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Exploring the heart of America: Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri

Explore the tastes and sounds of Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri on this six-day tour.

Gateway Arch National Park
Gateway Arch, St. Louis (Credit: Missouri Division of Tourism)

The middle section of America’s Mississippi River region is home to the true flavor of the United States. As you explore Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri on this six-day tour, you’ll find delicious food, engaging musical history and small-town charm in cities like Memphis, Paducah and St. Louis.

Day 1 – Memphis, Tennessee

Morning: Arrive at Memphis International Airport

Afternoon: Visit the National Civil Rights Museum

One of the most powerful and impactful museums in the country is the National Civil Rights Museum, which traces the history of America’s Civil Rights movement from slavery all the way to present day. Part of the museum encompasses the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated; two of the hotel rooms he stayed in are preserved as museum exhibits.

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: Visitors interested in musical history can find lots to see and do, including an educational trip to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Basketball fans can take in a game at the FedEx Forum, home to the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.

Day 2 – Memphis

Morning: Visit Elvis Presley’s home, Graceland

Take an unforgettable journey through the most famous rock ‘n’ roll residence in the world: Graceland. Memphis was the rock-and-roll legend’s home for more than 20 years, and at Graceland you can explore the personal side of Elvis Presley. Learn how his revolutionary style and unique sound changed the face of popular music and culture forever.

Afternoon: Tour Sun Studio

Take a tour of Sam Phillips’ legendary recording studio, Sun Studio. See the studio where music legends like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins recorded some of the most iconic music in American history.

Evening: Dinner 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. This iconic restaurant has welcomed everyone from The Rolling Stones and Elvis to Jerry Lee Lewis and *NSYNC.

Other options: Visit the Peabody Hotel to see the march of the famous Peabody ducks, who make their home on the Peabody’s roof and spend their days in the hotel’s ornate lobby fountain. If you haven’t had enough barbecue yet, try Central BBQ, which has three locations in Memphis. Visit the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid and ride the free-standing elevator to an amazing view of Memphis and the Mississippi River.

Day 3 – Memphis to Union City, Tennessee, to Paducah, Kentucky

Morning: Breakfast at The Arcade Restaurant

Spend your last morning in Memphis at The Arcade Restaurant, the oldest café in the city. The Arcade Restaurant has been serving delicious food since 1919 and is still family-owned. Several movies have been filmed at the restaurant, and you can even pose for a photo at the booth Elvis used to sit in when he was a regular there.

Travel to Union City, Tennessee (2 hours, 15 minutes; 145 miles/235km)

Afternoon: Explore Discovery Park of America

West Tennessee’s newest attraction is Discovery Park of America, a 50-acre (20 hectare) entertainment and education complex. Highlights of Discovery Center include a 20,000-gallon (75,000 liters) aquarium, a 48-foot (15m) human model and an earthquake simulator. Discovery Park of America also features Japanese, European and American gardens that showcase some 24,000 plants, trees and flowers.

Evening: Travel to Paducah, Kentucky (1 hour, 10 minutes; 65 miles/100km)

Other options: On your way to Union City, take a slight detour to the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center and the Tina Turner Museum at Flagg Grove School. Anglers will want to take some time to explore Reelfoot Lake State Park, which is famous for its cypress trees and excellent fishing. Blue Bank Resort on Reelfoot Lake welcomes visitors all year long.

Day 4 – Paducah to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to St. Louis, Missouri

Morning: Explore Paducah

Sitting at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, Paducah is recognized as a UNESCO Creative City for Crafts & Folk Art. Paducah is home to the National Quilt Museum, which exhibits fiber art and quilts from artists around the world. Explore the historic murals on Paducah’s riverfront or visit the River Discovery Center to try your hand at (virtually) piloting a riverboat.

End your time in Paducah by stopping for lunch at Kirchoff’s Bakery & Deli, which has been serving delicious food to Paducah residents for five generations.

Afternoon: Travel to Cape Girardeau, Missouri (1 hour, 30 minutes; 70 miles/115km)

Your next stop is Cape Girardeau, a charming river town on the shores of the Mississippi River in southeastern Missouri. Discover the quaint shops and restaurants in downtown Cape Girardeau, visit some of the area’s historic sites or take a tour of locations from the 2014 Ben Affleck movie “Gone Girl.”

Evening: Travel to St. Louis (1 hour, 50 minutes; 115 miles/185km)

If you’re not too tired, take some time to explore St. Louis’ vibrant nightlife, including downtown’s Ballpark Village, an entertainment district anchored by Busch Stadium, the home of Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals. If you’re interested in live music, visit the Soulard neighborhood, home to some of the best blues venues in town.

Other options: Beer lovers should check out Paducah’s Dry Ground Brewing Company—located in a former Coca-Cola bottling plant—or Minglewood Brewery in Cape Girardeau. Sample tasty (and rare) spirits at The Freight House, Paducah’s first farm-to-table restaurant.

Day 5 – St. Louis

Morning: Visit the Gateway Arch

One of the most iconic attractions in the United States, St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, celebrated its 55th anniversary in 2020. An enclosed tram takes visitors to the top of the Arch, where they can take in a spectacular view of St. Louis, the Mississippi River and Illinois to the east; views can stretch for 30 miles (48km) on a clear day. To learn more about the Arch and America’s westward expansion, visitors can explore Gateway Arch National Park.

Afternoon: Explore Forest Park

Forest Park is located in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood and is home to a number of free attractions that attract visitors and local residents alike. Visit the Saint Louis Art Museum and marvel at more than 30,000 works of art from prehistoric to modern. Nature lovers can see species from all over the world at the Saint Louis Zoo, and visitors can learn about St. Louis’ past at the Missouri History Museum.

Evening: Visit the shops and restaurants of the Central West End neighborhood

Located on the eastern edge of Forest Park, St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood is home to a wide variety of amenities, including award-winning restaurants, cozy boutique shops, world-class art galleries and more.

Other options: Learn about St. Louis’ brewing history by taking a tour of the world-famous Anheuser-Busch Brewery or visiting one of the area’s smaller microbreweries like Schlafly or Urban Chestnut. Bring your children to the one-of-a-kind City Museum.

Day 6 – St. Louis

Morning: Visit the Missouri Botanical Garden

One of the most picturesque attractions in St. Louis, the Missouri Botanical Garden has welcomed visitors for more than 150 years. Explore nearly 80 acres (30 hectares) of horticultural displays, including the famous Japanese Garden, which is one of the largest strolling Japanese gardens in North America. The Missouri Botanical Garden also holds classes and special events throughout the year.

Afternoon: Depart St. Louis from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport