The Ultimate 18 Day Deep South Road Trip Itinerary – New Orleans to Nashville

Travelista Editor Jessica Ruth Gibson shares the ultimate Deep South road trip itinerary, guiding you through Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. Packed with personal recommendations and travel tips, this article will show you exactly how to plan an unforgettable Deep South road trip through the region’s most vibrant and compelling places.

Ok, this is the big one. The one you’ve been waiting for. I had so much interest in my Deep South road trip and I’ve promised this article to more than a few of you. So here it is, my Ultimate Deep South Road Trip itinerary for 2024 and beyond. This itinerary is a very similar version to the one I followed, which was created in partnership with the Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee tourism boards. However, this version is even better as it adds in my own discoveries and slows things down to a more leisurely pace. Scroll down for an overview of this Deep South Itinerary.

Ultimate Deep South Road Trip Itinerary - honky tonk highway

The Ultimate 18 Day Deep South Road Trip Itinerary (3 States From New Orleans to Nashville)

This travel experience has been provided in partnership with by Explore Louisiana, Visit Mississippi and Tennessee Vacation.

Overview

Click each day to jump to different sections of the article

Day 1 – Arrival Day – New Orleans, Louisiana

Day 2 – New Orleans, Louisiana

Day 3 – New Orleans, Louisiana

Day 4 – River Parishes, Louisiana

Day 5 – Lafayette, Louisiana

Day 6 – Lafayette, Louisiana

Day 7 – Jackson, Mississippi

Day 8 – Oxford, Mississippi

Day 9 – Oxford, Mississippi

Day 10 – Tupelo, Mississippi

Day 11 – Memphis, Tennessee

Day 12 – Memphis, Tennessee

Day 13 – Nashville, Tennessee

Day 14 – Nashville, Tennessee

Day 15 – Nashville, Tennessee

Day 16 – Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

Day 17 – Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

Day 18 – Departure day

At A Glance – Our Deep South Road Trip Itinerary

This 18 day Deep South road trip itinerary will guide you though the smartest route to travel through three states including Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. Whilst all of these states sit geographically in America’s ‘Deep South’, I couldn’t believe how different they all felt. Each with their own unique culture, customs and cuisine, feeling the shift between these neighbouring states is a fascinating part of the road trip experience. Based on my own recent experience, I feel I have designed the perfect Deep South road trip itinerary. 

You Can Adapt the Duration of this Deep South Road Trip Itinerary from 12-18 Days

I actually did this same route over 12 nights, so I can confirm the route can be done in under 2 weeks. However, we went at a very fast pace and often wished we could have spent longer in one place or gone at a slower pace. This was purely to do with my own time constraints and if I had the time, I would have done this exact 18 day itinerary. If this is your one big trip of the year, I’d encourage you to take the full 18 days for maximum enjoyment.

A Word About Driving in the USA

It’s important to know that a hire car is an absolutely essential element of this trip. Public transport is scarce in the Deep South and the whole of the USA very much has a driving culture. There is a substantial amount of driving involved in this road trip, which cannot be discounted. I also think it’s nice to leave breathing space during a road trip for rest, spontaneity and the odd long lunch along the way. Therefore, based on my own trip, I have designed this ultimate 18 day itinerary (this also factors in travel days and time differences). 

My friend and I are both British and had never driven in the USA before this road trip. We were both a little apprehensive but decided to go for it and we very quickly built confidence on the roads. It’s surprising how quickly your brain can recalibrate everything to the opposite side of the road.  

Most hire car companies will allow you to collect the car at one airport and drop off at another, which works perfectly for this road trip concept. 

We booked with Alamo and had a great and straight-forward experience with them, with no hidden extras and easy collections and drop offs.

Each USA State At a Glance 

Louisiana

First up there’s Louisiana, with its bright lights of New Orleans, incredible Southern food, gators and strong French and Cajun influence. The people here were very friendly and unsurprisingly, very keen to welcome two loud British girls.

Mississippi

Mississppi is the second state, known for its Blues music and the people are so proud of the musical heritage here. Behind the doors of seemingly quiet streets are bustling music scenes with talented Blues singers and delicious Southern food. Fondren in Jackson remained frozen in the 50’s whilst the town of Oxford was like something from a Hallmark Christmas film. 

Tennessee

The third and final state on our Deep South road trip was Tennessee. We covered some real ground in this state, visiting Memphis, Nashville, Sevierville and Gaitlinburg in the Great Smoky Mountains. Memphis oozed with sounds of jazz and the blues. Nashville’s vibe was electric and had country music on every corner and The Smokies were another world again, with spectacular scenery and fresh mountain air. It amazes me that all these vastly different places can be found within just one state. A trip to Tennessee alone would be well worth the journey across the pond. 

