A road trip through the Deep South

Eloise Barker

Title photography by Ken Canning

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The local radio twangs and warbles and your stomach grumbles at every barbecue shack you pass. Down oakmoss-strewn driveways, along a lazy Mississippi and across the Blue Mountains, drive into the depths of the Deep South on one of our three epic road trips.

Nashville – Memphis – New Orleans

Best for: If you can’t hit the road without a playlist

The journey: 887 miles


Plunge into this deep, detailed tour of the southern states. Its musical touchstones range from Delta Blues to Frank Ocean. Fly into Nashville airport and pick up your hire car to enjoy the home of country music. The Country Music Hall of Fame, RCA Studio B, the Johnny Cash Museum and the Grand Ole Opry are all must-sees. When you’re ready to leave, duck off the highway and take the Natchez Trace Parkway. It’s a scenic route, once used by Native Americans.

Where to stay:

Sheraton Grand Nashville Downtown is a smart hotel built around a towering atrium. Rooms are spacious and light and the hotel is conveniently near all the main sights.


Before you reach Memphis, you must pass through three towns considered absolutely essential viewing by music aficionados. First, turn off the Natchez Trace Parkway at Muscle Shoals, home of FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd and, of course, the Rolling Stones all recorded in ‘America’s Abbey Road’. Listen to ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Mustang Sally’ as you roll on through. Proper Elvis fans stop in Tupelo, to see a tiny shotgun house (so named because you could shoot a bullet right through it) where you can take a cramped tour – because this is the house where Elvis was raised. Going from here to Graceland, the mansion he bought for his family in Memphis, you’ll re-enact a rags-to-riches journey. In Graceland’s famous Jungle Room you’ll find tourists wincing at Elvis’ choice of deep shag carpet, leopard print and Tiki furniture. Once you’ve had your fill, head on to Nashville’s rival ‘music city'. Memphis itself is for blues fans. Walk the city in the shadow of the King and discover Memphis barbecue – try this porcine-centric feast at Central BBQ.

Where to stay:

The Peabody Memphis is a grand old dame of a hotel with chandeliers and marble fireplaces. It has a strange tradition: ducks are permitted in the lobby fountain at 11am and 5pm every day. Out of respect, ‘canard’ isn’t served at Chez Philippe, the hotel’s upmarket French restaurant.

New Orleans

On to Clarksdale, in the Mississippi Delta, which you know is a good place to go as soon as you find out that Morgan Freeman has a share in the local Ground Zero Blues Club. In the centre of town, look out for the Devil’s Crossroads, which marks where Robert Johnson sold his soul to be a musician. Take a paddle down the lazy Mississippi by canoe to enjoy a delta cruise as well as the area’s famous delta blues music.

Stop off at Natchez and Lafayette if you want battlegrounds, plantation mansions and Creole cuisine before parking up in New Orleans. And this is your final stop because, with all its good-time fun, you won’t want to leave.

Where to stay:

The InterContinental New Orleans sits just two blocks from the French quarter. Above the lavish lobby there’s a great outdoor pool, fifteen storeys up.

Discover New Orleans

Take the Blue Ridge Parkway and admire the hazy, tree-coated slopes. Canoe, climb and maybe clock a coyote.

  • Tennessee Tornado rollercoaster at Dollywood. ©Dollywood.

    Twister and shout

    In Dollywood’s Craftman’s Valley, you’ll find the Tennessee Tornado, the Blazing Fury coaster and the Daredevil Falls flume ride. It’s just one area of this thrills and spills park.

    Visit Nashville
  • The Jungle Room in Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee ©Karen Cowled / Alamy Stock Photo.

    Welcome to Graceland

    The King’s mansion is filled with riches, including a TV room in the basement where Elvis habitually watched three sets at once.

    Book flights
  • Exterior of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. ©Jonathan Hillyer.

    In the frame

    Don’t be alarmed by the ominous Rodin statue lurking outside. The High Museum of Art is stuffed full of impressive art. Look out for work by Anish Kapoor and Romare Bearden, Dorothea Lange and Claude Monet.

    Visit Atlanta

Nashville – Charleston – Atlanta

Best for… Those seeking a wild ride

The journey: 987 miles


After strutting your stuff down Music Row in Nashville, pick up your car and start your road trip east towards Georgia and South Carolina. In Chattanooga, you’ll find a friendly tourist spot (its tourist board calls it the ‘best town ever’) tucked around the Tennessee river. From the top of Lookout Mountain on a clear day, you can see seven US states at once. Just beyond it, at Pigeon Forge, families can stop off in Dollywood – Dolly Parton’s cheery country music theme park. Get in the queue for Wild Eagle, a rollercoaster where the cars have a striking ‘winged’ design (you’re seated either side of the steel track). Afterwards, you’ll see many people rewarding themselves for facing the skies with a large dose of the park’s hot cinnamon bread.

