In the United States, “the south” doesn’t just refer to the states in the lower half of the country. Instead, it’s a region with a distinct culture, cuisine, and way of life. Best of all, there are many fabulous places to experience this uniqueness.
Below, read about 15 of the best places to visit in the south. You’ll find natural wonders, foodie meccas, and family destinations on our list. That way, you can plan the perfect southern getaway for your family.
15 Best Places to Visit in the South
It’s almost impossible to list everywhere worth visiting in the south, but these are our 20 favorites.
Many of these destinations are larger cities; nearby, you’ll find many suburbs, small towns, and state and national parks. They’re terrific to visit on their own or make a day trip.
1. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston isn’t just one of the most beautiful cities in the south. It continuously tops lists of tremendous destinations worldwide, and it’s easy to see why.
Charleston has it all. First, the restaurant scene is on par with major northern cities, with innovative chefs creating tempting and delectable dishes. Several have won James Beard Awards or received Michelin Stars.
Charleston also has a lot of history (check out Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began), art, and architecture. You’ll find small, curated boutiques and popular names in high-end fashion. There are also several beaches nearby to catch some rays and waves.
2. Asheville, North Carolina
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is breathtaking, especially along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Certainly, the Biltmore Estate is the city’s most iconic attraction, but there’s much more to see and explore.
Besides the award-winning beer and food, most of the best things to do here are outdoors. Check out Pisgah National Forest, Craggy Gardens, and Mount Mitchell State Park.
3. Austin, Texas
The Texas capital’s unofficial slogan is “keep Austin weird,” and it lives up to it. Austin is unlike anywhere else in the Lone Star State, and they like it that way.
Austin is all about elevating Texas’s country lifestyle. You’ll still find barbeque food, and it’s the best in the state. Enjoy craft beer and live music, both points of pride for the city. You can spend entire days exploring the outdoors.
4. Hot Springs, Arkansas
The main attraction in Hot Springs is the natural hot springs, which have drawn visitors since at least the 19th century. Visit Hot Springs National Park and Bathhouse Row, which has eight historic bathhouses.
The natural hot springs are this city’s biggest draw. But an entire tourist industry has grown to support all the visitors who come to take in the healing waters. Even if you only plan to spend a day in the park, you’ll have plenty to explore, including restaurants and museums.
5. St. Augustine, Florida
You might be surprised to learn that the oldest settlement in the United States is in St. Augustine, Florida. Spanish conquistadors claimed and settled the area beginning in 1565.
There are many other points of interest in the city, including a vibrant downtown with restaurants and shops, museums, water activities, and more.
6. The Everglades, Florida
If you enjoy seeing wildlife and being outdoors, there’s no better destination than the Everglades. You should definitely do an airboat tour, but there are many other outdoor destinations to explore.
One of the most popular is Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, where you’ll see gigantic cypress trees. Big Cypress National Preserve is one of the best places to spot alligators in the wild. We also recommend Robert Is Here, where you can find hundreds of exotic fruits to sample.
7. Atlanta, Georgia
If New York City were in the south, it would look a lot like Atlanta. In many ways, Atlanta feels like a world in itself.
Unlike many other places in the region, it began as a hub of commerce, industrialization, and transportation, giving it a distinctly cosmopolitan feel. You’ll find the best of what the South offers in Atlanta, including food, beer, and nature.
Atlanta also prides itself on being on the cutting edge of artistic and cultural movements. You’ll find innovative theater, film, live music, art, and more throughout the city.
8. Big Bend National Park, Texas
Many people don’t picture breathtaking landscapes and natural features when they think of the Texas-Mexico border. But that’s what you’ll find at Big Bend National Park, located in far west Texas.
There’s so much to take in at Big Bend, but one of the best things is the sense of tranquility and isolation throughout the enormous property.
There are numerous campsites around Big Bend, as well as area hotels. Marvel at the diverse array of cacti, see and hear hundreds of bird species, and see temple-like canyons amid a surprisingly colorful desert.
9. Virginia Beach, Virginia
As the name implies, life in this southern Virginia city revolves around the ocean. It has miles of coastline and beaches, and there’s a major Navy base in nearby Norfolk that gives the region a uniquely American sense of pride.
