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  • Live music at a festival in Nashville, Tennessee
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    Nashville, Tennessee: Tuning Up in Music City

  • Exploring Memphis, Tennessee by bike
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    Memphis, Tennessee: Where the Blues Calls Home

  • A welcome sign for Muscle Shoals, Alabama
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    Muscle Shoals and Florence: More Tunes on the Tennessee River

  • Sunset paired with live music at the Sloss Music & Arts Festival in Birmingham, Alabama
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    Birmingham, Alabama: Rich in History and Culture

  • Little River Canyon National Preserve near Fort Payne, Alabama
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    Fort Payne: Adventure in the Mountains

  • The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta
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    Atlanta, Georgia: Big City, Big Attractions

Taking a selfie outside Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama
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Sights and Sounds of the Southern USA: Nashville, Memphis, Northern Alabama and Atlanta

By Zaida Rios

  • Route distance:
    1127.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

Calling all music lovers! Northern Alabama and neighboring cities in Tennessee have a storied history with the evolution of U.S. music.

Blues, country and rock ‘n’ roll were essentially born in these deep, Southern regions. Take a road trip that won’t disappoint even the most die-hard music fan. Explore all three stops in the Southern Music Triangle – Nashville, Memphis and Muscle Shoals – see important Civil Rights sites in Birmingham and enjoy the world-class attractions in Atlanta with a few scenic stops along the way.

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Live music at a festival in Nashville, Tennessee
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Nashville, Tennessee: Tuning Up in Music City

From the moment you set foot in Nashville International Airport (BNA), you’ll be greeted with the sound of live music. Grab a rental car and head into the heart of the city to see its most notable musical attractions. Nashville is part of the Southern Music Triangle (along with Memphis and Muscle Shoals), an area of prolific music production and influence. Catch a live stage performance or experience a backstage tour at the Grand Ole Opry. It’s been broadcasting its weekly concerts since 1925, making it the longest-running radio show in the USA. At the County Music Hall of Fame and Museum, see fascinating memorabilia and hundreds of plaques awarded to country music’s biggest stars. Take a guided tour of RCA Studio B, known for producing iconic songs from Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison. Johnny Cash fans can learn all about the legend’s life at the Johnny Cash Museum. With so many things to see, along with diverse shopping, dining and nightlife, it’s not surprising that Nashville was named a top travel destination by Frommer’s and Travel + Leisure. Now that you’ve been properly introduced to this musical mecca, head west to Memphis.

341 km
3 hours by car
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Exploring Memphis, Tennessee by bike
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Memphis, Tennessee: Where the Blues Calls Home

Traversing the state leads you over the Tennessee River, past long stretches of open landscape and into Memphis. Known as the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll, Memphis is alight with live music all year long. Beale Street is the epicenter of the action. Hip blues bars line the sidewalks and impromptu jam sessions can pop up at any time. Join a guided tour of Sun Studio where legends like B.B. King, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis got their start. Memorabilia from soul icons like Tina Turner and Isaac Hayes is on display at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Memphis’ must-see attraction is, of course, Elvis Presley’s Graceland. This sprawling estate includes his mansion, career and car museums, and a collection of The King’s opulent personal airplanes. Pressed for time or just don’t know where to start? Backbeat Tours offers itineraries of Memphis’ can’t-miss points of interest. It will be hard to say goodbye to Memphis, but you’re in for a treat in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

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245 km
2.5 hours by car
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A welcome sign for Muscle Shoals, Alabama
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Muscle Shoals and Florence: More Tunes on the Tennessee River

Head into Alabama’s northwest corner where, tucked along the Tennessee River, you’ll discover a small town with major musical influence. Muscle Shoals is called the Hit Recording Capital of the World, producing music defined by the Muscle Shoals Sound – a blending of blues, gospel and soul with rock and country. You’ll hear it in The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Sisters – all recorded right here in Muscle Shoals. Countless other mega stars such as Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart and Bob Seger have recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Go behind the scenes with a guided tour. Venture out to have lunch and listen to live music in a cave in the woods at Rattlesnake Saloon, an absolutely memorable experience. If you’re visiting in the summer, fit in a day at the W.C. Handy Music Festival in Florence. Honoring the Father of the Blues, W.C. Handy, this 10-day music festival features live music and special events at locations around the city. Next, delve further into Alabama culture and history in Birmingham.

182 km
2 hours by car
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Sunset paired with live music at the Sloss Music & Arts Festival in Birmingham, Alabama
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Birmingham, Alabama: Rich in History and Culture

Less than two hours away, Birmingham is one of the most important landmarks of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. Begin at the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument in downtown Birmingham. Contemplate the poignant statues and important sites such as the historic 16th Street Baptist Church, a National Historic Landmark, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s educational exhibits and galleries. For live music, check out Birmingham’s main entertainment hot spots: Uptown, Five Points South, Lakeview and Avondale, all of which offer nightlife and dining. Birmingham is full of festivals and events. After having fun, rest up in Birmingham. You’ll want your energy for outdoor excursions in Fort Payne.

153 km
1.5 hours by car
05
Little River Canyon National Preserve near Fort Payne, Alabama
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Fort Payne: Adventure in the Mountains

Leave the city lights behind you and drive to Alabama’s scenic northeastern corner. Nestled in a valley between Lookout Mountain and Sand Mountain, Fort Payne gives you every excuse to be outdoorsy. Set off on a hike in Little River Canyon National Preserve, where the Little River flows atop the mountain into gorgeous waterfalls. Cruise along a beautiful drive through the preserve for amazing photos from the overlooks – the brilliant foliage in autumn is especially spectacular. Head into DeSoto State Park for fishing, kayaking, hiking, bouldering and biking. And an overnight stay is easy – there are in-park accommodations ranging from rustic log cabins to tent camping. At sunrise, breathe in the mountain air, enjoy breakfast and finish your road trip in big-city Atlanta.

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192 km
2.15 hours by car
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The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta
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Atlanta, Georgia: Big City, Big Attractions

As you approach Atlanta, it’s hard to believe you were in the mountains just two hours ago. Atlanta is, in a word, big. It’s one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the USA and arguably the cultural capital of the South. For travelers, this means an amazing array of activities for all ages. Take photos of the fountains at Centennial Olympic Park, then walk to the World of Coca-Cola for a tour of one of the world’s most recognized brands. You’ll get to see the vault where the secret recipe is held and sample Coke products from around the world. The whole family will love the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the Western hemisphere, and the Children’s Museum of Atlanta is close by. News fanatics can catch a behind-the-scenes look at broadcast news at CNN Studio. Don’t miss the impressive Center for Civil and Human Rights and pay your respects at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Tip: Purchase the Atlanta CityPASS. It offers a discounted rate for admission to five popular points of interest. Atlanta International (ATL) is the busiest airport in the world. You’ll have no problem catching a return flight home.