

As we wandered down the street, we unexpectedly stumbled upon a Second Line, a procession deeply rooted in jazz funerals but also observed at weddings and festivals. We saw a wedding party, which was really cool and this was something I was hoping to see, but it’s the kind of the thing you just need to come across.

Second Line New Orleans

If you wander around the French Quarter long enough, you’ll probably see one. But, if you want to seek one out, they take place every Sunday (except in July and August and during Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest). You can take a look at this article or find some on here.

We met our friends in Pirates Alley at the Pirate’s Alley Cafe. Which is just around the corner from Jackson Square, where we were meeting a guide to go on a ghost tour with Free Tours By Foot. New Orleans is renowned as one of the most haunted cities in America, and its eerie ambiance certainly adds to the experience..I bet it’s great around Halloween.

Our guide, Meri, was informative and hilarious. She was very ‘NOLA’ and kept calling us all ‘my babies’ or ‘my baby ducks’. I did enjoy the ghost tour and would recommend it, but you will hear some quite confronting stories. Especially when it gets to the part about Delphine LaLaurie (whose house that is below)…

LaLaurie Mansion New Orleans

Other macabre tours you can do in New Orleans include voodoo, vampire and cemetery tours. New Orleans native and writer of “Interview with the Vampire” Anne Rice is buried in Metairie/Lake Lawn Cemetery. Many people also visit the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 which is the final resting place of Marie Laveau, the “Voodoo Queen”.

After the ghost tour, we wanted to get some food. Meri recommended the Gumbo Shop and Muriel’s (this is another spooky place – you’ll find out why if you take the tour) – but we ended up strolling over to Frenchmen Street and grabbed a bite there and listened to some music before getting a (relatively) early night, as we had a long drive tomorrow!

If Ghost tours aren’t your thing, one of my friends recommended to head to Handa Wanda’s on “2nd and D”(2nd and Dryades) in Central City. He said it doesn’t have a sign outside it and they do red beans and rice for free, starting from about 8pm. He said this was a cool local experience.

I Love Memphis Mural

Memphis, Tennessee

Our next stop on our Deep South itinerary was Memphis, Tennessee – a very significant city in the Civil Rights Movement and where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in 1968. It’s also the birthplace of blues, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, and the home of ‘The King.’

It’s a gritty and somewhat rundown city, but it’s also brimming with music and soul. It feels a bit like stepping back in time, blending modernity with nostalgic elements from the 50s and 60s. I feel like Memphis is one of those cities that has SO much potential, if given the opportunity.

Beale Street, Home of the Blues

It was the same with Liverpool, where I’m from – but it all began to change in 2003 when we won the title of ‘European Capital of Culture’ for 2008 and got a whole load of money to regenerate the city. That investment brought the city back to life – and I reckon Memphis could be the same.

The cities are different, but also share a lot of similarities and both produced artists that would change the face of popular music – Elvis and The Beatles. John Lennon once famously said “Nothing affected me until I heard Elvis. Without Elvis, there would be no Beatles.”

Elvis Statue, Beale Street

While it didn’t seem like the safest city I’ve visited (reportedly the least safe in the US), I didn’t feel particularly unsafe, especially in the more touristic areas. Beale Street, in particular, had a significant security and police presence on the weekend, which made me feel secure, though it also suggested they were anticipating trouble. But, I like my cities with a bit of an edge.

Memphis was an unexpected hit on our US road trip itinerary and I had no idea how much I’d love it. 2 nights wasn’t enough to do everything I wanted to do, so if I were to do this trip again, I’d spend at least 3 nights here.

The Rambler, Memphis
The Rambler, Memphis

Where We Stayed: The Rambler

We had a gorgeous 3-bed, 3-bath apartment in a great location, on South Main Street, just a 10-minute walk from Beale Street, but in a quiet area close to the Civil Rights Museum. The apartment was incredible, with loads of space and high ceilings. The pool area was also amazing, with a hot tub and Elvis pop art backdrop.

Beale Street, Memphis
Day 4 – Memphis

We drove from New Orleans to Memphis, a journey of about 7 hours and 30 minutes without stops. Due to the long drive, we didn’t make many stops along the way. It’s a pretty drive, much greener and less built up than the roads we were driving on in Texas.

Route 61, between New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville is called the ‘Blues Highway’ and between New Orleans and Memphis specifically, there are tons of places to visit, including:

Beale Street, Memphis

And whilst it’s not really on this route (you’d cut out Memphis going this way), the Natchez State Parkway is a 444-mile scenic road that stretches from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. It follows the “Old Natchez Trace” which was a historic travel and trade route used by Native American tribes and early settlers.

We arrived in Memphis at around 3.30pm. If you aren’t too tired or you arrive in time, you could squeeze in an activity! This might be a good time to go see the ducks at the historic Peabody Hotel. They waddle through the lobby at 11am and 5pm each day to bathe in the lobby’s fountain to a crowd of onlookers, accompanied by the “Duckmaster”.

Beale Street, Memphis

They live in their own Royal Duck Palace on the hotel rooftop, which you can also visit. The hotel have duck-themed cocktails and cakes, but (thankfully) there’s no duck on the menu, even at their French restaurant, Chez Philippe. It gets very busy as hundreds of people go to watch, so aim to arrive at least 30 minutes before to get a good spot.