The Ultimate 18 Day Deep South Road Trip Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrival Day – New Orleans – Louisiana

Fly into Louis Armstrong International Airport, New Orleans. The drive from the airport to the city centre is 15 miles and there is a dedicated hire car terminal where you can collect. We hired our car with Alamo, who we found were straightforward and efficient. They also did not apply any hidden costs or charges, so I would definitely recommend them. But be sure to do a car hire price comparison too. 

Where to stay in New Orleans

We stayed at the Hotel Monteleone which is a luxurious 4 star hotel with an amazing location in the heart of the French Quarter. The hotel was built in 1886 and has a timeless, belle époque feel to it. However, a new section of the hotel has been built with beautifully styled, modern bedrooms.  Valet parking is available for fellow road-trippers. Even if you don’t stay here during your time in New Orleans, a visit to the unique rotating carousel bar (dating back to 1949) is an absolute must. There is live music every night of the week.

Hotel Monteleone
214 Royal St, New Orleans
LA 70130, United States

Overnight in New Orleans

Day 2 – New Orleans – Louisiana

Morning

Start your day with breakfast at the nearby Cafe Beignet, a locally-loved establishment in the French quarter. Café Beignet was founded by a group of friends in 1990 who wanted to combine New Orleans and French café traditions. Be sure to order a Beignet for your first taste of traditional New Orleans food. The coffee is also great.

Cafe Beignet
334 Royal St,
New Orleans,
LA 70130, United States

After breakfast, pay a visit to Vue Orleans, a spectacular 360° indoor and outdoor observation decks and multi-level interactive cultural experience celebrating New Orleans like never before. This is the perfect introduction to the city of New Orleans as you get to learn about the fascinating history and multi-cultural roots of New Orleans, before heading up to the 34th floor viewing deck. Admission costs $29.95 per adult and $23.95 for ages 3-16.

Vue Orleans
2 Canal St,
New Orleans,
LA 70130, United States

Afternoon

Stop for lunch at Peche, which is an easy walk from Vue Orleans. Peche is an elegant, rustic and buzzy seafood restaurant inspired by the cooking of South America, Spain and the Gulf Coast. There are plenty of New Orlean’s dishes to try and the wine list is excellent. Serves veggie dishes and high chairs are available. 

800 Magazine St,
New Orleans,
LA 70130,
United States

After a delicious lunch, head to Mardi Gras World for the afternoon, where you can experience the magic of New Orlean’s famous Mardi Gras all year round. See the colourful floats in person, watch a short film and learn how they are made on one of the fascinating studio tours (included in your ticket). Admission costs $22 per adult and $14 per child.

What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras is a Christian festival which takes place in New Orleans on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and marks the start of Lent. Parades with floats and intricate, colourful costumes take to the streets of New Orleans, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. It’s developed to become a week-long festival and if you’re lucky enough to visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras, you’re in for a unique and very special experience. 

Evening

Explore Bourbon Street 

Bourbon Street is like marmite, you’ll either love it or hate it. But either way, a walk down Bourbon Street is a must for any visitor. Most bars and venues on Bourbon Street are geared to drink-guzzling tourists, but real music fans know that Fritzel’s Jazz Pub and The Jazz Playhouse are the places to go for real authentic New Orleans Music. Be vigilant on Bourbon Street and watch out for pick-pockets. 

Overnight in New Orleans

Day 3 – New Orleans – Louisiana

Morning

Head to Cafe du Monde which is the legendary home of New Orleans’ beignets and cafe au lait. This place is an institution in New Orleans dating back to 1862 and serving the city’s famous sweet treats. Be aware this place is popular with tourists, but for good reason, so be sure to arrive as early as possible to avoid a lengthy queue (it opens at 07.15am). You can expect great value and no-frills service in this bustling and atmospheric open-air cafe. We ordered the famous cafe au lait which didn’t impress me –  it tasted like very milky watered down coffee. However, the beignets were completely delicious and well worth going for. 

Cafe du Monde
800 Decatur St,
New Orleans,
LA 70116

Spend the rest of your morning exploring the beautiful and photogenic French Quarter by browsing the shops, visiting the bar and admiring the beautiful colonial buildings. My friend and I loved the vintage jewellery store on Royal Street. With so much international and European influence, you feel as though you could be somewhere in Europe or South America with the vibrancy and colours of the New Orlean’s French Quarter. 

