The New Orleans to Nashville road trip is one of the most common driving routes in the American South. Though the drive can be done in one day, I suggest taking a few days to fully explore the activities and attractions along the way between Louisiana and Tennessee.
There are a few different driving routes between these cities. Depending which route you choose, you could spend time in Montgomery, Huntsville, Memphis, or even Atlanta. Every route offers good food, historic sites, quirky roadside attractions, and good music.
I’ve done several road trips through this region and can share some of the best places to stop. Let’s go over the highlights on a drive from New Orleans to Nashville (or vice versa.)
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How Far is New Orleans to Nashville?
Taking the most direct route, the driving distance from New Orleans to Nashville is 532 miles. It takes a touch under 8 hours if you’re driving at a normal speed and traffic cooperates.
How much time do you need for a road trip from Nashville to New Orleans? Give yourself a minimum of 2 days to make stops along the way. If you’re an adventurous road tripper like me, plan 3-5 days to have time to explore cities like Montgomery and Huntsville.
What’s the best time of year for this drive? This road trip can be done most any time of year. Spring and fall are ideal, since temperatures are comfortable.
Summer can get quite hot, and winter is a bit chilly and can see very occasional snowstorms. But generally speaking, this part of the country is fine for a road trip any time of year.
Before departing New Orleans, make sure to check out all the fun and offbeat activities in the city. Visit the Mardi Gras World, Voodoo Museum, Pharmacy Museum, World War II Museum, the tomb of the voodoo queen, the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, the ferry to Algiers, and of course, Bourbon Street.
Three Possible Routes for the New Orleans to Nashville Road Trip
This article covers three possible road trip routes between southern Louisiana and central Tennessee.
The quickest way to drive from New Orleans to Nashville is to go straight up route 59 to route 65. But for the sake of exploring more cities and attractions, you may want to consider a more western trip that goes through Mississippi and Memphis, two places with rich blues and soul music history.
Or, head more to the east and swing through Alabama and even Atlanta before finding your way to Nashville.
I’ve driven all three of these routes myself, and they all have a lot to see and do. Your choice will depend on your particular interests, and how much time and money you have to make the journey.
Let’s review each route one by one, with a list of all the places you can stop on a drive between Nashville and New Orleans.
Road Trip Option #1: Straight North Through Alabama (The Quick Route!)
Distance: 551 miles
Drive Time: 8 hours, 20 minutes
Highlights: De Soto National Forest, Birmingham, Huntsville
Where to Stay: Tuscaloosa (Hotel Capstone), Birmingham (Elyton Hotel), Huntsville (Huntsville Marriott), Nashville (Hutton Hotel)
Going straight up the freeway from New Orleans to Nashville, with a swing over to Huntsville, makes the journey 551 miles and 8 hours, 20 minutes. That makes the drive totally doable in one day.
But if you’re reading this, you presumably don’t want to race there as quickly as possible. You want to find some cool places to stop at along the way. These are some of the highlights on this road trip route, which mostly follows Routes 59 & 65.
De Soto National Forest, MS
There aren’t a lot of great spots for outdoor recreation on the New Orleans to Nashville drive, but De Soto National Forest is a welcome exception. It’s a half-million acres of pine forest in southeast Mississippi.
The 5-mile Black Creek Trail runs along the creek. It’s a quiet, flat trail for folks who want to stretch their legs and enjoy some time with nature.
Note that the forest is a bit east of Route 59, so you’ll have to depart from the highway to make this detour. Coming here adds nearly 60 miles and an hour of driving time to the trip.
Hattiesburg is a city of 48,000 that has multiple military-related museums, including the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum and the African American Military History Museum.
Quirky attractions in Hattiesburg worth stopping at include the Lucky Rabbit vintage store and the Pocket Museum, which is just an artsy storefront window. This city has good seafood and Creole restaurants, so stop here for lunch!
The small town of Meridian has one fascinating attraction: The Jimmie Rodgers Museum. Rodgers was an innovator of country music whose 1920s songs established the template for what American country music would become.
It’s worth a stop to learn about this influential performer, even if you’re not familiar with his work. Note that the museum is currently only open from Thursday to Saturday.
Tuscaloosa is primarily known as the home of the University of Alabama, one of college football’s elite institutions.