The Peabody Hotel is also super close to one of Memphis’ best bbq joints, the Rendezvous BBQ – if you want to line your stomach before heading out to Beale Street, where you’ll find tons of bars playing live music! It reminded me of a bigger version of Mathew Street in Liverpool. Some of the bars have a $5 cover charge, which is either paid on entry or added to your food bill if you eat there.

Rum Boogie Cafe

The bars I enjoyed were the Rum Boogie Cafe, B.B. Kings Blues Club, Kings Palace Cafe’s Tap Room and Blues Hall Juke Joint (which is attached to Rum Boogie Cafe). We actually found that the bars weren’t that busy, but the street was, as you’re allowed to carry drinks outside like in New Orleans (as long as they’re in plastic glasses).

Just be aware that they do charge a $5 cover to get on to Beale Street after 9pm on Fridays, Saturdays and some holidays and you are subject to security checks.

Graceland, Memphis
Day 5 – Memphis

We got up early and grabbed some coffee and pastries at Bluff City Coffee & Bakery near to our apartment on South Main Street before heading to Elvis’ home, Graceland, as we were booked onto the 10am mansion tour. But if you want a sit-down breakfast, both the Eggxactly Breakfast & Deli is just down the road from Graceland.

I’d suggest giving yourself at least 4 – 5 hours or so to go around. It’s recommended to book tickets and you need to arrive around 30 minutes before to check-in etc. We did the Elvis Experience Tour which cost $82.

Dining Room at Graceland

You start over the road at the visitors centre and then take a bus over to the mansion itself. You have a set time to go and visit the house and they give you an iPad audio guide and headphones to explain each location/room, but once you’re in the house, you can wander at your own pace which I thought was nice.

Graceland is beautiful. The interior decor may not be to everyone’s taste (it was decorated in the 70’s) but I personally thought it was really cool and interesting. I really liked the layout of the house, all the staircases, the “Jungle Room” and all of the old photos and memorabilia. The house felt like a real home and I could see why Elvis and his family loved it there.

Elvis' Grave, Graceland

You can also visit his grave, which I wasn’t expecting and found quite emotional. I didn’t anticipate loving Graceland as much as I did and while I’ve always been an Elvis fan, I’d say I’m even more of a fan now! After your tour of the mansion, you can go inside Elvis’ planes, see his cars, gold discs and costumes. His car collection was particularly impressive! I now want a Pink Cadillac.

And whilst you’re there, you can grab some lunch at Gladys’ Diner or Vernon’s Steakhouse. At Gladys’ you can get Elvis’ favourite, a peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich. And don’t forget the excellent gift shops (there are about 5)! I spent a fortune!

Street Art in Memphis

If you didn’t want to eat at Graceland, there are plenty of other places to get lunch in town, including Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, The Beauty Shop Restaurant or the Central BBQ (which is opposite the Civil Rights Museum).

On the way back from Graceland, we went to check out some street art I’d spotted as we drove through Memphis the previous day (you can find this on the corner of S Danny Thomas Blvd and East Georgia Ave).

Arcade Restaurant, Memphis

We ate at the Arcade Restaurant, Memphis’ oldest cafe where Elvis was a regular. The food was ok, but the restaurant is a bit rundown and you can’t really tell who works there as they staff aren’t in uniform. This place could be amazing – it just needs a bit of an overhaul.

In the afternoon, we headed to the Lorraine Motel (where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated) which now houses the Civil Rights Museum, but we didn’t go in as you need a good few hours to see the museum and we had other plans – hence why I needed another day in Memphis.

Lorraine Motel, Memphis

After that, we went to the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, which was voted Memphis’ best museum in 2022. Each exhibit is numbered, and they provide you with a headset to guide you through the museum at your own pace. I really enjoyed listening to and learning about the history of music in Memphis and its global impact. It was fun watching people dance their way around the museum, like an educational silent disco.

And if you fancy something sweet to keep you going until dinner, try Makeda’s Cookies , Muddy’s Bake Shop or Jerry’s Snow Cones (the latter two are a bit out of town, so you may need to drive). And if you’re in the area, there’s a really lovely boutique shop called Stock & Belle on South Main Street (opposite our hotel and it also had a coffee shop). We ended the afternoon by relaxing in our hotel’s Elvis-themed pool and jacuzzi.

The Rambler, Memphis

In the evening, we wandered down to the river, before going to Beale Street again. We ate at the Rum Boogie Cafe but other restaurants that were recommended to me include Blues City Cafe, Itta Bena (this is quite a fancy restaurant), Cozy Corner BBQ and Railgarten (although this is about a 10 minute taxi ride away).

If you don’t fancy another night on Beale Street, perhaps head to Hernando’s Hide-A-Way, a honky tonk road house near Graceland with live music and apparently one of Elvis’ favourite places. We visited during the day and they were hosting a kids ‘School of Rock’ concert which I thought was cute! It’s also owned by Dale Watson, who we saw performing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville the following week.

Street Art in Memphis

And Reverend Green be glad to see you(Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohn).

If you are in Memphis on a Sunday, you could visit Reverend Al Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle Church. And yes, that is Al Green the soul singer! But just remember, this is a real church, not a tourist attraction, so act and dress respectfully.

My time in Memphis was way to short as there are lots of other places I didn’t get around to visiting, including Sun Studio, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the Old Dominick Distillery and the Civil Rights Museum. This is why you need an extra day in Memphis – now I have to go back!

Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

Our next stop was the Great Smoky Mountains, a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains which lies on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. We stayed on the Tennessee side, near to Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinberg.

The Smoky Mountains is America’s most visited national park and I can see why. It’s beautiful, wild, historic, adventurous, full of wildlife and culturally significant but at the same time very convenient, modern, commercial (if Disney made national parks…), kitsch and a bit wacky – with about a million things to do, no matter what your interests.

The mountains are often shrouded in mist (hence the name) and are home to a diversity of wildlife, including deer and black bears. But the most famous resident of the Smokies has got to be… none other than Ms. Dolly Parton, who hails from the town of Sevierville.

I loved our time in the Smokies and I’m glad we added it in to out Deep South itinerary. It was great in a road trip context, but I could easily have stayed a week or two. There is so much to do there – I need to go back (think I’ve said that about everywhere so far).

Now, in case you’re wondering, Appalachian can be pronounced ‘Appa-latch-iun’ or ‘Appa-lay-shiun’ – both are correct, according to the locals I spoke with!

Cabin in the Smoky Mountains
Cabin in the Smoky Mountains

Where We Stayed: Cupid’s Haven

We stayed in a cute and secluded, 3-bedroom log cabin with a hot tub. It was in a fantastic location, just 9 minutes from Pigeon Forge, 15 minutes from Dollywood, 17 minutes from Gatlinburg, and 18 minutes from Sevierville. There’s nothing really within walking distance, but you really need a car for the Smokies anyway!

Day 6 – Great Smoky Mountains

Before leaving Memphis, we grabbed a coffee at Dr. Beans Coffee & Tea (which is the lovely coffee shop inside Stock & Belle). We then headed for the Great Smoky Mountains (about a 6 hour 30 minute drive without stops), driving past Nashville.

Now, as mentioned above, you could go to Nashville first, as you pass through it anyway. This would make sense if Nashville wasn’t your last stop like it was for us i.e. if you were continuing on to Charlotte, North Carolina. Or if you wanted a more relaxed end to the trip. Or you could just end the trip in Nashville and miss the Smokies (but they are amazing if you can fit them in).

Cades Cove, Smoky Mountains

We didn’t stop much on the way as we had a fairly long drive, but we passed a few interesting places, including the Century Farm Winery. Obviously, if you’re driving, you can’t do a tasting (don’t drink and drive kids), but in case you’re interested – it could be a day trip from Memphis, or if you have more time, you could spend a night around there.

Other places to stop off on the way include Mousetail Landing State Park, which is 1 hour 45 minutes before Nashville – might be a nice idea to take a picnic and go swimming at the Spring Creek embayment – or Burgess Falls State Park, which is about 1 hour and 20 minutes outside of Nashville if heading towards the Smokies.


We did, however, stop at both Buc-ee’s in Crossville (I had to go to Buc-ee’s) and Walmart in Sevierville to pick up some supplies for the next few days.

We arrived at our accommodation in the early evening. As we were tired, we got a takeaway, watched Texas Chainsaw Massacre (as you do in a secluded log cabin) and went in the hot tub! However, there are plenty of restaurants and shops in the nearby towns, so we could have popped out or done a bbq!

Sevier County Courthouse
Day 7 – Great Smoky Mountains

Today our plan was to hike to Rainbow Falls (I was recommended this trail by my friend Scott – check out his Rainbow Falls vlog here). So we got up, covered ourselves in sunscreen and bug spray and headed for the trailhead parking.

But we made a big mistake. We had forgotten (or rather not realised) that we couldn’t get a parking tag at the car park – as there is no machine. These can only be obtained from certain places, so we had to drive back to the Sugarlands Visitors Centre.

Smoky Mountains Parking

So… my advice – the first thing you need to do when you arrive in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – is to go get a parking tag! Ideally, I’d say go to a Visitor Center, get your bearings, pick up the ‘Smokies Guide’ and GET YOUR PARKING TAG!

You can also buy them online, but you need to get them posted to you or print them yourself. We of course didn’t have a printer on hand! Parking tags are available at the following Visitor Centers – Sugarlands, Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, Cades Cove, Oconaluftee (in North Carolina) and Clingmans Dome (North Carolina, closed in winter).

Smoky Mountains Parking

There are also automated machines at Sugarlands Visitor Center, Cades Cove Loop Entrance, Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area, Newfound Gap, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Deep Creek Picnic Area, Clingmans Dome, Greenbrier, Cosby, Big Creek, Townsend Wye, Look Rock and Cataloochee.

The cost for parking tags is as follows: daily ($5), weekly ($15) or annual ($40 – only available at the Vistor Centers). But, there are no actual fees to enter the national park – it’s FREE!

Deer in the Smoky Mountains

Anyway, by the time we’d left Rainbow Falls, gone to Sugarlands, bought our parking tag and driven back, we’d added over an hour onto the journey! You live an learn – but at least I can help you avoid making the same mistake.

The Rainbow Falls hike is a beautiful, medium-difficulty trail. It’s named Rainbow Falls because, on sunny afternoons, you can see a rainbow when the light hits the water just right. Unfortunately for us, the day was overcast. But the hike was fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway!

Rainbow Falls, Smoky Mountains

It took us around 3 hours there and back, with a few stops. We saw tons of wildlife, including a few deer, 3 chipmunks and 2 snakes (one of those was just in the Sugarlands car park) and 2 young black bears.

