Here are my suggestions and photos after spending 2 weeks heading south from Chicago and back! Having never been to any of these cities before (besides Indianapolis), it was a great route and introduction to the American South, an area full of character and history.
Cities we hit: West Lafayette (Purdue), Louisville, Nashville, Memphis, Natchez, New Orleans, Tuscaloosa, Indianapolis.
It’s also possible to loop back north a different way if you have more time, making stops along the way in Atlanta and Chattanooga or the Carolinas. So many options!
Purdue to Louisville: 3 hours
We stayed at the Galt House, which I would highly recommend, and then checked out the waterfront and 4th Street Live. Ironically we couldn’t find a KFC but managed to get our hands on some local Kentucky-fried chicken which was delicious!
Louisville to Nashville: 2.5 hours
We stayed in an Airbnb which was great. We enjoyed all the bars and live music on Broadway Street. Despite being toursity, we had a lot of fun! We also rented bikes and explored Vanderbilt and the cute area our Airbnb was in. We definitely fell in love with Nashville and its charm.
Nashville to Memphis: 3 hours
We stayed at the Holiday Inn near downtown, which I remember having the best pillows and comfiest bed! I always say Memphis is a place I’m glad I experienced once, but I don’t feel an urge to go back. There is so much history in the area from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Elvis, and exploring all that was one of the highlights of the whole trip for me. We also ate some really good barbecue-Central BBQ is where its at!
Memphis to Natchez: 4 hours 45 min (longest drive of our route but prettiest by far!)
We stayed at Hampton Inn and Suites and couldn’t have been happier with our decision. Not only was there a free happy hour, but they also had a free shuttle to and from the bar/restaurant area. Natchez is full of old plantation homes, which you can go in and wander around and also hear the spiel from the tour guide about the history of the home. We chose to go into 3 homes, which took us about half a day. It was the perfect amount in my opinion because you are able to get in depth with a few places and see enough variety without overdoing it. I enjoyed seeing the beautiful homes and hearing the stories behind them. However, I was disappointed by the lack of information the guides were willing to share about slavery. Clearly these plantation homes were maintained by slaves, yet they would not acknowledge it and almost even tried to deny it when asked. That definitely rubbed me the wrong way and was eye-opening. (Like I said though, we only toured 3 of the many homes so I can’t say that would be the case at all of them.)
Natchez to the Myrtles Plantation home in Louisiana: 1 hour
Visiting the Myrtles Plantation home was not originally in our plans but we decided to add it in to cut up the drive since it was on our way to New Orleans. Any haunted house lovers out there should definitely check this place out and see if you have any paranormal experiences! It was a spooky and fun couple of hours and made for great conversation the rest of the trip. The grounds were also spooky and beautiful.
Myrtles Plantation to New Orleans: 1 hour 45 min
New Orleans, what a party! I also feel like it’s the most European city in the U.S. Must do’s include checking out the French Quarter, eating gumbo and Po boys, listening to live music on Frenchman Street, day drinking on Bourbon Street, and taking in the city from the water aboard the Natchez Steamboat. We stayed in Airbnbs the whole time, which I would recommend.
New Orleans to Tuscaloosa: 4 hours 20 min
Any college football fans out there might be interested in stopping in Tuscaloosa to visit the University of Alabama for a day. It’s not something I would recommend otherwise.
Tuscaloosa to Nashville: 3.5 hours
We liked Nashville so much we decided to stop there again on our way home! This time we saw a show at the Grand Ole Opry which I would highly recommend. We partied some more on Broadway and even saw a hockey game at Bridgestone Arena. Nashville is always a good time!
Nashville to Indianapolis: 4.5 hours
(Stop along the way at the Loveless Cafe for some of the best made-from-scratch food you’ll ever have!)
I tried to keep this post short and simple, but if you want any more in depth information feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help!