The Absolute Best Day Trips for Getting Out of Nashville

Whether you're looking for beautiful parks or terrific breweries, there are plenty of good reasons to take a quick break from Music City.

Knoxville, Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee | Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock
Knoxville, Tennessee | Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock

Judging by all the traffic at the Nashville International Airport, people are back to flying the friendly skies in record numbers, but you don’t necessarily have to join the hordes of travelers. Stick to the highways and byways for some amazing experiences that are a comfortable drive from all the fun here in Music City, and you’ll have nothing to worry about other than creating the perfect playlist to keep you entertained. Stay the night in a cozy Airbnb or make a day of it and sleep in your own bed.

Leiper’s Fork, TN

Distance from Nashville: One hour
Leiper’s Fork used to be considered “the boondocks” by the more metropolitan residents of Nashville. But now it’s become a bedroom community for Music City and the home to a host of famous country music stars and actors who are attracted to the slower pace of life, abundant hospitality shopping, eating and drinking opportunities, and beautiful rolling hills. Grab breakfast at The Country Boy Restaurant, take a tasting tour at Leiper’s Fork Distillery, shop for art at the Leiper’s Creek Gallery and finish the perfect village day with dinner and some live music at Puckett’s Grocery. Then you’ll understand why the real estate market is booming.
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Paris, Tennessee
Paris, Tennessee | Michael Hatak/Shutterstock

Paris, TN

Distance from Nashville: Three hours
Save yourself a couple grand in airfare by taking a trip to Paris in West Tennessee. The quaint little town does feature a Lilliputian replica of the famed Eiffel Tower in Memorial Park, but even more attractive is the quintessential town square surrounding the courthouse. The sidewalks are lined with cozy cafes, boutiques, and antiques shops perfect for window shopping, and Kentucky Lake is just a short drive away for some fun on the water or some fried catfish at Anne & Dave’s Kitchen.
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Top of the Rock Restaurant & Brewery
Top of the Rock Restaurant & Brewery

South Pittsburg, TN

Distance from Nashville: Two hours
If all you know of South Pittsburg are the roadside fireworks stands lit by neon so bright it’s probably visible from space, you’re missing out on a fun little East Tennessee town. Home to Lodge Manufacturing, makers of cast iron skillets since the 1800s, the Lodge factory store is a great place to shop for discounted cookware you’ll be able to pass on to your grandkids. Sweetens Cove is known as one of the most entertaining, idiosyncratic golf courses in the region, so much so that sports legends Peyton Manning and Adny Roddick invested in the operation. Just over the interstate in Jasper, Top of the Rock Restaurant & Brewery offers sweeping views of the Tennessee Valley from the entrance of the Jasper Highlands community.
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Bristol, Tennessee
Bristol, Tennessee | Nolichuckyjake/Shutterstock

Bristol, TN

Distance from Nashville: Four hours, 30 minutes
Perched on the TN/VA border, Bristol is best known for its hyper-competitive speedway, where 40+ cars rub bumpers at 120+ mph around a course so short it looks like a Trader Joe’s parking lot at closing time. When record producer Ralph Peer brought his microphone to town in 1927 to record The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers in what would become known as “The Bristol Sessions,” it marked the birth of popular country music. The Birthplace of Country Music museum tells the story and explains the impact of that event in a fascinating display of artifacts and audio-visual exhibits. The town also boasts some great little craft breweries, including one right on the TN/VA state line.
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Muscle Shoals, AL

Distance from Nashville: Two hours, 45 minutes
When Lynyrd Skynyrd sang “Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers,” in their iconic Southern anthem “Sweet Home Alabama,” they were referring to the legendary group of backup musicians who played as the rhythm section on more than 500 recordings at studios in the area during the '60s and '70s. Acts like The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Wilson Pickett, and the aforementioned Skynyrd flocked to Muscle Shoals to record with these talented musicians and to work with the songsmiths of the area. Music fans should definitely make the pilgrimage to visit sites like FAME Recording Studios, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and Cypress Moons Studios to see where the magic was made. While you’re in the neighborhood, drop by the Alabama Music Hall of Fame to discover even more talent from the Yellowhammer State.
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All Saints Chapel
All Saints Chapel | Michael Stephens/Shutterstock

