Day 1& 2
You’ll be landing in Atlanta, the ‘Capital City of the American South.’ Jimi Hendrix, Bobby Brown and Elton John have all called it home. Scarlett O’Hara and Gone with the Wind have faded into the mist in this very sophisticated and contemporary city where the fastest growing population is 20-something professionals. Make sure you allow time to tour the CNN Center where Ted Turner changed the way the world watches the news. A behind the scenes tour gives insight into the complexity of production required to put on a good show. In the evening, explore Underground Atlanta or take in a world-class performance which can range from the symphony to hot jazz.
Tomorrow, you’ll be moving on to Tennessee where you’ll find the origins of pop music, country and the blues, all within 400 miles.
Overnight – Atlanta
Atlanta to Chattanooga
While driving into Chattanooga, you can almost hear Glenn Miller’s Big Band playing that famous song that put the city on the musical map. Back in 1941, Chattanooga out shown its famous Tennessee musical sisters with the first million selling hit to be given a gold record. The original Choo Choo is now part of the Holiday Inn. While here, you may want to visit the Tennessee Aquarium, take a Chattanooga Riverboat lunch or dinner cruise and spend some time on Lookout Mountain. Deep in the heart of the mountain, Ruby Falls cascades more than 140 feet underground. Passages through rooms filled with stalactites, stalagmites, columns, drapes and flowstone range in size from the tiny electives in the Hall of Dreams to the large columns found in the Onyx Jungle. The architecture of the Hunter Art Museum, a Greek revival mansion combined with a dramatic contemporary building perched on a 90 foot limestone bluff, is as dramatic as the collection itself. The Houston Museum of Art is considered to have the finest collection of antique glass and ceramics anywhere in the world. The Tennessee Valley Railroad is a rolling time machine going back to bygone days.
Overnight – Chattanooga
Chattanooga to Nashville
If walls could talk, those at the Ryman Auditorium would have an incredible story to tell about the evolution of country music. The show didn’t begin as a showcase for country music performers. There was no such thing then. It began as a barn dance on the fifth floor of an insurance company in the studios of WSM Radio in 1925. The very next year, the Carter family began recording songs from the hills and hollers of the Appalachian Mountains for RCA records and the rest, as they say, is history. The show soon moved to the Ryman where it held court for decades.
You can learn the story of Music City and her famous performers at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. If you’re not as familiar with country music as with some other types, you’ll soon learn that as Willie Nelson said, ‘the young renew its vitality, while veteran colleagues re-teach its truths. Country music changes daily, but always remains a place where people tell their life stories.’ Tours of Historic RCA Studio B, used by Elvis, Chet Atkins, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Floyd Cramer, and more, leave from the Country Music Hall of Fame several times a day.
This evening, plan to enjoy music at the original Printer’s Alley. Once filled with printing trucks making daily deliveries, the Alley now comes alive with neon lights and great sounds after dark. You’ll also want to visit Lower Broadway, where stars and upstarts used to pass the time of day. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is still there but the rest of Second Avenue has transformed into great restaurants and interesting shops.
On any given night, there are over 100 live music clubs in Nashville where you can see and hear artists performing from every genre.
Make your Nashville extra special and take one of our Private Tours with a genuine local singer songwriter
Private sedan/SUV tours with a singer/songwriter. These are musicians actually working in the business and “living the Life” in Nashville. This is a 3 hour experience which includes a traditional city tour, a 20 minute private performance by the singer/songwriter, and finally the guide will escort them to a Honky Tonk and give them the lay of the land downtown and insight about the HonkyTonk Culture. This program is a flat £350.00 for 1-3 people.
Overnight – Nashville
Head downtown where you may want to spend some time exploring Music Row. Nashville is home to over 80 record labels, 130 music publishers and, at last count, over 180 recording studios. Nashville’s first famous recording studio was started when producer Owen Bradley opened a studio in an old house on 16th Avenue South in 1955. The legendary Quonset hut behind the main house is where Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Buddy Holly, George Jones, REO Speedwagon, Simon & Garfunkel and Johnny Cash all recorded. One of the old studio’s janitors didn’t do too badly for himself either. Kris Kristofferson is now widely recognised as one of our greatest living songwriters.
And of course, as an old Southern city, Nashville has plantations, the Tennessee History Museum and other interesting attractions that reveal the heritage and culture of the city.
