City-Hopping Around the United States: Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans, Done Differently

Music is an integral part of what makes Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans so special
Music is an integral part of what makes Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans so special | © Kevin Whipple / Culture Trip
Josephine Platt

Commissioning Editor

Taking to the open road in a car is a great way to get around on your own terms. And if there’s one place to do this, it’s the scenic Deep South.

Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans are three cities that bring something unique to the table when it comes to Southern culture. What they have in common is hearty cuisine and thriving blues and jazz scenes, which makes them must-visit spots when you’re in this neck of the woods.

You can drive from Nashville to Memphis in three and a half hours, and on from Memphis to New Orleans in just under six, spending a couple of nights in each destination.

Nashville

Nashville aptly goes by the name Music City, with a scene spanning country to rock. It’s all about the party here, and tucking into wholesome foods such as meat and three (one meat-based main dish and three side dishes) and macaroni and cheese.

Broadway is a bustling thoroughfare in downtown Nashville

1. Explore Nashville’s nightlife

Tours

Going hand in hand with the music culture is a thriving bar scene. Experience it on an evening pub crawl that stops off at locations such as the various honky-tonk bars on Broadway and Alley Taps gin mill in Printers Alley. Be sure to try the Ole Smoky Moonshine, along with other local brews and cocktails.

2. Discover hearty Nashville cuisine

Tours

Hot chicken, barbecue, fried pickles, sweet potato fries, cornbread – the list of culinary specialities in Nashville goes on. Tuck into these on a guided walking food tour, which takes you to landmarks such as Broadway and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Nashville-style hot chicken is simply delicious

3. Stay at Music City Hostel

Hostel

Courtesy of Music City Hostel / Booking.com

Inspired by Nashville’s love for music, Music City Hostel is a bohemian no-frills hostel that draws backpacking musicians and songwriters from around the globe. It’s a cozy and welcoming set-up with a barbecue grill, community garden (where jam sessions are a fixture) and dorms and private rooms that house 30 guests.

Memphis

Much like its other Southern counterparts, Memphis is home to thriving arts and blues scenes. Notably, it’s dubbed the Home of Blues and the Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll, having inspired the likes of Elvis Presley and BB King.

Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Tina Turner all pooled inspiration from Memphis

4. Tune into the Memphis music scene

Tours

Explore the Memphis music scene at your own pace on a self-guided tour to Stax Records, Sun Studio and the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. Live commentary and round-trip transportation will take you back through time, as you trace the footsteps of legends such as Elvis, Johnny Cash and Tina Turner.

5. Brush up on the history of the city

Tours

Hours can be spent getting lost in the history of Memphis. This tour sheds light on the city’s past, including its part in both the American Civil War and Prohibition. Lasting two hours, the tour also takes in architectural highlights such as the Lincoln American Tower, Calvary Episcopal Church and Court Square Fountain.

Visit Memphis to explore the historic blues scene

6. Stay at Hu Hotel

Hotel

A lounge area with a cream leather couch, brown leather chairs, a plant, a painting and a marble coffee table at Hu Hotel
Courtesy of Hu Hotel / Expedia

With thoughtfully designed furnishings (geometric patterns and bold use of color), modern event spaces and three restaurants, Hu Hotel sets a new standard for Southern hospitality. It is named for Hugh “Hu” Lawson White Brinkley, who put Memphis on the map as a shipping hub in the 19th century.

New Orleans

New Orleans, Louisiana, is dubbed the Big Easy after the relaxed pace of life here – although it rivals New York as the city that never sleeps. Live music, street parties (famously Mardi Gras) and round-the-clock bars are how New Orleanians do it.

7. Visit the historic French Quarter

Historical Landmark

Founded in 1718, the French Quarter (Vieux Carré) is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans. Join this small tour to uncover the eclectic architecture and landmarks here such as the St Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square and the French Market. Expect jazz and dive bars on every corner, and streets full of artists and musicians.

Royal Street in the New Orleans French Quarter is home to photo-worthy architecture

Head to Frenchmen Street for the evening

Bourbon Street in the French Quarter is notorious for its party scene and live music, but a lesser-known, similar spot is Frenchmen Street. On the outskirts of the buzzy French Quarter, this area is home to all kinds of live music, including funk, blues, soul and swinging jazz. A fun evening is guaranteed.

St Louis Cathedral in New Orleans is the oldest cathedral in North America

8. Stay at Ace Hotel

Hotel

Courtesy of Ace Hotel New Orleans / Expedia

Ace Hotel sits at the heart of the up-and-coming Warehouse District, where coffee shops and boutiques take up residence in converted brick warehouses. Close to art galleries, museums and the French Quarter, this boutique hotel is in a great location. Highlights include acoustic guitars and turntables in every room, as well as a rooftop pool.

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