In this post we are sharing our American South road trip itinerary for travellers who are looking for recommendations on this route.
A few years back, we shared our Best Ever California road trip itinerary based on taking more than four road trips down the West Coast. So last summer we decided it was time for something new, and we took a trip down the east coast instead!
Our American South Road Trip Itinerary
This itinerary covered 37 days, which is a lot longer than most road trips, but we did spend two weeks in North Carolina having a beach vacation, and a week in Nashville living my country music dreams! We also opted to have a few days in New York at the start and end of our trip.
Without our extended stops, this road trip covers 2,300 miles and 14 days. You could condense this itinerary or extend it by visiting Memphis before Nashville, which adds around six hours (400 miles) to the itinerary. It depends how much time you have!
- Day 1-4: New York.
- Day 5-15: Wilmington, NC
- Day 16-17: Charlestown, SC
- Day 18-20: Savannah, GA
- Day 21-29: Nashville, TN
- Day 29-30: Pigeon Forge, TN
- Day 31-32: Blue Ridge Parkway, TN
- Day 33-35: Washington, DC
- Day 36-37: New York
Tips for an American South Road Trip Itinerary
- Flying from the UK to the American South can be expensive. Flights to Atlanta were double the cost of flights to more popular destinations like New York and Miami, but the trade-off is more driving once you land in America.
- To save money we used Avios to fly from Manchester to New York, and then drove down the coast to start our road trip. We also booked all of our accommodation except Dollywood through Home Exchange, meaning we didn’t pay for accommodation. You can see our full trip budget here.
- Consider the time of year when planning your road trip. In July average temperatures are between 25 and 30 degrees, rising in August when the humidity also hits 98%.
- Be prepared for a culture shock. Southern charm is definitely a real thing, but you’ll see a lot of things that as Europeans might seem strange – there’s a lot of “God, Guns and Trump” culture in this part of America.
- You are going to eat a LOT in this part of America – it’s known for its amazing food, and you should definitely pack your stretch jeans.
Kick off your American road trip in New York City!
As mentioned, flying to New York from the UK is around half the cost of flying to Atlanta, so we opted to have a few days in the Big Apple to start off our journey.
We obviously did a lot of shopping, but we also managed to see a couple of Broadway shows, eat at a lot of restaurants and generally have a blast. It’s New York – whatever you do is going to be fun!
My one tip here is don’t hire your car from JFK unless you want to take out a second mortgage. We hired ours from a hire office in a shopping mall in New Jersey, and it was literally HALF the price for rental. We spent $50 on an Uber to get us there to collect the car, and there were no queues or long waits.
Living the Beach Life in Wilmington, NC
It was a long drive of more than 9 hours from New York to North Carolina, so allow a full day in your itinerary for this trip. But the roads are easy, and we only really hit traffic as we went past places like Philadelphia.
North Carolina is laid back, vintage beach vibes. A real highlight for fellow 30+ and 40+ readers is that many of your favourite teen TV shows and movies were filmed in this part of the world, so there’s a lot of fun to be had spotting the locations from Dawsons Creek, The Summer I Turned Pretty, One Tree Hill, American Gothic and others.
Head to Wrightsville Beach for college bars, long, beautiful beaches and kayaking around the inland tidal channels.
Carolina Beach is a short, 20 minute drive and has the most beautiful boardwalk with live music and fireworks every week during the summer. We loved the vintage arcade and fairground rides, then eating barbecue at one of the many beachside restaurants, then heading down to the water for incredible firework displays.
Historic charm in Charleston, SC
We had a couple of days to spend in South Carolina and we loved the quaint city of Charleston. Walking around and checking out the period houses and colourful streets was a lot of fun – although at this time of year (July) you’ll need to miss the afternoon rainstorms.
No Southern road trip is complete without a meal of biscuits and gravy, so be sure to visit Callies to sample this Southern staple. As an English person, I think my reaction to biscuits is that they’re like scones, but without as much flavour. I think maybe you have to be American to “get” biscuits!
Our second must-do in SC is Folly Beach, just a short drive south of Charleston. Folly Beach Pier stretches more than 1,000 feet into the ocean and it’s lined with cute surf shops, cafes and souvenir stands. Grab an iced sweet tea and watch the surfers, if you don’t want to get wet yourself!
Heat and Houses in Savannah, GA
From South Carolina, it’s about two and a half hours to drive to Savannah. The historical district here is truly one of prettiest American cities, with beautiful old houses, charming squares and trees dripping with Spanish moss.
We enjoyed dinner down by the river, partly because the breeze there gave some respite from the 99% humidity and 35 degree weather. By late July, the American South is HOT and STICKY.
We spent our first day in Savannah at our holiday home exchange, but on the advice of our hosts we headed to Tybee Island. The island is about a 20-minute drive from downtown Savannah, and has wide sandy beaches and a pier.
If you can, book dinner and cocktails at AJ’s, which is on the island’s Back River. You can watch the sun setting over the marsh grass, and you will often see dolphins at dusk.
Discover Music City in Nashville, TN
Nashville was a real highlight of our American South road trip itinerary, and I’m glad we took time to spend a few extra days here.
I’ve written more about our favourite things to do in Nashville but you can’t come to the city and not get a little bit into the music scene.
I’d recommend checking out The Listening Room and The Bluebird Cafe for live music that won’t break the bank. The Grand Ole Opry is more expensive but with multiple acts performing each night, it’s lots of entertainment for the price.
Elsewhere, the 12 South neighbourhood is packed with great indie stores, cafes and fun street art, and probably a more laid-back tour than heading to the busy city centre and Broadway (best described as Blackpool, but country).
Next stop, Dollywood
Dollywood was the first place I added to our American south road trip itinerary because I just really, really wanted to see it. And you know what? I’m so happy I did.
We spent 2 nights at the Dollywood Dream More resort and it was charming and a bit bonkers, and full of the friendliest theme park staff I’ve ever seen. The park itself is good fun – great rides for kids and teens, better than average food, and lots of shows and Dolly memorabilia. You can see our full guide to the park here.
One thing I will say is that Pigeon Forge itself is a bit like the Orlando strip, with “attractions” and themed restaurants galore, but just outside the city there are great opportunities to explore the national parkland and even go white water rafting or ziplining.
Blue Ridge Mountains (Sing it with me)
If you don’t get the song reference, then you won’t want to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains just so you can sing John Denver songs. But that’s okay – the scenery should be enough reason.
Vast rolling hills, amazing hikes through valleys and mountains, fresh rivers – this is known to be one of the most scenic drives in America and there are countless parks and tiny towns along the route where you can stop for the night on the long road up to Washington.
We booked a tiny cabin in the town of Boones Mill without realising it’s home to a slightly bizarre church that’s literally devoted to Donald Trump. It was the sort of madcap place you want to find on a road trip, and well, it’s a thing. If you’re planning an American South road trip itinerary and want to find these little gems, Roadtripper is a great place to start.
We could have driven back to New York from the end of the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway, but we opted to stop for a few nights in Washington because neither of us had ever visited before.
I will be honest and tell you there was the most enormous storm on our second night in the city that took out power for around 600,00 residents for more than 18 hours. We had no power, no air-conditioning and no internet access – so we hightailed it back to New York a day early! Sometimes the itinerary has to be flexible!
We did have time to do a tour of the city’s political landmarks, but the real highlight of our American South road trip itinerary was spending a day in Georgetown, which has loads of great shops and cafes. The whole area feels a bit like London and has a lovely vibe. We made new friends over brunch, and it’s a great spot to explore.
So there you have our American South road trip itinerary – if you have anything you want to add to the list or questions about our trip, let me know!