nashville road trips

Once you take your Nashville road trip and land in the city, make a splash at SoundWaves. (Photo: Marriott International)


How to Get to Nashville (and What to See on the Way) from Any Direction

One reason Nashville’s popularity has soared off the charts is the relative ease with which a traveler can visit the central locale. Tennessee is bordered by eight states, not to mention positioned within a few hours drive of many major cities like Louisville, Memphis, Atlanta and Birmingham, to name a few.

Making the road trip to the Tennessee capital from one of these neighboring metropolises? Hit up these spots en route and once you’ve arrived in Music City.

From Memphis

Drive time: 212 miles, 3 hours and 10 minutes

Memphis is an excellent launchpad from which to start any getaway, with its exhaustive musical history; from Stax Museum of American Soul Music to Ditty TV, where Americana and roots get a place at the musical table, there’s plenty of heritage to unearth in the Bluff City — right down to its heart-stopping soul food.

Pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.’s memory at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel where he was assassinated, as well as the I Am a Man Plaza unveiled in 2018 in his and the sanitation workers’ memories, before you fuel up at the Four Way Soul Food Restaurant or Chef Tam’s Underground Café for your cross-state drive.

The three-hour stretch to Nashville is relative wilderness, but just eight miles off of I-40 as you near Music City, Hurricane Mills is home to Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, the sprawling piece of land upon which the country’s beloved songbird still lives with her very large family, who still runs the place today.

With horseback riding, a historic grist mill situated in Western Town, a river primed for floating and a museum honoring the coal miner’s daughter herself, an afternoon on the ranch is the perfect way to break up your trip and enjoy the pastoral landscape that rolls across Middle Tennessee.

From Atlanta

Drive time: 250 miles, 4 hours

nashville road trips
Take a side trip to the Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park. (Photo: Getty Images)

The first part of the Atlanta-to-Nashville drive is pretty barren, but once you cross into Chattanooga, there are enough sights on the second half of your trek to fill a full weekend.

The terrain becomes more and more mountainous as you pass over the Georgia border and into the rolling hills of Tennessee, and there’s no shortage of stops for scenic views, including some of the most celebrated Chattanooga attractions, like Rock City and Lookout Mountain.

Farther north on the way to Nashville, Monteagle Mountain lays claim to Sewanee, one of the nation’s most picturesque universities, spanning 13,000 acres atop the mountain with a Perimeter Trail, Gothic architecture and lookouts aplenty.

In Coffee County, just 30 minutes beyond Monteagle along the interstate, a mural movement has sprung up, with eight public installations and counting dotting both Tullahoma and Manchester.

While you’re getting your photo op on, consider stopping at Tullahoma’s charming Sundrop Shoppe & Luncheonette for a bite before touring George Dickel’s centuries’ old distillery down in Cascade Hollow, followed by a leisurely hike down to Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park’s cascading falls on your way out again.

From Birmingham

Drive time: 191 miles, 2 hours and 56 minutes

As you drive north on I-65, detour off the interstate to visit one of Alabama’s most multifaceted gems: the city of Huntsville.

Home to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville is a pioneer in the aerospace industry, not to mention a fun place to visit for every traveler who has ever dreamed of donning an astronaut suit and rocketing off into the great unknown.

The city also boasts innovative entertainment complexes like the brand-new Stovehouse, with free live music and outdoor games, and Campus No. 805, a former high school converted into a multiuse building that houses breweries, a speakeasy, ballroom dancing, restaurants, virtual golf and an ax-throwing facility.

As you near Nashville, you’ll find Franklin, which is less a suburb than a destination in itself, chock full of Civil War history, like Carnton Plantation, Lotz House and Carter House, as well as one of the state’s most charming Main Streets brimming with local places to shop and eat.

If you have time to kill, drive 15 minutes from downtown to where the Natchez Trace Parkway crosses over Franklin at Birdsong Hollow; the concrete double-arch bridge is one of Middle Tennessee’s most iconic sites.

From Louisville

Drive time: 176 miles, 2 hours and 43 minutes

Spirits lovers will delight in learning that the Kentucky Bourbon Trail crisscrosses over I-65, the interstate that takes you from Louisville south to Tennessee. Jim Beam is perhaps the most convenient stop along the trail to your route, and it’s also one of the state’s biggest.

Book a 90-minute tour in advance and travel through seven generations of distilling history. From there, Elizabethtown — with its charming old-fashioned town and roots dating back to 1779 — is just another few miles down the road, and the Whistle Stop, known for its fried green tomatoes and other Southern delights, lies just beyond that in Glendale.

Mammoth Cave National Park is a true Southern gem, boasting the world’s longest known cave system that stretches more than 400 miles. Explore this national park by guided cave tour, a hike on the surface or a canoe down the Green River before continuing on your journey.

All fans of hot rods should race off to the National Corvette Museum, which houses more than 80 sports cars, before leaving Bowling Green and entering Tennessee.

Now That You’ve Arrived in Nashville …

There’s no shortage of things to do in Nashville, the most obvious of which is soak up the live music scene. From the historic Ryman Auditorium and world-famous Grand Ole Opry, to the all-day musical hot spots along Broadway, live music is hard to escape when in Nashville.

Green space also abounds in this outdoors-focused city, thanks to shady, central spots like the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park and the kid-favorite Cumberland Park with its playground, splash pad and riverfront views of the city skyline.

The coolest way to survive the hottest season of the year, of course, is to hit up Nashville’s sleek new water experience, SoundWaves. This upscale attraction at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center features indoor water slides; a lazy river; an outdoor wave pool; an indoor/outdoor, adults-only area; and plenty of surprises around every corner. Even when the weather cools, two acres of the attraction are housed inside the resort to fill a full day.