Want to get out & about in the United States? Explore some of the country’s most interesting cities & towns on an epic Southeast USA road trip itinerary.
The Southeastern United States comprises nine states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. While you won’t see the entire region on a time-crunched trip plan, don’t let it stop you. Drive around for a week or two. It won’t take long to get a taste for one of the most fascinating corners of the US.
On a Southeast trip, you’ll relax in leafy historic cities like Savannah and Charleston. You’ll traverse the Blue Ridge Mountains near hip & trendy Asheville. You’ll explore American music history in Nashville and Memphis. And you can sip Sazeracs till the morning light in jazzy New Orleans.
Need a primer on where to go? Get your bearings with this complete Southeast USA itinerary.
Where to go in the Southeast USA: A complete 2-week road trip itinerary
Few places define the South better than the charming city of Savannah, Georgia. The streets of Savannah teem with graceful townhouses and towering moss-covered oaks. It’s one of the region’s greenest and most elegant cities.
Aesthetics aside, visitors sweep into “Hostess City of the South” for its Southern food delights. The city is famous for its culinary brilliance. In its restaurants Southern classics have developed new wings. And as you explore the scene, you’ll get a chance to taste all its unique flavours.
If you’re limited to two weeks in the Southeast USA, try to spend at least two days in Savannah. It’ll give you just enough time to explore some of its historic buildings, museums, parks, and culinary scene.
What to see & do in Savannah
Roam around the Savannah Historic District
Start your first 24 hours in Savannah exploring the Savannah Historic District. The National Historic Landmark District is one of the biggest in the Southern USA. The area spans 1,300 acres between the Savannah River and Gwinnett Street.
Roaming around the Historic District, save time for a breather in Forsyth Park. Located on the area’s southern edge, the 30-acre park is a wonderful escape from the city. On Saturdays, Forsyth Park also hosts a farmers market that’s among the city’s most popular.
In the district’s northern edge, be sure to check out River Street. The historic riverside avenue is lined with cute boutiques and restaurants.
To cool down in the hot Georgia sun, grab a lick at Leopold’s Ice Cream. The venerable ice cream shop is one of the oldest in the US. It was even voted one of the best ice cream parlours in the world!
Art enthusiasts will love the modern art collection at SCAD Museum of Art. Designed as a teaching museum, the gallery host both permanent and rotating exhibitions. The collection spans everything from paintings to sculptures to photographs.
Explore the Starland District
If you only explore one other neighbourhood outside the historic centre, make it the Starland District. The area was conceived by local art students in the late 1990s. Not long ago, Starland was a rough-and-tumble downtown area. Over the past decade though, the neighbourhood has become one of the coolest places to roam around in Savannah.
Today, the streets of the Starland District are chock-loaded with vintage boutiques, art studios, and funky cafés. As you roam around, you’ll also spot some of the city’s coolest street art.
Built up an appetite? Meander down to Starland Yard in the district’s south. With its fun & festive atmosphere, this collection of food trucks is the perfect place to grab authentic Southern street food.
Spend a day at Tybee Island
Got extra time to escape Savannah? Venture 30 minutes east of the city to Tybee Island. The barrier island is known for its sandy beaches, military forts, and museums.
Beach lovers should focus the Tybee Island adventure on South Beach. Enjoy a stroll on the pier or grab a fishing rod and cast into the ocean. The area alongside the beach is also jammed with restaurants, cafés, and ice cream shops.
If history is more your jam, head to the island’s northern edge. Explore the late-19th-century Fort Screven at North Beach. Try to carve out a few minutes to climb to the top of the lighthouse at the Tybee Island Light Station & Museum. It offers spectacular views over the island and the Atlantic.
Where to stay in Savannah
Like other cities in the South, choosing among the best places to stay in Savannah isn’t always easy. For sightseeing, first-time visitors should narrow their search to the Historic District. Wherever you choose, keep in mind that Savannah isn’t considered one of the safest cities in the US. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid walking around alone after dark.
Located steps from Savannah’s riverfront, this historic hotel is a fantastic choice for your adventure. Rooms charm with both modern and turn-of-the-century touches. You love delighting in the hotel’s afternoon wine and hors d’oeuvres reception.
