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8 Best Day Trips From Nashville

By Jackie Gutierrez-Jones, Lonely Planet Writer
January 12, 2022
Elvis's costumes at Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
Tony Bosse/Dreamstime
After you’ve explored the honky-tonks and legendary hot chicken scene, a day trip from Nashville offers an array of history, food, music, and fun.

The cities and towns that are just an easy drive from Nashville (between a half-hour and three hours) are full of natural and historical wonders that are ripe for a quick adventure. Whether you find yourself sampling some Tennessee whiskey from a powerhouse distillery or exploring the mysterious depths of an underground sea, here are eight of our favorite day-trip destinations.

All of these locations can be reached in three hours or less from Nashville via car. Just be sure to check their websites and/or call ahead of time for any weather-related closures.

1. Brush up on your Civil War history in Franklin

Drive time: 22 miles south of Nashville; 30-minute drive

What to do: Franklin has come a long way since its days as a Confederate stronghold and site of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles (The Battle of Franklin). Today, the small town manages to preserve its historic past while stepping into its new role as a welcoming, suburban city brimming with quaint, locally owned shops and lively eateries.

Start off by exploring three of Franklin’s most important Civil War sites – the Carnton Plantation, the Lotz House and the Carter House – through a local tour operator or venture out on your own on a self-guided tour. Later, head to downtown Franklin’s charming Main Street for boutique shopping and delectable Southern eats at Gray’s on Mainbefore capping off the day with a bottle of honeysuckle wine at the nearby Arrington Vineyards.

2. Drink some Tennessee whiskey in Lynchburg

Drive time: 75 miles south of Nashville; one-hour and 40-minute drive

What to do: Jack Daniels is practically synonymous with Tennessee whiskey, making Lynchburg – the home of Jack Daniels Distillery – a veritable mecca for fans of this storied brown spirit. Interestingly, the distillery is located in a dry county, but you can still sample whiskey drawn from individual barrels during one of their informative distillery tours.

The town of Lynchburg itself is also worth exploring. If wine is more your speed, pop into the Lynchburg Winery before indulging in a slice of rich Southern gastronomic history at Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House Restaurant. If souvenir shopping is on the list, the surrounding shops are stocked with a delightful assortment of handmade crafts.

3. Go whitewater kayaking at Rock Island State Park

Drive time: 87 miles east of Nashville; one-hour and 40-minute drive

What to do: Within Rock Island State Park’s 883 acres, you’ll find a day full of nature excursions that cater to both laid-back explorers and adrenaline junkies alike. The park is both majestically craggy and verdant, boasting a 30-foot horseshoe waterfall that once powered the 19th-century cotton textile mill located above it. You can opt to hike past this powerful water feature on one of nine trails located below the dam, or, if you’re experienced with a kayak, you can take to the rushing stream and paddle your way downstream.

Fishing, swimming and birding are also popular options here, with osprey, belted kingfishers and great blue herons in the area.

4. Visit an underground national park in Cave City, Kentucky

Drive time: 93 miles northeast of Nashville; one-hour and 30-minute drive

What to do: With its underground rivers, glittering crystals, jagged stalagmites and rare wildlife, Mammoth Cave National Park provides shelter for some of the most unusual ecosystems in the world. But the 400-mile surveyed passageways also have their fair share of fascinating tales to tell – including the cave’s turn as a tuberculosis hospital and the prehistoric mummies that inhabited its depths. You can spend a day learning about this U.S. national park through cave tours and experiences that range from an hour-and-a-half to six hours.

After you’ve peeked at the blind beetles and eyeless fish inside the cave complex, go topside for an afternoon of hiking, fishing and ziplining through 53,000 acres of lush forest.

5. Explore space travel and breweries in Huntsville, Alabama

Drive time: 110 miles south of Nashville; one-hour and 53-minute drive

What to do: Home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsvilleis quite literally a town full of rocket scientists. As such, space-themed adventures are the order of the day, and there’s no better spot to explore the skies than at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. The Smithsonian-affiliated museum contains the world’s largest collection of space artifacts, including rocket and shuttle components. Both kids and adults alike will get a kick out of a walk-through replica of the International Space Station and the resident G-Force simulator.