Walk around campus and be sure to stop at the Paul W. Bryant Museum, a facility which honors legendary coach Bear Bryant and the school’s football history.
Other fun things to see in Tuscaloosa include the Mercedes-Benz US International Visitor Center/Museum and the historic Battle-Friedman House.
With lots of fun activities to choose from, Birmingham is one of the highlights of this road trip route. History buffs should visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to learn about Black Americans’ struggle for equality. The exhibits are educational and moving.
Sports fans should check out the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, or Negro Southern League Baseball Museum.
If you prefer to spend time with plants and animals, head for the Botanical Gardens or Birmingham Zoo.
Find culture at the Birmingham Museum of Art or the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. Fans of oddball attractions should visit Vulcan Park to see the largest cast iron statue in the world, as well as a viewpoint overlooking the entire city.
Birmingham has a lot of good soul food and barbecue, so skip the fast food and find a good local joint for dinner.
A must-see in Huntsville is the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which houses one of the largest collections of rockets and space artifacts on the planet.
Step into the Saturn V Hall to see one of only three Saturn V rockets in the world, a lengthy timeline of achievements in space travel over the decades, and various other modules and equipment used in space exploration.
There’s one more quirky attraction to see on the drive before reaching Nashville. At a rest stop right on I-65, you can see a Saturn 1B Rocket towering into the air. Walk over and get an up close view!
The only problem with the rocket is that it’s on the southbound side of the highway, so you’ll have to do some backtracking to get there while heading north from Huntsville.
Dolly Parton reportedly wrote “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” on the same day at this studio!
Spend time experiencing the shops and cuisine of downtown Nashville. See the Fort Nashborough settlement replica along the Cumberland River. Visit President James K. Polk’s tomb near the state capitol building.
Nashville has lots of quirky attractions too. Like a full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon, the European vehicle-focused Lane Motor Museum, and the Dukes of Hazzard Museum, a full site dedicated to the ’80s tv show.
Outside the city, you can see President Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage Mansion. Spend a minimum of 2-3 days in Nashville to see and do as much as possible!
Road Trip Option #2: Via Mississippi and Memphis (Music History!)
Distance: 874 miles
Drive Time: 14 hours, 32 minutes
Highlights: Baton Rouge, Jackson, Vicksburg, BB King Museum, Memphis, Elvis Birth House, Muscle Shoals Studios
Where to Stay: Jackson (Homewood Suites), Clarksdale (Clark House Inn), Memphis (Poplar Inn and Suites), Muscle Shoals (Microtel Inn & Suites), Nashville (Hutton Hotel)
This route veers to the west a bit, going up through Mississippi Delta Blues territory. This route also makes a northern swing into Memphis, before coming back through Tupelo, Mississippi and Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
This road trip is great because it features an insane amount of popular music history. You can see the birth place of Elvis Presley, the grave site (and museum) of BB King, Sun Studio in Memphis, and the legendary Alabama studios where artists like Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones recorded some of their biggest hits.
I have a complete Mississippi road trip guide if you’d like more ideas for exploring the state. If not, just hit the main highlights below.
Baton Rouge, LA
Before heading into Mississippi, spend several hours in Baton Rouge. See the state capitol buildings (old and new), the LSU campus, the artsy downtown district, and great Louisiana food like gumbo, po boys, and seafood platters.
That’s right, two state capitals in one day! Jackson has a fun and trendy section called Fondren, which has quality restaurants and breweries. Stay overnight at Homewood Suites, the only hotel in the heart of this neighborhood.
In addition to touring the capitol building, Jackson visitors may want to visit the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, LeFleur’s Bluff State Park, and the Medgar Evers Home, former home of the famous civil right activist.
The main reason to include Vicksburg on this New Orleans to Nashville road trip is to visit Vicksburg National Military Park.
This park marks the site of one of the most important battles of the Civil War, a Union triumph which ultimately gave the North control of the Mississippi River.
There’s a 16-mile driving tour in the military park that allows you hit several of the noteworthy spots from the battle.
The small town of Indianola is worth a visit to see the BB King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. This fairly new facility (opened in 2008) documents the entire career of the iconic blues guitarist, as well as the many other musicians from the Delta Blues region.
BB King’s grave site can be found outside the museum, along with a life-size bronze statue.
