The bayous of Louisiana are very different from upcountry Alabama, which is the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains. In between, there is an immense variety of cities and communities, each with its own unique identify. Many cities of the Old South have transformed into bustling centers of commerce and the arts. Other towns have engaged in dramatic historic preservation projects to display their historic attributes to visitors in a grand manner. Throughout, there is a great cultural texture that pervades life on every front.
We have arranged this tour so that you can enjoy the best of the old and the best of the new in every location you visit. Contrast the US Space Center in Huntsville with Burritt on the Mountain where the oldest structure dates from 1810. Contrast the First White House of the Confederacy in Montgomery with Martin Luther’s speech on the Alabama Capital Steps. Contrast Elvis in Shreveport with the music in New Orleans and Lafayette. Contrast the country music scene in Nashville with the most opulent mansion room constructed in the antebellum South.
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A good introduction to the city and The South in general is the Atlanta History Center. You will find it in Atlanta’s main museum district, six miles north of downtown and in the upscale Buckhead neighbourhood.
An unusual place to visit is Underground Atlanta, literally under the centre of the city. It was restored in the 1980s and is a great spot for shopping and entertainment. Since the 1996 Summer Olympics, Centennial Park has been the centre of Atlanta. Here you will find one of the world’s largest aquariums, the $200 million Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca Cola where you can view the complete story of the world’s most recognisable and most successful brand.
Distance: 203 miles
Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over 800 square miles and remains one of the most pristine natural areas in of the eastern USA. There are 384 miles of roads to choose from and the speed averages 30 miles an hour. The most visited location in the Park is Cades Cove, a broad valley surrounded by mountains. An 11 mile one way loop road circles the cove. Some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing can be found here, White-tailed deer are frequent as well as bears, coyotes, and wild turkeys.
At some point you’ll want to travel on the Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway which winds 51 miles across the mountaintops at 5,000 feet. The Charles Hall Museum and Skyway Visitor Center are located at the western gateway to the Skyway.
To see autumn’s colours at their peak, plan your trip around the end of October or early November. You’ll be astounded by fiery oranges, deep reds, and glowing yellows of more than 120 species of trees native to the area.
Distance: 245 miles
Turing east off the scenic drive, you’ll be headed for Huntsville. The highlight of your visit today is the US Space and Rocket Center where you can become an astronaut for a day. You can launch yourself into space, feel the G forces of acceleration, and experience weightlessness.
Contrast the US Space and Rocket Center with Burritt on the Mountain, where the oldest buildings dates back to 1810. Historical interpreters demonstrate activities typical of a 19th century farm, with real animals, real crops and authentic environments.
Distance: 113 miles
Distance: 209 miles
Beale Street is three blocks of music clubs including the most popular, B.B. King’s Blues Club. Make a stop here in the evening for some real live blues music. The Memphis Visitors Bureau also has a handy information booth on Beale Street. If you’d like to learn more about the origins of music in Memphis, then perhaps a visit to the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, or to the Sun Studio, where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and B. B. King recorded and is considered The Birthplace of Rock and Roll would be ideal.
Check out the Stax Museum which celebrates greats from the 1960s and 1970s, like Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MGs, Issac Hayes, Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind & Fire and more.
You can learn more about the heritage and culture of Memphis and the lower Delta and it’s relationship to the river at the Mississippi River Museum. Mud Island features River Walk, one of the most unique representations of the Mississippi River in the world. Near Beale Street, the Centre for Southern Folklore documents more about the southern lifestyle.
Distance: 130 miles
Next up, Tupelo, Mississippi, birthplace of Elvis Presley. After Graceland, the two room shotgun house will seem amazing. Also visit the Natchez Trace Visitor Center where early New Deal cottages from the depression have been rebuilt. Swinging over toward the river now, make sure to stop at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. The Rock n’Roll and Blues Heritage Museum is also there. From Clarksdale, you will drop south to Greenwood where you can visit the Greenwood Blues Heritage Museum and stay the night. Foodies may also like to take a class at the Viking Range Cooking School.
Distance: 213 miles
The best place to start your visit is at the Natchez National Historical Park. The Park itself includes two very different properties. Melrose, situated on 80 acres of lush oak covered land, was occupied by a prominent Southern family beginning in 1841. The William Johnson House on the other hand, was built and owned by a freed-slave who had slaves himself. The area’s Native American heritage is illustrated at Emerald Mound one of the largest mounds in the United States. Monmouth Plantation delivers outstanding accommodations in an authentic plantation home. Their restaurant also offers fine dining. Biscuits and Blues has been voted America’s #1 blues nightclub by the Memphis Blues Foundation, the W.C. Handy Organization and the San Francisco Blues Society.
Distance: 197 miles
On the softer side of Shreveport, at 42 acres, the American Rose Center is the nation’s largest rose garden. The R. W. Norton Art Gallery chronicles more than four centuries of American and European art, featuring the work of Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. In spring more than 10,000 azaleas bloom in the garden.
Louisiana State Exhibit Museum focused on the artifacts and art indigenous to northwest Louisiana. Like Mississippi and Alabama, portions of Louisiana were also originally occupied by Native Americans. This museum showcases the regions Indian lore. The J. Bennett Johnston Waterway Regional Visitors Center illustrates the history of the Red River in the region. The Boom and Bust Scenic Byway takes you through Oil City, Vivian, Plain Dealing, Sarepta, Homer and Lisbon, all small towns chock full of history and places to eat.
Distance: 313 miles
We recommend that you set aside your first day in New Orleans to explore the French Quarter. Grab yourself a French Quarter map, take a seat at Café du Monde for beignets and chicory coffee and take the time to acquaint yourself with this wonderful city. Your first stop, of course, has to be at the French Quarter Visitors Center, one of the six sites of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, which introduces you to traditions and life in the area. Rangers lead daily walks through the French Quarter to tell the story of this district and its ties to the Mississippi River.The New Orleans Collection is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to the study and preservation of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South region. Collections have been building over 40 years. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art adds to the story through fine art and artifacts focused on the South. Check with Preservation Hall to see if there are performances during your stay. If you want to learn Cajun cooking first hand, book a course at the New Orleans School of Cooking.
Just outside New Orleans, Laura Plantation, which has won several award for its impressive preservation, was owned by a Creole family. Laura was constructed in 1804 right on the banks of the Mississippi River. The original owner, Guilliaume Duparc petitioned Thomas Jefferson for land in America in return for his loyalty to the United States. The original plantation had a 3.5 mile long road running perpendicular to the Mississippi that was lined with 69 slave cabins, communal kitchens and a slave infirmary.
You might consider a Steamboat Natchez Cruise at the end of the day to relax, have dinner and get a great view from the river.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi earned the name City of Discovery for its commemoration of the French settlement of 1699, although Native Americans had been enjoying the sparkling blue waters and fertile coastal marshes long before that. More than 80% of the Gulf Islands National Seashore is submerged land, teeming with marine life. Conditions here are so tropical that the US Army established a training camp during World War II to simulate the South Seas. You can explore a Spanish Fort and a World War II Battery, or soak in more nature along the Live Oak Bicycle Trail and other trails throughout the Seashore.
For a look at the origins of Birmingham in 1871, learn the story of steel making at the Sloss Furnace National Historic Landmark where you can tour an actual steel mill. The industry was critical to making Birmingham the city it is today.
Call the USA travel specialists at Bon Voyage to discuss your Best of the Old South and New South adventure.