Huntsville has also come into its own as an arts and culture hub. Case in point: Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment, the nation’s largest privately owned arts facility. Inside this former cotton mill, you can watch artists at work from over 148 studios, dip into one of the six galleries or watch a performance in the facility’s theater.

After an afternoon of the arts, wind down with a beer inside one of Huntsville’s many up-and-coming breweries, like the Salty Nut Brewery, Yellowhammer Brewing and Straight to Ale. Certain areas around town are designated open container, making it easy to continue exploring Huntsville with a to-go cup in hand.

6. Ride the rail up to Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga

Drive time: 134 miles southeast of Nashville; two-hour and 10-minute drive

What to do: Six miles from downtown Chattanooga lies a nature-based triple threat: Ruby Falls, Rock City and the Inline Railway. It’s an all-day, all-ages adventure based in Lookout Mountain, a mountain ridge running through Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Start with a guided cave tour or a 700-foot zipline adventure through Ruby Falls, home of the world’s largest underground waterfall, before strolling through the diverse flora and fauna of the Rock City Gardens.

Wrap up your day with a mile-high ride on the Incline Railway, one of the world’s steepest passenger railways. At the top: a bird’s eye from the Lookout Mountain observation deck.

7. Navigate the Lost Sea in Sweetwater

Drive time: 170 miles east of Nashville; two-hour and 53-minute drive

What to do: Tennessee may be land-locked, but that doesn’t stop the state from boasting its very own sea. Designated a registered natural landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior and listed as ‘America’s largest underground lake’ by Guinness World Book of Records, the Lost Sea is a massive body of water located in a historic cave system known as the Craighead Caverns. The true size of this body of water is unknown, but you can glide across its four-acre surface and catch a glimpse of the crystal formations and colossal rainbow trout that inhabit the caverns on one of the daily boat tours offered.

Nearby, Sweetwater’s revitalized Main Street offers a bake shop full of indulgent Southern sweets, galleries and plenty of antique shopping.

8. Tour Elvis Presley’s stomping grounds in Memphis

Drive time: 215 miles west of Nashville; three-hour drive

What to do: Clocking in at just over 200 miles, the drive from Nashville to Memphis stretches the definition of a day trip, but if you’re a devotee of ‘The King’, you know that it’s all about taking care of business… in a flash. And there’s no other place that brings the legacy of Elvis to life quite like the kitschy and wonderfully bizarre Graceland. The full Elvis Experience tour takes about three hours, which still leaves you time to fill up on some that transcendent low-and-slow Memphis pulled pork at Central BBQ before heading back to Music City.