Dating back to 1812, this historic inn sits along the lovely riverfront. Rooms are spacious and more contemporary than its façade lets on. After a day of sightseeing, relax at the inn’s evening wine and cheese tasting.
For a luxurious stay in Savannah, look no further than this 5-star hotel. Rooms are soaked in elegant modern style. You’ll dig the chance to cool down in the charming outdoor pool.
How to get to Savannah
Savannah is server by Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV). The airport is located 8 miles (13 km) from the city centre. Several major airlines fly into SAV from US destinations, including:
- Allegiant Air
- American Eagle
- Delta Air Lines
- Southwest Airlines
- United Express
Savannah is well-connected by road to other major cities in the state of Georgia and in the Southern USA. Popular road routes and estimated driving times include:
- Atlanta, GA (4h)
- Jacksonville, FL (2h10m)
- Orlando, FL (4h15m)
- Charlotte (3h45m)
- Birmingham, AL (6h)
Charleston, South Carolina
From Savannah, it’s a short 2-hour drive to Charleston, South Carolina’s biggest city. Much like its riverside counterpart in Georgia, Charleston is one of the most charming cities in the Southern USA.
The streets of Charleston are jammed with relics of bygone eras. No, the city’s history wasn’t always pleasant. But from its darker moments, Charleston reminds of mistakes and shines the light forward. Famous for its Southern hospitality, the city’s as important as any to the history of the nation.
On your itinerary, try to spend at least two days in Charleston. It should give you enough time to get a taste for its historical streets—and its menu of legendary Southern comfort food.
What to see & do in Charleston
Wander around the Historic District
Start your first 24 hours in Charleston wandering around its Historic District. The port city dates back to 1670, placing it among the oldest major cities in the Southeast. (Along the southern part of the East Coast only St Augustine in Florida has it beat.)
Along the district’s cobblestone streets, you’ll stumble upon historic homes and churches. Dating back centuries, they’re set under a canopy of gnarled oaks to give you reprieve from Southern sun.
While exploring, be sure to stop into the 200-year-old Charleston City Market for souvenirs and to taste its culinary delights. For a glimpse at the city’s darker past, visit the Old Slave Mart. Located in the French Quarter, the museum can be a lot to process. But to round-out your experience of the Southern city, it’s a must-visit.
Also keep your eyes peeled for Rainbow Row. This collection of pastel-hued townhouses lies just two blocks south of the French Quarter. The colourful and elegant Georgian-style buildings were built between 1748 and 1845.
Relive the beginnings of the Civil War at Fort Sumter National Monument
Civil War buffs should beeline for Fort Sumter National Monument. The fortress is one of the most important historic sites in the United States. In 1861, the first shots of the American Civil War rang out at Fort Sumner. The battle continued at this Confederate stronghold until the end of the war. In 1865, Union forces finally emerged victorious.
Visiting the island fortress, you’ll still get to spot some of the original gun emplacements and cannons. Fort Sumter is accessible by a 30-minute ferry ride from Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square.
Frolic in the Atlantic Ocean at Folly Beach
Looking for South Carolina’s seaside charms? Venture 25 minutes south of the city centre to Folly Beach. Located on Folly Island, the small oceanfront city makes for a great half-day trip from Charleston. It’s one of the most popular beach towns in the area.
While the town is a pleasant place to stroll, it’s Folly Beach itself that captures visitors’ attention most. If lazing around isn’t your thing, rent a paddleboard or kayak. You can even book yourself a surfing lesson at the beautiful beach to turn up the adrenaline a notch.
Where to stay in Charleston
To get the most out of your trip, the best area to stay in Charleston is the Historic District. The neighbourhood is one of the safer areas of the city. It’s a great choice if you’re visiting on a tight schedule.
Get the ultimate in Southern hospitality at this comfy guesthouse. You’ll love chillaxing in its leafy courtyard after a day of sightseeing.
Exuding European charm inside & out, this hotel is the perfect place to rest your head. Reservations include a free continental breakfast.
For an unforgettable stay, book a room at this top-notch luxury hotel. Amenities include a fitness centre, spa, two saltwater pools, and 7 on-site restaurants & bars.