Sewanee, TN

Distance from Nashville: One hour, 15 minutes
Home to the Hogwarts-like University of the South, Sewanee offers opportunities to hike on miles of trails around the school on the accurately named Perimeter Trail. Or, visitors can enjoy indoor pursuits in the charming pubs like Shenanigans or The Blue Chair, art galleries, and the beautiful All Saints Chapel on campus. The nine-hole Golf Course at Sewanee features two par 3’s with infinity greens overlooking the valleys below and has been recognized as one of the top public courses in the state.
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Clarksdale, MS

Distance from Nashville: Four hours
A great add-on to a Memphis trip or as a worthy destination of its own, Clarksdale is the heart of the Mississippi Delta and home to great blues music. Soak up the history of the region at the North Delta Museum or visit the crossroads of highways 61 and 49 where legend says that blues master Robert Johnson traded his soul to the devil in return for his mythical guitar prowess. Sample some Delta tamales at Abe’s BBQ or the fried catfish at Ramon’s, but most importantly, be sure to hear some of the live blues that plays every night of the year in Clarksdale. Catch an afternoon show at Bad Apple Blues Club or an evening performance at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero or at Red’s, the most legendary juke joint in town. Lodging choices are a big part of the fun, whether it’s in fun little blues-themed downtown apartments like The Hooker Hotel, Delta Digs or Squeezebox, a hip boutique experience at The Travelers Hotel or in the former sharecropper cabins on the edge of town at the Shack Up Inn.
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Kentucky Downs
The Mint Gaming Hall

Franklin, KY

Distance from Nashville: One hour
Just across the border into Kentucky, the other Franklin is home to America’s only European-style (all turf) racecourse, Kentucky Downs, a modest track where they only really race the ponies a few weeks out of the year. But they do offer simulcasts and betting from other tracks seven days a week, plus slot machines and live entertainment at The Mint Gaming Hall. Oak Grove Racing, Gaming & Hotel is about an hour from Franklin and also promises “Vegas Vibes,” but that might be a bit of an overstatement. Those greedy Kentucky bourbon distilleries often save their finest hooch and best deals just for residents of the Bluegrass State, so check out the liquor store at the interstate exit just across the border for the chance at some rare finds.
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Lynchburg, TN

Distance from Nashville: One hour, 30 minutes
Of course, the number one reason that most people travel to Lynchburg is to tour the world-famous Jack Daniel’s Distillery. Still the most popular Tennessee whiskey in the world ever since Frank Sinatra first told his fans that it was his favorite drink, Jack Daniels welcomes more than 300,000 visitors a year to tour the facility and taste their “brown water.” (You may have heard that Jack Daniel’s is actually made in a dry county that doesn’t have any liquor stores, and that’s true. However, you can taste the whiskey at the distillery and buy commemorative bottles from the gift shop.) Don’t miss out on the quaint town square of Lynchburg with its gift shops and down home restaurants, or go all out for a full family-style meal at Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant in the former boarding house where young Jack Daniels lived and which is still operated by the distillery.
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Dinosaur World
Dinosaur World | Roig61/Shutterstock

Cave City, KY

Distance from Nashville: One hour, 30 minutes
If you’re trying to escape from the hustle and bustle of Nashville, there’s no better place to get away than actually underground. Mammoth Cave is undoubtedly the main attraction and is definitely worth visiting. The world's longest known cave system, with more than 400 miles of explored passageways, really is one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. For a little kitschy fun, stop by Dinosaur World and take a selfie with a life-size Jurassican.

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Crossville, TN

Distance from Nashville: One hour, 45 minutes
Situated on top of the Cumberland Plateau, Crossville has all sorts of fun activities for an afternoon or a weekend trip. Wineries with some decent juice, plenty of hiking or golfing opportunities, and the renowned and recently reopened Cumberland County Playhouse are all destinations worth seeking out for live theatre and music. More than one local spirits shop in town claims to be “Your Moonshine Headquarters,” so if you really need one of those, you’ve got choices.
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Huntsville, AL

Distance from Nashville: Two hours
If you’re a local, you probably visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center when you were younger, but now that you’re all grown up, Huntsville is definitely worth a return trip. With almost a dozen craft breweries in the area and an entertainment complex with restaurants and bars built in an old high school, Huntsville is fun for all ages. Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment is America's largest independent center for the arts, with over scores of working artists plus shops, restaurants, and live performance venues.

