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  • Overlooking the Nashville, Tennessee skyline
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    Nashville, Tennessee: Toe-tapping Tunes in Music City

  • Exploring the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
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    Huntsville, Alabama: American History and Natural Beauty

  • Touring Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama
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    Muscle Shoals, Alabama: Small Town, Big Music

  • A neon sign advertises Gip’s Place, an iconic juke joint in Bessemer, Alabama
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    Birmingham, Alabama: Culture and Dining in the Heart of Alabama

  • Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama
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    Montgomery, Alabama: Notable Southern History

  • Waterfront dining in Mobile, Alabama
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    Coastal Alabama: Natural Beauty on the Beach

  • Dancing in the street as buskers play in New Orleans, Louisiana
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    New Orleans, Louisiana: Bucket-list Southern Destination

Muscle Shoals welcome sign in Alabama
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Nashville to New Orleans through Alabama: Touring Cities of the Deep South

By Zaida Rios

  • Route distance:
    1331.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

History, music, culture and classic Southern food – all define the USA’s Deep South.

Make time for this road trip from Nashville to New Orleans by way of Alabama to see the region’s famous landmarks. Along the way, you’ll discover a NASA facility, visit one of music’s biggest towns you probably haven’t heard of, savor award-winning cuisine, get a history lesson, kick back on the beach and experience nightlife you won’t forget.

01
Overlooking the Nashville, Tennessee skyline
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Nashville, Tennessee: Toe-tapping Tunes in Music City

Fly into Nashville International (BNA) and pick up a car rental. Nashville is a city so defined by its musical clout that even the airport stages more than 700 live performances throughout the year. As part of the Southern Music Triangle (along with Memphis and Muscle Shoals, Alabama), Nashville’s music scene is second to none. Head into the city center to catch a country-music performance at the Grand Ole Opry, which produces the longest-running live broadcast in the USA. Marvel at the costumes, cars, instruments and other memorabilia at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. You’ll learn everything about the Man in Black at the Johnny Cash Museum. Get behind the very same mic that Elvis Presley held at RCA Studio B. The area’s other claim to fame is barrel-aged Jack Daniel’s whiskey. The distillery in Lynchburg offers daily tours (non-alcoholic tours also available). Fill your belly with some Nashville hot chicken, slow-cooked barbecue or Southern comfort food before continuing on to Huntsville, Alabama.

185 km
2 hours by car
02
Exploring the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
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Huntsville, Alabama: American History and Natural Beauty

Small towns and rural countryside accompany you as you cross the state line. Your first stop in the Heart of the Deep South is Huntsville, a city that grew from a cotton and railroad economy to an outpost for Union troops during the U.S. Civil War to an epicenter for science and space exploration. Today, you’ll find an interesting spectrum of related historical sites: One of the oldest existing railroad depots and one of the largest concentrations of antebellum homes serve as historical backdrops to the cutting-edge U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the official visitor center for NASA Marshall Space Center and home of Space Camp. Check out the huge collection of space travel objects, an authentic Saturn V rocket and the world’s only “full stack” – a space shuttle, rocket boosters and external tank. Be sure to grab a bite to eat in the German Biergarten. Explore Huntsville’s natural side with a visit to the Huntsville Botanical Garden or Monte Sano State Park. Serene mountain views, stunning seasonal foliage and outdoor activities make this park one of Huntsville’s best places to unwind. Up next: another stop in the Southern Music Triangle at Muscle Shoals.

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113 km
1.15 hours by car
03
Touring Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama
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Muscle Shoals, Alabama: Small Town, Big Music

Don’t be skeptical of heading an hour off I-65 to visit Muscle Shoals. If you didn’t see the documentary of the same name, you’ll quickly learn why this off-the-beaten-path town is called the Hit Recording Capital of the World. With the establishment of FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in the 1960s, the so-called Muscle Shoals Sound developed – a mingling of traditional blues and gospel with R & B and country tunes. You’ll hear it in chart-toppers like the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” and the Staple Sisters’ “I’ll Take You There” – not to mention hits by Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Otis Redding, Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan. Tour these studios to appreciate the magnitude of the city’s musical influence. In the neighboring city of Tuscumbia, you’ll discover Helen Keller’s birthplace. Guided tours are available Monday through Saturday, and there’s a festival in Keller’s honor every June. After a day in music territory, continue to Birmingham for an eclectic mix of activities and culture.

