Itinerary suggestions wanted for Chicago-New Orleans-Memphis-Nashville-Atlanta trip Aug-Sept 2014

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Hello all,

We are a 30-something couple from Scotland, looking for advice on planning a US trip from Chicago to the Deep South.
We’ve done things slightly backwards, as flights are already booked arriving in Chicago on 27th August and departing from Atlanta on 13th September, so that gives us 17 nights to join the dots.
Our interests on this trip include music (Blues, Jazz, Cajun, Soul, Country, Hip Hop), good food, architecture, wildlife, parks, gardens, museums, history.

Current rough itinerary is as follows. Difficult to judge the distances & travel times involved. Does this seem too ambitious for the number of days available?

Chicago, IL – stay 3 nights
– Art Institute, view skyscrapers, architectural tours
– Original plan was to take overnight sleeper train (for better experience, views & less environmental impact) from Chicago to either Memphis or New Orleans; but I fear this may take too long so we may, reluctantly, take an internal flight to NOLA
New Orleans, LA – stay 3 nights, pick up a hire car for rest of the trip
– Take riverboat trip(?)
– Drive north (via Baton Rouge / Lafayette, LA to experience a little of Cajun country (optional)
Natchez, MS – stay 1 night
– View antebellum houses
– Take Natchez Trace Parkway (?) / Highway 61 north
Vicksburg / Jackson, MS (optional) – stay 1 night
Clarksdale, MS – stay 1 night (in Shack Up Inn)
– Red’s Lounge, Ground Zero Blues Club
Memphis, TN – stay 3 nights
– Sun Studio, Stax Museum, possibly Rev Al Green’s church service
Nashville, TN – stay 3 nights
– Grand Ole Opry, Bluebird Cafe
Chattanooga, TN (optional) – stay 1 night
Gatlinburg / Sevierville / Pigeon Forge, TN / Cherokee, NC (optional) – stay 1 night
– Fiona has a bit of a Dolly Parton obsession, so Dollywood is a possibility!
– Drive through Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Atlanta, GA – drop off hire car (expensive one-way fee?), fly home late evening

Any and all comments/suggestions welcomed, including places to eat/drink/be merry! Thanks
Neil & Fiona

NeilT 08/07/14    Where to goUSA Link Report

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I have done my own music trip through the States and loved Memphis. I see you are only staying 3 days there. It’s a plain town but the blues places in Beale Street are great and it would take a week to visit all of them, and of course Al Green’s church is a must. Be warned the service goes for approx 3 hours and personally I felt it rude to leave before it ended as some tourist did when I attended. The band is smoking, just great. The Rough Guide for the USA is helpful for music bars in the suburbs in Memphis. Also investigate the Academy next to Stax Studios and don’t forget the Martin Luther King Museum – very moving and inspirational. Yep 5 days visit worth and it will be HOT!!

Helen 09/07/14    Link Report

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Sounds like a cool trip. Glad to see people headed places other than NYC, LA, etc.! I grew up in Memphis and now live in Nashville and am very proud of both. I’ve also been to most of the places you’ve mentioned. In my opinion, after leaving New Orleans I would move quickly through Mississippi. The Natchez Trace is nice but more so between Tupelo and Nashville (4-5 hours), but if wanting to go to Memphis first (which is a good plan) I’d either get off in Jackson and head up I-55 (fastest) or go to Tupelo then cut over west to Memphis on Highway 78 (1.5 hours). If you go through Tupelo you can go to Elvis’ birthplace and then half way to Memphis is the most unbelievable Elvis fan who has turned his home into a museum. I HIGHLY recommend this as it is hilarious, impressive and shocking. It is in Holly Springs, MS and you’d need directions to the house (PM me). It is called “Graceland Too.”

Memphis: Great town! Must dos for sightseeing include Beale Street, Sun Studios, Stax, Civil Rights Museum (take trolley from Downtown and get a delicious cheesecake at the Cheesecake Corner off the back side of the parking lot). Memphis is known for our BBQ. Go to Central BBQ (the one on Central Ave.) for lunch and Rendezvous (in alley across from the Peaboby Hotel) for dinner. For a true Memphis experience throw in Jerry’s Sno Cones for a unique sno cone/ice cream creation! Another dinner MUST include Huey’s, Memphis’ favorite burger since…forever. Cooper-Young district (in midtown) is a hip place to get other food/drinks.