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Budget Travel Lists

Historic U.S. Homes: Our Top 8 Picks

You can read an author’s entire body of work, study a president’s legacy, or celebrate the achievements of a civil rights hero, but nothing gives you a true understanding of a famous figure like a visit to the place she or he lived. Their home is their sanctuary for creating their art, developing and carrying out their righteous mission, or simply experiencing life in a setting that influenced them. Here are a few historic homes that deliver a thorough education and, if you’re open to it, inspiration. 1. Harry S. Truman National Historic Site: Independence, Missouri From 1919, the year he married Bess Wallace, until his death in 1972, President Harry S. Truman lived in a simple Victorian home in, fittingly enough, Independence, Missouri. (During his eight-year residency on Pennsylvania Avenue, it was known as the ‘Summer White House’) A wander through this home delivers an intimate look at the life of the World War I veteran and 33rd American President. Like most presidential homes and memorials, this one is part of the National Parks Service and tours by park rangers happen regularly. The home is so loaded with period details, family heirlooms, personal objects and memorabilia that a guided tour is well worth it. 2. Susan B. Anthony House: Rochester, New York One of the cornerstones of American democracy – a woman’s right to vote – took root at a modest, pre-Civil War brick house in Rochester, New York, which is located about 90 minutes from Niagara Falls. Pioneering activist Susan B. Anthony turned her house into the headquarters of the suffrage movement, and when she wasn’t campaigning across the country, she was organizing from the parlor here, often with anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass and fellow women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Check out the third-floor attic, where she penned many political documents, and the second floor features a collection of memorabilia that tell the story of the suffrage movement. 3. John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site: Brookline, Massachusetts America’s 35th president was born and raised just outside of Boston, in the ritzy suburb of Brookline, and to this day, the unassuming home where he spent the first three years of his life stands as a monument. It’s a museum-like destination showcasing Kennedy family mementos and photographs. 4. Morris-Jumel Mansion: New York, New York George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton are just a few of the notables who dined in the Morris-Jumel Mansion, a country retreat built in 1765 on an elevated perch overlooking Manhattan in what is now the Sugar Hill neighborhood of Harlem. It was commissioned by Roger Morris, a colonel in the British Army, and his wife Mary. But in 1776 it was seized by the Continental Army and transformed into General Washington’s HQ. About 35 years later, it was purchased by wealthy businessman Stephen Jumel who pulled out all the stops to refurbish it. Known to be the oldest house in Manhattan, its period details have been carefully maintained, much to the joy of locals over time. (Duke Ellington once deemed it ‘the jewel in the crown of Sugar Hill.’) 5. Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum: Baltimore, Maryland The city of Baltimore pays tribute to its longtime resident Edgar Allan Poe in many ways, such as naming its football team the Ravens, in honor of his famous poem. A visit to Charm City can be a Poe-filled pilgrimage, what with Enoch Pratt Free Library’s original manuscripts and his grave at Westminster Hall and Burial Ground. Of course, the best way to learn about the American icon and his celebrated work is to visit the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum, a modest building where he lived for much of the 1930s with his teenage cousin/bride, Virginia, and her mother. His workroom sits at the top of a narrow and fittingly creaky staircase while the rest of the house, which became a National Historic Landmark in 1962, has exhibits on his life in Baltimore, his family and the poems and stories he penned. 6. Emily Dickinson Museum: Amherst, Massachusetts The tranquil woodsy landscape of Amherst Massachusetts, about 95 miles west of Boston, is the setting where Emily Dickinson penned her contemplative, radical verse. 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Eastman’s actual home contains more than 200,000 objects ranging from business and personal correspondences, including some with presidents, his own photos and scrapbooks, and an archive of Kodak advertisements. Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with Lonely Planet’s weekly newsletter.

Budget Travel Lists

8 Coolest Motels in America

Over the past few years, creative hoteliers have been taking rundown vintage motor lodges and sprucing them up with modern amenities without sacrificing any of the nostalgic charm. Here are a few of America's coolest motels where you can rest your head, retro-style. 1. Austin Motel: Austin, Texas Joanne’s Fine Foods, a classic 1950s-style diner, is the Austin Motel’srestaurant, and its throwback vibe captures the overall vibe of the super-hip property. Both fit perfectly into their setting, Austin’s super-hip South Congress neighborhood. Opened in 1938, the motel underwent a makeover in 2017 and now stands as a tribute to mid-century modern design and style. Each room features retro-esque radios and lamps, plus orange and yellow vinyl accents that complement the ultra-colorful, vibrant wallpaper. But the biggest draw is the kidney-shaped pool, a gathering spot for locals in the warm weather. 2. Beck’s Motor Lodge: San Francisco, California Rooms at this Castro district motel are no longer $5 per night, the rate charged when it opened in 1958, but parking is free, which is hard to come by in San Francisco and a big boon for road-trippers passing through. Beck’s Motor Lodge is perhaps the most historic on our list, what with its role in the gay rights scene in the 1960s. A 2017 makeover added sunburst décor, analog clocks, simple throwback furniture, and other details that enhance mid-century modern vibe. Contemporary amenities like flat-screen televisions were added, too. A few of the 58 rooms have access to the rooftop sundeck, a perfect perch for a timeless San Francisco activity: watching the fog roll by. 3. Vagabond Hotel: Miami, Florida Once you know that Sammy Davis Jr and Frank Sinatra hung out here back in the day, you’ll understand how important it was that this Miamihaunt’s snazzy 1950s-era vibe was preserved during a 2014 refurbishment. 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Thunderbird Inn: Savannah, Georgia With its neon sign, blocks of color marking the exterior, and MoonPies and cans of RC Cola on the nightstand, the T-Bird Inn looks like something out of a Doris Day movie. When this downtown Savannahmotel, which sits on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1964, it lured travelers – including the Jackson 5 – with its ‘refrigerated’ rooms. Now, after a 2018 overhaul, it charms with warm popcorn on arrival, retro-chic rooms, full-on green initiatives, and complimentary Krispy Kreme donuts. Also, puppy parents will be happy to know that the hotel features an enclosed dog run and offers doggie bedding and treats. 8. Unscripted Durham: Durham, North Carolina Retrofitted into a 1960s motor lodge, the Unscripted Durham boasts a giddy mod sensibility with a vintage-style poolside lounge, mid-century modern furniture in the lobby and guestrooms, and wallpaper with colorful geometric patterns throughout. No modern, high-tech amenities are spared at the expense of a thoughtfully designed vintage look that makes you half-expect Don Draper to stroll through the lobby of this conveniently located downtown Durham property. There’s a smart flat-screen television and Bluetooth sound system in each room and high-tech equipment in the fitness center. Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with Lonely Planet’s weekly newsletter. Make sure you're ready for anything with travel insurance from our trusted partners.