Afternoon

New Orleans is home to the USA’s National WWII Museum and it’s a must-visit for an engaging dose of history and culture. This immersive and interactive museum will take you inside the story of the war that changed the world. Expect poignant storytelling, multi-media experiences and an expansive collection of artefacts. 

Evening

A dinner at the Chef’s Table of Saint John’s restaurant will be a highlight of your stay in New Orleans. This buzzing restaurant has a select amount of covers which allow diners to sit opposite the chef’s whilst they work, cooking up delicious and indulgent Southern dishes. The best bit is that you get to preview the dishes as and when they come out, so order a cocktail and take your time placing your order so you can see what takes your fancy. The dishes are rich, fresh and flavoursome and the service is very attentive. 

Saint John,
1117 Decatur St,
New Orleans,
LA 70116, United States

New Orleans is a place of spirituality and black magic, so for something totally unique whilst in New Orleans, we went for a Tarot and Psychic reading with a Voudou Preistess, Catherina. Catherina runs her readings from a business premises called Intuitions, which is also on Decatur Street. If this sort of thing is up your street, I highly recommend it for an experience you’ll never forget.

Overnight in New Orleans 

Day 4 – River Parishes, Louisiana

Morning

Reunite with your rental car and head 25 miles out of the city for a Cajun Pride Swap tour. We did this experience during our road trip and it was definitely a highlight. Your swap guide takes you out into the Louisiana ‘Bayou’ in search of crocodiles in their natural habitat and trust me – there are plenty! 

There are also some fascinating sites along the way including the grave of Voodoo Priestess Julia Brown. Legend has it the bells on her grave ring when she has been disturbed. Pre-booking for the Cajun Pride Swamp Tours is essential and tours go at set times throughout the day and they didn’t seem to wait for any latecomers. 

Cajun Swamp Tours, 
110 Frenier Rd,
Laplace,
LA 70068, United States

After your Cajun Pride Swamp Tour, drive towards the River Parishes of Louisiana, with its many historical sugar cane plantations.

Afternoon

A visit to one of these plantations offers an educational and often sobering snapshot into the past. The fact these beautiful estates and houses (with their incredibly profitable sugarcane trade) were powered by enslaved Africans is a really jarring and uncomfortable juxtaposition. Time spent at a plantation will certainly make you learn, feel and think and that is exactly why I chose to visit one. In fact, I visited two. 

For your Day 4 afternoon, head to Houmas House, located on the banks of the Mississippi between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. This plantation is also home to the Great River Road Museum, which really helps to put the plantation’s history into context. Take a guided tour of the mansion house and don’t forget to wander through the stunning grounds and gardens. Enjoy dinner at the Carriage House restaurant within the grounds of the plantation for upscale, delicious and fresh Southern dining. The poundcake is to die for!

Houmas House
40136
LA-942
Darrow,
LA 70725

Overnight in the River Parishes 

Where to stay in the River Parishes

Oak Alley Plantation or Houmas House – both plantations have accommodation options onsite such as The Inn at Homas House. We stayed in one of the cottages at Oak Alley which was a very memorable experience, mainly because I totally spooked myself after reading that Oak Alley is haunted and then I heard unexplained noises in the night. I read Vicky Flip Flop’s review of Oak Alley and she also experienced the same! 

Browse all hotels near Oak Alley Plantation.

Day 5 – Lafayette, Louisiana

Morning

Spend the day at Oak Alley, arguably the most famous and well known sugar cane plantation throughout the River Parishes of Louisiana. This plantation was my preferred of the two because it had a bigger emphasis telling the stories and lives of the enslaved people that worked on the estate. There are exact replicas of the slaves dwellings which really help to give a small insight into what they went through, which was a stark and jarring contrast to the refinery of the white-washed mansion house. 

There are also a couple of restaurants on site so you can take your time on the estate and stay until at least lunch time before getting on the road to drive to Lafayette.

Oak Alley Plantation
3645 LA-18
Vacherie,
LA 70090

The Ultimate 18 Day Deep South Road Trip Itinerary (3 States From New Orleans to Nashville)

Afternoon

Lafayette is at the heart of Cajun Country, and the Wall Street Journal once named it ‘The Happiest City in America’, where people visit for a genuine Cajun & Creole experience.

Head to Rock and Bowl for some live Zydeco music and enjoy dinner at Whiskey and Vine. Unfortunately Whiskey and Vine was closed when we visited but it came highly recommended. So instead we went to Sunday’s Soda Fountain which is a historical diner serving all the best Louisiana and Southern dishes. I ordered the fried chicken with a salad which was beyond delicious. 

