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Sounding Off in Tennessee

It’s time to rock to the sights and sounds of the Volunteer State, where music is essential and history is everywhere.

Experiences in Tennessee provide guests a toe-tapping good time, especially on an itinerary that winds its way across the state, making stops at some of its most hallowed locales. 

This itinerary offers exciting diversions in five dynamic towns, with music, history, sports and outdoor slices of Americana sprinkled throughout. It begins in Memphis, an easy point of entry via airport or interstate. Then it goes east, hitting Franklin, Nashville and Knoxville. It ends in Clinton, where groups can head on to other stops south or return to Knoxville to fly home. 

This itinerary is easily doable as a four-day trip, but with so much to do and see, your travelers may want to stay for a week. 

Memphis, the Home of the King

For the only state with 10 official state songs, a jaunt through Tennessee should begin at the birthplace of the blues, soul, and rock ’n’ roll: Memphis.

There are endless music destinations for groups to explore in Memphis. Above them all is perennial favorite Graceland, Elvis Presley’s 14-acre villa. Every year tens of thousands of people make the pilgrimage to the home of the hip-swiveling star who changed the music world. 

To commemorate the 45th year since his passing, the popular mansion turned interactive museum is holding the Elvis 45, a year-long series of events with music, giveaways, screenings and more. No matter when you come, Presley’s personal oasis offers visitors an up-close look at the star’s outsized life. Groups can check out his extravagant wardrobe, climb aboard the Lisa Marie airplane and marvel at his car collection. 

Entry to Graceland also includes Elvis Presley’s Memphis, an entertainment complex featuring the Elvis the Entertainer Career Museum, restaurants and shops. Visitors of all ages will find plenty to enjoy at one of the most treasured historical landmarks in Memphis.

While you’re there: Need to get outside? Smell the roses at the Memphis Botanic Gardens. The nearly 100-acre park is home to three dozen specialty gardens, larger-than-life themed topiaries and a variety of events as colorful as the flora.

Civil War Sites in Franklin

Imagine waking up to find yourself surrounded by freshly dug battle trenches, horse-drawn cannons and a sea of Union soldiers on edge, anticipating a deadly confrontation. For Johann and Margareta Lotz and their children, that harrowing narrative wasn’t just a promising setting for a blockbuster film. In 1864, it was the exact scene they found themselves trapped in during the Battle of Franklin, one of the Civil War’s bloodiest. 

The Lotz family and 20 other civilians survived the deadly conflict by hiding in a basement across the street in downtown Franklin. For 17 hours they listened as rifle rounds tore through the air and the bodies of the fallen piled up. 

While Mr. Lotz made attempts to repair the home, present-day visitors will experience the haunting sensation of stepping into a recent battle site. The imprint in the floor remains where a cannonball landed; bullet holes still mar the wall; bloodstains scar the room. 

The deadly legacy embodied in the house, authentic artifacts from the Battle of Franklin, and a passionate slate of historians, period actors and experts leading tours make the Lotz House Museum a top group attraction in Franklin.

While you’re there: Historic Carnton Plantation is just a mile from the Lotz House Museum and also played an invaluable role in the Battle of Franklin. Carnton transformed into the battle’s largest field hospital. It is also the final resting place for many. Visitors can explore the grounds, outbuildings, garden and cemeteries or book specialty tours.

Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Nashville

No one could have predicted the story that would become President Andrew Jackson’s life. 

The temperamental son of Irish immigrants would become an orphan, a revolutionary fighter and a prisoner all before the age of 15. After practicing law in North Carolina, he was catapulted to fame and glory as general when a little skirmish known as the War of 1812 broke out. The rest, they say, is history. 

Jackson’s country manor in Nashville, The Hermitage, is a living museum where visitors can learn about his life while exploring his home and serene Tennessee farm. This important piece of America’s history has been ranked as one of the premier presidential house tours in the nation. 

The Hermitage has been painstakingly filled with many of Jackson’s original belongings, features over 30 buildings, and includes the final resting place of Rachel and Andrew Jackson. Guests can also enjoy wine tastings, tours, events and exhibits.

Groups should plan to spend a few hours to half a day at The Hermitage.

While you’re there: Seeing a show at the Grand Ole Opry is truly an experience worth having, even if your group doesn’t know Garth Books from Tim McGraw. With top-notch artists and a welcoming and friendly atmosphere, the legendary Music City institution will leave everyone feeling jubilant.

Knoxville Scores with Women’s Basketball

The world’s only hall of fame dedicated to all levels of women’s basketball is in Knoxville. That makes this leg of your trip a standout for sports lovers, history buffs and those wanting to check visiting the planet’s largest basketball off their bucket list. It’s chockablock full of fun things to do, too. 

The familiar chronological museum format is in play here, so it’s simple to get oriented. Immerse your guests in the history of the game while learning how it evolved. And check out the honorees who have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Player cutouts, statues and memorabilia offer neat photo ops. 

Plus, what would a basketball museum be without a few courts? A large recreation area invites guests to try their hand at a few dribbles, passing exercises and shots. 

Sprint through the hall or take your time at each exhibit. This superbly interactive space will be a huge hit for visitors of all ages. If possible, plan to see the museum at night, when the world’s largest basketball lights up the skyline.

While you’re there: Downtown Knoxville’s former movie palace is a stunningly opulent entertainment venue. Book tours and order tickets to the Tennessee Theatre for your group’s chance to see the Knoxville Opera, comedy shows, off-Broadway hits and all the musical talent Tennessee is known for.

Clinton’s Museum of Appalachia

To see what life was like in Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett’s Tennessee frontier, visit the picturesque Museum of Appalachia. 

Its 65 acres are home to an entire rural community. Dozens of log cabins, farms and livestock, schools, gardens and churches populate the living museum. Actors in period dress and authentic artifacts lend a voice to the mountain pioneers time has left behind. 

Sit in the creaky rows of the wooden schoolhouse, take in all the handmade instruments and read the stories of those who carved out a life for their families in the hardscrabble Tennessee mountains. Visitors will all come away knowing life was difficult, simple and yet, full of joy.

Plan your trip ahead of time to coincide with the exciting events that take place during the Appalachian year; sheep shearing, Fourth of July anvil shooting and a candlelit Christmas are just a few options. Budget at least a few hours to take in all the living museum has to offer.

While you’re there: A dozen African-American teenagers integrated the first public high school in the South in 1956 in Clinton. The Green McAdoo Cultural Center is the hidden gem that tells the story of their courage and heroism.

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