If you’ve always wanted to see the Southern United States, now’s your chance! This mega road trip from Dallas to Washington, D.C., will take you through some of the South’s biggest cities—including Jackson, Birmingham, Nashville, Atlanta, and Charlotte. It might be a long drive, but, luckily, the road down South has tons of stops along the way to keep things interesting. From science and history to parks and bridges, these destinations offer something for everyone. Let’s get started!
A little under three hours west of Dallas, Shreveport, Louisiana, is a fun first stop to make on your grand adventure from Dallas to D.C.! While you’re there, make sure you stop for a bite to eat at Orlandeaux’s Café (previously Brother’s Seafood), a historic, family-owned restaurant that’s become a Shreveport staple, serving up some of the best southern food in town (think gumbo, po’boys, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, and fried everything!). Another Shreveport-must is the Shreveport Aquarium, home to more than 3,000 animals. But if you’re looking for a healthy dose of culture, look no further than the R.W. Norton Art Gallery, an educational center with much more than traditional artwork (though there’s plenty of that, too).
The collections at the R.W. Norton Gallery span over four millennia, including work from dozens of countries and periods and boasting prolific names like Jacob van Ruisdael, Mary Cassatt, Frederic Remington, and many more. The gallery’s library and rare books collection has an estimated 15,000 volumes, and outside, visitors can enjoy 40 acres of landscaped grounds and gardens. Oh, and did we mention that there’s no admission fee? (Please note that photography and videography—both commercial and private—are prohibited at the museum.)
In addition to being the state capital of Mississippi, Jackson is also the state’s biggest city, and as such, you won’t be hard-pressed to find things to do and see! Nicknamed “The City with Soul,” Jackson is a cultural hub with a seemingly endless amount of history, music, and food to explore. Some of Jackon’s top attractions include the Medgar Evers Home Museum, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center, and, of course, the Mississippi State Capitol Building (but don’t forget to check the Old Capitol Museum, too!). While Jackson is a bustling metropolis, nature-lovers can still find a place where they’ll feel right at home: LeFleur's Bluff State Park, a sprawling natural paradise hiking, fishing, boating, camping, and more.
In addition to its trails, picnic areas, campsites, golf course, and lake, LeFleur’s Bluff also features two museums, the Mississippi Children’s Museum and the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. The latter is an environmental education center with fossils, an aquarium, a giant greenhouse (nearly 2,000 square feet!), a children’s discovery area, and over 70,000 square feet of temporary and permanent exhibits. And with a history that dates back to 1932, the museum is a symbol of the state’s ongoing dedication to natural science and continued learning.
Birmingham is the largest city in the state of Alabama, and in it, you’ll find a complementary mixture of parks, museums, restaurants, and historical sites. Some of Birmingham’s most-visited attractions include the Birmingham Zoo, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama Veterans Memorial Park, and Arlington Antebellum Home & Gardens. That being said, Birmingham’s prominence in the American Civil Rights Movement makes one stop in the city absolutely necessary, and that’s the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI).
Self-described as a “living memorial with an ongoing mission,” the BCRI is a Smithsonian affiliate that’s part of the larger Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, a historical monument and national park that was established in Downtown Birmingham in 2017. Stil in the process of being developed, the monument includes Kelly Ingram Park, 16th Street Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, and Birmingham’s Fourth Avenue Historic District, in addition to the BCRI. The significance of this portion of the city extends beyond Birmingham, encompassing the entirety of the United States and all of its citizens.
Next up on our list is Nashville, capital of Tennessee and, equally important, the capital of country music! From the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum to the Grand Ole Opry, lovers of country music will have an especially good time taking in all of Nashville’s music history and visiting its numerous historical sites. Other notable points of interest include the Centennial Park (where you’ll find a full-scale replica of the Parthenon), the Johnny Cash Museum, Music Row, the Bluebird Cafe, the Tennessee State Capitol, and the What Lifts You wings mural. But while it’s easy to get caught up in hopping your way from attraction to attraction in Nashville, don’t forget to take some time to appreciate the beauty of the city from the outside—and one of the best places to do that is at the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge.
Spanning the Cumberland River and connecting Downtown Nashville to Cumberland Park, the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world at over 300 feet. Closed to automobile traffic in 1998, the bridge is a safe, scenic walk that provides visitors with some pretty spectacular views of Nashville, making it a must-do attraction when in Music City.