Overnight in Lafayette

Where to stay in Lafayette

Maison Mouton – a charming and boutique B&B with individual rooms and cottages. Communal breakfasts and friendly hosts make it feel like a little home from home. 

Maison Moutin
338 N Sterling St
Lafayette
LA 70501

Day 6 – Lafayette, Louisiana

Book yourself on to a tour with Cajun Food Tours, a fun and unique concept founded by Marie Ducote-Comeaux, an ex history teacher who is passionate about Louisiana’s cuisine and history. The tour bus looks more like a mystery machine with wacky colourful interiors and a vibrant host. Your host will take you around various Layfayette establishments offering some of the best eats in Lafayette. This tour was so much fun and a crash-course in Louisiana food. 

On the tour I tried; beignets, Po Boys, gumbo, fried gator, oysters cheese and bacon, andouille sausage and more. Marie explained the origin and history of all the food we tried and it was all delicious and very authentic. I believe they change up the routes for each tour so you never know what you’re going to get! This will be a highlight of your entire Deep South road trip.

Overnight in Lafayette 

Day 7 – Oxford, Mississippi

Morning

Hit the road and drive the 230 miles to Jackson, Mississippi which will take approximately 3.5 hours by car. Get ready to cross the border into your second state. Welcome to Mississippi! 

Afternoon

Head to the Two Mississippi Museums; the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Both museums are located on one site and are places where Mississippians tell their own stories of the state’s rich and complex history. It’s a great place to start your journey into Mississippi. Check out the Nissan Cafe by Nick Wallace located inside the museum complex for a great lunch option. 

Evening

Head to Martin’s for a casual and friendly dining experience. I ate one of my favourite dishes here from the whole trip – so be sure to order the steak bites and pair with your sides of choice. Be vigilant when walking around Jackson at night and consider taking Ubers after dark. 

Martin’s
214 State St, Jackson,
MS 39201,
United States

After dinner, pop over the road for some live blues music at Hal & Mal’s. If your evening lands on a Monday you’re in luck! Blue Mondays at Hal & Mal’s has been running for years and is the perfect way to experience authentic Mississippi blues music. 

Hal & Mal’s
200 Commerce St,
Jackson,
MS 39201

Overnight in Jackson, Mississippi

Where to stay in Jackson

We stayed at The Westin, Jackson which was a dose of high-rise luxury in amongst the previous boutique accommodation types. It’s an elegant and spacious hotel that runs like a well oiled machine. It feels very safe and valet parking is available and at a reasonable price.

The Westin Jackson
407 S Congress St
Jackson
MS 39201
United States

Day 8 – Oxford, Mississippi

Morning

Wake up and head off with luggage and cases in your car – don’t eat any breakfast. Drive to the Jackson neighbourhood of Fondren. Here you’ll be transported back in time to the 1950’s, where the buildings, architecture and pastel pops of colour keep this neighbourhood frozen in the past. 

Head to Brent’s Drugs for breakfast or brunch a classic diner dating back to 1947. This was a highlight in Jackson! The decor remains frozen in time and the whole area has a true 1950’s feel (they filmed scenes of The Help with Emma Stone here – ask the waitresses to point out ‘the booth’ they used). Be sure to order the pancakes from Brent’s and check out the original speakeasy bar, hidden behind the diner.

Brent’s Drugs
655 Duling Ave
Jackson
MS 39216

There’s also a retro bowling alley and cinema to discover in Fondren if you’d like to extend your time here, but either way be sure to walk around the neighbourhood and soak in it’s unique retro feel.  

Afternoon

Once you’ve spent enough time in Fondren, take the next leg of your road trip and drive to the charming college town of Oxford, Mississippi. This drive is 160 miles and will take approximately 2.5 hours. For dinner, try Lenora’s for some authentic Italian food in a cosy setting. This place was recommended to us by our hotel and was a great tip off – I really enjoyed our meal here.

Lenora’s 309
N Lamar Blvd,
Oxford,
MS 38655

Overnight in Oxford, Mississippi

Where to stay in Oxford

The Graduate Oxford is an Instagrammer’s dream. Totally aesthetic but with equally friendly service. The lobby of this hotel is full of ‘Ole Miss’ students on laptops, but don’t let that put you off. The rooftop bar is great and well worth going for a drink or two. You’ll get a great view across Oxford too.

