The Most Beautiful Towns in the Southern States, USA

Known as the "Birthplace of Country Music," Bristol, Tennessee is popular with music fanatics
Known as the "Birthplace of Country Music," Bristol, Tennessee is popular with music fanatics | © RidingMetaphor / Alamy
Photo of Lucy Andia
29 July 2021

The south of the USA is brimming with history and charm. With steamboats on the Mississippi and tales of the Civil War in Natchez, gold-mining experiences in Dahlonega and marshes in Beaufort, it’s a captivating part of the country. Here’s our round-up of the best spots to add to your itinerary.

Moorseville, Alabama

Historical Landmark
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Post office, Mooresville, Alabama
© Alpha Stock / Alamy

The oldest post office in Alabama (1840) is here in this town flush with white picket fences, 19th-century architecture and buildings where presidents once resided. In the early 19th century, a young apprentice tailor named Andrew Jackson (he of later presidential fame) took up residence. Stepping into Moorseville is like stepping back into history; the people seem kinder and you’ll never tire of hearing the anecdote of how Alabama didn’t become a state until a year after Moorseville was formed, making it a “town older than the state.”

Madison, Georgia

Architectural Landmark
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In 1864, General Sherman marched through Georgia to the sea, burning everything Confederate in his Union path. Madison was the town that got away. Sherman left that match unlit, as Madison was the home of pro-Union Georgia Senator Joshua Hill. Because of this fortitude, the town boasts more examples of antebellum architecture than any other city or town in Georgia.

Waynesville, North Carolina

Historical Landmark
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Nestled between the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge mountains lies Waynesville, named after General “Mad” Anthony Wayne. As with most towns set among such natural beauty, the people seem good-natured and wandering through town you are affronted with as many “How are y’all?”s as you can take. Whether you want to hike for hours and enjoy the hazy splendor of the Smoky Mountains, or you’d rather stroll along Main Street while browsing hand-made Appalachian crafts, Waynesville has something for everyone.

Beaufort, South Carolina

Architectural Landmark
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Cafe and shops on West Street, just off Bay Street, Beaufort, South Carolina, USA
© Eric James / Alamy Stock Photo
Voted the Small Town We Love by Southern Living Magazine, Beaufort is actually the second-oldest city in South Carolina, after Charleston. It is here that inland rivers meet the sea, creating tidal marshes that bring unique wildlife to the area. The Spanish Moss Trail gives direction to any nature lust and ensures you don’t miss the best water views. Whatever your interest in Beaufort, make sure you try to stop by for the Water Festival in July or the Shrimp Festival in October, as both celebrations exude the charm and energy that define this special Southern town.

Dahlonega, Georgia

Architectural Landmark
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“There’s gold in them thar hills!” In 1828, Dahlonega saw the beginning of the Gold Rush as it became an overnight boom town. Today, Dahlonega may provide more wine than gold, but the history remains alive and is wonderfully laid out in the Dahlonega Gold Museum and the Crisson Gold Mine, where you can have a go at panning for gold. While you probably won’t make your millions here, the experience is certainly worth it, and the thrill of possibility always overshadows any lack of findings. Additionally, even if you don’t strike it rich, that doesn’t mean you must forgo the luxury lifestyle you almost certainly deserve. Dahlonega has a number of wineries and vineyards to suit poseur and expert alike.

Mathews, Virginia

Historical Landmark
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Mathews, in the Chesapeake Bay, is widely known for its historic maritime community. The sunrises are spectacular and the New Point Comfort Lighthouse, the third oldest still-standing lighthouse in the bay, looks magnificent against sea and sky. It was home to a keeper until 1950 when the beacon was connected to an electronic timer. Just to add contrast to this traditional beauty, locals speak of John Lennon and Yoko Ono once owning two historic waterfront buildings in Mathews. As you take a boat trip along the lined shore, try to imagine which estate hid what were surely momentous events.

Natchez, Mississippi

Architectural Landmark
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Mississippi, Natchez. "Longwood" historic home built in Oriental Villa style.
© Cindy Hopkins / Alamy

The oldest settlement on the Mississippi River, Natchez is reputed to have more antebellum houses than any other town in the United States. Make sure you have time for a tour of Longwood, an unfinished manor that was left incomplete due to the outbreak of the Civil War. The family’s possessions lie unclaimed and tools of construction speak of haunting rumors. It is truly a captivating experience. Listen to some Hound Dog Taylor’s slide guitar whines (who once called Natchez his home) while relaxing on a trip down the river in a steamboat.

Abingdon, Virginia

Natural Feature
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Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains and steeped in history, Abingdon is the ultimate destination for anyone interested in exploring the past. Check out the Abingdon Muster Grounds to get to grips with the colonial back-country history of the American Revolutionary Period in Southwest Virginia. For a slightly more domesticated flavor, stop by the magnificently restored 18th-century White’s Mill where you can buy stone-ground cornmeal.

Rugby, Tennessee

Historical Landmark
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Historic church founded 1888 in historic Victorian village of Rugby Tennessee by Thomas Hughes KHFF12
© Philip Duff / Alamy

Rugby was founded in 1880 as an experimental utopian community by the English writer Thomas Hughes. It’s debatable to what extent it can be called a town rather than a community, but let’s not concern ourselves with semantics. Rugby’s Victorian architecture is well preserved (as well as somewhat recreated) and wandering through, you can feel the remnants of an exposed idealism. For the full experience, keep a copy of Hughes’s Tom Brown’s School Days in your back pocket, to understand the Christian socialist ideals Rugby was founded upon.

Bristol, Tennessee

Architectural Landmark
Map View

Bristol claims to be the birthplace of country music, as it was here that the 1927 Bristol Sessions took place, when the genre was first recorded to be sent forth across the land. Any musical history buff will feel right at home in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. But music isn’t just a part of history here, it’s an intrinsic part of the present, and there are few better Southern towns where you’ll find such a dynamic live-music offering.

These recommendations were updated on July 29, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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