How to get to Charleston
Charleston is about a 2-hour drive north from Savannah. The most common driving route is via I-95 and US-17.
Asheville, North Carolina
Only got time to visit one city in North Carolina? Make it Asheville. The city has picked up a reputation as one of the coolest small cities in the South.
Nestled in the scenic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is an outdoor adventurers paradise. Within a short drive from the city, you’ll dip into superb hiking trails. You’ll marvel at spectacular views of waterfalls, lakes, and forests draped over the mountainside.
Asheville is also a major stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most scenic drives in the USA. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs between Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Driving along the parkway from start to finish is an epic ride on its own.
Try to spend at least two days in Asheville. Although it’s a smaller city, there’s plenty to see. You’ll also want a least some time to explore its outskirts. That’s where the true magic of Asheville comes to light.
What to see & do in Asheville
Duck into art galleries in the River Arts District
Asheville’s quirky reputation shores up at its eclectic River Arts District (RAD). Located southwest of downtown, the RAD sprawls along the banks of the French Broad River. Its almost two dozen converted warehouses & industrial buildings host art galleries, brewpubs, and cafés.
To get the most out of your visit to the River Arts District, start at 310 Art at Riverview Station. On display are art collections from dozens of local artists. From here, you can walk north and east to explore the district’s other art galleries.
Be sure to follow your gallery walk with a relaxing drink. Beer lovers can hit up one of the area’s two locations of Wedge Brewing Co. Or, if you’re looking for something sweeter & more tarty, grab a craft cider at Daidala Ciders. The cidery is located in Cotton Mill Studios on Riverside Drive.
Explore Downtown Asheville
Asheville is home to less than one hundred thousand people. But as the centre of a metro area of over 400,000, Downtown Asheville punches like a city four times it size.
The city centre is vibrant and happy-go-lucky. It’s jam-packed with boutiques, art galleries, trendy restaurants, and cool craft breweries. Stuff in a collection of striking Art Deco architecture, and you’ll see why visitors love roaming in Downtown Asheville.
Want to explore downtown to its fullest on your first 24 hours in Asheville? Slink along the Asheville Urban Trail. The 1.7-mile loop walks past some of the city’s most important landmarks, buildings, and memorials. Stops include the Grove Arcade shopping area and the Thomas Wolfe Memorial.
Marvel at the Biltmore Estate
No visit to Asheville is complete without wandering around the historic Biltmore Estate. The 8,000-acre estate centres upon the massive Biltmore House. Built in 1895 in French Renaissance style by George W. Vanderbilt, the home is a must-see while visiting Asheville.
At 250 rooms, Biltmore House is America’s largest privately-owned mansion. To see its full glory, carve out time for a self-guided tour. On the tour, you’ll explore its priceless collection of art & antiquities. Touring the castle alone will take a hour or two at a languid pace.
Aside from the house itself, the Biltmore Estate is a wonderful place to wander around. Don’t miss the chance to stroll among its blissful gardens. The gardens are at their finest in spring when the azaleas hit their full bloom.
End your trip with a stop at Antler Hill Village. Although within the estate, the village feels like a small town all to its own. Save time for a relaxing pause at the Biltmore Winery. With your admission to the estate, you’ll get to enjoy a wine tasting here for free. (For an additional fee, you can also partake in premium wine tastings.)
Where to stay in Asheville
For a shorter jaunt, the best area to stay in Asheville is Downtown. Staying in & around this hoppin’ neighbourhood you get to enjoy the best of the city without hassle.
Want to stay in downtown without breaking the bank? Grab a room at this clean, comfortable, and central hotel. Amenities include a 24-hour fitness centre and outdoor pool. The on-site restaurant, Chop House, serves American classes with a extensive wine and local beer selection.
This lovely mid-range hotel is the perfect choice for beer lovers. The hotel sits on the edge of downtown near the South Slope Brewing District. Several great local craft breweries are within short walking distance. You’ll also dig hanging out on the sun terrace to fantastic views over the city.
For the ultimate in Asheville luxury, grab a room at this delightful hotel. Rooms are well-appointed and sophisticated. Splurge on a mountain view room to wake up to vistas over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
How to get to Asheville
From Charleston, it’s about a 4-hour drive to Asheville via I-26 W. As you travel alongside the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll enjoy incredible scenery.
