Take a slow journey through the American South with Audley

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Take a slow journey through the American South with Audley

From the mesmerising Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, to the exciting music meccas of Nashville and New Orleans, and the glorious white-sand beaches of Gulf Shores in Alabama, America’s South is home to some of the country’s most spectacular and diverse landscapes and experiences.

Explore slowly on a tailor-made self-drive trip with Audley Travel and weave your way into the fabric of the enigmatic, culturally rich southern states.

Start your journey through the South

Dive into Tennessee

Unwrap North Carolina

See South Carolina

Discover Alabama

Uncover New Orleans

Tennessee

The natural wonders and music icons of Tennessee have become international names, but to truly experience the majestic beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, or understand the land that nurtured music stars like Dolly and Elvis, you need to be there. A slow drive through Tennessee will lead you to the world-famous music meccas of Memphis and Nashville, where you’ll explore the performance venues and recording studios that hosted history’s biggest stars; past Graceland, Presley’s opulent mansion and attractions including Parton’s feel-good theme park, Dollywood; and into the mountains where you’ll be welcomed like family at home-style restaurants and bars in local towns. 

The landscapes beckon you to park up, get out and explore, and the Smokies are an adventure-lovers playground, with miles of hiking and biking trails, soaring peaks for climbing, sparkling rivers for kayaking and rafting, and wildlife including elk, coyotes, deer and black bears.

Itinerary inspiration

Movements of the American South: New Orleans to Nashville

Exploring the great outdoors in the American South

Key experiences

Visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis

The South has a complex and sometimes confronting past, but is helping to shed light on its darker days with museums, memorials and trails which educate, heal and inspire hope for a brighter future. Located at the former Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis explores the history of this significant movement and its impact on equality and freedom today. 

Spy the musical icons of Nashville

Home to 180 performance venues and one of country music’s biggest annual events, the Country Music Association’s CMA Fest, Nashville has more than earned its reputation as America’s Music City. Anyone who is anyone has played here, with iconic theatre the Grand Ole Opry hosting legends including Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, and the venue’s immersive theatrical backstage tour offering a glimpse behind one of America’s most famous curtains, hosted by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.

Take a 4×4 off-road tour of the Great Smoky Mountains

With some of the most stunning areas of wilderness in the USA, the Great Smoky Mountains, which run along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, offer the perfect terrain for an action-packed off-road adventure. Lush forests, rumbling rivers and crystal pools await, and if you’re lucky, you might spot some of the Smokies’ local critters too, as you’ll be sharing these majestic mountains with coyotes, groundhogs, black bears and raccoons.

Audley’s top tip

Take a sip of living history

“Nearest Green Distillery in Shelbyville continues the legacy of Nearest Green, thought to be the first-known African-American master distiller in the USA.”

North Carolina

Along with neighbouring South Carolina, this beautiful state forms the Carolinas region of the USA’s stunning east coast, and from the Appalachian Mountains in the west to the unspoilt Atlantic beaches to the east, North Carolina offers a wonderfully diverse backdrop for a laid-back American road trip.

In the Appalachians, hike the forested trails and breathe in the fresh mountain air, or drive the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Blue Ridge Mountains to see the soft blue haze which inspired the name of this stunning range.

Explore Charlotte, the home of NASCAR racing, with a wander around its museums, galleries and the boutiques and restaurants of Plaza-Midwood, or catch some live music in the hip NoDa Arts District. And once you’ve had your fill of the city, more than 100 miles of coastline await in the soul-soothing Outer Banks, home to beautiful barrier islands, historic lighthouses and laid-back seaside towns.

Itinerary inspiration

Exploring the great outdoors in the American South

Soak up the stories of Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain

North Carolina’s favourite ski resorts sit high in the Appalachian Mountains, but as well as fantastic tubing, skiing and snowboarding in winter, they offer plenty of adventures in the warmer months, too, including hiking and biking. Named in honour of the maple trees that cover the ridge, Sugar Mountain has been a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts since the early 20th century, while Beech Mountain has been a much-loved summer retreat since the late 1800s.

Key experiences

Go on a guided hike in the Great Smoky Mountains

Once the ancestral home of the Cherokee (and still home to some), the Great Smoky Mountains offers hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails through pristine wilderness, including over 100km of the iconic Appalachian Trail, and pathways for hikers within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Join a tour with a local guide to learn more about the Smokies’ biodiversity, indigenous history and lives of early European settlers, as you trek through old-growth forest and valleys blanketed with wildflowers.

Elsewhere, North Carolina boasts an abundance of great hiking, including Grandfather Mountain Nature Park, home to the loftiest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains and a web of walking trails where you can see bald eagles, elk and river otters. Its highlight is the mile-high swinging bridge, which delivers epic panoramas across the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Audley’s top tip

Discover a dream mountain home

“Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the largest privately-owned home in America: the opulent 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains, built for George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895.”

Biltmore Estate (VisitNC.com)

Biltmore Estate (VisitNC.com)

South Carolina

Like its northerly neighbour, South Carolina offers a diverse range of delights for slow travellers, with one of America’s most photogenic historic cities, Charleston, lush marshes and waterways in the Lowcountry, and glistening white-sand beaches along the Eastern Seaboard.

Steeped in southern charm, Charleston is known for its sumptuous mansions and some of the best cuisine in America, created by award-winning chefs and served with authentic warmth and genuine hospitality. Nearby at Fort Sumter, you’ll discover the thought-provoking story of the American Civil War. To the north of the state, find tranquillity in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which offer epic outdoor adventure, artsy country towns and picture-perfect lodges for restorative escapes.