Virginia Beach is more than the ocean, though. It has a flourishing art scene, especially in the ViBE district. Families will also love the impressive Virginia Aquarium, which also has a treetop climbing course for the adventurous types.
10. Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia, is one of the south’s most charming cities. Tons of old buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries still stand proudly. If you enjoy house tours, you won’t run out of them in Savannah. Many of the homes surround Forsyth Park and its iconic fountain.
Besides that, be sure to do some shopping; you’ll be amazed at how many brands and small businesses call Savannah home. Take a stroll along the waterfront or take a day trip to one of the nearby Sea Islands.
11. Birmingham, Alabama
Birmingham was the site of many critical events during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. You can take a Civil Rights bus tour to see all of them for a genuinely moving and educational experience. Don’t miss the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, too.
Birmingham has many other attractions. There are several parks, trails, and other outdoor activities to explore, especially Vulcan Trail, located just outside the city, and Oak Mountain State Park.
12. Orlando, Florida
Outside of the parks, there are multiple outdoor activities. There are also museums, zoos, art events, food and drink, and much more.
13. Nashville, Tennessee
The home of country music, if you love live music, then Nashville is a must-visit. All you have to do is walk down Broadway and hear the tunes pouring out into the street. There’s also the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Grand Ole Opry, and Ryman Auditorium.
14. South Padre Island, Texas
One of the most popular beach vacation destinations among Texans is South Padre Island, and the secret is out. You’ll find this island in the Gulf of Mexico.
The sand, water, and many other activities available are similar to those found on some Caribbean islands, and you don’t have to leave the country.
South Padre Island has many family-friendly attractions besides the beach. Explore the Dolphin Research and Sealife Nature Center, or even take a sandcastle-building class.
15. New Orleans, Louisiana
We might have saved the best for last! New Orleans has history, food, and of course, parties. Even outside of Mardi Gras season (yes, it’s a whole season), you’ll find revelers wandering the streets with their drinks in hand.
For those who prefer non-alcoholic activities, you can explore the art and architecture around New Orleans, especially in the French Quarter. See how Indigenous, Creole, French, Spanish, and American cultures have shaped this unique city.
Things to Consider
There are several things to think about when choosing your perfect southern destination. The first thing to consider is the weather. Summer is perfect if you want to lay on the beach and don’t mind the humidity.
But if you’re going to explore the great outdoors without the risk of heat exhaustion, then spring, fall, or even winter in some places would be better.
Other than the weather, make sure to think about the following:
- The type of activities you want to do. some places are better for the outdoors, while others are ideal for shopping or dining.
- How much time you have to spend. you can conquer a place like Savannah in a few days, but you need more time to see everything in Orlando.
- Cost of travel. it’s easier to fly into larger cities (even Charleston), but if you can drive, some places will be easier to reach.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s address some common questions travelers have about visiting the south:
What’s the best time of year to visit the south?
It depends on what you want to do and how much heat you can tolerate.
How hot does it get in the summer?
It gets scorching throughout most of the south in the summer. The humidity is intense, and temperatures reach the 80s, 90s, or even higher almost daily. It’s manageable if you plan to enjoy outdoor activities in the morning, when it’s coolest. Hit the beach or engage in activities in the air conditioning.
Is it expensive to visit the south?
Some places are more expensive than others, but generally, the south is cheaper than most of the rest of the United States.
What are the largest airports in the south?
The largest airport in this region is Altanta-Hartsfield (it’s actually the busiest airport in the country). Orlando and Miami also have large international airports, and Houston is the biggest in Texas.
Do you need a rental car to vacation in the south?
You’ll need a car in most of the destinations above to do and see everything. Most places – even big cities – don’t have great public transportation systems.
So, What Are the Best Places to Visit in the South
The south might be grouped as a region, but there are many unique, one-of-a-kind cities, national parks, and other places to explore.
From Disney World in Orlando to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, there’s a wide range of attractions in the South catering to visitors of all ages and interests.
Use our guide above to find your perfect destination. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying a fantastic vacation in a southern paradise. Happy travels!