The rich musical heritage of the United States traces the dots between blues, jazz, country and rock ‘n’ roll, all of which first emerged across a handful of Southern states in the first half of the 20th century. This makes Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia bucket list destinations for anyone that appreciates wonderful music and legendary recording artists.
Our Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rockets and Elvis self drive is the perfect option for those looking to visit the United States’ best musical landmarks and iconic locations. From Graceland to Muscle Shoals, you can explore the places where the likes of Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and Lynyrd Skynyrd made their name, treading hallowed ground every step of the way.
That isn’t all. As part of this itinerary, you can trace the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr. at key historical sites in the Civil Rights movement, recently nominated for World Heritage status. You’ll also have a chance to visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville for a unique insight into the achievements and artefacts of the American space programme.
- Immerse yourself in the life and legacy of Elvis Presley Memphis, Tennessee
- Visit Muscle Shoals, the famous recording studio in Alabama that Keith Richards dubbed the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven’
- Learn more about the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, by tracing the steps of Martin Luther King Jr.
- Tour the incredible U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville for an unforgettable insight into the American space program
Start your Journey
Arriving at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, there’ll be plenty of time to pick up your hire car and get your bearings before driving over to your first stop at nearby Birmingham, Alabama. Here you’ll find the Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum, the largest motorcycle collection in the world. The sheer scale and variety of vintage vehicles onsite makes the museum a memorable experience, even if you aren’t a fan of motorsport.
You’ll then have the rest of the day in Birmingham to spend at your leisure. It’s worth exploring the entertainment district in the city’s downtown area before heading back to your hotel at the Best Western Plus.
No trip to Birmingham would be complete without experiencing the joyous live music shared at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church. This church is renowned for its gospel choir, though it also played a major role in the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s. History lovers will no doubt find this entire area fascinating, given that the church is located right in the heart of Birmingham’s Civil Rights District.
There are few better places to get a deeper understanding of the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., tracing his steps at iconic sites and visiting the local Civil Rights Institute.
It’s back on the road as you head straight over to Memphis, Tennessee. Situated on the banks of the Mississippi, this musical city is known as the home of blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll, largely thanks to artists such as Elvis Presley, BB King and Johnny Cash who all recorded there.
A trip to the iconic Graceland estate is an unforgettable experience for any Elvis fan, though we also recommend you visit the legendary Sun Studio or the Stax Museum of American Soul Music Factory before heading to a local blues bar in the Beale Street neighbourhood for an evening show. Memphis is also home to the National Civil Rights Museum, a site that documents the history, landmarks and artefacts of the racial equality movement. There’s no shortage of interesting things to do in this incredible city.
For your second day in Memphis, why not pay a visit the Gibson Guitar Factory? This is another must visit for music lovers, offering guided tours that detail the history and manufacturing process of arguably the world’s most famous guitar brand. Elsewhere in Memphis, you might decide to jump on the monorail and head over to Mud Island, a small peninsula surrounded by the mighty Mississippi River. You can also take the chance to see the original bomber plane Memphis Belle, immortalised in the classic 1990 film of the same name.
Tupelo and Muscle Shoals
We recommend an early morning start so you can hit the road to Tupelo, Mississippi in good time on the fifth day of your journey. Tupelo is famous as the birthplace of Elvis Presley, and you’ll have the chance to visit the modest two room house where the King himself was born and raised – another must see experience for any music fan. This house itself forms part of the 15 acre Elvis Presley Park, which features plenty of incredible exhibits and photographs from Elvis’ formative years.
Having spent the day in Tupelo, it’s time to make your way to the city of Muscle Shoals. Drop off your bags for a two night stay before taking an evening stroll around the city at your own pace.
Known by many as the ‘Hit Record Capital of the World’, Muscle Shoals Studio has been frequented by countless legendary musicians, songwriters and recording artists over the years. The likes of Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, Canned Heat and Lynyrd Skynyrd have all recorded albums at this modest studio, which was actually converted from a coffin showroom in 1969 and given a new lease of life by renowned house band The Swampers (otherwise known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section).