Overnight – Nashville
Nashville to Memphis
While Nashville stars in Country Music, Memphis stars in the Blues, Elvis and Soul. Your first stop of course, has to be Graceland. The house is historic only because it was owned by Elvis. You’ll learn the story of how Elvis Presley, born into the most humble of circumstances, evolved into one of the most influential performers in the world. On your way from Graceland to Beale Street, you’ll have to make a quick stop at the Heartbreak Hotel, where all the accommodations are all Elvis, all the time.
There’s much more than music on Beale Street. The historic district, which has recently reemerged as a bustling entertainment centre, has an interesting history all its own. Serving as Union General Grant’s headquarters during the Civil War, Beale Street also witnessed the whiskey peddling of Machine Gun Kelly. The City of Memphis purchased nearly all of the properties along a three block area in the 1970s and the renaissance you will witness today began. The Center for Southern Folklore and Cafe on nearby Main Street is a microcosm of Memphis music lore and exhibits related to music in Memphis. Credited with being the ‘Father of the Blues,’ the W. C. Handy Performing Arts Park is also on Beale Street.
If you’d like to learn more about the origins of music in Memphis, the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, welcomes over 200,000 visitors a year. It’s interesting to learn the connections between the work songs, field hollers, blues, gospel, country fiddlers and the music of today. Sun Studio, where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and B. B. King recorded is considered ‘The Birthplace of Rock and Roll.’ Memphis’ newest museum devoted to music, Soulsville: Stax Museum of American Soul Music, celebrates greats from the 1960s and 1970s, like Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MGs, Issac Hayes, Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind and Fire and more. Stop at B. B. King’s Blues Club this evening to hear the real thing.
Overnight – Memphis
Being at the very nexus of the South and Midwest, Memphis has incredibly interesting attractions that reveal the heritage surrounding the music. The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange was created to illustrate the story of cotton and its impact on the south, using the carefully restored ‘Members Only’ trading floor as it was in its 1939 heyday.
The Mississippi River Museum in Mud Island River Park, presents the origins of the Mississippi River, its first native inhabitants, the first European inhabitants and other local highlights. The Memphis Botanic Gardens will provide a place to take a break and ‘smell the roses.’ The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis was established in the motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. And last but not least, the Woodruff-Fontaine House on Millionaires Row shows how the other side lived during the prosperous period in Memphis after the Civil War
You can also take the Main Street Trolley on a trip through historic downtown Memphis and the Riverfront Loop. This evening, a dinner cruise on Memphis Riverboats will let you enjoy the skyline of the city from the river. Make sure to see the famous ducks that swim everyday in the lobby fountain at the Peabody.
Overnight – Memphis
Memphis to Muscle Shoals
South in the northwest corner of Alabama, a cluster of cities, Tuscumbia, Florence, Sheffield and Muscle Shoals line the banks of the Tennessee River. The Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia (closed Sundays and Mondays) showcases the state’s famous musical icons including WC Handy, Dinah Washington, Jimmie Rogers, Hank Williams, Nat King Cole, Tammy Wynette and of course the popular country band, Alabama. Exhibits include costumes of the stars and original recording equipment from the Memphis Music Service, better known in the trade as Sun Studios. The Elvis contract between Sam Phillips and RCA can be found here in the Hall of Fame and there is a Sam Phillips Music Festival held in Muscle Shoals every January. Unknown to many, the Muscle Shoals area contributed greatly to music as one of the most influential recording centers in America. Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and FAME Recording Studio were used by Areatha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon and Otis Reading. The FAME Studio is still active and generally open for an hour long tour most weekday mornings – the tour timings are subject to the recording schedule so check locally. Be sure to take in some live music featured nightly at ‘Swampers” located inside the Marriott Shoals. Also visit PJ’s for Country music and Fizz for live bands while in town.
Overnight – Muscle Shoals
Another day in the Shoals will give you an opportunity to explore a bit of the northern Alabama Lakes Region. If you want to stay with music, you can visit the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio Museum on Jackson Highway in Sheffield. This unassuming studio is on the National Register of Historic Places and Cher was so impressed with her time there in ’69 that she used it as a title for her album which was called ‘3614 Jackson Highway’ (tours can be arranged if you call ahead). Stay with the music and visit the birthplace of ‘Father of the Blues’, W.C. Handy which is now a museum in Florence. The W.C. Handy Festival plays tribute to his achievements every July. Off the beaten path in Florence, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosenbaum House, the only structure in Alabama designed by Wright, is open for tours. Belle Mont Mansion, built in the early 1800s on a hill overlooking massive cotton fields, illustrates antebellum life in Alabama. The Hallelujah Trail, which connects 32 historic churches, takes you through a multitude of small towns where in summer, there are community festivals of all kinds. A great place to end a day’s adventure in the Shoals is at Trowbridge’s Ice Cream Bar in Florence, an authentic ice cream parlour and diner dating back to 1918 which retains it’s original character whilst serving great ice cream!
