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

© Kevin Whipple / Culture Trip
Photo of Josephine Platt
Commissioning Editor15 March 2021

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 each 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 that make them must-visits when 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 hours, spending a couple of nights in each destination.


Known for its music scene that spans country to rock, Nashville aptly goes by Music City. It’s all about the party here, and tucking into wholesome foods such as ‘meat and three’ (one meat and three side dishes) and macaroni and cheese.

Broadway is a major thoroughfare in Nashville | © Nina Dietzel / Getty Images

Explore Nashville’s nightlife

Bar, Beer, Cocktails
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Going hand in hand with Nashville’s music culture is a thriving bar scene. Experience it fully 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 Ole Smoky Moonshine, along with Nashville’s many brews and cocktails.

Come hungry to Nashville | © Mayter Scott / Culture Trip

Stay at Music City Hostel

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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. Boasting a barbecue grill, community garden (where jam sessions are a fixture) and dorms and private rooms that house 30 guests, it’s a cozy and welcoming set-up.


Much like its 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, Johnny Cash and Tina Turner pooled inspiration from Memphis | © Galit Seligmann / Alamy Stock Photo

Tune into its music scene

Music Venue
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At your own pace on a self-guided tour, step into Memphis’s music scene with a trip 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.

Brush up on the history of the city

Historical Landmark
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Music aside, hours can be spent getting lost in Memphis’s history. This tour sheds light on this 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.

Memphis is known as the Home of Blues | © James Schaedig / Alamy Stock Photo

Stay at Hu. Hotel

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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 positions itself as setting a new standard for Southern hospitality. It takes its name after Hugh Lawson White ‘Hu’ Brinkley, who put Memphis on the map as a shipping hub in the 19th century.


New Orleans

Louisiana’s city of New Orleans is considered the Big Easy for its relaxed pace of life – 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.

Mardi Gras is celebrated in all of Louisiana | © Joel Carillet / Getty Images

Visit the historic French Quarter

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

Head to Frenchmen Street for the evening

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

St Louis Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in North America | © Randy P Schmidt / Culture Trip

Stay at Ace Hotel

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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. Its highlights include acoustic guitars and turntables in every room, and a rooftop pool.

Chill out at a coffee shop in the Warehouse District | © Randy P Schmidt / Culture Trip
These recommendations were updated on March 15, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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