Luckily the trail was quite busy and the bears were walking through the bushes a little way away and paid us no attention. But you do have to be careful. Black bears can be dangerous, so here’s some advice on what to do if you see a bear.

We had been debating going white water rafting in the afternoon. As it turns out, with all the faffing around with the parking tag, it’s probably good we didn’t book it, but if we hadn’t been delayed, today would have been a good day to do it in terms of geography and logistics (we did it the next day instead)!


In the evening we made our way to Gatlinberg, which is a nice town with lots of shops, restaurants and activities. It’s quite commercial and neon, but really cute, fun and family-friendly.

We wandered around the shops and ended up having a meal at Jason Aldean’s Kitchen & Rooftop Bar. Following that, we went to the Sugarlands Distillery. We just went in to have a look but soon realised they were doing moonshine tastings. This looked fun, so we signed up.

Sugarlands Distillery

And yes, it was great – brilliant in fact. We got to try 12 mini shots, of which some were better than others (I liked EGGO, Strawberries & Cream and Appalachian Apple Pie – the latter was the best). But the star of the show was our guide who went by the name Rob HAM (apparently for “hard as a mother****er”), he also called himself “Midnight Meat Train” at one point. He was hilarious!!!

The tasting cost us $5 and we were given a wristband that was also a $5 voucher off anything in their shop. You could even pool wristbands together – so if I gave mine to a friend, they could use both and get $10 off. We didn’t use them straight away, and as we walked down the street people were offering us $3 to buy them off us.

Cycling in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountains
Day 8 – Great Smoky Mountains

Today, we ventured to Cades Cove, a stunning area featuring an 11-mile one-way loop around the valley and along the way, you can spot wildlife and explore historic cabins and churches. From May to September, every Wednesday, the roads are closed to cars, making it a peaceful haven for hikers and cyclists.

We hired bikes from Cades Cove Trading. They advise you to get there early as it all works on a first-come, first-served basis – plus I can imagine parking could be a nightmare if you arrive later, especially in the summer holidays. The full loop takes at least 2 hours by bike (you can take shortcut), but if you want to take it at a relaxing pace, stop for lunch (take a picnic) and visit all the places on the map, I’d give yourself at least 4 or 5 hours.

Black bear in the Smoky Mountains

The route is gorgeous, taking you past open pastures with lovely-smelling wildflowers and through beautiful woodland. But it’s not an easy ride as there are a few hills – so if you’re not particularly fit, you may want to hire an electric bike. I was a bit jealous as the electric bikers whizzed past, whilst I sweated and panted my way up the hills. You can also walk it and we saw lots of people doing that.

The best bit about the cycling, other than the views, was that we saw 13 black bears! Mostly in the distance and in the grass. But we saw a few quite close and every now and again, they’d pop their heads up and look around. I’d say to bring your Zoom lens if you have one!

Now, every other day of the week (aside from Wednesdays between May and September), you can drive this route (as well as cycle). I haven’t done it, but I assume everyone drives very slowly and keeps stopping to take bear pictures, which might be frustrating if you get stuck behind lots of people. And I wouldn’t fancy dodging the cars on a bike – but I haven’t done it myself, it might be ok!

Cades Cove, Smoky Mountains

In the afternoon we’d booked white water rafting. However, the rafting location was 1 hour 45 minutes away. This meant we had to rush the circuit a bit (we did it in 2 hours with a couple of stop offs) – which is why the rafting would have been better the day before when we were over that side.

Driving between the two locations, we passed Townsend Wye, a popular wild swimming spot I had wanted to visit (which was only 15 minutes from Cades Cove) and the Wears Valley, which has some cool looking stores (Mountain Brothers General Store, Wears Valley General Store), restaurants (Elvira’s Cafe, Mel’s Diner – close to Pigeon Forge) and the Tennessee Mountain View Winery! Who, by the way, serve very nice looking charcuterie boards! But we didn’t have time to stop at any of them.

So basically, I would have done hiking at Rainbow Falls and rafting on one day and cycling at Cades Cove (bearing in mind that Wednesday is the best day as there are no cars on the loop) , followed by wild swimming at Townsend Wye and cheese at the winery on another day!

White Water Rafting, Smoky Mountains

But we continued driving to Hartford for white water rafting with Big Creek Expeditions. This was such a fun afternoon, taking on Grade 3 & 4 rapids on the Pigeon River! Our guide, Judd, was great and chatted away about the area as we paddled.

You can’t go out of Hartford towards Pigeon Forge via the way you came in (if you came from Wears Valley and you’ll see a sign saying ‘Turn Back, Google Maps is Wrong), so just go back over the bridge and drive out heading towards the Fox Fire Riverside Campground and it will get you back on Route 40.

In the evening, I recommend visiting historic downtown Sevierville, Dolly Parton’s hometown. Grab a sundowner at 101 Sky Lounge, have dinner at The Appalachian restaurant, known for being one of the best in the area, and take pictures at the Dolly Parton statue just around the corner.

Dolly Parton Statue, Sevierville
Day 9 – Great Smoky Mountains

Today was one of my favourite days – as we went to Dollywood! Before we went, a couple of my friends weren’t convinced Dollywood would be any good, but… we all absolutely loved it. And I mean really loved it.

