While the United States offers many great destinations for international travelers, the cities are fairly typical. Broadway shows and the Statue of Liberty draw people to New York City; Washington D.C. offers visitors the many monuments of the U.S. government; San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed sights in the world and a must-see for visitors; Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles…the list goes keeps going. But what international travelers rarely visit are destinations in the American South. If you’re traveling to America from abroad, you may want a new choice of cities to see. Here’s a list of some of the top destinations in the South – some will be familiar, some, hopefully, will be new!
Asheville, North Carolina
Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains, Asheville is blessed with incredible natural beauty. Asheville is well known for its incredible arts, architecture, and music, giving the artistic types a never-ending list of attractions. The Great Depression hit the city hard, preventing much development; as a result Asheville has the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the country. Enjoy the self-guided Urban Trail walking tour and see many of the handsome structures. The Biltmore Estate, the largest privately-owned home in the world, is a must-see for everyone, not just lovers of architecture. The list of art galleries in the town is overwhelming long, so it’s beneficial to scan through before you visit. Rent a car and drive the Blue Ridge Parkway to experience the scenery of the mountainous area and take a few hikes through the Pisgah National Forest. The Western North Carolina Nature Center brings visitors a bit closer to the plants and animals of the Appalachia region.
Charleston, South Carolina
In 1670, English colonists established this seaport town and named it Charles Towne. More than, perhaps, any other city in the South, Charleston presents an Old-South feeling of gentility and sophistication. The Union armies in the Civil War captured the Southern gem without much damage to the city or its architecture, ensuring visitors have plenty to see. First time visitors may want to start with a carriage tour of the city; these start by the historic Market, which is still in use. Important sites to see are Fort Sumter, the site of the start of the American Civil War; the Powder Magazine, the one remaining Colonial building; some of the many antebellum plantation homes in the area.
Chattanooga is and incredibly picturesque city located along the Tennessee River and lies between the Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau. Some of the most important battles of the Civil War were fought around “the Gateway to the Deep South,” so history buffs will certainly enjoy this visit. Just outside Chattanooga is the Chickamauga Battlefield; monuments and historic markers show participants of the seven-mile drive where different major parts of the battle took place. Lookout Mountain, the mountain and city towering over Chattanooga was host to another major battle; Point Park has beautiful views of off the mountain, as well as audio-visual programs, artifacts, and exhibits on the Battle of Lookout Mountain. Lookout Mountain also has Rock City and Ruby Falls, popular tourist destinations for all ages, which make the most of the incredible rocky terrain of the area. Chattanooga also has one of the best aquariums in America, which is located near the riverfront. From the aquarium, it’s a short walk to the Walnut Street Bridge, the longest pedestrian bridge in the world. Visitors who want closer to the river can hop on a Chattanooga Duck, a World War II era vehicle that tours through the city’s downtown before slipping into the Tennessee River.
Located just across the Ohio River from Indiana, Louisville borders between Southern and Midwestern. The city has a bohemian feel and is littered with wonderful art galleries, and incredible parks system, and great coffeehouses and bars; it is also easily traveled by foot or public transit. Old Louisville is the third largest National Preservation District in America, meaning visitors will be fortunate to see beautifully preserved architecture. Included in this is the largest Victorian district in the U.S.; walking tours are offered, allowing full enjoyment of the neighborhood. Louisville’s Market St. is lined with art galleries; go on the first Friday of the month, and join the First Friday Trolley Hop, a free street party of sorts, which brings visitors to galleries, restaurants, and shops along the trolley line. Louisville is most famous for the Kentucky Derby Festival, the two-week festival that leads up to the famous Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. If you aren’t fortunate enough to visit during this period, Churchill Downs does offer a Kentucky Derby Museum.
Key West, Florida
In 1521, while looking for a path to the west coast of Florida, Juan Ponce de Leon reached this southernmost city of America (the “Southernmost Point” marker is photo worthy). The city is just 90 miles from the Cuban coast. The Shipwreck Museum offers a beautiful panoramic view towards Cuba from its 65’ lookout tower. Further enjoy the coastal offerings with dolphin tours, snorkeling, reef tours, and Jet Ski trips around the island; Key West is the driest city in Florida and has a mild, tropical climate, ensuring visitors with many pleasant days to enjoy outside! Literary great, Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West for a decade and his house with its many six-toed cats is open for tours. You may also run into some members of the U.S. government, as the Harry S. Truman Little White House is still used as a retreat by dignitaries today.
University of Mississippi, affectionately known as “Ole Miss,” makes this north Mississippi city a quaint college town. A tour of the city’s important antebellum buildings is easily done on foot; these buildings include the Lafayette Courthouse, The Lyceum, Ventress Hall, and the Barnard Observatory. Oxford was the home to William Faulkner; Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home, is located near the town square and is open for tours. Oxford is also a great base site for day trips. Memphis, Tennessee, which is known for Graceland and a great music scene, is just and hour and a half’s drive from Oxford. Clarksdale, MS is a little over an hour away; visit the Delta Blues Museum and enjoy some of the great music that game from the region. Also of note – and nearby – are the numerous antebellum plantation homes of Natchez and Elvis’s birthplace in Tupelo.