The Graduate Oxford
400 N Lamar Blvd,
Oxford,
MS 38655

Day 9 – Oxford, Mississippi

Morning

Enjoy a whole day in the quaint University town of Oxford, Mississippi. With its ‘Home Alone’ style houses, pretty town square, boutique shops, galleries and museums, you cannot fail to be charmed by Oxford. Start your morning by exploring the town centre and be sure to visit The Square which has remained the cultural and economic hub of the city dating back to 1837. If you love women’s fashion and unique finds at affordable prices, head to Hinton and Hinton HER. I could have spent my life savings in here!

Afternoon

For a dose of culture, drive a little way out of town and nosey around Rowan Oak, the home of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner. The decor, contents and artefacts within the home are all preserved from the time he lived in the home in the 1930’s. Even if you don’t know the work of William Falkner, if you like exploring old historic private homes, this is still a fascinating experience. Pre-booking is not possible, just turn up and bring $5 for entry. Cash only. 

Rowan Oak
916 Old Taylor Rd
Oxford, MS 38655

Evening

Check out Ajax Diner for dinner, voted Oxford’s best restaurant several times, Ajax Diner specializes in Southern comfort food. Come and try chicken and dumplings, fried catfish, Mississippi pot roast, meatloaf or a country fried steak, and take in the Mississippi hospitality that Ajax Diner brings to The Square. For a night of live music, check out Proud Larry’s.

Ajax Diner
118 Courthouse Square
Oxford
MS 38655

Overnight in Oxford Mississippi

Day 10 – Tupelo, Mississippi

Morning

Start your day at Big Bad Breakfast, where I tasted the best American ‘biscuits’ on the whole trip. Biscuits in the USA are similar to what we’d call a scone in the UK, except its savoury and not sweet. They’re delicious and these ones are the very best. Here you can try a typical southern breakfast and as you can probably guess by the name, the portions are huge.

Big Bad Breakfast
719 N Lamar Blvd
Oxford
MS 38655

The Ultimate 18 Day Deep South Road Trip Itinerary (3 States From New Orleans to Nashville)

Hit the road again and drive to Tupelo, a small town close to the border between Mississippi and Tennessee where Elvis was born in 1935 and spent the first 13 years of his life. (If you have no interest in Elvis, I would recommend skipping Tupelo and driving straight from Oxford MS to Memphis TN, where you’d get an extra night).

Afternoon

I recommend doing the Elvis Self-Guided Bicycle Tour for your afternoon in Tupelo, which is a great way to see all of the main sites of Elvis’ childhood including Elvis Presley Birthplace which is a museum site that includes Presley’s shotgun house birthplace, a museum and a chapel where the Presley family worshipped. The tour also includes lunch at Johnnie’s Drive-In – Tupelo’s oldest restaurant and Elvis’ favourite spot for a hamburger. Here you can sit in the ‘Elvis booth’ and see a photo of Elivs sat in the exact same spot. The style and decor hasn’t changed since the day. 

I loved this experience and felt I really got an eye-opening insight into Elvis’ poverty-stricken roots that I had never understood or appreciated before. 

Overnight in Tupelo

Where to stay in Tupelo

For a night in Tupelo, check out Hotel Tupelo which is a super-stylish boutique hotel on the main street.
Browse all hotels in Tupelo, TN.

Day 11 – Memphis, Tennessee

Morning

Wake and drive to Memphis, when you will cross the border into Tennessee, your third and final state of this Deep South road trip. This journey is 116 miles and will take approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. Start your time in Memphis with a visit to Central Barbecue – an foodie must-do in Memphis. This city is known for its BBQ food and Central Barbecue is the best place to come to experience it. The meats and grills are next-level good – order a feast and enjoy. 

Central Barbecue
147 E Butler Ave
Memphis
TN 38103

Afternoon

Check out Sun Studio, where Elvis recorded many of his records along with many other musical greats including B.B. King, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Local musicians take you on a unique and intimate guided tour of the small studio space and visitors can get a photo with the same recording microphone used by Elvis.

If you still have time and energy after your tour of Sun Studio, check out the Stax Museum of American Soul. This place was also once an iconic Memphis recording studio (from1959 to 1974) and is now a museum full of more than 2,000 interactive exhibits, films, artefacts and items of memorabillia. Whilst touring the museum you will hear the music that was recorded there including ‘Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding. 