Take the chance to visit the nearby FAME Studios, a location famous for helping to pioneer the iconic Muscle Shoals sound. Blues fans also won’t want to miss the opportunity to see the birthplace and museum of ‘Father of the Blues’, W.C. Handy.
Today you’ll embark on a 140 mile journey north to Nashville, aka ‘Music City U.S.A.’, for another two night stay. Although Nashville has a strong worldwide reputation for country music, the city has always been a melting pot of diverse musical styles, from jazz to bluegrass to R&B.
Of course, no trip to Nashville would be complete without a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s also worth checking the listings at the Ryman Auditorium to see who’s scheduled to play on the days that you’ll be visiting the city. You might even decide to catch a show at the Grand Ole Opry, a concert hall that hosts weekly country music events and boasts the longest running radio broadcast in US history. When night falls, there’s no shortage of fantastic bars and restaurants dotted around the city’s downtown and Broadway districts, perfect for a drink or two before heading back for a good night’s sleep.
There are plenty more memorable experiences on offer for your second day in Music City U.S.A., such as a tour of the legendary RCA Studio B – where you can walk in the footsteps of greats such as Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, The Everly Brothers and Willie Nelson. The studio itself is situated in an area known as Music Row, a name that refers to the wealth of record label offices, radio stations and recording studios that sit in close proximity to one another.
For more evening entertainment, we recommend trying the intimate club settings of The Listening Room Café and the Bluebird, both of which host regular live music events featuring up and coming artists.
Departing from Nashville, it’s a relatively short drive over to Lynchburg, Tennessee, a small city with a big reputation for being the home of Jack Daniels whiskey. Here you’ll have a chance to tour the legendary distillery, which is in fact the oldest operational distillery in the United States. Every drop of Jack Daniels whiskey is produced here, benefitting from the pure, iron free springs that flow nearby.
From there, it’s back on the road for another short drive south towards Huntsville, where you’ll spend the night.
Huntsville is famous as the site of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, featuring the iconic Saturn V rocket and countless simulators, exhibits and artefacts from the American space program. Even if you’ve previously been to another space museum at some point, it’s unlikely that the experience will compare to a tour of the facilities here in Huntsville.
Elsewhere in Huntsville, you’ll find a number of scenic parks, botanical gardens and even nearby mountain trails. If you have time, we recommend an afternoon stroll around the Monte Sano State Park, a sprawling 2,000 acre mountainside retreat to the east of the city.
It’s time to head east on the highway back towards Georgia and the state capital Atlanta for the final leg of your trip. Here you’ll have plenty of time to explore the very best the city has to offer, including the Centennial Olympic Park and, of course, the World of Coca Cola Museum. Any fans Margaret Mitchell’s classic novel Gone with the Wind will surely jump at the chance to trace a few of the iconic locations mentioned in the book, as well as the Margaret Mitchell House Museum, which is conveniently located in the city’s central midtown district.
For your second day in Atlanta, why not discover a different side to the city by taking a tour of the city’s many first class history museums and art galleries? As the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr., it’s certainly worth a trip to Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park to dive deeper into the remarkable history and development of the man himself. You even have a chance to visit the MLK family home and the original Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church where both he and his father served as pastors.
Even in the centuries before the Civil Rights movement, Atlanta has a storied history as part of the American Civil War, where it was earmarked as a key target for General Sherman’s Union Army. You can find out more on a visit to the local Atlanta History Center, which is famous for its huge panoramic painting that depicts the Battle of Atlanta in 1864.
Depart from Atlanta
For your final day in Atlanta, there’s plenty of time to return your rental car before heading over to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport to catch your return flight home.
- International flights and airfare taxes
- Cost of accommodation (double room based on two people sharing) for a total of 12 nights (alternative but similar accommodation may be used at certain times of the year)
- Board basis: Room Only
- Car hire and insurance
- Visa arrangements and fees
- Travel insurance
- Personal expenses, such as beverages, telephone calls, laundry, camera fees, spa and business facilities in the hotel
- Attractions and excursions
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