182 km
2 hours by car
04
A neon sign advertises Gip’s Place, an iconic juke joint in Bessemer, Alabama
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Birmingham, Alabama: Culture and Dining in the Heart of Alabama

Country gives way to city as you head into Birmingham, the largest city in the state. Founded on the coal, steel and railroad industries, Birmingham has transformed into a cultural hub accompanied by genuine Southern hospitality. Motorcycle enthusiasts will be thrilled by the world’s largest collection of two-wheelers and Lotus cars at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Gain important historical insight at the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, a four-block district that includes the historic 16th Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, chock-full of exhibits and artifacts. For dinner, make reservations at one of James Beard Foundation-awarded chef Frank Stitt’s local restaurants: Highlands Bar and Grill, Chez Fonfon or Bottega Restaurant. Live it up at Gip’s Place in Bessemer, a way-off-the-beaten-path blues roadhouse that has rocked music lovers for more than 60 years. Up next: Montgomery.

150 km
1.5 hours by car
05
Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama
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Montgomery, Alabama: Notable Southern History

Birmingham and Montgomery are connected by shared stories of the Deep South. It was in Montgomery that the Confederate States of America was created in 1861 and where, a century later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived as an unknown preacher and organized peaceful protests that grew into the pivotal U.S. Civil Rights Movement. Visit cultural centers steeped in historical significance such as the Civil Rights Memorial Center, the Rosa Parks Library and Museum and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. helped coordinate the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott. Downtown Montgomery is compact, walkable and full of other worthwhile stops including the Hank Williams Museum and the First White House of the Confederacy. Visit the Old Cloverdale neighborhood to see the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, in the home of famed Jazz Age couple. Round out the day with dinner, drinks and live entertainment along the Alabama River. Pop into the Capitol Oyster Bar, a popular spot along the riverfront, before you’re coastal bound.

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270 km
2.5 hours by car
06
Waterfront dining in Mobile, Alabama
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Coastal Alabama: Natural Beauty on the Beach

Head to the coast for the laidback luxury of staying at a lovely Gulf beach town. Located on Mobile Bay, the city of Mobile has been under French, British and Spanish rule – cultural influences you’ll see in the architecture and ambience of its seven National Register Historic Districts. Home to the first Mardi Gras celebration in the USA back in 1703, Mobile sure knows how to party – its annual festival is two-and-a-half-weeks long! Enjoy Mobile’s tranquil side with a boat tour through the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, known as America’s Amazon and the second-largest river estuary system in the USA. On the coast, Gulf Shores beckons beach goers with sparkling white sand and warm Gulf waters. Hang out on the beach, sip a drink at a beachfront bar and enjoy live music with a beautiful waterfront view. When it comes time to eat, you can’t go wrong ordering freshly caught seafood at local favorites like Tacky Jacks or the Original Oyster House. Now that you’re relaxed, you’re ready to segue into your last stop - New Orleans.

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232 km
2.15 hours by car
07
Dancing in the street as buskers play in New Orleans, Louisiana
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New Orleans, Louisiana: Bucket-list Southern Destination

Follow I-10 west into legendary New Orleans. Known for its festive atmosphere and indulgent cuisine, New Orleans is a must-see city on any Southeastern itinerary. Park the car at your hotel in the French Quarter or neighboring districts – most of the popular attractions are accessible without it. Hop on the St. Charles Streetcar, the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the USA, for a tour of picturesque neighborhoods, historic mansions and moss-draped oaks – all for a modest $2.50 round trip. Pick up local gifts and snacks at the French Market, stop for a chicory coffee and powdered sugar-dusted beignets at Café du Monde, take photos and have your palm read at Jackson Square. Finish the night with exceptional live music on Frenchmen Street. Other places to explore include the colorful floats and costumes at Mardi Gras World, family-friendly Audubon Zoo and the Aquarium of the Americas, the National World War II Museum and scenic New Orleans City Park. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International (MSY) offers easy access to destinations worldwide for your flight home.