Evening

For the next piece of your Memphis musical pilgrimage, a visit to Beale Street is a must. Famously mentioned in Cher’s ‘Walking in Memphis’, Beale Street is a musical hub of the city with bustling bars, liquor and live music. For the ultimate experience on Beale Street, head to Itta Bena for an elegant Blues-filled dining experience overlooking Beale Street before heading downstairs for some more live music at the B.B King bar

Where to stay in Memphis

For two nights in Memphis, I recommend the Arrive Hotel which is equally as boutique and characterful as Hotel Tupelo. This is where we stayed in Memphis.

Arrive Hotel
477 S Main St
Memphis
TN 38103

Overnight in Memphis

Day 12 – Memphis, Tennessee

Morning

If you’re in the mood for another big and hearty breakfast, wake and head to Sunrise Memphis for homemade biscuits, sausage and their build-your-own bloody mary bar. If you want something lighter, you’ll also find great breakfast options at Hustle and Dough within the Arrive Hotel. Either way, eat well as you’ll be spending the day at the world-famous Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. The best way to get there is by Uber. 

Elvis purchased Graceland in 1957 (age 22) and it was his home until 1977 when he died (age 42) and it was where he and his wife Priscilla Presley, raised their daughter, Lisa Marie Presley. Today Graceland is an entire complex that spans much further than the iconic white mansion itself. Arriving at Graceland almost feels like arriving in Disneyland, with a purpose-build complex to take you through the life and times of Elvis. 

From his impressive car collection to his private jet and an entire exhibition based on Elvis’ influence on pop fashion, you could take your time and spend a whole day here. I found the experience at Graceland to be completely fascinating and seeing the mansion house itself frozen in time exactly as Elvis had left it made it feel as if you were truly stepping back into the past. 

Book tours and experiences around Graceland now.

Check out these top tips for visiting Graceland.

Evening

Enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail at Tiger and Peacock, which is the rooftop bar at the Memphis Hotel. It has a great view as well as low-lit lighting and sultry speakeasy vibe. For dinner, make a reservation at ECCO on Overton Park for authentic, house made Italian cuisine in the heart of the Evergreen Historic District. 

Ecco on Overton Park
1585 Overton Park Ave
Memphis
TN 38112

Safety Tips for Travellers in Memphis

As with any big city, travellers and tourists can be easy targets for crime, so it is important to stay vigilant in Memphis. You can expect to see a lot of police presence in places like Beale Street. Don’t be alarmed by this, they are there to keep tourists safe and reassured. To stay safe whilst in Memphis I recommend;

  • Take Ubers instead of walking A to B at night (especially if you are travelling solo or in a female-only group) 
  • Don’t have your smartphone out on the streets
  • Keep valuables to a minimum when out and about
  • Parking in well-lit areas 
  • Keeping car doors locked whilst driving 
  • Stick to the busy and touristic areas 

Overnight in Memphis

Day 13 – Nashville, Tennessee

Morning

Hit the road early to avoid traffic and make the journey from Memphis to Nashville. This drive is around 200 miles and will take you approximately 3 hours. You should arrive into Nashville around lunchtime. After checking into your hotel and parking your car, dive straight into Nashville’s electric music scene with a visit to the famous Honky Tonk Highway

Afternoon

Otherwise known as Broadway, a visit to this bustling street is a bit of a baptism of fire if you’re new to Nashville. Be prepared for a street of over 30 lively bars with free live music blasting out all day from the early morning, neon signs, restaurants and souvenir shops. If, like me, you plan to pick up some authentic Tennessee cowboy boots, Broadway is one of the best place to get them. Browse at least a few different cowboy boot shops before choosing your favourite. I absolutely loved this experience and will treasure my Nashville cowboy boots for years to come. They range in quality and price but if you want to find a good quality pair, you’re looking at around $150 upwards. 

I recommend stopping at Jason Aldean’s for lunch on the Honky Tonk Highway. This place is a vibe bar and restaurant with all-day dining. Listen to live country music on the stage as you adjust to the Nashville way of life! 

The Ultimate 18 Day Deep South Road Trip Itinerary (3 States From New Orleans to Nashville)

Evening

Try Black Rabbit for dinner. Black Rabbit is a true ode to old Nashville and the storied past of the historic Printer’s Alley neighbourhood in which it resides. Nashville chef Trey Cioccia has crafted a cocktail bar and restaurant reminiscent of the early 1900’s speakeasies that permeated Printer’s Alley once upon a time in downtown Nashville. 

Black Rabbit
218 3rd Ave N
Nashville
TN 37201

Where to stay in Nashville

I can highly recommend Noelle Hotel or the Dream Nashville by Hyatt. We stayed one night at the Dream Nashville and two nights at Noelle. They are right next door to each other, in a prime downtown location. Both equally chic hotels but with different styles and aesthetics. Check them both out and choose your favourite. 