From North Carolina, hit the I-40 to venture west. Next up is one of the ultimate American road trip destinations: Nashville. As the capital city and state’s largest city, Nashville is the perfect place to launch your Tennessee road adventure.
For most visitors, Nashville is better known by its century-old nickname: Music City. And while it’s still holy ground for country fans, any true music lover will love experiencing the Nashville scene.
Besides its musical drawcard, Nashville has fired up its cultural scene in other ways in recent years. In its vibrant neighbourhoods, indie boutiques, hip restaurants, and cool craft breweries await. You’ll also find a surprising collection of city parks. They sprawl out over a whopping 12,000 acres of parkland.
Spend about two to three days in Nashville. While you can quickly soak in the city centre sights, plenty awaits outside of the city limits, too. Slowing down will let you take it all in.
What to see & do in Nashville
Pay tribute to American music history at the Country Music Hall of Fame
Opened for over 50 years, the Country Music Hall of Fame is a mecca for country music fans. Even if you don’t blast George Strait on your car radio, you can’t miss this exceptional slice of Americana.
Noteworthy artefacts at the museum include Elvis’ Cadillac and gold piano, and Carl Perkins’ blue suede shoes. You’ll also navigate the history of country through interactive multimedia displays.
Indulge in the nightlife of the Broadway Historic District
During your first 24 hours in Nashville, you’ll likely spend much of your time exploring the Broadway Historic District. Also known as Lower Broadway (or just Lower Broad), the area traces most of Nashville’s history.
Years before its streets filled with honky-tonks, Lower Broad was an important part of the city’s story. The historical buildings date back to Nashville’s earliest years. Today’s music venues, boutiques, hotels, and bars stand in the city’s late-19th century commercial district.
Even if you’re not normally into nightlife, peek in on a future music star playing their heart out at one of the area’s music bars. Many of the area’s bars & restaurants are also owned by famous country artists. If you’re lucky, you may even spot one!
While exploring Lower Broadway, be sure to pop into the Ryman Auditorium. The celebrated music venue hosted the world-famous Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974.
Take a backstage tour at the Grand Ole Opry House
If there’s one attraction to visit outside the city centre, it’s the Grand Ole Opry House. A 20-minute drive from downtown, this legendary music venue has seen some of the planet’s biggest stars pass through.
Hop onto one of its guided backstage tours to see the venue from the artists’ perception. You’ll walk through the green rooms and even get to stand on the same stage as the greats.
For an extra special Grand Ole Opry experience, try to catch a show at the 4,400-seat venue. It’ll be an unforgettable experience!
Take a breather in Centennial Park
Need a break from the urban buzz? Spend a few moments exploring Centennial Park. The 132-acre city park sits in Nashville’s West End, about 40 minutes from downtown by foot.
Besides strolling around its gardens and pond, save time to check out The Parthenon. The dramatic building is a full-scale replica of the venerable ancient Greek temple. Inside lies a towering sculpture of the Greek goddess Athena. At 42 feet high, it’s the tallest indoor statue in the Western Hemisphere.
Where to stay in Nashville
Like any city of its size and popularity, figuring out where to stay in Nashville isn’t always easy. To get the most out of your visit, stick to city centre areas like Lower Broadway and The Gulch. Most of the city’s best hotels sit in downtown.
Located blocks from Broadway, this boutique hotel offers some of the best value in the downtown area. Rooms show off a crisp retro-modern style.
This hotel occupies two striking historic buildings on Printer’s Alley. Rooms are soaked with head-turning Art-Deco-inspired style. The six on-site eating & drinking options are also bound to impress.
For the American grand hotel experience, book yourself into this popular downtown luxury hotel. The hotel’s design is palatial and high on old-world charm. If big acts are rolling through town on your visit, the hook up hard-to-find tickets with the hotel’s concierge service.
How to get to Nashville
From Asheville, it’s about 4.5 hours driving time to Nashville via I-40 E.