In the UK we have a few famous theme parks, but Dollywood, was better, in my opinion. The rides were great (much better than we expected), they were close together and it was a beautiful park, full of Dolly magic and the gift shops… ooh, they were good too! A very wholesome and enjoyable day out.

Dollywood, Pigeon Forge

We never had to wait long for any of the rides, not sure if we were just lucky or if it was because it was a bit of a crappy weather day – we did have some lightning in the afternoon which meant the rides had to shut for an hour. This kind of worked out well for us, as quite a few people went home, meaning the wait times were even less! Although going on rollercoasters in the rain isn’t always the most pleasant thing (my poor eyes)!

Or may have been because Dolly herself was coming the next day to open her new exhibit (damn, we missed her by a bloody day) and everyone else decided to go then instead.


The park is open from 10am and closing times vary between 7pm and 10pm depending on the time of year and I would suggest getting there early and spend the majority of the day there (maybe even 2 days if you can). We managed to get round quite a few of the rides, but there were quite a few we didn’t do. My favourites were the Lightning Rod (ironically, this was the one we were waiting for when the lightning started), the Thunderhead and Wild Eagle.

And I have to give a very special mention to the Dollywood cinnamon bread. Oh my goodness… it’s delicious. Try it with both the buttercream icing AND the apple butter. Thank you to Jenn for recommending it. I’m still dreaming about it now! They even sell t-shirts which say “I’m just here for the Cinnamon Bread”.

The Island, Pigeon Forge

In the evening, we went to The Island in Pigeon Forge, which is a bit like Downtown Disney. This is a nice, pedestrianised, family-friendly place to visit, with hotels, shops, arcades, rides and restaurants. We had a really great meal at the Timberwood Grill and the salmon and avocado salad I had was great!

However, there’s nothing particularly unique about The Island, so if I went again, I’d skip it and go to to Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction! You can go to a place like The Island anywhere, but the dinner stampede – it’s gonna be kitsch, over the top and fun!

Another option for one of your evenings is to go and watch the sunset from one of the park’s many viewpoints. Take a few snacks and enjoy the landscape. We went to the Morton Overlook, but there wasn’t much of a sunset that night.

Nashville Tennessee Johnny Cash Mural

Nashville, Tennessee

Our last stop on out Deep South itinerary was Nashville, Tennesee, the “country music capital of the world”.

Nashville was the place that I was looking forward to most on the trip, and it did not disappoint! In fact, it might just be my new favourite city (up there with Cape Town) – but I’ll have to re-visit, just to be sure!

Street Art in East Nashville

Nashville is known as ‘Music City’ or ‘Nash Vegas’ and is the place where many country music stars got their start. You can hear live music all over the city, all day, every day! It’s a non-stop party! It’s also the home of the Country Music Hall of fame and the Grand Ole Opry, so if you love music, especially country – you’ll be in heaven.

And even if it’s not, there are plenty of other great things to see and do, and many, many great restaurants to try, so I would recommend spending at least 3 or even 4 nights in Nashville if you can. Like, if I could create my “dream city” – it would probably Nashville.

Eve Nashville
Eve Nashville

Where We Stayed: Eve Nashville

We stayed in a really beautiful 2-bedroom (with 1 sofa bed) apartment overlooking the river. This was about a 35-minute walk to Broadway, but only 7 minutes in a taxi. The living area was great and there were great views from the balcony. One of the bedrooms was lovely, but the other didn’t have a window so was a little claustrophobic – but fine for a few days.

Sunliner Diner, Pigeon Forge
Day 10 – Nashville

We stopped for breakfast at the Sunliner Diner, a vibrant 50’s themed place in Pigeon Forge. While the food was good (Mel’s Diner also gets good reviews, so I’ll try that next time) and the service was great, the real attraction is the nostalgic decor. If you’re lucky, you might even get to enjoy your meal in a pink or red Cadillac that’s been transformed into a booth.

After breakfast, we drove from the Smoky Mountains to Nashville (3.5 hours), with a stop at Buc-ee’s (obviously) for lunch/snacks, arriving in Nashville in the early afternoon.

Proof Rooftop Bar - The Gulch

After we checked into our apartment, we got changed and headed straight out to The Gulch neighbourhood for pre-drinks at Proof, a rooftop bar at the W Nashville hotel, which had awesome views of the city.

Afterwards we walked to Lower Broadway aka Honky Tonk Highway, grabbed some dinner at Broadway Brewhouse (the food was nice, and fine as a pre-drinking stomach liner, but if you want more of a culinary/restaurant experience – go somewhere else) and then hit the bars!

Legends Corner, Nashville

We had an amazing night, bar hopping, listening to great bands and dancing. We went to tons of places – Legend’s Corner, Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Layla’s Honky Tonk, Robert’s Western World, The Stage, Nudie’s Honky Tonk, Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock N’ Roll Steakhouse

None of the bars had a cover charge, so it was easy to wander between them, but we spent a lot of money on drinks and you are expected to tip the bands – Broadway is EXPENSIVE. But it was fun!

Broadway, Honky Tonk Highway, Nashville

The bars are for the most part, quite similar – they’re all good and feature great bands, so the best approach is to simply wander down the street and, when you hear or see something you like, go on in! Some bars are huge and set over multiple levels, some are smaller and more intimate, but they all have live music of some sort – and I didn’t hear an Oasis song all night (as we would in the UK).

