History, music, culture, and classic Southern food all define the U.S. Deep South. Take your time on this Alabama road trip from Nashville to New Orleans and visit the famous landmarks of the region. Along the way, you’ll discover a NASA facility, visit one of the biggest music venues you’ve probably never heard of, sample award-winning cuisine, get a history lesson, sunbathe on the beach, and experience unforgettable nightlife.
Nashville, Tennessee: A city full of good music
Nashville is a city so strongly defined by its musical style that even the airport hosts over 700 live acts 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 downtown to catch a country music performance at the Grand Ole Opry, which produces the longest live broadcast in the U.S. At the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, you can enjoy costumes, cars, instruments, and historical memorabilia. You can learn all about the Man in Black at the Johnny Cash Museum, or you can sing along using the same microphone held by Elvis Presley at RCA Studio B. Another famous spot in the area is the Jack Daniel’s Whiskey Distillery which offers tours to visitors daily, with non-alcoholic tours also available. Be sure to fill your belly with some Nashville hot chicken before continuing to Huntsville, Alabama.
Huntsville, Alabama: American History and Natural Beauty
Small towns and rural landscape – this is what accompanies you when you cross the state border. Our first stop in the heart of the Deep South is Huntsville. The city where cotton was born, the base of Union troops during the U.S. Civil War, and now the epicenter of science and space exploration. Today you will find an interesting spectrum of historical monuments: One of the oldest railway depots in existence serves as the official visitor center for the NASA Marshall Space Center. Discover the huge collection of space objects, including an authentic Saturn V rocket and don’t forget to have a snack in the German Biergarten. Also explore Huntsville’s natural side by visiting the Huntsville Botanical Garden or Monte Sano State Park. Serene mountain views, stunning seasonal foliage, and outdoor activities make this park one of the best places to relax in Huntsville.
Muscle Shoals, Alabama: Small town, big music
If you haven’t seen the documentary of the same name, you will quickly find out why this city 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 fusion of traditional blues and gospel with R&B and country tunes. Hits like the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome,” not to mention hits by Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Otis Redding, Rod Stewart, and Bob Dylan were born here. Visit these studios and experience the magnitude of the city’s musical influence. Helen Keller’s birthplace can be found in the neighboring town of Tuscumbia. Guided tours are available Monday through Saturday, and a festival honoring Helen Keller is held every June. After a day in music paradise, continue to Birmingham for an eclectic mix of activities and culture.
Birmingham, Alabama: Culture and dining in the heart of Alabama
If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, you’ll be delighted to see the world’s largest collection of two-wheelers and Lotus cars – at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Don’t miss a historic look at the National Birmingham Civil Rights Memorial in the neighborhood, which also features a historic Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. In the evening, you can reserve a table at one of James Beard Foundation award-winning chef Frank Stitt’s local restaurants: Highlands Bar and Grill, Chez Fonfon, or Bottega Restaurant.
Montgomery, Alabama: A Remarkable Southern History
Did you know that the Confederate States of America was founded in Montgomery in 1861, where a century later Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an unknown preacher organized the peaceful protests that grew into the seminal U.S. civil rights movement? Don’t forget to visit cultural centers such as the Civil Rights Memorial Center, the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, or the Dexter Avenue Memorial Baptist Church. Visit the Old Cloverdale neighborhood to see the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum and end the day with dinner, drinks and live entertainment along the Alabama River. Before you hit the coast, dive into the popular riverside spot Capitol Oyster Bar.
Coastal Alabama: Natural Beauty on the Beach
Head to the coast for the carefree luxury of a stay in the beautiful beach town of Gulf. Located on Mobile Bay, the city of Mobile was under French, British and Spanish rule. Here you can also experience the Mardi Gras festival, which takes place every year and lasts up to two and a half weeks. But if you want to relax, take a boat trip through the Mobile-Tensaw, known as the American Amazon and the second largest estuary system in the US. Head to the beach, sip a drink at the bar, and enjoy live music with a beautiful view of the waterfront. When it’s time to eat, sample freshly caught seafood at local favorites like Tacky Jacks or the Original Oyster House.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is a must-visit city on any Southeast itinerary. Take the tram St. Charles, the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the U.S., for a tour of quaint neighborhoods, historic mansions, and moss-draped oaks—all with a $2.50 round-trip ticket. Shop for local gifts and snacks at the French Market, stop for chicory coffee and sugar-dusted confections at Café du Monde. Other places to explore include the colorful Mardi Gras floats and costumes, the Audubon Family Zoo and the Aquarium of the Americas, the National WWII Museum, or the picturesque New Orleans City Park.