Although I didn’t stay there, I also visited The Graduate Nashville (part of the same hotel group I stayed in in Oxford MS). The hotel has an awesome rooftop bar and very cool aesthetic. It features later in this article!

Day 14 – Nashville, Tennessee

Morning

Wake and head to the bohemian neighbourhood of 12 South in Nashville. This was one of my favourite parts of Nashville and it was really unexpected. 12 South is a half mile stretch along 12th Avenue South boasting vintage and boutique clothing stores, bakeries, bars, cafes and coffee houses.

It’s one of the prettiest and walkable neighbourhoods, with plenty of photo ops. Head to Buttermilk Ranch for breakfast or brunch (I can recommend the eggs benny with a twist) and check out shops including; 

Emerson Grace
Judith Bright 
imogene + willie
White’s Mercantile
Savant Vintage
Vinnie Louise
Draper James
UAL 

Afternoon

Spend your afternoon at the County Music Hall of Fame and Museum – an absolute must-do whilst in Music City. This museum takes you through the history of country music from its earliest origins to current day popular culture. As a Taylor Swift fan, I absolutely loved seeing the collection of her guitars and music video props and seeing Shania Twain’s hot pink outfit was also a highlight.

If you still have some energy, head to White Limozeen, the rooftop bar of The Graduate Nashville, for some late afternoon or early evening drinks. This place was recommended to us by a local and it was an amazing tip which we wouldn’t have found otherwise. The rooftop is 100% Instagrammable and visiting at dusk gives you the best chances for a spectacular sunset over the city. Drinks aren’t cheap but they’re delicious and you’re kind of happy to pay for the surroundings. The Graduate Nashville would also be an awesome place to stay in the city.

The Graduate Nashville
101 20th Ave N
Nashville
TN 37203

Dinner

For an elegant and indulgent dining experience, try KAYNE Prime Steakhouse. This high end restaurant reminded me of the New York restaurant scene, with a buzzing atmosphere, excellent service and sumptuous steaks. Pre-booking essential. 

Kayne Prime Steakhouse
1103 McGavoc St,
Nashville,
TN 37203

Overnight in Nashville

Day 15 – Nashville, Tennessee

Morning

Start your day at the National Museum of African American Music to continue your country music education. The museum visit begins with a short film which is wonderfully produced and very engaging. Then wander the museum exhibitions which are filled with artefacts, interactive exhibits and memorabilia from the African American music scene. 

Afternoon

Next, head to the Ryman Auditorium for a guided tour. The Ryman Auditorium was the original venue for the Grand Ole Opry – the world-famous home of country music. Despite moving to a larger venue outside the city, the Ryman Auditorium is booked out every week for intimate gigs and shows. 

Evening

Get tickets to see a live country music show at The Grand Ole Opry. Depending on the date you visit, the show you see will be different, but all acts that perform at this iconic venue are world-class. The likes of Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton still play here, so depending on your travel dates you could get really lucky! The Grand Ole Opry is not in downtown Nashvalle, it’s approximately a 20 minute drive or taxi ride out. There are plenty of bars and restaurants  over the road in the Opry Mills shopping centre, if you wanted to make a full evening of it. 

Overnight in Nashville 

Day 16 – The Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

Morning

It’s time to pack up and head to the final destination of your Deep South road trip itinerary; The Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. This element of the itinerary provides something totally different, as until now you’ve only experienced cities and towns. Now you will approach the peace and calm of the mountains and the contrast is wonderful. 

Top Tip: Traffic getting out of Nashville can be notoriously bad at rush hour (around 9am) so try to set off between 8-8.30am or wait until 10.00am onwards. We drove late morning and had no problems. Also be aware that The Smokies are one hour ahead of Nashville (despite both being in the same state). 

Afternoon

The drive to your final destination of Gatlinburg is approximately 220 miles from Nashville, taking around 3 hours and 30 minutes. As you approach the Smokies, stop off in Sevierville for lunch at Trotter’s Whole Hogg BBQ for some authentic Tennessee barbecue food. Sevierville is a small but quaint town that pays homage to the country queen Dolly Parton, with her bronze statue outside the Sevierville courthouse.  

After refuelling with some barbecue food, drive on the final 25 minutes and 15 miles to Gatlinburg.

