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Musical Legacies and More: Why Nashville is a Must-Stop on ANY American Road Trip

To experience the heart and soul of the States on two wheels, you gotta head to Nashville – period. Here, the musical legacies of jazz and blues waft past historic monuments and true icons of American culture.

To experience the heart and soul of the States on two wheels, you gotta head to Nashville – period. Here, the musical legacies of jazz and blues waft past historic monuments and true icons of American culture.

A must on any road trip itinerary, Nashville isn’t just a city built on the shoulders of musical giants – it’s also a vibrant hub of culture and history that’ll leave you tapping your toes and craving more with its melodic blend of southern hospitality, incredible cuisine and quintessential scenes of Americana.

These dreamy road trips weave through some of the best parts of the United States, visiting not only this musical wonderland but its iconic regional neighbours.

So buckle up and enjoy the ride!


Road trip #1: Rhythms of the River

The Rhythms of the River journey's from the Midwest to the South along the Mississippi River. Image location: Natchez
The Rhythms of the River journey’s from the Midwest to the South along the Mississippi River. Image location: Natchez

The Mississippi River, with its deep cultural roots and rich musical history, offers a unique and captivating journey from the Midwest to the soulful South.

This road trip, passing through eight states including the country music heartland of Tennessee, promises to leave you with a deeper appreciation for the rhythms of the river and the music that flows through its waters.

There are two different starting options that you can choose – Chicago and Minneapolis – both vibrant urban centres that set the stage for this unforgettable exploration of American music, history, and culture.


Start Option 1: Chicago

Fast facts
  • Starts: Chicago, Illinois
  • Ends: New Orleans, Louisiana
  • How long: Allow 11-14 days
  • Distance: 2,076 km
  • Best times to visit: Feb-May & Sep-Oct
  • Special Events: New Orleans Mardi Gras occurs every February

Begin your adventure in the vibrant metropolis of Chicago and visit iconic attractions like the Cloud Gate at Millennium Park before indulging in the Windy City’s vibrant live music scene. Boasting over 200 venues and clubs, there’s always something going on somewhere in the city to tap your feet to, from jazz and blues to rock and soul.

Next, dive into Chicago’s thriving craft brewery culture – a pint at Half Acre is a must – and savour a slice of Gino’s East’s deep-dish pizza before hitting the historic Route 66 to Springfield. Here, you can immerse yourself in the life of Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Museum.

Continue to St. Louis, past the iconic Gateway Arch (the tallest man-made monument in the USA), and get stuck into its diverse music scene in the Soulard neighbourhood before visiting Blueberry Hill (Chuck Berry played a lot here) and the National Blues Museum.


Start Option 2: Minneapolis & Bloomington

Fast Facts:
  • Starts: Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Ends: New Orleans, Louisiana
  • How long: 11-14 days
  • Distance: 2,582 km
  • Best times to visit: Feb-Jun & Sep-Oct
  • Special Events: New Orleans Mardi Gras occurs every Feb, Music Nashville is held every June

Alternatively, kick off your journey in Minneapolis, where you can delve into the music of Prince at First Avenue (a former Greyhound bus depot), and explore the roots of Bob Dylan along Highway 61.

Then, venture through the picturesque Upper Mississippi River Valley to Dubuque, Iowa, home to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. Afterwards, continue to Hannibal, Missouri, where you can step into the world of Mark Twain before making your way to St. Louis.

Both Option 1 and Option 2 continue on from St. Louis, Missouri to New Orleans, Louisiana.

From St. Louis, the road trip continues to Nashville, Tennessee, the heart of country music. Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, explore RCA Studio B, and enjoy the live music scene here – it’s epic and way more diverse than you realise…

Then, head to Memphis, another pilgrimage city for music lovers, and tour Sun Studio, Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate, and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Taste the flavours of Memphis on Beale Street with live music and mouthwatering barbecue – yum!

