Cherokee culture, European settlements, revolutionary battlegrounds, heirloom recipes and antebellum architecture—the melting pot that is the American South offers visitors gentile hospitality and a history as complex as its inhabitants. Known for its uncompromising good manners, lilting accents, deep-rooted traditions, rich history and vibrant cultures, the South is a must-visit destination for foodies, history buffs and those with an eye for architecture.Here are our recommendations on what to see, what to do and what to eat to get a true taste of yesteryear and soak up some of that good ol’ Southern charm.
A veritable walk down America’s memory lane, Richmond is home to a culture and history rich with political significance. “History is everywhere in Richmond,” says Erin Bagnell with Richmond Region Tourism. “Here, more than 400 years of American history live on through magnificent architecture, monument-lined cobblestone streets and world-class museums.”
The Virginia State Capital in Richmond, Virginia - iStock/garytog
- Hollywood Cemetery: The final resting place of U.S. Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
- Maymont Mansion: This 12,000-square-foot, 33-room home offers a glimpse into the Victorian era, complete with Tiffany stained-glass windows.
- The Virginia State Capitol Building: Erected between 1785–1788 and designed by Thomas Jefferson.
- The Old Stone House of 1750: Richmond’s oldest known structure has served as the Edgar Allan Poe Museum since 1922.
- Monument Avenue: The only street in America listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Smoky Mountains: North Carolina & Tennessee
Renowned for their natural beauty and historic mountain culture, the Smoky Mountains are greatly influenced by Cherokee natives and colonial settlers. The creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940 protected 500,000 acres of pristine forest, allowing the natural landscape to remain unchanged.
Sunset over the Smoky Mountains - iStock/WerksMedia
- Grist Mills: There are two original working grist mills still in operation, and both are in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Cataloochee Valley: Considered the park’s best place to view historic frame buildings from the late 19th and 20th centuries.
- Museum of the Cherokee Indian: The Cherokee culture continues here today, and visitors delight in learning about native history.
- Appalachian Trail: More than 71 miles of the trail run through the park; visit its highest point, Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet.
- Fireflies: During the month of June, the fireflies put on an incredible synchronized display.
Charleston, South Carolina
Often considered the South’s crown jewel, Charleston is a city that leads with its past. Here, refined manners, Southern hospitality and historic preservation reign supreme. With its candy-colored antebellum mansions, centuries-old buildings and restored plantations, the city’s three centuries of history are on display at every turn, making it a veritable living museum.
Belmond Charleston Place in Charleston, South Carolina - Josh Gibson, Courtesy of Belmond Charleston Place
- Charleston Stroll Walk with History Tour: Since 1979, this tour has been the gold standard of tours in town.
- Home & Garden Tours: Attend one of the city’s two homes and gardens tours—spring’s Festival of Houses and Gardens and the Fall Tour of Homes.
- House Museums: Visit the beautifully restored Nathaniel Russell House and the preserved Aiken-Rhett House.
- Lower King Street Antiques District: Visiting these venerable antiques purveyors is one of the best ways to get a taste of Charleston’s storied history.
- Historic Plantations: Head down Highway 61 and experience historic plantations like Drayton Hall and Middleton Place, where time has stood still for 200 years.
Since its foundation in 1733, Savannah has successfully woven together an intricate tapestry of colonial history and genteel hospitality. Surviving the ravages of war and reconstruction, it wasn’t until the 1950s that a group of women banded together as the Historic Savannah Foundation in an effort to preserve historic structures threatened by the wrecking ball. “The aesthetic beauty is like no other in the country,” says Erica Backus, director of public relations for the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce.
Layfette Square in Savannah, Georgia - iStock/gferdinandsen
- Museum Houses: Visit the Owens-Thomas House and the Isaiah Davenport House, the first major building saved by the Historic Savannah Foundation.
- Battle Field Park: More than 700 men spilled their blood on this ground during the Siege of Savannah in a battle that lasted less than one hour.
- Forsyth Park: The Historic District’s largest park (30 acres) is a perfect spot for relaxing and people-watching.
- Telfaire Museum of Art: The South’s first public art museum.
- Bonaventure Cemetery: A 19th-century cemetery that’s wonderfully set and filled with impressive monuments and live oaks draped with Spanish moss.
Golden Isles, Georgia
Enticing visitors since 1592, Georgia’s Golden Isles are comprised of St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island and the port city of Brunswick. With historic landmarks around every bend and inlet, the area is almost like a living, breathing time machine, where picturesque maritime forests, century-old oak trees and marshlands have remained untouched for generations.
Live Oak landscape, St. Simons Island, Georgia - iStock/KAdams66
- Trolley Tours: The tours cover a plethora of historic sites on St. Simons Island while educating passengers on the stories, people and legends that make the Golden Isles magical.
- Cannon’s Point: Take a guided history tour of the 19th-century cotton plantation to hear the stories of life on St. Simons Island in the 1800s.
- Avenue of the Oaks: Two rows of sprawling oak trees create a dramatic tunnel, which was once the entrance to Retreat Plantation.
- First African Baptist Church: Established in 1859, visitors from around the globe still attend services and enjoy soulful gospel music.
- Jekyll Island National Historic District: Comprised of 33 historic structures within 240 acres, it is one of the largest ongoing historic restoration projects in the Southeast.