Because of the rich musical history in this area, the Recording Academy chose Cleveland, MS to be the home of the Grammy Museum Mississippi. This museum has exhibits dedicated to artists of all genres and eras who have appeared at the Grammy Awards.
You’ll see everyone from the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix to Madonna and Beyonce honored here.
Clarksdale is loaded with blues music history. There’s the Delta Blues Museum, the oldest music museum in the state.
The town is also the home of the famous art piece “Crossroads,” at the intersection of Routes 49 & 61. That’s supposedly where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for a prosperous blues career.
Another Clarksdale must is the Ground Zero Blues Club, which offers live music every Wednesday through Saturday.
Memphis is a bit out of the way on the drive between Nashville and New Orleans, but it’s a must-visit if you’re into all the historic music sites on this road trip so far.
Take a tour of Sun Studio, aka “the birthplace of rock & roll.” Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash were among the giants were recorded there in the 1950s.
Speaking of Elvis, his Graceland mansion is another required activity for tourists. You can see his grave site for free if you go early in the morning.
And don’t miss the extraordinary National Civil Rights Museum. Located in the hotel where Martin Luther King lost his life, the museum is a remarkably emotional and informative attraction covering the history of civil rights in America.
Tupelo’s main tourist attraction is the Elvis Presley Birthplace. The modest home where the future King was born in 1935 has been preserved. It was cool to be able to take a tour and see the inside of the small house, which had only two rooms.
Muscle Shoals, AL
The small Alabama town of Muscle Shoals is home to some of the most remarkable music history in the country. Not one, but two major recording studios – FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio – attracted legendary performers to record in their spaces.
Both studios are still open are run daily tours. Aretha Franklin recorded her very first hit at FAME. The keyboard used on the track is still there and you can touch it when you visit! Etta James, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding were among the other R&B icons who recorded there.
Muscle Shoals Studio attracted artists of many different genres. The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Paul Simon recorded there. The piano used on Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” is still on display.
You can sign up for tours of both studios on the same day to experience all the history in one big serving!
If you have time, head to nearby Tuscumbia to see the Helen Keller birthplace. The site is a tribute to the accomplished author and disability rights advocate.
And the road trip concludes in Nashville. See above for the list of recommended activities in Tennessee’s capital city.
Road Trip Option #3: Via Mobile, Atlanta and Chattanooga (The Long Eastern Route)
Distance: 841 miles
Drive Time: 13 hours, 33 minutes
Highlights: Mobile, Pensacola, Selma, Montgomery, Atlanta, Chattanooga
Where to Stay: Mobile (Malaga Inn), Montgomery (DoubleTree), Atlanta (Hotel Clermont), Chattanooga (Edwin Hotel), Nashville (Hutton Hotel)
A third possible driving route between New Orleans and Nashville is this eastern journey, which meanders along the Gulf Coast before moving up through Alabama and Georgia.
This route takes the driver more than 800 miles and 13.5 hours, so it’s best completed over 4-6 days. Personally, I really like this route. It’s cool because you’ll see a lot more. This route passes through six states in total.
You’ll get to experience cities along the Gulf of Mexico like Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida. This route also winds up through historic cities Selma and Montgomery before heading to Atlanta, one of the most vibrant metro areas in the country. Finally, it swings through Chattanooga, an underrated city with a surprising number of fun activities.
Here’s the itinerary if you choose this eastern driving route to Nashville!
Traveling along the Gulf Coast takes the driver to Gulfport. It’s a lesser-known city in Mississippi, but it’s actually the second-biggest city in the state!
Follow the Gulf Coast Scenic Byway, a 19-mile road starting at Henderson Point and going all the way along the shore through Long Beach and Pass Christian to Gulfport. You’ll see many historic buildings along the way.
In Gulfport, visitors can see dolphins and sea lions at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies. Stop by Fishbone Alley to see cool murals. Consider fun attractions like the Mississippi Coast Model Railroad Museum and the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum.
QUIRKY ATTRACTION: Get some fun pics of a 35-foot tall rocking chair outside the Dedeaux Clan Furniture factory in Gulfport. (You can’t sit in the chair, sadly.)
Just 13 miles east of Gulfport comes Biloxi. Visit the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum, then head out for dinner.