Budget Travel Lists

Kentucky: Our 5 Favorite Things to Do

No one ever accused Kentucky of being boring. From the lively role it played in the Civil War to its rich history of bourbon-making to the all-American horseraces that bring throngs of fancy hat-sporting fans to the area each year, there’s plenty that draws people to the Bluegrass State, the 15th to join the Union. Here are a few things not to be missed when you plan a visit. 1. Hit the trail—the Kentucky Bourbon Trail When the Kentucky Bourbon Trail launched in 1999, it featured eight bourbon distilleries. Today it includes 17, six of which are in Louisville. In 2018, more than 1 million thirsty visitors explored the history of this iconic American industry. You can schedule a tour at each distillery, get a stamp on your “passport” when you leave, and if you hit them all, mail in you can exchange your passport for a t-shirt. Last year marked the unveiling of a visitors center at the Frazier History Museum in downtown Louisville. 2. Explore Horse Country When you think about major American sporting events, you think about the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals. But none of those are associated with a single place—a single venue, in fact—like another major event: the Kentucky Derby. A glimpse into the lives of thoroughbreds is reason alone to visit Bluegrass State. Head to the horse farms in the Lexington area (AKA: “Horse Country”) where activities range from tours of the gorgeous farms, a riding lesson, and visiting the stables of Kentucky Derby champions. 3. Step back in Time America’s Civil War history runs wide and deep in Kentucky, and there are enough sites and monuments to events and people of the time to warrant a days-long road trip. The 36 attractions on Kentucky’s Civil War Heritage Trail include museums like the Underground Railroad Museum and the Women of the Civil War Museum; historic homes like Mary Todd Lincoln’s house and Henry Clay’s estate; as well as battlefields, state parks, cemeteries, and forts. 4. Soak Up Water Sports Rafting, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and just plain floating are just a few of the things to do in the 119 miles of Kentucky Wild Rivers. The nine rivers that fall under the designation are protected from construction and other man-made intrusions. Among the many, many places to explore the state’s waterways are Russell Fork River, a rafter’s delight that includes a gorgeous gorge and is rated Class IV through Class VI rapids, and the man-made Fish Trap Lake, a haven for boating, fishing, and hiking. Just be on the lookout for deer! 5. A New Take on an Ancient Landmark It seems that everywhere you travel these days, you can spot engaging public art and vibrant murals. But local artists lend unique character to their home turf in a variety of ways, and Chester Fryer in Munford, about 75 miles south of Louisville, that meant collecting nearly every large rock he could find within 1000 acres and recreating Stonehenge on his estate. What he didn’t use to build his masterpiece he employed in other projects around the property: the Garden of Gethsemane, Rock Park, and Rock Gardens. You can check out the structures from dusk to dawn daily, but note that it’s essentially in someone’s yard, so no touching or climbing allowed.