Afternoon to Evening

Before the sun goes down, head into Gatlinburg to the entrance gates to Anakeesta. Anakeesta is a mountaintop theme park for families that immerses its guests in the great outdoors. Enjoy scenic rides on the Chondola or Ridge Rambler before arriving in Firefly village with quaint shopping and dining. There’s also a 14 bridge treetop skywalk and a one-of-a-kind observation with 360 degree views of the Smoky mountains.  

You reach the park by what looks like a ski chair lift, which is all part of the experience (although there’s a minibus that drives up and down). The views at the top are spectacular, which is why I recommend going up in the day light and coming down at night after enjoying Astra Lumina, Anakeesta’s nighttime immersive adventure. This way you get the best of both worlds.

Astra Lumina is a night walk offering a unique combination of lighting, projection and sound which creates an incredible visual and sensory experience that you will never forget. If you’re in the mood for a casual dinner, you can dine up at Anakeesta or I can recommend Best Italian on the Parkway for a great-tasting and affordable pizza. It’s a 5 minute stroll from the gates of Anakeesta.

Overnight in Gatlinburg, Smoky Mountains

Where to stay in the Smoky Mountains

Instead of a hotel, immerse yourself in mountain wilderness by checking into one of 16 treehouses at Treehouse Grove within Norton Creek Resort. These treehouses are a tranquil escape just outside of Gatlinburg with luxurious home comforts and hot tubs to enjoy. Alternatively, check out one of the many Dollywood Resorts, including the new for 2023 Heartsong Lodge

Norton Creek Resort
475 Norton Creek Road
Gatlinburg,
TN 37738

Browse all hotels in Gatlinburg.

Day 17 – The Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

For the final full day of your Deep South road trip itinerary, you’ll be going out with a bang at Dollywood. Dollywood is Dolly Parton’s theme park located in Pigeon Forge of the Smoky Mountains, which is only a 10 minute drive away from Gatlinburg. Start your day at one of the many Pancake Houses on the Parkway (try Crockett’s Breakfast Camp or the iHop) before driving to the gates of Dollywood. 

Spread over 160 acres, deep in the Great Smoky Mountains, Dollywood offers more than 50 world-class rides, high-energy entertainment and award-winning dining. It’s even been awarded with the friendliest theme park atmosphere in the world. If you’re visiting between October to January, be sure to stay beyond 5pm so you can see the lights at night. From high-speed rollercoasters to shows and mini rides for tots, there’s something for the whole family to enjoy at Dollywood. 

Top Tip: To save time in the queue, there are a variety of fast pass options available at Dollywood which can be purchased onsite on the day. 

2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd,
Pigeon Forge,
TN 37863 

If theme parks aren’t your thing and you want a slightly more peaceful final day, I would recommend taking a look at these hiking trials around Gatilinburg.

If you wanted to extend your trip, there’s also Dollywood’s Splash County, the neighbouring water park that has been voted a Top 10 Outdoor Waterpark by USA Today readers. This park is outdoors and operates seasonally. 

Day 18 – Departure Day

It’s time to head home from your epic Deep South road trip itinerary. The closest international airports to Gatlinburg are Charlotte Douglas International Airport (190 miles), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta National Airport (200 miles) and Nashville International Airport (215 miles). Your airport of choice will depend on flight connections to your home destination. We flew back out of Nashville as this was the best connecting airport for London. We flew on an evening flight to ensure there was no stress if we encountered traffic on our journey to the airport. 

If you don’t want to do this it would always be an option to stay one extra night in Nashville before flying home the next day. 

Alternative 12 Day Itinerary – How To Condense this Deep South Road Trip Itinerary into 12 Days

As mentioned in the introduction of this travel itinerary, it is possible to condense this itinerary down into 12 days. It’s not for the faint hearted, and you may leave wishing you could spend more time in many of the places along the way, but it is entirely doable and you will get to see all of the same places, just for less time. Here’s how to do it; 

2 nights – New Orleans, Louisiana

1 night – River Parishes, Louisiana

1 night – Lafayette, Louisiana

1 night – Jackson, Mississippi

1 night – Oxford, Mississippi

2 nights – Memphis, Tennessee

2 nights – Nashville, Tennessee

2 nights – The Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

That concludes one of the longest and most detailed articles we’ve ever published here on Travelista. We hope you found this Deep South Road Trip itinerary to be inspiring, resourceful and interesting. If you have any further questions on this experience or itinerary, be sure to leave a comment below and we will respond.

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Jessica Ruth Gibson is the Founder and Editor of Travelista and an award-winning travel content creator of 10 years. She lives in York, UK with her son and has travelled to over 50 countries; her favourites being Italy, Canada and Vietnam.

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