Atlanta, Georgia residents are lucky to have so many possible road trip destinations within a 10-hour drive, from Washington DC in the north, to St. Louis in the west, all the way to Miami in the south.
That’s a huge chunk of the East Coast, the Midwest, and the Deep South, all accessible with one long day’s drive!
My favorite road trip option in this area is the Atlanta to New Orleans drive. The journey passes through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and sometimes Florida, and includes historic civil rights sites, some of the south’s best beaches, multiple state capitol buildings, and a couple of urban centers.
I’ve done this road trip in the past as part of a Deep South trip. So I’ll be sharing the two best driving routes between Atlanta and the Big Easy, with a list of the awesome attractions to visit along the way.
Atlanta to New Orleans Drive Map: Two Possible Road Trip Routes
The most direct route between these two cities follows I-85 S, I-65 S, and I-10 W, and covers 470 miles, with a drive time of just under seven hours.
But that doesn’t include any stops. Anyone reading this is obviously looking for some fun places to stop on the drive. So here are two recommended driving routes.
The first goes directly west into Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and includes Jackson and Hattiesburg, Mississippi before heading south to New Orleans.
The second more southerly route swings through Columbus, Georgia, and Montgomery, Alabama, then heads south to Pensacola, Florida before continuing along the Gulf of Mexico through Mobile and Biloxi over to New Orleans.
Both of these drives could conceivably be completed in one day, but to truly have time to explore all the attractions, you’d ideally want 3 days.
For the most thorough adventure, turn both routes into a big loop. Take the first route on the way from Atlanta to New Orleans, and drive the second route on the return trip back to Atlanta. Then you’ll get to see everything!
Let’s do a deep dive on the highlights of each of these driving routes.
NOTE: The Atlanta to New Orleans drive starts in the eastern time zone and finishes in the central time zone. That’s great because it means you gain an extra hour on the way. More time for sightseeing! The time changes as soon as you enter Alabama.
Route #1: Via Birmingham, Jackson, and Hattiesburg
Distance: 606 miles
Drive Time: 9 hours, 30 minutes
Highlights: Talladega Speedway, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, University of Alabama, Mississippi state capitol building
Where to Stay: Birmingham (Elyton Hotel), Tuscaloosa (Hotel Capstone), Jackson (Homewood Suites), New Orleans (Ace Hotel)
My first suggested route on a road trip from Atlanta to New Orleans covers about 600 miles and takes from 9-10 hours behind the wheel. In a perfect world, this would be done as a three-day (at least) ride.
Let’s run down all the highlights on this drive.
I also suggest the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Piedmont Park.
If there’s no race taking place, you can tour the famous Talladega Speedway on weekends (and occasional weekdays.)
The city also has the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and hikers may want to take the short drive to explore the 400,000 acres of Talladega National Forest.
If you’ve never been to Birmingham, you may be surprised just how much there is to do. Start by going to Vulcan Park to ride to the top of the largest cast iron statue in the world. You’ll get an awesome view of the city from there.
The Botanical Gardens and Birmingham Zoo are both popular attractions to see varieties of plants and animals. The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum and Negro Southern League Baseball Museum are perfect for sports fans.
Above all, be sure to tour the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to see in-depth exhibits about Black Americans’ struggle for equality through the decades.
Tuscaloosa is the home of the University of Alabama, which has had one of the country’s top college football programs for years.
Stroll through campus, and if you’re so inclined, visit the Paul W. Bryant Museum, which honors legendary coach Bear Bryant and the school’s football history.
If you have extra time, the Mercedes-Benz US International Visitor Center and the historic Battle-Friedman House are worth considering.
The town of Meridian is a good pit stop for lunch or a break to stretch your legs. For country music fans, there’s one can’t-miss attraction here: The Jimmie Rodgers Museum.
Rodgers was an early performer of the genre in the 1920s, and his music greatly influenced the sound of American country music going forward.
Even if his name isn’t celebrated nearly often enough today, Rodgers’ influence was huge, and this museum is a great way to learn about his career. Plan ahead, because the museum is only open from Thursday to Saturday.
I really enjoyed visiting Jackson, the capital of Mississippi and by far its largest city, with more than 150,000 residents. Tour the capitol building itself, or just take pics from the outside.
Explore the restaurants, bars, local shops, and movie theater in the trendy Fondren neighborhood. I had a great meal at Saltine Oyster Bar – the Cajun salmon and brussels sprouts were fantastic. Stay overnight at Homewood Suites, the only hotel near the Fondren.
Jackson also has LeFleur’s Bluff State Park and important historic sites like the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, and the Medgar Evers Home, the former residence of the late civil right activist.
Hattiesburg has a few interesting points of interest, including the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum and the African American Military History Museum, plus the spacious and popular Lucky Rabbit vintage store.
After leaving Hattiesburg, head straight to New Orleans, or make a stop in De Soto National Forest for a bit of hiking or a picnic lunch on the way.
We’ve made it to the Big Easy! See my huge list of fun and offbeat New Orleans activities for activity ideas.
Quintessential New Orleans experiences include spending time on Bourbon Street, seeing how the floats are made at Mardi Gras World, and exploring the colorful old houses of the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods.
Route #2: Via Montgomery, Selma, Pensacola, and Mobile
Distance: 644 miles
Drive Time: 11 hours, 10 minutes
Highlights: Rosa Parks Museum, Alabama state capitol, Pettus Bridge in Selma, beaches of Pensacola and Gulf Shores
Where to Stay: Montgomery (DoubleTree), Pensacola (Surf & Sand Hotel), Mobile (Malaga Inn), New Orleans (Ace Hotel)
This route proceeds south to Columbus, then west through Montgomery and Selma, before resuming its south direction down to Mobile, Gulf Shores, and Pensacola.