As Georgia’s state capital and biggest city, Atlanta has a little bit of everything: history, sports, art, culture, family fun, and outdoor activities. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, the College Football Hall of Fame, the High Museum of Art, the Center for Puppetry Arts, the Georgia Aquarium, and the Atlanta Botanical Garden are just a few examples of Atlanta’s versatile attractions and popular tourist destinations. But, no trip to Atlanta is complete without taking a stroll through the city’s centerpiece, Centennial Olympic Park.
Built in preparation for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, Centennial Olympic Park is 22 acres of green space, walking paths, sculptures, and city landmarks. Because there’s so much to see in the park (and so much history behind it), visitors can even opt to take an audio walking tour to learn more about the park’s backstory and all of its intricacies. Around the park, you’ll find key attractions like SkyView Atlanta, CNN Center, the Children’s Museum of Atlanta, and the World of Coca-Cola. (Basically, if city parks were competition, this one would win the gold medal.)
As you make your way north, don’t pass up the opportunity to stop at Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city and one of the state’s leading commercial centers. Known as “The Queen City,” Charlotte is sure to charm you with its blend of big-city convenience and small-town friendliness. Some of the city’s top attractions are the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the Billy Graham Library, the Charlotte Museum of History, and Discovery Place Science. Uptown Charlotte is where you’ll find most of the city’s museums and cultural centers, including the Levine Museum of the New South, adjacent to First Ward Park.
With a mission to build a bridge between the past and the future, the Levine Museum of the New South focuses on American history in the Post-Civil War Era (1885–Present). From Reconstruction and Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond, the Levine Museum takes visitors on a journey through Southern history with a focus on racism, Black heritage, and human rights. Many of the museum’s exhibits are interactive and combine multimedia elements like video, photography, and audio recordings.
Richmond, Virginia’s capital, is among the oldest cities in America, and it served as one of the Confederacy’s major headquarters during the Civil War. Major Richmond attractions include Maymont Mansion, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, the multisite American Civil War Museum, and the Virginia State Capitol. While there’s no denying the city’s inherent historical appeal, history buffs are the only people with a reason to come to Richmond, there really are attractions for everyone in Richmond. For instance, literary enthusiasts, too, might find themselves unable to resist a stop in Richmond—after all, the city was a primary residence for none other than Edgar Allan Poe.
The Poe Museum is considered to have the world’s most comprehensive collection on the American writer, and some of its most noteworthy artifacts include Poe’s boyhood bed (a little creepy, yes, but Poe was all about that kind of thing!), Poe’s walking stick, an embroidered silk vest that once belonged to Poe, several manuscripts, and even a lock of Poe’s hair (and you thought the bed was creepy…). Delightfully strange and full of Poe-related memorabila, the Poe Museum will fascinate hardcore Poe fans, as well as visitors who barely know anything about him. (Oh, and fun fact: The museum also cares for two cats, Edgar and Pluto, that were found orphaned on the property—ironically, Poe was known for being a cat lover!)
Alexandria is only about 30 minutes south of Washington, but this quaint, historic town is still worth a stop on your way into D.C. Consistently praised for its landmarks, well-preserved architecture, and homey feel, Alexandria is a fun place to wander around before finally heading to D.C. Old Town, Alexandria’s historic district, is lined with boutiques, restaurants, and museums, and it’s here that you’ll find the Alexandria Visitor Center, as well as Founders Park on the Potomac Riverfront. But if you’re in the mood for a slightly more offbeat attraction, then the National Inventors Hall of Fame on the other side of town is a must-see.
With free admission and interactive exhibits, the National Inventors Hall of Fame showcases more than 500 inductees and their inventions. Inspirational, informative, and entertaining for visitors of all ages, the National Inventors Hall of Fame describes itself as a “national monument to innovation,” and there’s no better way to get ready to take on the nation’s capital than taking a look at just how far we’ve come from the past—and imagining what exciting things lie ahead for us in the future.
As the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., is more than just a travel destination—it’s an American symbol that’s brimming with history, culture, and accomplishment. Some of D.C.’s highlights include the U.S. Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian museums, the Jefferson Memorial, and, of course, the White House. That being said, all of these prolific points of interest will still be there if you take your time driving from Dallas, so why not take a few detours on your way there? Just think of all of the fried food, amazing attractions, and Southern hospitality waiting for you!