I’m swooning over Tennessee…. there, I admit it.
I’m cheating on New Zealand and I don’t even feel guilty about it. Tennessee reminds both Carl and me of New Zealand. I think this is why I could see myself so easily moving here and feeling at home. The food is incredible, the music is the best, the history is interesting, it has lush greenery and the people are beyond friendly. I fell in love with this whole state (the only reason stopping me is getting a green card + dick head, Donald Trump).
We spent a large chunk of our motorhome trip in Tennessee because we were having so much fun. It was a dream to visit historic places like rock n roll’ Memphis and country Nashville while relaxing in scenic bliss at Hurricane Mills and the Great Smoky Mountains.
We highly recommend spending time in this beautiful state and have included a few sites and activities we thought were exciting below.
Memphis – Tennessee
Memphis was so tiny! We were quite surprised with how small the actual downtown city area was. The Mississippi River runs alongside the city and we walked pretty much everywhere of interest to us within two days.
After speaking with a friend about the gentrification of the Civil Rights Museum we decided not to go. Carl and I absolutely wanted to visit but upon learning about how the museum was sugar-coating everything, well we didn’t want to waste our entry fee on it if it wasn’t the truth. We did stop outside and visit the Lorraine Motel, the last place where Martin Luther King stood before he was shot and killed. It was really sad, his cars are still parked outside the motel from when he pulled up to give his speech back in 1968. I didn’t feel comfortable taking photos.
Absolutely visit Graceland – for me, it was an interesting experience. Visiting the house where the king of rock n’ roll lived and died. I loved walking around and taking in all the different rooms and how he had them styled/decorated. While it was really cool, I also found it slightly macabre knowing that we weren’t allowed to visit the upstairs area where he had passed away.
I would definitely recommend going on the tour, visiting the museums, grabbing a peanut butter and banana grilled sandwich from Gladys Diner and looking inside Elvis’s planes. The only critique about the package deal was that I didn’t like how much merchandise there was spread out through every store. There are only so many Elvis t-shirts one can look at!
We also wandered along the river to the big silver pyramid-shaped building, Bass Pro Shop. I know, I know… why did I go there? because they have an aquarium and live alligators! Also, I really wanted to see what the inside looked like because the outside is truly gigantic. Turns out they have the place decorated as if you’re standing in the bayous of Louisiana. It was so weird, but I’m glad I went along and checked it out. We didn’t leave empty-handed either, we brought gummy bears!
Hurricane Mills – Tennessee
Driving east towards Nashville, we wanted to make sure we spent a night in Hurricane Mills. Specifically, Loretta Lynn’s Ranch and RV Park. It turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made on this trip.
It was easily one of the most beautiful relaxing places I have ever been. Surrounded by forests, rivers and fresh air – we parked up and spent the afternoon walking around the wildflower covered fields watching wild fish in the river.
It was the perfect escape from the city for a night, I would love to go back there in the Summer.
Nashville – Tennessee
Head into the city and wander along both sides of Broadway where you’ll find live music playing in every bar. My pick would be Tootsies Orchid Lounge, a lavender 3-story bar with a different band playing on every level. There are no cover charges in Broadway bars either. While you’re up that way, head into Jack’s Bar-B-Que for some of the best ribs and brisket you’ll ever eat.
We caught a quick uber a couple of times in Nashville to visit places that were further out and too far to walk from the city centre. Pancake Pantry was one of them, an absolute institution and one you can’t miss. Be prepared to wait in a line out front, it’s worth it. I highly recommend the Georgia Peach Buttermilk Pancakes. We also caught a uber out east to do some vintage shopping and started at Hip Zipper Nashville. Incredible vintage (that actually fit me), and so much dead-stock.
Once we were back in the city centre we visited a few more musical must-sees like the Johnny Cash Museum and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Both we really cool and I loved seeing the artists costumes they wore onstage. Hit up the Goo Goo Cluster shop while you’re near the Johnny Cash Museum, it’s just over the road and you’ll need a sweet treat by then. A retro candy cluster invented in 1912 made with nuts, chocolate and marshmallow nougat.
We walked about 15 minutes from Broadway and found the Downtown Antiques Mall, as well as Jack White’s Third Man Records store within a few minutes of each other. Both of these were amazing to look around and well worth the walk over.
And of course, you can’t leave downtown Nashville without visiting The Hermitage Hotel. An old French and Italian Renaissance style 5-star hotel. It has a must-see lobby and veranda area as well as funnily enough, the famous men’s bathroom. I felt a bit silly asking, but I spoke with the concierge who told me that we don’t have to be hotel guests to peruse the bathroom.
We headed downstairs to the lobby to the ground level where the famous 1930’s art deco men’s bathroom is located. I sent Carl in first to make sure it was safe, and then I followed. Wow, it was so beautiful inside – complete with mint green sinks and matching toilets, vintage telephone and shoeshine station.
The Great Smoky Mountains – Tennessee
I will say one thing… visit Dollywood. It was so much fun to spend the day at this country-style theme park in the middle of the green wilderness. I went on a bunch of roller coasters and getting soaked on the water rides. I realised once I got there that most of the rides are some sort of roller coaster. There are tonnes of places to eat as well as all sorts of shops to look at.
They even have a large American eagle sanctuary setup where they raise money to help these endangered birds. They were absolutely stunning to see up close.
My highlight of the day was definitely getting to ride on the Dollywood Express. An authentic coal-powered steam train which does a 20-minute loop while you learn lots of history about the Smokies.
Head to Sevierville County. This is the small town Dolly Parton grew up in. Head to the town hall and grab a photo with her adorable statue, it’s worth it. There are also a bunch of antique and thrift shops in this area too which we checked out.
The Smoky Mountains were literally one of the biggest highlights of my trip so far. I am definitely coming back here to spend more time in the crisp mountain air.
Tennessee I love you!
Read more travel tips during my recent trip to Las Vegas, Nevada.