Afterwards, follow the Mississippi Blues Trail to Clarksdale, Mississippi, home to the Delta Blues Museum, and then to Cleveland, home to the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi. Explore Natchez Trace Parkway, visit the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, and discover the history of Natchez through its plantations and antebellum mansions.

Finally, roll into New Orleans, where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico. Indulge in the vibrant music scene, explore the French Quarter, and savour the unique culinary delights the city has to offer.


Road Trip #2: Bourbon, Bluegrass and Horse Country

The
Woodford Reserve distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, is a National Historic Landmark and
one of State’s oldest and smallest distilleries ©Brand USA
The
Woodford Reserve distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, is a National Historic Landmark and
one of State’s oldest and smallest distilleries ©Brand USA

Fast facts
  • Starts & Ends: Nashville, Tennessee
  • How long: Allow 11-14 days
  • Distance: 1,747 km
  • When to go: May-Jun & Sep-Oct
  • Special Events: Music Nashville is held every Jun

Starting and ending in Nashville, this road trip is a musical and culinary journey through the heartland of the U.S.

Weaving together the rich cultural traditions of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, it’s a whirlwind adventure that combines the soulful sounds of bluegrass, the smooth sips of bourbon, and the grace of horse country.

Start your trip in Nashville, Tennessee, and immerse yourself in the heart of country music. Begin with a visit to Ryman Auditorium, the “Birthplace of Bluegrass,” where Bill Monroe’s 1945 performance birthed the genre, and catch live bluegrass at venues like Ryman Auditorium or the intimate Station Inn – they’re both incredible venues with incredible talent on stage every night.

Oh, and don’t forget to explore Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery for a taste of handcrafted Tennessee whiskey.

Then, leave Nashville for a 1.5-hour drive to Lynchburg, home to the iconic Jack Daniel’s Distillery. Enjoy the town’s southern hospitality at Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House. Take a half-hour detour to the Short Springs Natural Area before heading to Tullahoma to tour the Cascade Hollow Distilling Co., home of George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey.

A scenic 4.5-hour drive then takes you to Pigeon Forge, the Appalachian-inspired theme park and home of Dollywood. Don’t miss the live radio performances at Knoxville’s WDVX Blue Plate Special – it truly is something special!

In Lexington, Kentucky, delve into the equestrian culture with visits to WinStar Farm and Lane’s End Farm and sample typical Kentucky cuisine at Melissa’s Cottage Café before touring the Wild Turkey distillery for premium bourbon.

For even more equestrian fun, explore the horse culture at the Kentucky Horse Park. Then, experience the history of bourbon at Buffalo Trace, a National Historic Landmark, before a scenic visit to Woodford Reserve distillery.

A two-hour drive lands you in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the “Purple People Bridge” connects to Newport, Kentucky, offering entertainment, dining, and nightlife along both riverfronts. Check out the urban craft distilleries in Indianapolis, Indiana, starting with 12.05 Distillery, West Fork Whiskey Co., and Hotel Tango artisan distillery. And make some room for bourbon-themed cuisine at Bluebeard.

Two hours away, Louisville, Kentucky, awaits. Known for Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum, dive into the bourbon experience at Stitzel-Weller Distillery and indulge in Kentucky cuisine at Doc Crow’s.

Further south, visit the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont, the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, and the Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto. Owensboro showcases the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum and the O.Z. Tyler Distillery, steeped in whiskey history.

Before returning to Nashville, honour the “father of bluegrass” at the Bill Monroe Museum in Rosine.

This museum is dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of Bill Monroe and bluegrass music through interactive exhibits, costumes, memorabilia, and live instrument demonstrations.

Agents, find out more!

The official Visit the USA travel trade site is equipped with everything you need to sell the US of A with super-star confidence! Here, you’ll find RoadTrip USA itineraries, tour operators and DMO contacts along with general U.S. travel info including visa and entry policies and getting around. It’s pretty much your one-stop shop for selling the States.

Register for the USA Discovery Program and start your journey to USA Specialist.

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