Like in Nashville, music runs through the veins of Memphis. The musical focus in Tennessee’s second-biggest city is more eclectic though. It lean towards blues, soul & jazz rather than mostly country rock.
As with so many cities in the South, Memphis has done much in recent years to revitalize its reputation. Formerly derelict neighbourhoods are slowly transforming in bastions for arts & culture. Roaming around Memphis, you’ll love ducking into cool boutiques and craft breweries. (Between bites of epic barbecue, of course.)
Spend at least two days in Memphis. It’ll give you time to both tackle some of its top attractions and dip your toes in its culinary scene.
What to see & do in Memphis
Revere American music royalty at Graceland
If you’ve only got a day in Memphis, start out with a visit to Graceland. To die-hard Elvis fans, visiting Graceland is more than a trip of a lifetime; it’s a pilgrimage. To anyone else, it’s still one of the country’s most fitting tributes to any American legend.
Renovated in the 1970s, the colonial mansion feels trapped in time. From its green shag carpet ceiling to its yellow vinyl walls, it’s a testament to the over-the-top tastes of the King.
Across from Graceland, you’ll learn more about Elvis’ life & legacy at the entertainment complex and visitor centre. Take a tour of the King’s two private jets here to get an even better sense of his lavish lifestyle.
Visit the birthplace of American rock & roll at Sun Studio
No recording studio in the USA is more revered than Sun Studio in Memphis. From these hallowed grounds some of the most important figures in American rock & roll launched their careers. Famous patrons of the studio included Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, and, of course, Elvis Presley.
Tours of Sun Studio depart hourly from 10:30am to 5:30pm. On the 45-minute tour, you’ll be able to listen to original copies of some of the studio’s most legendary recordings.
Enjoy the nightlife of Beale Street
Memphis’s answer to Lower Broad, Beale Street is one of the most famous entertainment districts in America. This vibrant street was once the stomping grounds of American music legends like B.B. King and Muddy Waters. It’s so important that Beale Street has been declared a National Historic Landmark District.
At sundown, take a walk along the neon-flooded three-block stretch. Pop into one of its legendary venues & restaurants to enjoy live music and the Southern BBQ the Tennessean city is famous for.
Where to stay in Memphis
For first-time visitors, the best area to stay in Memphis is Downtown. The district is home to many of the city’s top attractions and finest hotels. It’s also one of the safer and more well-patrolled areas in a city notorious for its street crime.
Like all the hotels from this IHG brand, this Memphis hotel oozes with cool. In the rooms, retro-modern styles lay bare the city’s musical history. Extras include an outdoor pool and laid-back shared lounge.
Indulge in Memphis’s Southern charms with a night at this renowned hotel. Aside from its elegant rooms, the hotel delivers a healthy dose of world-class amenities. You’ll enjoy several on-site food & drink options along with an indoor pool and spa.
To experience the beat of Memphis in luxury, grab a room at this delightful 4-star hotel. It’s within steps of the city’s top music attractions, including the Gibson Memphis Rock n Soul Museum.
How to get to Memphis
Via the I-40, it’s just over three hours from Nashville to Memphis.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Built on a bend in the Mississippi River, New Orleans is unmatched among cities in the United States. New Orleans fuses French, African, and American cultures. Its unique urban blend is unlike any other in North America.
New Orleans is famous for its annual Mardi Gras celebrations. But visit and you’ll see: its wild streak is a year-long affair. Much of the nightly action centres around Bourbon Street in the heart of the city’s French Quarter.
The Louisiana city is also home to some of finest jazz clubs in the USA. Listening to the smooth sounds of jazz, cocktail in hand, is a perfect antidote to the shots bars & wild nightclubs elsewhere in the city.
Spend at least three days in New Orleans. It won’t leave a lot of time to explore the whole city. But you should have no problem hitting up the city’s main attractions. (And still have a little time left over for experiencing its unique Cajun and Creole cuisines and nightlife.)
What to see & do in New Orleans
Explore the French Quarter
The heart of New Orleans beats in its French Quarter. The district is famous for its raucous nightlife, Cajun and Creole culinary creations, and architecture.
In your first 24 hours in New Orleans, start exploring the French Quarter at Jackson Square. The historic square attracts performers of all kinds who add to the city’s lively reputation.