Biloxi cuisine is interesting because it combines multiple influences: seafood from the Gulf, traditional Southern comfort food, and a Cajun influence from New Orleans. Mary Mahoney’s Old French House and Ole Biloxi Fillin Station are the best options for finding all these flavors.
Mobile has a wide range of activities. Visit Battleship Memorial Park to see a WWII-era USS Alabama battleship on display. The Carnival Museum has Mardi Gras costumes and memorabilia.
Head to Dauphin Street to experience a little bit of New Orleans French Quarter vibe in Mobile. Explore the shops or the many great restaurants here.
Pensacola is the best spot if you’re looking for some beach time on this road trip. You’ll find beautiful white sand beaches along the coast. Alternately, Big Lagoon State Park has hiking and kayaking opportunities ($6 fee per vehicle), and the Pensacola Museum of History teaches guests about the history of the Florida panhandle.
The marches from Selma to Montgomery were among the most significant events in American civil rights history. Thousands of people, including Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and Ralph Abernathy, made the 54-mile journey to demand equal voting rights and protest segregation.
There’s a visitor center in Selma right next to the Edmund Pettus Bridge where the marches started. Visit here and the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute on the other end of the bridge to learn more about these important events.
Montgomery has lots of historic civil rights attractions as well. This is the city where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus. See a statue of Rosa downtown, then visit the Rosa Parks Library and Museum and the Civil Rights Memorial Center to see exhibits and displays about this period in American history.
Other interesting attractions in Montgomery include the Hank Williams Museum, a tribute to the country music legend; and the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, located in the famous Great Gatsby couple’s former mansion.
If it’s baseball season, check out a Montgomery Biscuits AA game at Riverwalk Stadium, after walking along Riverfront Park.
We could go on for hours talking about all the major attractions in Atlanta. Start with the Coca Cola Museum, which offers a chance to learn about the history of the beverage and sample dozens of Coke varieties from around the world.
Then try the massive Georgia Aquarium, one of the few places to see whale sharks in captivity. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library is a fascinating resource for learning all about the 39th president. And the Martin Luther King National Historic Site includes the Baptist church where he preached, his childhood home, and his grave site.
Also visit the Little Five Points hipster neighborhood, the historic Grant Park neighborhood, and the huge Piedmont Park green space.
Chattanooga gets less love than other Tennessee cities like Memphis and Nashville, but it’s worth spending a full day there to see all the sights.
I found no fewer than 56 fun Chattanooga activities. Hike at Stringer’s Ridge for a view of the entire city. Walk the 130-year-old Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge. Visit Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center, the site of a key Civil War skirmish.
Go underground to see Ruby Falls, the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the U.S.
Quirky attractions in Chattanooga include the International Towing Museum, the mile-long Incline Railway, the Moon Pie General Store, and Sculpture Fields at Montague Park.
Spend time at Warehouse Row and the Northshore neighborhood. My recommended restaurants include 1885 Grill, Basecamp, Feed Tavern, and Clumpies Ice Cream.
Once again the journey concludes in Nashville. See above for a full list of fun activities in Tennessee’s capital city.
Other Possible Detours on a Nashville to New Orleans Drive
If you wanna go further out of your way while driving between these two cities, there are some other options. You could drive northwest from New Orleans up through rural Louisiana.
Then head into Arkansas, stopping at Hot Springs National Park, one of the few U.S. national parks inside a city. Stop in Little Rock to see the state capitol building and the Bill Clinton Presidential Library.
What if you’re a national park lover? Aside from Hot Springs, there aren’t any national parks in the immediate vicinity of a New Orleans to Nashville drive. But go a bit further east, and you’ll encounter the most-visited national park in the nation, Great Smoky Mountains, which straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
Just outside of Columbia, South Carolina, sits Congaree, a rarely-visited park with swamps and trails. And north of Nashville in western Kentucky is Mammoth Cave, a unique park with 400 miles of caves that naturally formed millions of years ago.
These stops would add quite a bit of distance to your Louisiana to Tennessee road trip, but isn’t that what road trips are all about – having the freedom to go wherever you want at your own pace?
If you’re interested in a different road trip, I also have a guide for driving between New Orleans and Atlanta.
Do you have any other suggestions for places to stop on the New Orleans to Nashville road trip drive?