Head on into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Beautiful and beloved by Americans, take the Blue Ridge Parkway and admire the hazy, tree-coated slopes. Canoe, climb and maybe clock a coyote.

Where to stay:

The Residence Inn, Chattanooga is a handy stop for travellers, with a full hot breakfast every morning.


On to Charleston, a quaint coastal town with its own dance, and more than its fair share of history – including the colourful historical houses on Rainbow Row. It was here that the American Civil War started, where you can buy a woven sweetgrass basket on every corner and where Porgy and Bess, and Rhett Butler himself all lived. Wander down the Battery or the atmospheric pathway to Boone Hall Plantation, which is lined with 18th century oaks. Visit the Old Slave Mart for a sobering history, told in a place where humans once changed hands. And, as you are on a road trip, stop in a converted Esso gas station, Fuel Cantina, for a sloppy dinner and drinks.

Where to stay:

Belmond Charleston Place is a fancy downtown hotel with an indoor pool, sweeping staircases and grand furnishings. There’s nightly live music at the hotel’s Thoroughbred Club and Charleston Grill.


This coast is famous for excellent golf resorts and pleasant beaches. Folly Beach is close at hand, with its washed out seafront houses and pale sands. Meander down to Savannah and take a nosey at the beautiful antebellum mansions. It’s said to be one of the most haunted cities in America (take a late-night adults-only tour or visit the Olde Pink House). The atmospheric, moss-swathed oak trees certainly lend a solemn shadow. Walking through Lafayette Square and Chippewa Square, where Forrest Gump was filmed, should lighten the mood. Queue up at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room or just grab a quick bite from the Back in the Day Bakery.


Whilst you could fly back from Charleston (British Airways flies direct), why not extend your trip to Atlanta? Compared to the coast, the city is huge and business-like, but also has direct flights back to London. Shop in the Junkman’s Daughter for forgotten treasures in a curious gift shop or go mass market at the World of Coca Cola. For other ‘pop’ culture, hang out in the High Museum of Art, where you can admire Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art sculpture.

Where to stay:

The Ellis Hotel is an independent, boutique hotel in downtown Atlanta – a rare find. It was completely renovated in 2017 and has a new fitness centre.

Discover Atlanta

Atlanta – New Orleans

Best for… Civil Rights history


The journey: 674 miles


A visit to Atlanta, Birminham and Montgomery will allow you to delve into America’s past. Afterwards, have some light relief on one of the lesser-visited southern beaches around Pensacola. Pick up your hire car at Atlanta’s airport to begin the adventure.

In Atlanta, you can’t miss the important African American history. The Ebenezer Baptist Church is where both Martin Luther King and his father preached, and is part of a cluster of MLK sites in the district, including his birthplace and final resting place. The city has a wonderful botanic garden with painted trees and rare orchids.

Where to stay:

Many of the great hotels in Atlanta are in Buckhead, north of downtown, and The St. Regis is no exception. Rooms decked out in powder blue and marble, a swanky bar, and a glorious pool, are all housed in an eye-catching period building.


Get a car and start driving, skirting the town of Loveless along Highway 59 to Birmingham. Here you’ll see the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute with its stories of the brave Freedom Riders. Suddenly, all the lyrics to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama, which refer to Birmingham’s old racist governor, George Wallace, all make sense. You’ll be forgiven if you’re tempted by the all-American pursuit of watching NASCAR at Talladega Superspeedway, just outside the city. Brace yourself for breakneck speed and bashed-up bumpers.


On to Montgomery, where Rosa Parks, ‘tired of giving in’, didn’t give up her seat on a segregated bus and made history for the civil rights movement. Go to the Rosa Parks museum, which has a friendly children’s wing, or the Hank Williams museum. F Scott Fitzgerald has influenced the road names here – look out for Zelda Road, and a house filled with her dedicated husband’s love letters. The city of Selma is a short distance away. It’s famous for a protest march made by King and his congregation in 1965, which became the subject of a 2004 film of the same name.

New Orleans

Before you head to New Orleans, you could always make a stop at the beach. The coastal cities of Fairhope and Pensacola are quaint – and Fairhope is particularly nice for cycling around – but the brilliant stretches of protected sand are the main reasons to visit. This area of the Florida Panhandle is often voted as having the best beaches, which proves you don’t have to go onto the peninsula for Floridian sunshine. Head to Pensacola Beach for an afternoon in the sun.

Finally, pootle along to New Orleans, and stay for as long as you possibly can.

Where to stay:

To make the most of the beach, stay nearby at Hampton Inn for a pool and a bit of sunbathing.

Things to do in New Orleans

  • The beaches around Pensacola ©Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo.

    Who ordered a flat white?

    Enjoy flat white sand on the barrier island of Santa Rosa, Pensacola beach. Head to the shops on the Quietwater Beach Boardwalk if you ever get fed up of the view.

    Discover Atlanta