Most of the bars have open windows, and unlike most places, the bands play at the front. Very few had queues, even on a Friday night during Memorial Day weekend. We never had to wait in line for more than a few minutes anywhere.

Robert's Western World, Nashville

Just be prepared for how busy it is. It’s more like a music festival than a regular night out (at least it was when we were there – probably a bit quieter during the week), with people everywhere. Oh, and in case you’re wondering – lots of people wear cowboy hats and boots on Broadway, so go for it! You can dress up or dress down. No-one cares!

We ended the night at the Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar in Printer’s Alley, which I really enjoyed too. And if you’re hungry when you come out, you can grab a hot dog from Daddy’s Dogs, which is just outside and gets rave reviews on Tripadvisor – my friends had one but I didn’t!

Printer's Alley, Nashville

Now, whilst Honky Tonk Highway is definitely a must-visit in Nashville and I had A LOT of fun, I would perhaps do my first day/night different next time…

I’d would either… do a more cultural activity in the afternoon (visit a museum, go on a walking tour etc – once again, we got a bit over-excited), then go to a nice restaurant for dinner and then go out later OR I would have gone to the Opry tonight, eased into Nashville life (we were tired the next day) and hit broadway the following night – the bars are great, but there’s a lot more to see and do in Nashville and you don’t want to peak too early!

Parthenon, Nashville
Day 11 – Nashville

The following day, we took a hop-on, hop-off Old Town Trolley Tour around Music City. Now this is something I would highly recommend as you get to see some of the best parts of the city (including The Parthenon) and learn about them too, with interesting facts and insider info provided by a knowledgeable guide.

The buses start at 9am, come every 15 minutes or so and run up to 2pm on weekdays and 4pm at the weekend. My suggestion is to start at 9am to make the most of the day (this is why I don’t recommend Honky Tonk Highway on night 1 – unless you’re more sensible than I am), getting off at each stop and exploring the different areas before jumping back on!

Nashville Farmer's Market

The buses start at 9am, come every 15 minutes or so and run up to 2pm on weekdays and 4pm at the weekend. My suggestion is to start at 9am to make the most of the day (this is why I don’t recommend Honky Tonk Highway on night 1 – unless you’re more sensible than I am), getting off at each stop and exploring the different areas before jumping back on!

It’s easiest to start at whichever stop is closest to your hotel, however, I would maybe aim to have lunch at either… the Nashville Farmer’s Market (stop 12 – this is where we ate) or in The Gulch (stop 5) or even at The Assembly Food Hall or Puckett’s (stop 9). But wherever you are around lunch, you’ll find some great places to eat.

Grand Ole Opry

In the evening, we went to the Grand Ole Opry. This is a little way out of town (25 minutes) so we got an Uber there. Although the show starts around 7pm, you will want to get there earlier and maybe go for something to eat at one of the restaurants in the Opry Mills Shopping Center, which is right next door. I recommend the Saltgrass Steakhouse which is just a few minutes walk away and definitely book, as it gets busy!

You can also eat in town, but if you’re like me, you’ll want to be close so that you’re not late! I would then suggest to head over to the Opry for around 6.30pm to grab a drink and take a picture with the giant Opry guitar. They also have live music outside before the show, so you could even take a little picnic if you didn’t want to eat at a restaurant.

Grand Ole Opry, Nashville

The Opry was amazing! We saw Rhonda Vincent, John Conlee, Dale Watson, Matthew West, Steve Earle, Don Shlitz and Vince Gill! Honestly, it was so good! My favourite moment when Don Shclitz (who I hadn’t heard of before) broke out into a little song he wrote – The Gambler!!!! The crowd went crazy! What’s awesome is that it’s a live radio show as well.

After the show we walked over to the Nashville Palace. This is a bar/restaurant, however they have a line dancing room/club open on Friday and Saturday nights ($7 cover for this bit and you need to be 21+). I absolutely loved it in here! The atmosphere was great and the line dancing superb.

If you want to join in, you can – but the level was quite advanced and most people seemed to know the routines, although there were a few people (like me) who were just giving it a go. But they alternated between line dancing and partner dancing which is a bit more freestyle! I believe they have lessons some days, so maybe come earlier if you want to learn some dances!

The Nashville Palace
Day 12 – Nashville

Today was our ‘free’ day where we all did our own stuff! Matt and I wanted to wander in the morning and see a bit more of the city (and I wanted to get some good pics), so I devised us a little Nashville walking tour (I’ll talk more about that in my Nashville guide) so I could visit any of the spots we’d missed the previous day, whilst our friends went for a wander and breakfast (at the Johnny Cash’s Bar & BBQ, which they said wasn’t that great).

Garage Sale Vintage, Nashville

We grabbed some “breakfast” at the Five Daughters Bakery just outside the Assembly Food Hall (they have locations all over the city). And I say “breakfast” in inverted commas because we just got donuts which may or may not be considered a breakfast food. However – it was the best donut I’ve EVER had. I had a blueberry lemon donut whilst Matt had a mini raspberry glaze and a mini cream cheese sticky bun.

There are also some really great shops around here. I loved Garage Sale Vintage (they also have a much bigger store in East Nashville). It was full of quirky things and vintage clothes – they even had a bar. And if you want a cowboy hat or boots, you should definitely visit Boot Barn on Broadway (there are a few other similar shops there too).

Nashville Skyline

After our ‘walking tour’ we headed to the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge which is a great place to get a view of the Nashville skyline. Once on the other side, we requested an Uber to take us to Big Willie’s Nashville for a paddleboarding trip down the Cumberland River.