With more than 350 golf courses, South Carolina has some top-rated greens along the coast and Myrtle Beach is known as the Golf Capital of the World. But if you’d rather see sand on the beach than in a bunker, the state has almost 200 miles of sandy shores to explore.

Itinerary inspiration

Exploring the great outdoors in the American South

Key experiences

Enjoy a guided history tour of Charleston

Prepare to slow down in Charleston, where sprawling waterfront mansions loom along grand boulevards, where trees whisper with Spanish moss, and a walking or cycling tour is a great way to reset your pace and move to the rhythm of the city. The French Quarter is a good place to learn about Charleston’s colonial past and the Civil War, while just wandering among the magnificent pastel-hued homes here is a joy.

Cruise the South Carolina Lowcountry

If you’re heading to South Carolina, a cruise along the breathtaking May River is a must. Hop on a boat tour at Montage Palmetto Bluff to explore miles of marshlands and see the wildlife along the river, which includes Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, herons, bald eagles and ospreys. Feeling energetic? Take a guided kayak or stand-up paddleboarding nature tour to explore the Lowcountry creeks, which have been paddled by Native Americans for centuries.

Audley’s top tip

Uncover a natural hidden gem

“Stop off to see one of South Carolina’s hidden gems, Jocassee Gorges, home to 50,000 acres of protected forest, the highest concentration of waterfalls in the eastern USA, and the highest point in South Carolina, Sassafras Mountain.”

Alabama

You can’t get more “South” than Alabama, and this exciting state has mastered the knack of inviting visitors in for an authentic taste of its unique culture and character. Your self-drive trip will lead you through quaint country towns like Guntersville and Monroeville, where you can pick up some local art, wander heritage museums and get to know the locals over Southern food in friendly cafes. Or stop at a dude ranch and saddle up for some cowboy action on a trail ride, before heading to Gulf Shores on the coast for endless sandy beaches, a myriad of water sports, or a dolphin watching cruise in the Gulf of Mexico.

There are plenty of attractions to keep you busy, too, from the excellent US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, which has more than 1,500 cosmic artefacts, to the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, which offers a rare opportunity to explore a decommissioned battle ship, submarines and more.

Itinerary inspiration

Movements of the American South: New Orleans to Nashville

Key experiences

Immerse yourself in the Mardi Gras traditions of Mobile

While New Orleans is synonymous with its exuberant annual Mardi Gras celebrations, it’s actually in Mobile where Mardi Gras was first celebrated in 1703, in what was to become the USA. Here, the festive atmosphere lasts year-round. The Mobile Carnival Museum is a great place to learn about its history with Mardi Gras, before visiting the city’s architectural and historical highlights, including the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and GulfQuest, a museum which explores America’s maritime relationship with the Gulf.

See where Civil Rights history unfolded in Montgomery

There’s no better place to fully understand the impact of racial segregation and the legacy of the American Civil Rights Movement than Alabama, and the state capital Montgomery is at the forefront of keeping history’s powerful lessons alive. Here, visitors can walk the streets where some of the movement’s key events unfolded, and learn about the heroes who risked their freedom – and lives – for the cause at the Civil Rights Memorial Center and the Rosa Parks Museum.

Audley’s top tip

Dive into Birmingham’s Downtown music scene

“Another significant stop on the US Civil Rights Trail, Birmingham is also the centre of a booming music scene, with exciting venues ranging from historic theatres to state of the art stadiums.”

New Orleans

With an infectious passion for music, food and good times, there’s nowhere else on earth like New Orleans. Enjoying yourself in NOLA is a breeze – just wander the city’s oldest neighbourhood, the French Quarter, and the fun is going to find you, whether it’s banter with dancing locals on Bourbon Street, or jazz clubs enticing you inside on Frenchmen Street. There’s plenty of mystical amusement here too, with immersive haunted cemetery tours, intriguing voodoo stores and The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, which offers a window into the religion’s mysteries and history.

New Orleans is where the mighty Mississippi meets the sea, and there are lots of ways to get out on the water, from an airboat or kayak tour of the bayous and swamps outside of town, to a paddle steamer cruise along the river. Ready to roll? As they say in the Big Easy, ”Laissez les bon temps rouler!”

Itinerary inspiration

Movements of the American South: New Orleans to Nashville

Key experiences

Immerse yourself in the sounds of New Orleans

One of America’s most important music cities, the bars and clubs of New Orleans are alive with the sounds of jazz, soul and R & B, and if you’re coming to NOLA, be prepared for a few late nights catching some of the excellent live music around town. A visit to the iconic Preservation Hall to see the house jazz band is a must, or catch the brilliant Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band along Frenchmen Street.

Eat your way around the French Quarter

Great music, great food, great people – what’s not to love about New Orleans? A walking foodie tour through the French Quarter showcases them all, as you discover some of the Big Easy’s Creole and Cajun classics, learn about the city’s colourful culinary history, hear about the chefs and restaurants making waves on the international gastronomy scene today, and enjoy the soundtrack of New Orleans, which plays out as you wander its historic sidewalks and squares. 

Audley’s top tip

Hop on a streetcar

“We find the best way of navigating this history-steeped city is by streetcar. Jump on in Downtown and explore the French Quarter in style.”

Why travel with Audley?

With so much to see and do in this epic part of the United States, expert planning will make sure you not only hit your chosen highlights, but have plenty of time to relax and uncover some lesser-known gems along the way, too. Whatever your interests, from food to music, culture or adventures in the great outdoors, Audley Travel’s experienced team will create a personalised road trip that showcases the very best of America’s South.