Whether you’re a longtime resident of the region who wants to do some exploring or a visitor from another part of the country hoping to absorb the land of the blues, this plan for a road trip from Memphis to New Orleans offers the full, rich experience of the route. Through sites that showcase the area’s history, culture, music, and food, you’ll get a deeper understanding of what makes the Mississippi Delta and these two major Southern cities such an integral part of the American South.
While you could drive your car straight down Interstate 55 for a six-hour trip, you’ll have a much more memorable experience if you take some extra time to explore the Mississippi Delta, mostly on U.S. 61 south. The drive for this particular road trip plan is about 10 hours, not including the time you spend at each of the stops.
Head south from Memphis on U.S. 61 toward Clarksdale, Mississippi, with a stop in Tunica. Take U.S. 278 west from Clarksdale to Cleveland, then U.S. 49 east and back onto U.S. 61 through Greenwood and Vicksburg. For the final leg of your journey, travel on I-110 south to the Acadian Thruway in Louisiana to Baton Rouge and then take I-10 east to New Orleans.
Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis, Tennessee
Before you head south from Memphis, stop by the Blues Hall of Fame downtown to get some context and build a foundation for the music sites you’ll visit on your trip. The gallery-like museum, which opened in 2015, honors the 400 blues musicians, composers, and producers who have been inducted into the official Blues Hall of Fame over the years.
You’ll be able to see one-of-a-kind artifacts, clothing, notes, and instruments from blues legends and best of all, you’ll have access to the unbelievably extensive catalog of recorded music to listen to while you’re there.
Leave the city of Memphis and head south on U.S. 61 to Tunica, Mississippi, and take your pick from nine casinos and resorts for your first stop. Take a turn at the tables or slot machines for a world-class gaming experience, have a cocktail at the bar (only if you’re staying the night, of course) or catch some live music.
If casinos aren’t your speed, stop into Tunica’s Gateway to the Blues Museum & Visitors Center to continue your musical journey to the Big Easy. Built in a rustic train depot, this attraction gives you even more context on the birth of the blues and Delta culture.
Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi
Known throughout the Delta as “Morgan Freeman’s club”, the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi, is the next place to stop on your road trip. Get a relatively authentic juke joint experience with live music every Wednesday through Saturday night. Expect plenty of danceable blues tunes, a lively crowd, and great Southern food like fried green tomatoes. If you want, you can stay the night in Clarksdale. Ground Zero offers rooms, and the Shack Up Inn is another popular place for folks who appreciate a certain rustic experience.
GRAMMY Museum in Cleveland, Mississippi
Cleveland, Mississippi, is every bit a small Delta town, but it’s also packed with more culture than you’d expect and should be your next stop. It’s home to Delta State University and plenty of creative restaurants and shops, but the must-see attraction is the GRAMMY Museum on the Delta State campus. This breathtaking museum opened in 2016 and is one of only two GRAMMY museums in the world; the other is in Los Angeles.
Take your time exploring the countless artifacts that tell the story and share the songs of GRAMMY winners, with a special focus on artists with ties to Mississippi. More than just relics, this museum stands out with its interactive exhibits and innovative technology.
Dockery Farms Near Cleveland, Mississippi
Before you leave the area, you’ll want to go back to the beginning and stop at Dockery Farms, the site where the blues were born. What appears to be a simple farm was once a crossroads for musicians traveling between New Orleans and Memphis where songs and musical styles were exchanged. There’s a historical narration, a Blues Trail sign, and a chance for a photo-op before you swing back into town (Cleveland) for a meal at the Delta Meat Market to refuel for the next leg of your trip.
Greenwood, Mississippi, is another small Delta city that’s bursting with cultural significance. Take your time perusing the Blues Trail markers or the civil rights-era markers, or take a different approach to this stop by booking a spa treatment of your choice at the luxurious Alluvian Spa & Hotel. It offers facials, massages, body wraps, therapeutic baths, manicures, and pedicures. If you like, take a cooking class at the renowned Viking Cooking School. It has classes most Fridays and Saturdays and has an upscale retail store for kitchen and cooking supplies that is open Tuesday through Saturday.
Head farther south to Vicksburg, Mississippi, a river town with great historical significance and an absolute must-stop on your road trip from Memphis to New Orleans. History and Civil War buffs will appreciate the immersion possible at the Vicksburg National Military Park on the site of the Siege of Vicksburg. Drive through the park at your own pace or arrange to take a two-hour guided tour. Access to the U.S.S. Cairo Museum is included and is the delight of the military park tour. The Cairo is one of seven ironclad gunboats used on the Mississippi River during the Civil War and one of the first boats ever sunk by torpedo; you can explore this boat and learn more about its history and construction.
For more fun in Vicksburg, check out the Lower Mississippi River Museum to learn about the world’s fourth longest river. Then grab a bite to eat at the historic Walnut Hills Restaurant for some authentic Southern cooking. If you need to stretch your legs, this area is full of antebellum homes and historic properties that are worth a visit.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Welcome to Louisiana. Take a detour to the state capital, Baton Rouge, for a dose of Louisiana history and the outdoors. Tour Louisiana’s Old State Capitol, an interesting castle-like building with stained glass overlooking the river. The U.S.S. Kidd is another Baton Rouge attraction; it is a destroyer battleship that is now a Louisiana World War II Veterans Memorial and Museum. And get ready for some good eating: Cajun and Creole food is on the menu. Test some samples before you head out of Baton Rouge on I-10 to the Big Easy, where you'll bask in what it's famous for: the French Quarter, blues, jazz, history, hurricanes (the drink) and sazeracs, and lots more of that Cajun and Creole cuisine.