The trip started around 3 miles upstream near to Shelby Park and then we paddleboarded down the river to the Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans. I loved the paddleboarding and it was great to see the city from a different point of view, although I’m glad I didn’t fall in! Whilst there was no debris (or alligators) in the water, it didn’t look the cleanest – but then city rivers usually aren’t!

Broadway, Nashville

We had some time in between paddleboarding and our next activity (visiting a distillery for a tour and tasting), so we headed to The Graduate in Midtown – this is a very cool (and Instagrammable) hotel with an amazing rooftop bar/restaurant called White Limozeen and a karaoke bar called Cross-Eyed Critters where you sing accompanies by robotic animal musicians – seriously! We didn’t visit the karaoke bar, but it’s on my list for next time!

We were going to have a drink in White Limozeen, however there was a storm brewing, so they’d shut the outside terrace which meant the inside was at capacity, so we decided to go and get some of the famous Hattie B’s Fried Chicken, which was just around the corner.

Printer's Alley, Nashville

Hattie B’s is super famous in Nashville and whilst there are a few locations around the city (including one just off Honky Tonk Highway), people line up down the street for the one in Midtown. This was true when we arrived. We waited and the line was getting shorter, but the sky turned black, the thunder and lightening started and the heavens opened, so we ran for cover and called an Uber to take us to the Marathon Motorworks which is near to the distillery.

The Marathon Motorworks is stop 1 on the Old Town Trolley tour. We grabbed some lunch here from Just Love Coffee as the Southern Engine deli was closed. The coffee was fine, but the chicken wraps weren’t great (I ordered a “grilled” chicken wrap, but the chicken was cold, processed chicken cubes – nothing “grilled” about it – I couldn’t eat it and I’m not a fussy eater) so I wouldn’t recommend eating there.

Marathon Motorworks, Nashville

We then headed to the Nelson’s Green Briar Distillery for our tour. Our tour guide, Zach, was great and he walked us through the history of the distillery and Tennessee whiskey (are you singing Chris Stapleton?), led us through the whiskey production process and we ended with a tasting of 4 whiskeys and 1 liqueur. The whiskeys were great, but I’m not a whiskey drinker, so the liqueur was my favourite, and apparently it’s great for making pulled pork!

I found the whiskey tour really interesting (thanks to Scott from Intrepid Escape for recommending it) and I’m really glad I did it! My friends went to the Belle-Meade plantation for a mansion tour and wine tasting, which they also said was really interesting.

Nelson's Green Briar Distillery

After our tour, I wanted to see some street art, so we walked via the Nashville Looks Good on You Mural (opposite the Marathon Motorworks), to the What Lifts You Rainbow mural, then we carried on to the Frankie Pierce park where you’ll see a couple of great murals on Nelson Merry Street (I’d spotted these from the trolley tour).

There are 3 murals around here – I missed one though, which is called Music City Heaven and is in the tunnel that connects the North Gulch Greenway to Frankie Pierce Park – another reason to return. From there we headed back to get ready for the evening.

What Lifts You Rainbow Mural Nashville

We went to meet our friends in the Whiskey River Saloon, then walked across to a great bar (with 4 floors) called Chiefs, owned by singer-songwriter Eric Church. I’d popped my head in here earlier in the day and both the decor and music were great, so I was happy to go back for a little drink!

They have performers on in the bar downstairs, as well as a ticketed venue upstairs (which looks like a church, with stained-glass windows – although rather than religious symbolism, you have stars such as Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson), as well as Rodney Scott’s bbq restaurant. The only thing I’d say about the rooftop bar, is that if you want to go to the loo, you have to go downstairs and then queue to go back up.

Chief's Bar Nashville

Tonight was our last night, so I wanted to eat somewhere very ‘Nashville’ so we had dinner at Puckett’s, which I mentioned above. We didn’t book but they managed to seat us within half an hour. This turned out to be an awesome choice. The service was super friendly and fast and the food was phenomenal.

I had the Puckett’s Mojo Burger (their famous hand-formed beef patty with coleslaw, cherry wood-smoked pulled pork, baked beans, cheddar, house pickle and drizzle of BBQ chipotle ranch dressing). Tastes better than it looks. Honestly – one of the best meals I’ve ever had – if not the healthiest – it was FIIIIIT (as we say in Liverpool).

Puckett's Mojo Burger, Nashville

We then had one last wander down Honky Tonk highway. The first bar we went to was Lucky Bastard Saloon – I’m not sure whether we were drawn in by the music, or the Bang This Twins who were standing in the window – either way, we had an awesome time watching a band called Hype Creek.

They really got the crowd going with a mix of songs, not just country. We even got the national anthem at one point – it was Memorial Day weekend after all. It did make me laugh though, imagining someone breaking into the British national anthem in a bar in the UK. Probably wouldn’t go down quite as well!

Bang This Twins, Nashville

Anyway, I’d recommend going to see them whilst you’re in town if you can! We finished our night with some country music in The Valentine and The Stage and were home in bed for midnight! Fail of the night – asking some Americans what a particular song was (everyone was singing along) – it was ‘Friends in Low Places’ by Garth Brooks.

I guess that’s like being in Liverpool and asking what the song is and it being ‘Let it Be ‘ by The Beatles. Oops.