The square’s main landmark is the dramatic St. Louis Cathedral. Dating back to the 1700s, it’s the oldest cathedral in North America. Slip inside to admire its ornate stained glass windows.
Chill out in City Park
Thought Central Park in NYC was big? Wait until you catch a glimpse of City Park. Stretching three miles long and one mile wide, the park is New Orleans’s finest greenspace. City Park is the perfect place to grab an afternoon of relaxation after a half-day of sightseeing. (Or after night of sipping Sazaracs.)
Wandering its meandering trails could take the better part of a day in New Orleans. Besides its walking paths, the park is home to the New Orleans Art Museum. Art lovers should save some time to pop in to check out its eclectic collection of African, Asian, and Native American art.
Revel in the nightlife of Bourbon Street
While it won’t be to everyone’s taste, you can’t leave New Orleans without a night on Bourbon Street. Whether it’ll be a short or long night, we’ll leave that up to you. (No judgement, either way.)
Bourbon Street embodies the raucous spirit of New Orleans. Even if you don’t want to duck into its bars, it’s at least worth a quick walk as its evening action heat up. The area is also home to some of the finest restaurants in New Orleans, including the upscale Galatoire’s Restaurant.
Where to stay in New Orleans
For first-time travellers, the city centre is the best area to stay in New Orleans. Narrow your accommodation search to the French Quarter, Marigny, Bywater, and Garden District. These neighbourhoods offer the city’s best selection of hotels.
Dabble in the city’s French charm at this lovely hotel. You’ll love escaping the buzz of NOLA in the hotel’s quiet private courtyard. The hotel also features both a wine bar and speakeasy-style cocktail lounge.
Set in 19th-century townhouse, this historic hotel shines with old-world charm. The suites here come fully-equipped for a self-catering stay in New Orleans.
Located next to Jackson Square, this hotel is one of the city’s top luxury picks. Like in other W hotels, the rooms spellbind with their vivid trendy styles. You’ll also revel in the hotel’s outdoor pool set in a charming courtyard.
How to get to New Orleans
From Memphis, it’s just shy of a 6-hour drive to New Orleans via I-55.
More Southeast USA itinerary ideas
St Augustine, FL
Want to embark on the ultimate Florida road trip adventure? Start with St Augustine. Established in 1595 by Spanish settlers, St Augustine is the oldest city in the United States. The small Floridian city is famed for its lovely Spanish colonial architecture and sandy beaches.
Didn’t get enough urban madness? Start your route in the capital city of Georgia, Atlanta. The metropolis is of six million is the South’s most important cultural centre. From its dining scene to its vast parklands, Atlanta is one of the region’s most surprising finds.
Located off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Boone is a fantastic add-on to any North Carolina road trip. Start your visit at the Hickory Ridge History Museum in Daniel Boone Native Gardens. Boone is about 2 hours from Asheville via Blowing Rock.
Myrtle Beach, SC
Looking for more Atlantic coast views? Tack on a quick visit to Myrtle Beach. The popular resort city is perched upon South Carolina’s east coast. Myrtle Beach is famed for its Grand Strand, a 60-mile-long stretch of beaches. The city is two hours northwest of Charleston.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Wedged between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of America’s finest slices of nature. Plan for an extra 3 to 4 days in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge to explore the park.
Got an extra day? Break up the long drive between Memphis and New Orleans in Jackson, Mississippi. The historic capital city of Mississippi is the perfect complement for a complete Deep South road trip.
Gulf Shores, AL
Need more seaside pleasures? Extend your route into Gulf Shores, Alabama. The popular resort city is famous for its sprawling white-sand beaches. Gulf Shores is perched on the Gulf of Mexico coast on the southern edge of the Alabama Panhandle.
When to visit the Southeastern United States
The best time to visit the Southeastern United States is between May and May. In these spring months, you’ll enjoy warm & sunny weather while avoiding the foibles of high tourism season. Outside of holidays and spring break, accommodation prices & availability are best in these shoulder season months.
Hurricane season runs between June and November on the East Coast. It’s best to avoid travelling throughout the region during this time. If you must, be sure to stay in the loop with local weather reports.