When it comes to hospitality, the South has a reputation for charm with a side of bless your heart. Bring an appetite and chow down on some comfort food while exploring some of the US’s coolest places. From Spanish moss-covered history to hot chicken joints and honky-tonks, here are the best Southern cities to visit that should be on your travel radar.
Best Southern Cities
Good food, history, and sweet tea are what all of these Southern cities have in common but each one is unique in and of it itself. You’ll find music in Memphis and Nashville, seafood in Charleston, and creole flavors in the bayous near New Orleans. We promise you’ll have a good time. So, pack a bag, these cities have a lot to offer visitors!
It isn’t a list of top Southern cities if Charleston is missing from the list. The city is full of history, dating back to Colonial times. Because of its location and long time influence in American politics, the city has a unique fusion of Southern American, Afro-Caribbean, British, and French influence – an influence you can see in its architecture, historic houses, and food scene.
With cobblestone streets, colorful houses, and seaside charm, Charleston will charm you! Even if its only for a day trip, this city needs to be on your radar.
OTHER READING: Spending 24 Hours in Charleston, South Carolina
One of my favorite cities, in the whole world, is Savannah. Similar to Charleston, this Georgia city is full of amazing restaurants and history to boot. There are so many historic streets and districts that history lovers, like myself, are known to swoon. Gothic Revival architecture, weeping willows, Spanish moss, and cobblestone streets make it one of the most picturesque cities in the country! There are numerous courtyards, parks, treelined streets, countless boutiques to visit so you’ll always have something to explore.
The city also has a unique and young art scene with Savannah College of Art and Design bringing creative faculty, staff, and students to the area year after year.
New Orleans, LA
No other city has as much personality and character as New Orleans does! Growing up in the Mississippi Gulf Coast meant that we were always just a hop and a skip away from Nola. As one of the most culturally unique cities in the country, New Orleans has a lot to offer (including Mardi Gras).
With history on every street corner and beautiful architecture all around, there is plenty to do! Spend some time in the French Quarter, listen to jazz as it fills the air, and grab some beignets. Don’t forget to spend some time in the Garden District where tree-lined streets and ornate historic homes are just another chapter in the city’s history. Trust me, it isn’t hard to fall in love with his Southern city.
Greenville is having a moment and we are here for it! The downtown area is flourishing with boutique hotels, trendy restaurants, and adorable shops. If you’re looking for things to do outdoors, look no further than the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail. This 21-mile walking and bike trail was once a railway line. And when it comes to food, head to Restaurant 17 for a locally sourced menu with an amazing Southern-style ramen.
Don’t sleep on Greenville just because it hasn’t traditionally been seen as one of the “Best Southern Cities” because it really is becoming a cool town with a lot to offer visitors.
Music City has long been associated with world-famous musicians, country-western tunes, and hot chicken. And while you will certainly still find all of those in Nashville, the city is much more than that today!
There is so much to do in Nashville that I am convinced you will always find something new to do when you visit next. Music Row is home to historic recording studios that saw the likes of Elvis and Dolly Parton graced their mics. Trendy neighborhoods like The Gulch and 12 South are full of colorful walls and murals you can spend a whole day exploring. Honky-tonks pepper a certain section of town that lights up when the sun falls.
To say Nashville has redefined itself would be a disservice to the city because it still holds its country music roots close to its heart. What has changed though, is that people were willing to give the city a shot and discovered how amazing it was along the way. The city is a too cool mix of old and new, in every sense of the term which is probably why every one of us knows at least one person who has bacheloretted in Nashville…
Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, right off the Blue Ridge Parkway is America’s favorite hippie-chic town, Asheville. While most of the cities on our list thus far have a very typical “southern charm” to them, Asheville is the curveball we are throwing your way.
The food scene is legit! But instead of a focus on seafood and fusion, you’ll find amazing breweries, farm to table concepts, and vegan options that rival many major urban areas. A trip to Asheville is filled with cool boutiques and a thriving craft movement – in both food and brews – that doesn’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Of course, for those looking for less of a “burgers and fries with a nice IPA” vibe, you can spend the day pretending to be a Vanderbilt at the nearby Biltmore Estate. As America’s largest home, the estate even has its own winery!
OTHER READING: A Day at The Biltmore, America’s Largest Home
All of William Faulkner’s books are set in a fictionalized version of Oxford, his hometown. And it is easy to see why because this college town is full of charm. If you want to get in touch with your literary side, stop by the Ole Miss campus to visit Faulkner’s home of 40 years, Rowan Oak. As you explore the old rooms of one of Oxford’s most colorful characters, it is hard not to picture yourself living in one of his novels.
There are plenty of B&B’s to stay at too! Whether you’re heading to catch a game at the University or just looking for a getaway, Oxford has a mix of young Southern charm and historic stoicism. Though my dad would have cried if I had attended Ole Miss (he is a Southern Miss Alum) I’ve always loved spending weekends walking in the square and taking it all in! It doesn’t hurt that you can find some great food and perfect Bloody Marys at Ajax Diner…
St. Augustine, FL
If you are looking for a hidden gem worth visiting, look no further than Saint Augustine, Florida! This coastal town feels a lot more like you’re in Spain or Portugal than it does Florida. With a ton of local and US history all around and Spanish Colonial architecture, St. Augustine is perfect for history lovers.
St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by the Spanish, making it one of the oldest cities in the country. Its history can be seen all over town, from the Castillo de San Marcos (the oldest brick fort in the US) to the Colonial Quarter, you’ll feel like your in an open air museum.
But it’s not just history, there is plenty to do for anyone looking for a low key getaway. St. Augustine has a number of adorable bed and breakfasts all over the historic district that are the perfect place for a weekend of relaxation. And if you are visiting in the summer, stop by The Hyppo for the best paletas in town!
The birthplace of two major bands I love – the B-52’s and R.E.M -Athens, Georgia is a college town full of groove. This town has a knack for attracting amazing musicians with The Georgia Theatre. John Mayer even recorded his music video of “No Such Thing” there! If you catch a show while you’re in town, stop by Five Bar, where, as the name implies there are only five choices of any given thing.
While it maybe be known as the home to the Bulldogs, it is loved for its Antebellum and Greek Revival architecture. Make sure you spend some time at the Georgia Museum of Art where you can see works by artists like Georgia O’Keefe and Elaine de Kooning.
Seminole fans like my brother will often tell you that the best place to be in Tallahassee is at Doak Campbell Stadium in the middle of football season. And while that might be true for sports fans, as someone who has zero interest in American Football, I am here to tell you that Tallahassee is more than garnet and gold. The Florida capital is home to the State government so historic buildings and local history are all around you! As much as I love the history museums in town, history isn’t what draws me to Tallahassee. I love that the city has a number of wildlife preserves, refuges, state parks, and plenty of things to do outdoors.
As the birthplace of blues and rock ’n’ roll AND the home of Elvis, Memphis holds an important place in American history. I grew up just a few hours south of Memphis and have always appreciated the city for its important contributions to American music.
You can explore the nation’s past through the National Civil Rights Museum and dive into musical landmarks like Elvis Presley’s Graceland or the Blues Hall of Fame. And while you’re visiting one of the 4 BBQ regions, don’t forget to reward yourself after a long day of exploring with some mouth-watering Memphis barbecue!
I grow up in the south so between weekends away and road trips as a family, I’ve seen a lot of the southern United States. So when looking at doing a round of up the “Best Southern Cities” I had a lot of first-hand experience in some of these cities. Some of the ones I’ve included are classics but others are a little more of a curveball. No matter which you choose to visit, I hope you have fun exploring these Southern cities that have so much to offer visitors.