Overnight – Muscle Shoals
Muscle Shoals to Huntsville
Today takes you to Huntsville, home to one of the state’s largest music events, Big Spring Jam, which is held every September as well as many more smaller music events throughout the year. This smart city’s downtown area hosts Washington Square, a mini entertainment district with live music. Brighten your night with a visit to Humphrey’s New Orleans Style patio where you’ll be treated to an array of musical acts ranging from blues, rock, bluegrass and jazz six nights a week or check out the Crossroads Café and the Jazz Factory. The Bridge Street Town Centre has a lovely open air shopping area, restaurants and movie theater and you can even take a gondola ride on the lake.
Besides the music, don’t miss the opportunity to take in the US Space and Rocket Center, the world’s largest space museum featuring a full size space shuttle, a Saturn V rocket, the actual Apollo 16 capsule and a moon rock. Plan to enjoy a 4 G experience in the Space Shot tower and the Space Walk motion-based simulator. Monte Sano State Park gives you a different view of Huntsville from 2,140 acres of green space towering over downtown. While you’re up there, visit Burritt on the Mountain, a living history museum with five 19th century farmsteads that illustrate daily life in early Alabama
Overnight – Huntsville
Huntsville to Birmingham
Even though it’s not Alabama’s capital, Birmingham is the state’s largest city. It was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement. Today it is better known for its playful mode. A must-see for Jazz enthusiasts is the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame which pays tribute to great Alabama artists Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and more. Throughout the year, Jazz echoes from downtown nightclubs in places like Ona’s Music Room and the Blue Monkey. The Five Points entertainment district caters for all music tastes and has some great dining too. Get an authentic southern breakfast at the Original Pancake House and seafood lovers would be mad to miss a great restaurant called the Fish Market run by a Greek named George! The Birmingham Museum of Art is the largest municipal museum in the southeast. Its collection of 21,000 works includes the Charles W. Ireland Sculpture Garden and the Beeson Collection of Wedgwood, unique to this facility. Holdings also include a collection of Native American art that sprung originally from the Native American influences in the region.
Birmingham’s version of the Civil Rights story is told at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Different from a static museum, the Institute works at taking the lessons from the past to chart new directions for the future. A drive to Vulcan Park lets you view Birmingham and the greatest panorama of the Red Mountains. Back on the ground, the 67-acre Birmingham Botanical Gardens will give you a respite among the flowers if it’s a warm day and for something a bit different at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum located a few miles outside of Birmingham is well worth a visit for motorsport enthusiasts and for those interested in seeing a vast array of motorcycles beautifully displayed.
Overnight – Birmingham
Birmingham to Mobile
Mobile is one of the oldest cities in America. Founded in 1702 as the original capital of the Louisiana Territory, few cities can boast such rich history and prime location as Mobile. Visitors marvel at the sheer beauty of the city—breathtaking sunsets, lush foliage, spectacular historic and modern architecture, amazing museums, diverse arts and culture and famous seafood creations. Mobile was not only home to the first known Mardi Gras in 1703 (yes, before New Orleans) but also hosts America’s family Mardi Gras every year.
Remember when you talk to the locals that the correct pronunciation of the city’s name is ‘Mo-beel,’ given the soft emphasis on the second syllable by its French founders. And, having lived under six different national flags, culture, ‘cul-cha,’ as they call it here, is a rich conglomeration of influences reflected in the colorful local restaurants. While in Mobile, try the goodies of Tiny Diny, which has the tallest meringue on their coconut cream pie, Pollman’s Bake Shop Brownies or Three Georges chocolates, with hand made pralines and more. Bailey’s Restaurant is reputed to have invented the West Indies Salad, white crab meet mixed with onion, vinegar and oil. Wintzell’s Oyster House has been serving them ‘fried, stewed or nude’ since 1928. Fish and music lovers will enjoy Felix’s Fish Camp right on Mobile Bay, with views over the water and bands playing with names likes ‘Grits and Pieces’. For another late night drink with live music, stop by ‘Veets’ bar. You may also enjoy Spot of Tea for breakfast on Dauphin Street, while you admire the rest of the buildings on Cathedral Square. As you would expect in Jimmy Buffett’s home town, ‘Lo Da’, Dauphin Street’s Entertainment district has over 20 music establishments.
