Wedged within the mountains of the Appalachians in the east, and the mellow but massive Mississippi River in the west, and containing some of the nation’s most iconic rural landscapes in between, the state of Tennessee is considered by many to be one of the defining states of the American South.
Indeed, back in the days of the American Civil War, it contributed the most soldiers per capita to the cause of the Confederacy. However, what many people don’t realize is that this state also contributed the most soldiers for the Union during this tumultuous period in history, effectively making Tennessee ground zero for the cultural schism that took place back then.
After this painful period though, this portion of the South became famous for a much better reason, as it was here where the blues were born, and the art forms of country music and rock and roll were nurtured to the American artistic exports they are today.
Between its stunning natural landscapes, bucolic countryside scenes, and the intense musical heritage that can be found in the streets of its cities, Tennessee is a compelling destination that should be left off your itinerary when exploring America’s Deep South.
What To Do – Culture & History
Many of the major cultural attractions in Tennessee can be found in its cities. Start your exploration of Tennessee’s strong artistic pedigree in Memphis, where Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home, can be found.
The King of Rock and Roll’s fan base, along with many more curious tourists have made this residence the third most popular attraction of its kind in the United States, with only the White House and the Biltmore Estate garnering more visits.
The eclectic rooms and decadence tastes of one America’s biggest music stars are on full display here, as the out-there Jungle Room and Presley’s private jets will surely rank among your favorite highlights here.
Moving on to Nashville, take in the hottest talent in country music at the Grand Ole Opry, which is a weekly stage show that aims to put the breadth of American country music on display for all to see and hear.
While this show usually goes at the theme park built around it outside of Nashville, the show moves back to its old home at the Ryman Auditorium from November through February, so visitors that come here in winter will be able to experience the show in its original, more intimate environment.
If the show you attended has piqued your interest in the origins of this genre, then spending a few hours inside the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum will shed a great deal of light on the industry’s history.
This museum honors the artists that blazed a trail for this uniquely American musical style, as well as the current stars of today. Listen to countless samples that contain samples ranging from honky-tonk to rockin’ country, and you will come away with an entirely new appreciation for this subsection of the music world.
Outside Tennessee’s urban areas, those looking to peer back into the history of the rural parts of this state’s mountainous areas should pay a visit to the Museum of Appalachia. Operating as a living history museum backed by the Smithsonian Institution, this attraction contains one of the USA’s biggest collections of folk art, live performers that are skilled in the dying art of Appalachian style folk music, and buildings and farming implements that settlers in the past used to live off one of the South’s most beautiful regions.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
If you’d rather get into the outdoors of Tennessee, then heading straight to this state’s portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the easiest way to do this. One of the most dramatic peaks in the Appalachians can be found here, making it a haven for hikers, campers, and in the fall, leaf-peepers.
If spending time in Great Smoky Mountains National Park has gotten the nature bug in you alive, continue to feed it by taking a trip to Ruby Falls. This cataract is unlike any waterfall you have seen before, as Ruby Falls is located entirely underground.
Dropping 145 feet inside a limestone cavern, there are other natural features like stalactites and stalagmites that can be found here, but the massive chute is the knockout attraction that has drawn tourists for generations.
As you will see when you explore the country music in Nashville, Dolly Parton has been one of country music’s most successful vocalists. With the proceeds of her singing career, she has funded the creation of a popular theme park known as Dollywood.
In addition to amusement and water park rides, this attraction contains areas that honor the cultural heritage of the Smoky Mountains, as well as performance venues where the lady herself plays from time to time throughout the year.
Finally, those looking to explore one of the world’s biggest freshwater zoological facilities should make time for the Tennessee Aquarium. Found in Chattanooga, this facility is home to over 12,000 animals, many of whom are from river environments.
There is also a salt water tank, and non-aquatic animals like penguins and butterflies can also be found here, making a good place to take the family if you are traveling with one.