When travelers along the Mississippi River think of Kentucky and Tennessee, a few things immediately come to mind: music, delicious barbeque and world-renowned bourbon. By exploring the small towns and bustling cities in these two states, you’ll find a true cross-section of America. This six-day itinerary will take you to famous distilleries, explore iconic locales in music history and add a touch of natural beauty along the way.
Day 1 – Memphis, TN
Morning: Arrive at Memphis International Airport
Afternoon: Lunch at Central BBQ
This award-winning barbeque joint has three locations in Memphis—Downtown, Midtown and East—and one taste will tell you why it’s so popular. Central BBQ uses a secret combination of dry spices on their ribs, pork, chicken and more and slow smokes their meat in a barbeque pit over a combination of hickory and pecan woods.
Evening: Explore Beale Street
One of the most famous streets in America, Beale Street is a hotbed of action every night, featuring live music at clubs and restaurants, unique shops, fun events and more. Discover Beale Street and learn about the birthplace of the blues.
Other options: Music lovers can take a tour of Elvis Presley’s lavish Graceland estate to learn about the King of Rock n’ Roll. Visit Sun Studio to see where Elvis, Johnny Cash and others recorded some of their biggest hits.
Day 2 – Memphis, TN, to Nashville, TN
Morning: Watch the march of the ducks at the Peabody Hotel
Every morning at 11am, the world-famous Peabody Ducks leave their roost on the roof of downtown’s Peabody Hotel and head to the ornate fountain in the hotel lobby. The “duck march” has been a tradition at the Peabody for nearly 90 years, and visitors can still see the famous waterfowl participate in this ceremony twice daily (at 11am and 5pm).
Afternoon: Lunch at Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous
Grab a bite to eat at this world-famous rib joint in downtown Memphis, which has been serving customers for nearly 70 years. Keep in mind: the Rendezvous is only open for lunch on Friday and Saturdays; if you’re in town Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, you’ll have to wait for dinner (the restaurant is closed Sundays and Mondays).
Evening: Travel to Nashville, TN (340km, 3 hours)
Other options: Overton Park, located in Memphis’ Midtown neighborhood, is home to the Memphis Zoo, which has attracted visitors for more than 100 years. Another top outdoors attraction is Shelby Farms Park, which is one of the largest urban parks in the United States and home to trails, lakes, picnic areas—and even a herd of American buffalo.
Day 3 – Nashville, TN, to Bowling Green, KY
Morning: Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Located in downtown Nashville, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum has been called the “Smithsonian of country music” and offers permanent and rotating exhibits in 350,000 square feet of space. This multimedia experience is a must-see for Nashville visitors.
Afternoon: Explore downtown Nashville
Broadway is one of the most famous streets in America, and visitors will find an eclectic mix of bars, restaurants, shops and, of course, honkytonks. Be sure to catch some live music at popular venues like Robert’s Western World, Tootsie’s and The Stage.
Evening: Travel to Bowling Green, KY (105km, 1 hour, 10 minutes)
Other options: Check the calendar to see if there’s a show at the Ryman Auditorium, the “Mother Church of Country Music” that hosted the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974. Or, visit the Frist Art Museum, a fun, interactive art museum that houses frequently changing exhibitions.
Day 4 – Bowling Green, KY, to Louisville, KY
Morning: Visit the National Corvette Museum
The National Corvette Museum honors the history and engineering of—what else?—the Chevrolet Corvette. See early prototypes of this famous American automobile at this museum, located a short distance away from the only Corvette production facility in the world.
Early afternoon: Travel to Mammoth Cave National Park (60km, 35 minutes)
Mammoth Cave National Park, located just outside of Bowling green, houses a portion of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave system known in the world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers several cave tours to visitors, as well as other recreational options in the park and along the Green River.
Mid-afternoon: Travel to Bardstown, KY (110km, 1 hour, 5 minutes)
Central Kentucky is the heart of Bourbon Country, and famous distilleries like Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Willet and Four Roses are all located in or close to Bardstown. Each of these distilleries has their own unique draws, but if sampling award-winning bourbon is on your to-do list, make a stop in Bardstown.
Evening: Travel to Louisville, KY (65km, 45 minutes)
Dinner at The Brown Hotel
Louisville is famous for many things—the Kentucky Derby, Louisville Slugger baseball bats—but one of the tastiest is the “hot brown” sandwich, which was invented at The Brown Hotel in Louisville in the 1920s. The hot brown is an open-faced turkey sandwich covered with bacon and Mornay sauce.
Other options: Distilleries can be found in Louisville proper, too, including Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company, the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience and the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse. If you’re looking for a more family-friendly experience, visit the Kentucky Science Center.
Day 5 – Louisville, KY, to Lexington, KY
Morning: Visit Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum
Churchill Downs is one of the most sacred sites in American sports. Home to the annual Kentucky Derby, this famed thoroughbred racetrack has welcomed equestrian enthusiasts since 1875. In addition to the track, clubhouse and stables, the property is also home to the Kentucky Derby Museum, which tells the story of the Kentucky Derby as well as educating visitors about how horses are trained.
Early afternoon: Depart for Lexington, KY (125km, 1 hour, 20 minutes)
Mid-afternoon: Tour and tasting at Woodford Reserve Distillery
If you still haven’t had your fill of bourbon, stop by this famous distillery in the charming town of Versailles, just a short drive from Lexington. Woodford Reserve, one of Kentucky’s oldest and smallest distilleries, is nestled in the rolling hills and horse farms of the Bluegrass State. Tours are available seven days a week.
Evening: Explore Lexington’s “Brewgrass” Trail
While Kentucky is rightly known for its famous bourbon and whiskey, the craft beer scene has been expanding in the state, and nowhere is that more noticeable than along Lexington’s “Brewgrass Trail.” Visit highly-rated breweries like West Sixth Brewing and Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company, and raise a glass to a successful Kentucky trip.
Other options: Visit the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory in Louisville’s West Main District to learn about this famous American sporting equipment icon. In Lexington, visit Kentucky Horse Park, which offers a unique look at Kentucky’s famous thoroughbreds via a museum, horse shows and more.
Day 6 – Lexington, KY
Morning: Depart from Blue Grass Airport, Lexington, KY