Fort Conde, the original settlement in the Mobile area, was built right on Mobile Bay. The Fort Conde Visitor Center is chock full of information about the city. One of the must see’s in Mobile is Bellingrath Gardens where something is always blooming. Bragg Mitchell Mansion is pure ‘Gone with the Wind.’ The Museum of Mobile and the Mobile Museum of Art have very interesting collections. Both have brought a number of blockbuster exhibitions, such as A Day in Pompeii and Captive Passage, to the region. The Carnival Museum is true Americana displaying costumes from decades of the Mobile Mardi Gras. The USS Alabama is a decommissioned World War II era Battleship.
Overnight – Mobile
Another day in Mobile will allow you to hear the sound of waves gently lapping on the shore and enjoy 32 miles of white sand beaches and sparkling emerald waters in the Gulf Shores area. Point Clear, home to the Grand Hotel Marriott Point Clear Resort and Spa, is on the way from Mobile to Gulf Shores. Even if you’re not staying there, it’s a lovely place to stop with high tea and a daily military cannon salute! Fairhope, also on the drive, is one of the most romantic coastal towns in America according to Coastal Living Magazine.
You can get down with the best of them in Gulf Shores at Florabama right on the Florida/Alabama state line and enjoy live music and casual dining at Lu-Lu’s located at Homeport Marina overlooking the water. Or try The Hangout and the Pink Pony Pub for more live venues located right on the beach.
The Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Beach, next to Fort Morgan, has over 6 miles of hiking trails. Fort Morgan witnessed Union Admiral Farragut charging into the Battle of Mobile Bay shouting ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!’ Alabama Point, a spot for serious relaxation, is surrounded by the glistening turquoise water you always see in magazines. Gulf State Park has a natural beach that is usually not crowded and there are many other public access points to the ocean in Gulf Shores. You can get a better view of the water with the Orange Beach Helicopter Service or on one of the many boat charters and cruises that leave from Gulf Shores or Orange Beach. If you prefer dry land, commune with nature as you hike through one of Alabama’s wildlife areas viewing gators and shorebirds. At Alligator Alley they let you feed the gators or watch the crew feed them.
Overnight – Mobile
Mobile to Montgomery
On your way between Mobile and Montgomery you can begin to discover the legends of Hank Williams in Mount Olive, where he was born in 1923 and in Georgiana, where he spent his boyhood. US Route 31 has been named the Hank Williams Lost Highway.
When you reach Montgomery, Alabama, you’ll find a bustling city of the New South which also celebrates it’s history and music culture. The quaint Old Cloverdale historic area has been transformed into clubs, bars and restaurants. Relax and listen to hot jazz at the 1048 Jazz and Blues club or enjoy a drink and a meal at the nearby Montgomery Brew Pub which has live music most Thursday – Saturdays.
A hotbed of activity during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, Montgomery is also the place where Confederate President Jefferson Davis lived at the birth of the Confederacy. Topping the city’s list of ‘must-sees’ is the state capitol building where Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as the President of the Confederate States of America and where the Selma-to-Montgomery march ended with Dr. King’s moving speech from the bottom of the capitol steps. The Rosa Parks Museum and Civil Rights Memorial tells the story of the courageous women who refused to move to the back of the bus, essentially the first non-violent protest of the Civil Rights movement.
Old Alabama Town, one of the South’s premier history villages, is a collection of authentically restored 19th and 20 century buildings stretching along six blocks in the heart of historic Montgomery, Alabama. Over 40 restored structures include an original 1850s townhouse, schoolhouses, a cotton gin, blacksmith shop, grist mill, tavern, log cabin, pole barn, southern mansion, and more. Here you can experience life in Montgomery during the infancy of the state’s history.
Overnight – Montgomery
Save a good bit of time today to explore the Hank Williams Museum. It was in Montgomery that Hiram Williams became Hank and by 14, won his first talent contest with an original song. Serendipity placed him in a boarding house run by his mother that was next door to the Jefferson Davis Hotel, home to the studios of WSFA radio. His mother left the boarding house business to drive Hank and the band around Alabama to gigs when he dropped out of school in the 10th grade. Hank Williams, Jr. has made the larges collection of Williams memorabilia available to the museum.
Overnight – Montgomery
Montgomery to Atlanta
A very easy drive north west along Interstate 85 which takes you straight back to the airport. With an evening departure you have time to relax in the morning before setting off. As you depart Atlanta today, know you have explored and experienced some of the best music in the world.
Depart Atlanta – 21:15
Arrive London Heathrow – 10:15 (Next Day)
Journey Time – 8 hours