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The Southern United States is teeming with history, diverse landscapes, incredible architecture, and top-notch drinking and dining. It’s also here where you’ll find a slew of quaint cities, from larger metropolises to smaller—albeit just as dynamic—destinations that exude small-town charm. Whether you prefer picturesque waterfront locales including Charleston and Savannah to more serene mountain escapes such as Greenville or Gatlinburg, we’ve rounded up the most charming southern cities, all of which are well worth a spot on your bucket list.
As Alabama’s largest city, Birmingham offers something for every type of traveler. Start with a tour of Civil Rights Movement landmarks such as Dynamite Hill, Bethel Baptist Church, the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, and the Civil Rights Institute, where you can learn more about Black history. Once you’ve hit the highlights, you’re bound to have worked up an appetite. So, chow down on some authentic southern barbecue—complete with that trademark Alabama White Sauce—then wash it all down with some refreshing brews.
Virginia’s capital city provides the perfect mix of old and new—think centuries-old history and landmarks plus eclectic murals and street art. For a truly unique experience, cruise the city in a tuk-tuk or hop on a segway. While downtown Richmond is spectacular, spend some time exploring other areas such as Churchhill, the city’s oldest neighborhood that boasts an up-and-coming culinary scene; the lively Arts District, which is dotted with galleries, theaters, and other cultural attractions; and Carytown, known for its colorful buildings and abundance of small, locally-owned shops.
Charleston attracts throngs of travelers in search of fun and fantastic food with a side of colorful architecture and fascinating history. Carve out a morning to stroll through the quaint city streets—either solo or with a guide—and stop for photo ops at popular spots including Rainbow Row and the Pineapple Fountain. Since Charleston is a port city, getting out on the water is a requisite, be it on a leisurely sightseeing cruise, schooner, or kayak. And no trip here is complete without a horse-drawn carriage ride or, if you’re up for it, an evening ghost tour.
Savannah is teeming with southern charm and hospitality. Spend the afternoon wandering River Street before boarding a sightseeing riverboat cruise. The Historic District—best experienced via hop-on hop-off trolley—is dotted with stunning homes, striking architecture, and leafy green squares perfect for people-watching and picnicking. Culinary connoisseurs can savor Savannah’s most iconic eats on a culinary tour, while thrillseekers will enjoy a nighttime ghost tour and a visit to Bonaventure Cemetery in one of America’s most haunted cities.
With scenic hiking opportunities, craft brews, and an arty, relaxed vibe in its eclectic neighborhoods, Asheville is among the most popular southern cities in the US. Whether you’re here for one day or three, some must-dos include the extravagant Biltmore Estate, which you can admire on foot or via kayak; the River Arts District, where you can pop in and out of local artists’ studios; and expert-led e-bike tours. Spend the rest of your time partaking in more laid-back activities such as mountaintop yoga or a leisurely walking tour that includes stops at Asheville’s best breweries.
With an average of 361 sunny days each year, it’s no wonder why St. Petersburg—St. Pete, for short—is nicknamed the Sunshine City. Beachcombing, sunbathing, fishing, swimming, and wildlife-spotting are all popular pastimes here. For more thrills, enjoy a bird's-eye view of St. Pete on a scenic helicopter ride or embark on a paddleboard, bike, kayak, speedboat, or segway adventure. Beyond the beach, this coastal city offers a thriving arts and culture scene complete with hundreds of colorful murals spread across town.
Despite a population of over 70,000, Greenville—which is just over an hour’s drive from Asheville—has a charming small-town vibe. What’s more, the city’s walkable downtown (complete with a waterfall running right through it), burgeoning food and drink scene, and abundance of hiking and biking trails make it a must-visit. Foodies will also love it here—from mouthwatering desserts, craft cocktails, tasty tacos, or hearty breakfast fare, this dynamic southern city is home to some fantastic food and drink offerings.
Although this Tennessee mountain town is best known as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it’s worth sticking around to discover what Gatlinburg itself has to offer. Head to Gatlinburg SkyLift Park to ride the chairlift, walk along the SkyBridge, or hike the SkyTrail. Alternatively, check out the Moonshine Mountain Roller Coaster or Ober Gatlinburg, which offers prime mountain biking, rafting, and ziplining. Meanwhile, adults can sip on—and learn more about—the region’s signature drink, moonshine, by signing up for a tasting tour.
Natchez is famous for its fascinating history; stunning architecture (including lavish pre-Civil War mansions); quaint downtown area; and for being a postcard-worthy locale along the Mississippi River. As you sightsee your way through the city, be sure to carve out time to stop at historic attractions such as the Forks of the Road National Park (a former slave market) and the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture. Finally, for a taste of true Southern fare with a DIY twist, reserve a spot in this chef-led biscuit-making class.