Here’s where to stop on Atlanta to New Orleans road trip drive route #2.
Columbus isn’t as famous as many other Georgia cities, yet it has nearly 200,000 residents and a few noteworthy spots.
Walk the Chattahoochee Riverwalk or rent a kayak and navigate the river. See old warships at the National Civil War Naval Museum.
Columbus has so many other museums, including the Ma Rainey House & Blues Museum honoring the legendary blues singer, the National Infantry Museum honoring American soldiers, the Royal Crown Cola Museum (yes, there’s a museum dedicated to RC Cola), and the Lunch Box Museum featuring dozens of vintage lunch boxes.
Tuskegee was the home of Lionel Richie and the Commodores. The studio where the soul icons recorded “Brick House” and “Easy” was turned into the Commodore Museum a few years back.
Fair warning: Recent reports suggest that the museum is only open intermittently, and may in fact have permanently closed, so this interesting attraction may be a letdown.
Still, you can explore history at other sites in town, like the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and the George Washington Carver Museum.
Montgomery will be the primary highlight of this route between Atlanta and New Orleans. Montgomery has history, culture, good food, and lots of things to do. This would be a good city to book a hotel and stay overnight.
The spot where Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger in 1955 is memorialized with a plaque on the street and a lifesize statue.
The nearby Rosa Parks Museum, operated by Troy University, provides much more detail and many historic artifacts about Rosa and the entire civil rights movement.
The Civil Rights Memorial Center and the Confederate White House are also fascinating historic stops.
For something completely different, the Hank Williams Museum honors the country music star from the ‘50s. The only drawback is they don’t allow photos inside the museum. (Sounds like their photography policy is stuck in the ‘50s as well.)
Walk through “The Alley” entertainment district near the river for shopping and dining. I like Jalapenos Mexican restaurant for a filling lunch. Riverwalk Stadium is a fun place to witness a AA baseball game.
Reading enthusiasts should visit the Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum. It’s located in the literary couple’s former home.
You can even stay overnight here, as the upstairs bedrooms are listed on Airbnb. I spent a night here and found it very cool to be occupying the same living space as the author of The Great Gatsby!
The 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery remain among the most significant events in American civil rights history.
Martin Luther King and John Lewis were among the activists who participated in these marches to call out voter suppression in the South.
Today, you can walk across the Pettus Bridge just as these activists did six decades ago. Visit the Selma Interpretive Center to learn much more about these important events.
This route sneaks in a swing through the Florida panhandle to the beaches of Pensacola. Pensacola Beach has some great stretches of sand to relax and soak in the sun.
If you can tear yourself away from the beach, peek into the National Naval Aviation Museum or Fort Barrancas, a former Civil War fort. And walk around downtown to see Spanish architecture in some of the old buildings that remain from the 1700s.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Gulf Shores is another spot for good beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. Besides the public beach, there’s Gulf State Park, which offers free admission with a campground, walking trails, and a 1540-foot pier extending into the Gulf.
Get an early preview of New Orleans by visiting Lower Dauphin Street in downtown Mobile. It feels a bit like the French Quarter here, with cafes, bars, and venerable old buildings.
Learn about the city’s Mardi Gras heritage at the Mobile Carnival Museum. Stop at Battleship Memorial Park to see a World War II-era battleship on display.
Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi
One of Biloxi’s most prominent attractions is an 1848 lighthouse that stands next to the beach. The city is also home to the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library – yes, believe it or not, the former Confederate leader has his own presidential library – and the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum.
Gulfport has some small but interesting museums, plus the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, which has sea lions, sea turtles, and dolphins, among other animals.
And we’ve made it to our destination! Head straight to Bourbon Street, or see Route #1 for a whole list of things to do in New Orleans.
Other Possible Detours on the Drive
Chattanooga, Tennessee and Huntsville, Alabama
While it’s a bit out of the way, Chattanooga can be a fun destination to add to the beginning of this road trip. The city 118 miles north of Atlanta has a variety of outdoor and historic sites to explore.
Highlights include the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center, the caves at Ruby Falls, the incline railway, and the quirky Tow Truck Museum. Check out my massive list of 56 fun Chattanooga activities.
You could then drive west to Huntsville, home of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, a great attraction for both kids and adults, which boasts one of the biggest collections of rockets and space artifacts in the world.
Then just drive south to Birmingham and proceed with the rest of route #1.
Possible Macon activities depend whether you’re more into history, culture, or rock & roll. Options include Ocmulgee National Mounds Historical Park, the Tubman Museum of African-American Art, and the Allman Brothers Band Museum.
Tallahassee and Panama City Beach, Florida
If you drive through Macon, then it’s easy to keep going south to Tallahassee. See the state capitol building, Florida State University, the popular Automobile Museum, or St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
Panama City Beach has some of the best beaches in the entire Gulf region. Spend a whole afternoon soaking up those rays.
On Route #1, you could meander northwest after Birmingham to head into Tupelo. That’s where you’ll find Elvis Presley’s birth home.
Though not nearly as popular or famous as Graceland and the Meditation Garden where Elvis was laid to rest, his birth house provides fascinating insight into the King of Rock and Roll’s upbringing.
I have a complete Mississippi road trip guide if you’re interested in exploring the state further.
You may decide it’s worth taking a detour west to drive through Vicksburg National Military Park. This epic three-month Civil War skirmish was won by the Union.
The park has a 16-mile road with various points of interest from the battle.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Add yet another state capitol building to your list in Baton Rouge. Explore the LSU campus and enjoy some of the city’s incredible seafood and gumbo.
Looking for another great road trip in the region? Check out my New Orleans to Nashville road trip guide.
Do you have any other suggestions to add to an Atlanta to New Orleans road trip?