Nashville: This place is quickly turning into one trend-setting place. You will not be disappointed as long as you avoid the tourist traps from the days of Country Music being the only draw. Go downtown to Lower Broadway and 2nd Ave. ONCE just to see the vibe and see what honkytonks are all about (The Stage, Robert’s, Tootsie’s, etc.). The Bluebird is on your list and is great. Depending on whose there you may need to stand in line super early to get in. See who is performing at other great local venues like The Ryman, Marathon Music Works, and Exit-In. Must dos for sightseeing include The Parthenon (Centennial Park), Lower Broadway, and Country Music Hall of Fame. All of those are just ok. To really experience Nashville you have to discover the local music venues, eat, drink, and explore the different neighborhoods that make it so diverse and appealing. Here’s a quick rundown:
-East Nashville: Find an AirBNB to rent in this ‘hood (as close to 5 Points as possible). This is the “hippest” place to be and has great food and nightlife. I highly recommend the Barista Parlor (coffee), Marché (brunch), The Pharmacy (burgers), Silly Goose (Dinner) but there are so many more. Head to 5 Points for nightlife. The 5 Spot has fun stuff during the week (Swing and Electric Cowboy dancing Monday nights, etc.).
-The Gulch: Head here for a more posh feel. There is great food (Sambuca) but this area is a little more expensive. A lot of the TV show Nashville is filmed here. Good place for celebrity spotting I suppose.
-West End/21st Ave/ Hillsboro Village: This is Nashville’s true midtown and longest running “cool place to be”. Easy to find good food and entertainment. Music Row runs parallel which is the hub of the Music Studios. I personally love Hillsboro Village. Get a coffee at Fido, shop, and get cheap eats and beer at KayBob’s/Pizza Perfect (get a pizza and take it next door to their sister restaurant who has cheap beer). And A MUST is to catch a film at The Belcourt theater.
-12 South: Booming at the moment. Almost too much, but still a great place to spend the afternoon getting coffee at Frothy Monkey, a homemade popsicle at Las Paletas to take to Sevier Park, 2 for 1 pizza and beer at Maffiaozza’s on Tuesdays, and some vintage shopping.
-Other things I would suggest: Tune into Lightning 100 Radio Station when you get close to Nashville to hear local music and hear what’s going on (100.1 FM). Third Man Records (Jack White’s Studio). Dinner in Germantown either at Rolf and Daughters or City House (walk down 5th Ave. in Germantown). Love Circle for sunset and view of city. Climb Nashville on Charlotte Avenue for a workout much needed after sitting in the car and eating so much good food! Then go down the road to M.L. Rose for more good food and local beer. Speaking of local beer, there’s now about 10 local craft breweries here. Yazool, Jackalope, Fat Bottom, and Black Abbey have tours I think. If your wife has a Dolly Parton obsession, the Celebrity Homes Tour could be interesting (WARNING this is super touristy!). You go by her homes and you get to see some of south Nashville’s wealth and pretty scenery.

Chattanooga is a cool place. I won’t give as much detail as above! However, it’s worth staying a night.

The Smoky Mountains: Pigeon Forge is super touristy…avoid! Gatlinburg is as well but has kept some of it’s mountain town charm. If that’s not your cup of tea, Cherokee, NC or some of the smaller towns would be better. Or head to Asheville which is a super cool place in the Blue Ridge Mountains and not that much further down the interstate. Groupon Getaways and Living Social have great Cabin deals. Again, AirBNB also has some great properties in the area.

Well I hope you guys enjoy “the deep south.” I do not know if you can PM people on here but if you can, feel free to message me!

Michael 12/07/14    Link Report

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Thanks for the tips Helen & Michael – very helpful. Will definitely take in the Civil Rights Museum while in Memphis; also looking forward to the BBQ!

NeilT 13/07/14    Link Report

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Great advice here from Helen and Michael here. Sounds like you have an amazing trip planned!

Just a quick update that, unfortunately, the proprietor of Graceland Too has passed away, and at this time the mansion is no longer open to the public.

Rebecca Behan 21/07/14    Link Report

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Hi, I personally suggest you can go to Triphobo – trip itinerary planner. At you can create your own itinerary. Also there are some other travel itineraries that help you plan perfectly.

You can get information about tourist attraction, hotels, things to do, nightlife go to following –

– Chicago

– New Orleans

– Memphis

– Nashville

– Atlanta

armida 14/08/14    Link Report

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