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the freight house
the freight house

Paducah, KY

Distance from Nashville: Two hours
This quaint town at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers is a delightful surprise for folks who haven’t ever stopped halfway on the trip to St. Louis. With a 20-block downtown historic district, a vibrant arts scene, and a tradition as the center of the quilting universe, there are plenty of reasons to make the detour, like 2019’s Top Chef runner-up Sara Bradley who cooks her brand of elevated Kentucky cuisine at The Freight House. The best time to check out the craft beer excellence of the town is at the PaBREWcah festival each summer, but there’s never a bad time to swing by to sample the local spirits and wine.
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Scottsboro, AL

Distance from Nashville: Two hours
It seems like The Today Show sends a correspondent to Scottsboro every year to do a story on the famous Unclaimed Baggage Center, but it really is that cool. Lost luggage from airlines across the country end up in this facility where they are sorted, priced at discount levels, and laid out like a regular department store for your shopping pleasure. There are even wedding dresses for sale—if you don’t mind getting married in somebody else’s gown. Consider it both “something old” and “something borrowed.” When you’re not looking for that iPod you left in the seatback pocket of a Southwest flight home from Vegas in 2011, get lunch of loaded fries and pulled pork at KC’s BBQ or a seafood dinner on the water at The Docks.

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Tennessee Aquarium
Tennessee Aquarium

Chattanooga, TN

Distance from Nashville: Two hours
Nashville urban planners could learn a lot from how our neighbors in Chattanooga developed their own riverfront. A 16-mile Riverwalk offers walking and biking access, and the easily walkable downtown district features gorgeous landscaping, all sorts of public art, the Tennessee Aquarium, Creative Discovery Museum and the Bluff View Art District. There’s also a minor league baseball park looming on the bluff above downtown and plenty of fun drinking and dining options nearby—including Tony’s Pasta Shop and Trattoria for a hearty Italian meal or the 3rd Deck Burger Bar on the Southern Belle Riverboat for a sandwich and a beer with a view of the Tennessee River. The famous Chattanooga Choo Choo is actually a fairly luxurious hotel now, and you can book a night in one of their vintage sleeping cars.
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Market Square in Knoxville, Tennessee
Market Square in Knoxville, Tennessee | Alizada Studios/Shutterstock

Knoxville, TN

Distance from Nashville: Three hours
Best known as the home to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville is still worth a visit even when the Vols aren’t playing. A vibrant culinary scene showcases the Appalachian cuisine of the region made using seasonal locally-sourced ingredients. Market Square has been a popular gathering spot for shopping, dining, and drinking for more than 150 years. Pop into boutique shops like Fruit Jar Alley for apparel and home decor, Popcorn Sutton for fun flavors and candy, Mast General Store, and more. When you spot the Dolly Parton mural, duck into the alleyway to discover more murals, or take yourself on the Knoxville Downtown Mural Walking Tour.

Knoxville hosted the World’s Fair in 1982, and the downtown park that hosted the event is still a fun place to stroll around and visit the fourth-floor observation deck of the centerpiece of the fairgrounds, The Sunsphere. The Graduate Hotel revels in its connection to UT with Volunteer Orange decor and a watering hole named Saloon 16, a partnership with former NFL quarterback and Tennessee football legend Peyton Manning. Or book an overnight at the historic Hyatt Place Knoxville Downtownwhere you can take in the city views with an espresso martini on the rooftop bar.
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Memphis, TN

Distance from Nashville: Three hours, 15 minutes
While Memphis and Nashville may share a playful rivalry as the state’s two largest cities, there’s no doubt that the Bluff City represents the soul of Tennessee. We certainly have some great barbecue in Music City, but not nearly as many iconic joints as Memphis which boasts The Rendezvous, Cozy Corner, The Bar-B-Que Shop, Germantown Commissary, Interstate Bar-B-Que, and many others. You can even stay in a cavernous modern pyramid at Big Cypress Lodge built above a giant Bass Pro Shop. Another option is the new Hyatt Centric, the only hotel in the middle of Beale Street, the city’s historic center of music and fun. Music fans should carve out time to visit Graceland, of course, but don’t miss out on Sun Studio, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and the Memphis Rock & Soul Museum.
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Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink and travel writer based out of Nashville who is excited about the prospect of getting back on the road again! Follow his travels on Twitter @CeeElCee.