Budget Travel Lists

Northeast Wineries: 10 Vineyards That Are Changing the Wine Game

The Northeast region has been an up-and-coming wine area for some time and is finally getting the attention it deserves. With more vineyards opening and notable established wineries expanding from Vermont, Connecticut and New York down to New Jersey and Maryland, you may even call it the “East Coast Napa.” Your hardest decisions will be which vineyard to visit first and if you should order just one glass of wine or an entire flight. 1. Castello Di Borghese; Cutchogue, NY Soak up the history at Castello Di Borghese, the oldest Bordeaux vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island. The 100-acre farm is well known for its expansive collection of Bordeaux and gives history tours at the vineyard for guests to learn about the area and its rich past. The winery also draws a huge art crowd with a gallery in the tasting room that offers regular art shows featuring local artists. (castellodiborghese.com) 2. DiGrazia Vineyards; Brookfield, CT Want to learn about the winemaking process? DiGrazia Vineyards offers free tours of the organic vineyard by founder and original winemaker, Dr. Paul DiGrazia. >span class="s4"> Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy wines on their terrace. (digraziavineyards.com) 3. Channing Daughters; Bridgehampton, NY Tucked away in the picturesque East End in Bridgehampton, Channing Daughters is well known for having a wide array of whites, rosé, reds, orange or skin contact, pet nat and sparkling wine. The vineyard also features a sculpture garden that draws guests to roam through the vineyard and enjoy Walter Channing’s artwork, including a massive 40-foot rocket. (channingdaughters.com) 4. Shelburne Vineyard; Shelburne, VT Shelburne Vineyard started 35 years ago when Ken Albert leased three acres from Shelburne farms, believing that viticulture could be a success in Vermont. Winemaker Ethan Joseph now produces reds, whites, rosés, and even ice wines, which are dessert wines produced from grapes that have been frozen on the vine. Don’t miss out on Ethan’s other label, Lapetus, which focuses on natural resources and experimental wines of Vermont. (shelburnevineyard.com) 5. Wölffer Estate; Sagaponack, NY Established in 1987, Christian Wölffer started Wölffer Estates as a small operation; today that little dream has turned into the largest vineyard in the heart of the Hamptons. Wölffer has an expansive collection of delicious rosés, and has created a pink gin using their famed rosé as the gin base. The winery also has an outstanding summer program, including events like yoga in the vines, music, and special wine-paired chef dinners at the estate. (wolffer.com) 6. Unionville Vineyards; Ringoes, NJ While New Jersey’s nickname is the “Garden State,” when you think of New Jersey, a bustling wine region most likely doesn’t come to mind. But that is, in fact, changing very quickly. Unionville Vineyards sits on an 88-acre farm that was once the largest peach orchard in the U.S. They showcase single-vineyard bottlings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and have a growing portfolio dedicated to Rhône blends and varietals, which are not to be missed. (unionvillevineyards.com) 7. Wild Arc Farm; Pine Bush, NY The husband-and-wife team behind Wild Arc Farm left the Big Apple in 2016 to give their green thumbs a try in the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York. With little to no experience, they took the task to another level when they decided to farm biodynamic and permaculture-focused wines. This gave them the map to create world-class natural wines, a process that avoids using additives and filtration. The farm is opening a tasting room in 2019 and currently its wines can be purchased online and in restaurants, shops, and bars listed in the “Find” section of its website. (wildarcfarm.com) 8. Old Westminster Winery; New Windsor, MD It’s a true family affair at Old Westminster Winery in New Windsor, Maryland. Starting a vineyard was Jay and Virginia Baker’s dream. They planted their first vines in 2011 with their three children, who now fully run the winery. It was such a success that the family opened a massive tasting room in 2015, where they offer live music and local food trucks and have even put out a line of canned wine. Yes, that’s a thing now and you’re going to love it. (oldwestminster.com) 9. Liten Buffel; Middleport, NY Liten Buffel vineyard (meaning “little buffalo” in Swedish) keeps their natural winemaking process quite simple, with no filtration or additives. But the western New York winery’s natural wines are anything but just simple. Opening in 2017, its mission is straightforward: to make the best all-natural wine possible. Make an appointment at their tasting room to try their Pinot Noir or maybe a little Riesling? (litenbuffel.com) 10. Heart & Hands Winery; Union Springs, NY When you arrive at Heart & Hands Winery, you can count on a warm welcome from the vineyard’s mascot, Cailza, a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. The small boutique winery is a reflection of its name, with husband-and-wife team Tom and Susan Higgins committed to producing cool-climate wines that express the flavors of their Finger Lakes region. The winery’s handcrafted wines focus on Pinot Noir and Riesling, from which they create still and sparkling wines. (heartandhandswine.com)