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  • The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri
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    A View from the Top in Downtown St. Louis, Missouri

  • Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby
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    Museums and Derby Time in Louisville, Kentucky

  • Tasting bourbon at the Labrot Graham Woodford Reserve Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky
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    Horse Country in Lexington, Kentucky

  • Interior of Ryman Auditorium, one of Nashville's oldest and most famous live music venues
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    Star-Struck in Music City: Nashville, Tennessee

  • View from the walkway at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga
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    Adventures in Chattanooga, Tennessee

  • A replica of the Space Shuttle at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville
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    In Huntsville, Alabama, a Nod to Space Travel and the Past

  • Water show at the Fountain of Rings in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta
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    Southern Charm Meets Cosmopolitan Flair in Atlanta, Georgia

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee
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Bright Lights, Big Cities

  • Route distance:
    1556km
  • Suggested Time:
    6 days

Road-tripping to see the best downtowns in the South

The southeastern U.S. has some of the coolest, most unique downtowns in the country. From parks and museums, to bourbon and blues music, here’s a selection of must-stops in some of the South’s most entertaining cities.

01
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri
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A View from the Top in Downtown St. Louis, Missouri

Fly into St. Louis via Lambert International Airport, where your first stop in this eclectic city is the famous Gateway Arch, the tallest man-made monument in the U.S. Walk to the Old Courthouse, where the Dred Scott slavery case was tried in 1857, and see the city’s oldest structure at the Basilica of St. Louis. Take an hour-long sightseeing cruise aboard the Tom Sawyer or the Becky Thatcher – two nostalgic paddleboats named after Mark Twain characters. Walk into downtown to grab a bite to eat and browse shops and microbreweries. Explore 24 whimsical sculptures and water features at Citygarden, an unexpected gem in the heart of the city, before making your way east to Kentucky.

418 km
4 hours by car
02
Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby
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Museums and Derby Time in Louisville, Kentucky

Follow Interstate 64 from St. Louis to Louisville, where the downtown area is bursting with attractions and entertainment. At the Louisville Slugger Museum, watch a baseball bat being made and receive your own mini-souvenir bat. The museum is just one of 10 cultural stops on Museum Row. If you happen to have a magnet with you, stick it to one of the buildings; this is the nation’s second-largest collection of cast-iron building facades. The city’s food culture is gaining notoriety, so stop for a meal in one of downtown’s popular restaurants. Even if you only have an hour to spare, don’t miss a visit to horse racing track Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Fourth Street Live! is Louisville’s entertainment district, where you can finish the day with live music, drinks and dancing. Be sure to sample some of the city’s signature bourbon. You’ll find that’s a theme here in Kentucky.

124 km
2 hours by car
03
Tasting bourbon at the Labrot Graham Woodford Reserve Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky
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Horse Country in Lexington, Kentucky

It’s a short drive to Lexington, known for its love of horses and bluegrass music. The Kentucky Horse Park is the epicenter of all things equine, including multiples barns, museums and even retired Kentucky Derby racehorses. Keeneland is a historic thoroughbred racetrack where you can take a tour, peruse the library and watch live horse racing. And of course, you’ll have to tour a bourbon distillery or two. Sip famous Kentucky bourbon at the Labrot Graham Woodford Reserve Distillery, or head to nearby Lawrenceburg to see where Wild Turkey bourbon whiskey is made. After all that bourbon, take a night to rest before heading to Tennessee.

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341 km
3 hours by car
04
Interior of Ryman Auditorium, one of Nashville's oldest and most famous live music venues
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Star-Struck in Music City: Nashville, Tennessee

You might start hearing the sounds of honky tonk and blues as you pull in to Nashville, aptly called Music City. The downtown area is hopping with attractions, food and, of course, music. Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the historic RCA Studio B and the Ryman Auditorium. Other can’t-miss stops include the Johnny Cash Museum, the Patsy Cline Museum and the National Museum of African American Music – it’s all downtown! And just 10 minutes away is the world-famous Grand Ole Opry. No visit is complete without a taste of Nashville hot chicken, a local spicy specialty. It’s so good you’ll probably want to take some along for the ride to your next stop, Chattanooga.

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216 km
2 hours by car
05
View from the walkway at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga
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Adventures in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Family-friendly and full of history and adventure, Chattanooga is situated among the mountains of southeast Tennessee on beautiful Tennessee River. On the banks of that river is the Tennessee Aquarium, one of the nation’s most acclaimed attractions. From here, take a walk across the Walnut Street Bridge, the world’s longest pedestrian bridge. Outdoor adventures await at Lookout Mountain. Start with a guided cave tour of the USA's tallest underground waterfall at Ruby Falls, then stroll through Rock City Gardens and finish with a ride up the Incline Railway, the world’s steepest passenger railcar. Round out your visit with a stop at the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Parks and take an audio tour of famed Civil War battlefields. It’s a lot to reminisce over as you head south into Alabama.

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166 km
2 hours by car
06
A replica of the Space Shuttle at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville
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In Huntsville, Alabama, a Nod to Space Travel and the Past

Follow the Tennessee River south, then veer west to Huntsville, Alabama. Start by visiting one of the world’s largest spaceflight museums at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Then explore the nature trails and gardens at the adjacent Huntsville Botanical Garden. Also nearby is the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum, full of artifacts and equipment dating from the Revolutionary War through the present. Head into Huntsville’s downtown to visit the Huntsville Museum of Art and the Lowe Mill District, home to America’s largest private art center. Nine brewing companies keep the city flowing with local beers; pick up a map of the Craft Beer Trail and sample them all. For a breath of fresh air ahead of your final stop in bustling Atlanta, explore the trails and rock formations at Monte Sano State Park, just east of downtown.

291 km
4 hours by car
07
Water show at the Fountain of Rings in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta
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Southern Charm Meets Cosmopolitan Flair in Atlanta, Georgia

The last stop in this Southern downtowns road trip is in the diverse and pulsating city of Atlanta. Park the car and opt for public transportation around the city center. Visit Centennial Olympic Park, created for the 1996 Olympic Games, and take a photo next to the famed Fountain of Rings. Within walking distance is the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola and the CNN headquarters. A short metro ride away is the High Museum of Art, one of the leading art museums in the southeastern United States, with the Atlanta Botanical Garden also nearby. If you don’t get a chance to fully explore the city’s expansive food, shopping and entertainment scene, don’t worry – Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, is practically an attraction in itself before you board your flight home

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