If you don’t want another trip down Honky Tonk Highway, you could go to The Station Inn – our trolley driver said this was a ‘real Nashville experience’ (tickets on the door on a first-come, first-served basis), go to The Bluebird Cafe (this was closed for roof repairs when we were in town) or maybe see a show at The Ryman Auditorium.

Pinewood Social Nashville
Day 13 – Nashville to Home

Luckily for us, we had a late flight out of Nashville, so we had the whole day to explore, so after we’d checked out of our apartment, our first stop was the Pinewood Social. This is a great breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner spot with a bar, bowling alley and a pool. I had the avocado toast, which was delicious, but very spicy – I could just about handle it.

We then visited the Country Music Hall of Fame which I loved. It was really cool to learn about the history of country music and look up some of the artists we know and love (including Vince Gill and Don Schlitz from the Grande Ole Opry). It took us a couple of hours to go round and see all of the exhibits.

Vince Gill, Country Music Hall of Fame

We then visited the Goo Goo Cluster shop to stock up on treats for the trip home. Goo Goo Clusters, invented in 1912, are America’s first combination candy bar, consisting of chocolate-covered peanut, caramel and marshmallow nougat. And they are absolutely delicious!

If you told me Willy Wonka himself had invented them, I’d believe you! And, you can even make your own, but they are considerably more expensive than the pre-made, pre-packaged ones. There’s also a shop at the airport if you prefer to buy them there, rather than carrying them around (I wish I’d bought more).

Goo Goo Clusters Nashville

Not sure how, but we were hungry by this point, so we headed across the road to the Sun Diner. This was a great little place and the rock ‘n’ roll music was on point – I felt as though we’d been transported back to Memphis. Luckily for us, it wasn’t busy (it was at breakfast time the day before) and had coffee and pancakes which were really, really good. Highly recommended.

Afterwards, we drove out to East Nashville, which is on the ‘other’ side of the river, to explore. The main reason being that I wanted to see the Dolly Parton mural which you’ll find at 1006 Forrest Avenue. In fact, this whole area has plenty of street art if that’s your thing! East Nashville is a cool, arty neighbourhood with loads of cool bars, restaurants and shops – if I go back to Nashville, I’m going to explore here more.

Dolly Parton Mural, East Nashville

We then drove through the area around the Belle Meade area. Our friends had done a plantation tour there the previous day and wanted to show us the neighbourhood, which is full of gorgeous houses and a lot of celebrities live there I’m told.

Then we went to the nearby 12 South area which is another lovely neighbourhood and took a wander down 12th Avenue South which has several murals (including the original I Believe in Nashville mural), bars, cafes and shops. It’s also home to the first Five Daughter’s Bakery in Nashville.

12 South Nashville

We then spent out last half an hour sitting in Sevier Park (we had hoped to get an ice cream from Jeni’s but they were closed due to a flood), watching some guys play basketball and reflecting on what an amazing trip we’d had.

The only downside, was that we were pretty hot and sweaty by the time we got to the airport at 5pm as we’d checked out of our apartment in the morning. If you want a more relaxing last day, you could go and spend the afternoon at a pool – like the White Limozeen rooftop pool and bar I mentioned above. Reservations are required for table dining and pool access, but the patio is available to walk-ins. All bookings open 14 days in advance.

Nashville Looks Good on You Mural

I did not want to leave Nashville and 3 nights weren’t enough for me. However, we were in for an unexpected surprise at the airport, when we ran into Vince Gill, as in the country music legend from the Grand Ole Opry, at the airport.

I went to speak with him, and then we took a photo together. He was such a nice guy, very humble and gracious, and he told us he was on his way to London to tour with… The Eagles. Not a bad way to end the trip, right?

Vince Gill Nashville

Useful USA Road Trips Tips & Random Info

  • Most nationalities need to apply for the visa waiver programme called ESTA – don’t forget to apply before you go, as they won’t let you in otherwise. Once approved, it lasts for 2 years. Just ensure that you are covered for your entire stay and of course, check the passport requirements for your nationality.
  • Watch out for holidays and events, as everywhere is busier and prices go up.
  • If you want to drink, you need to be 21 and you need to show your ID… EVERYWHERE.
  • Create a killer playlist for your road trip featuring all the music from the different cities you visit! Keep adding to it as you go.
  • Stop by Buc-ees – it’s amazing!
  • Remember that price you see isn’t usually the price you pay – they add tax on after!
  • Remember tipping is customary in America – usually 18 – 25% in the US in restaurants.
  • Paying for meals when you’re in a group can be a bit of a pain, as they put tax on after. To make it easier, we tended to have one person pay the bill. Then we used Splitwise to divide it up. We each paid for what we ate and then split the tax and tip equally.
  • Take a tour within the first 24 hours of reaching a city to get your bearings, whether that’s a walking tour or a food tour etc!
  • Try all the food. It’s soooo good!
  • Go easy on the cocktails. Most of the time they’re expensive and sugary.
  • Travel insurance is super important anyway, but especially in the US where medical bills are outrageously expensive. I recommend World Nomads.

Other USA posts you might enjoy…

I hope you enjoyed this Deep South itinerary and that it helps you plan your own epic road trip through the Southern States.

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New Orleans to Nashville – An Epic Southern USA Road Trip Itinerary
New Orleans to Nashville – An Epic Southern USA Road Trip Itinerary

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