From Graceland to Dollywood: A Family-Friendly Musical Road Trip Through Tennessee
From riding coasters at the Dollywood theme park, to visiting Elvis’s beloved Graceland mansion, Tennessee offers the perfect fun-filled road trip itinerary for families. Mother of two and Tennessee regular Zoey Goto highlights the stops worth making on a road trip through this lyrical southern gem.
(Image above: Sun Studio in Memphis)
Explore the bright lights of Nashville
Situated pretty much in the beating heart of Tennessee, Nashville makes a great jumping off point for exploring the state, with the added advantage of direct flights from the UK (flight time is around nine hours). Tennessee’s most populated city now attracts a staggering 14 million tourists annually, but it’s not all honky-tonks and hen parties, as this thriving city also has a lot to offer families.
There’s now plenty of room at the inn, as Nashville has added over four thousand hotel rooms in the past couple of years. Fans of country music should head to the Graduate Nashville, a fabulous hotel where the interiors pay homage to the genre’s icons, including Minnie Pearl, Johnny Cash and of course the majestic Dolly Parton.
Family suites offer interconnecting rooms decked out with guitar shaped beds and a rodeo themed sofa, while on the rooftop there’s a sparking pool overlooked by a super-sized statue of Dolly.
Stop off at the recently unveiled National Museum of African American Music, an impressive, 56,000-square-foot museum celebrating the crucial role African Americans played in creating the soundtrack of the USA. This high-tech museum has become an instant hit with children, with interactive points throughout the galleries for recording songs, testing your dance skills and compiling playlists. Offering a deep dive into the area’s musical history, it’s easy the spend a whole afternoon exploring the various galleries dedicated to jazz, blues, R&B, hip-hop and gospel.
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And sports-obsessed kids are in for a treat with the opening of the new Nashville SC soccer/football stadium. Seating over 30,000 fans, it boasts of being the largest soccer-specific stadium in the United States.
Visit America’s greatest theme park in the Great Smoky Mountains
From Nashville, head east around three hours and you’ll hit the Great Smoky Mountains, one of the most beautiful and underrated regions in the US. It’s here that young Dolly Parton grew up in the scenic mountains and the legendary singer is still very much part of the landscape, through her Dollywood theme park and its neighbouring attractions.
Recently voted the best theme park in the US in the Tripadviser awards, even sceptics can't help but fall for this charming attraction, offering something for everyone. Alongside thrill-seeker rollercoasters, there’s fascinating displays of the local Appalachian culture, boot-stomping live music, indulgent southern cuisine (the cinnamon bread is well worth standing in the snaking line for) and a toddler-friendly area with gentle rides for little ones. And the best news of all is that under fours get free entry to this joyful park.
While you’re in the area, step onboard the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge. This life-sized replica brings history to life with hands-on exhibits and actors in period costumes. Nearby you’ll find DreamMore, a family-focussed resort also owned by Dolly Parton. With an indoor heated pool, games room, interconnecting rooms, plus daily activities for children in the lobby, it’s a relaxing sanctuary where kids will feel at home and parents can put their feet up, preferably sat on a rocking chair overlooking the majestic mountains.
DreamMore Lodging, Dollywoods Resort
Get all shook up in Memphis
Over in the southwest tip of the Tennessee map, also around three hours from Nashville, is the storied city of Memphis. With Elvis stepping back into the spotlight thanks to the recent Baz Luhrmann film, kids and parents can brush up on their musicology, while also sampling some of the city’s mouth-watering BBQ.
You can’t visit Memphis without paying your respects to the King of Rock and Roll at his fabled Graceland mansion. Carve out some time to marvel at the sheer creativity of Elvis’ interior design choices, including his Jungle Room man cave, complete with tropical trimmings and an indoor cascading waterfall, no less!
In more recent years, Graceland has added an extensive complex of retail and exhibition spaces, which you could easily spend a full day exploring. Jumpsuits at the ready, as the latest hands-on exhibits include a virtual dress up experience, alongside an interactive LED dance floor quiz, sure to delight the next generation of swivel-hipped rock stars.
Bed down for the night at the iconic Big Cypress Lodge, a wilderness themed hotel centred around an incredible indoor wonderland where enormous fish slither through swamps, lined with alligators. Guests can take the country’s tallest free-standing elevator up to the peak of the pyramid for stunning views across the Mississippi River, or try their hand at the ocean themed bowling alley. Child-focussed eateries, daily fish feeding and educational talks, alongside a tranquil spa area for parents, means this unique sleepover ticks all the family-friendly boxes.