If you stay in hotels in West Memphis (which is in Arkansas rather than Tennessee), you will cut hotel costs significantly and find that places are, as a general rule, quieter than in Memphis itself. We stayed at Best Western near where interstates 40 and 55 merge, which meant that the journey to downtown Memphis was about ten minutes. Before tax, a room with breakfast and access to a pool cost $49.
Whether staying there or not, Peabody Hotel, 149 Union Avenue, has to be seen to be believed. There is no problem if, as a non-resident, you pop inside to admire the amazing lobby and the wide hallways lined by attractive shops.
One of the delights of Memphis is the river, in this case the Mississippi. Along the riverbank you have great views punctuated every so often by mighty bridges.
There are now half a dozen excellent houses worth seeing in Victorian Village on Adams Avenue east of downtown, and the views from Victorian Village to downtown are memorable. However, the cash-strapped city government has had to close to visitors all but one of the houses, Mallory-Neely, 652 Adams Avenue.
Victorian Village, Memphis
Interesting buildings, etc. not mentioned above include Lorraine Motel/National Civil Rights Museum, Amtrak Station, Beale Street (Beale Street has to be seen, but once is enough unless you intend to catch some live music), Graceland and Sun Recording Studios.
Lorraine Motel, Memphis
Beale Street, Memphis
Beale Street, Memphis
The young woman who showed our group around Sun Recording Studios had tattooed her chest with “Honky Tonk Angel”. The young man of Indian origin who helped to run our hotel had a personalised Arkansas numberplate on his car: “SHIV” for Lord Shiva.
If travelling between Memphis and Nashville, pull off Interstate 40 to visit Casey Jones Village where you will find a preserved steam locomotive, some rolling stock, a small station and Casey Jones’ House. The 1890s’ Train Station Railroad Museum, which contains all these things, is free to wander around. Nearby is the excellent Old Country Store with antiques, modern souvenirs, interesting food such as jams, sweets and relishes, and a cafe and a restaurant. Allow at least an hour for the visit.
Casey Jones Village
The newish Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Demonbreun between 4th and 5th in Nashville, is one of the best indoor places to spend a day in the USA, even if, as in our case, country and western is not your favourite musical genre. The collection of interesting memorabilia is amazing. Moreover, the booths where you retire to hear landmark recordings knock spots off how music is accessed at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City. For those with the time and the inclination, the displays are so full of learned insights that you could return the following day to do full justice to the place. Given how cheap admission is compared with, say, Graceland in Memphis ($17-50 compared with $30 for the full works at the rather tacky Elvis Presley showcase), and that every visitor will find something to love and/or admire (we spent over an hour in an excellent exhibition devoted to Ray Charles), this rates as one of the top music-themed museums anywhere in the world. Add to this that, at regular intervals during the day, you can see live acts for free in a small theatre, and that the museum’s restaurant, SoBro Grill, does great American food with imaginative twists without charging much more than a typical diner, and you have what amounts to an excellent all-round experience.
And how much better Broadway is to Beale Street in Memphis. The Broadway bars, cafes and restaurants, many with free live music, are considerably more appealing and friendly than those on Beale Street. At the bottom of the street, near the Cumberland River and the station for the light rail trains to Lebanon, is Big River Grille and Brewing Works where starters, sandwiches and mains average out at $9, $9 and $12 respectively. The micro-brewery serves excellent beers.
For those for whom a real treat is due, the obvious place to stay is Union Station, which is now a Wyndham Historic Hotel. We were encouraged to walk around the hotel which has beautiful bedrooms, lounges and dining rooms. At present, the least expensive bedrooms cost $139 with breakfast. Dating from 1900, the one-time station benefited from an extensive restoration programme in 2006 and reopened as a hotel in early 2007. Marvel at the 65 foot barrel-vaulted ceiling with Tiffany-style stained glass a hundred years old and the rare bas-relief sculptures. No passenger trains currently run through Nashville (the nearest Amtrak stations appear to be in Memphis and Louisville, the latter in Kentucky), but plenty of freight trains rumble along the adjacent tracks.
Union Station/Wyndham Historic Hotel, Nashville
Interesting buildings, etc. not mentioned already include Fort Nashborough, Ryman Auditorium, State Capitol, War Memorial Auditorium, Bellsouth, LP Field (home of the NFL Tennessee Titans), Printers Alley, 2nd Avenue North and Music Row. Also note the elaborate shop signs, adverts and murals painted onto walls along or close to Broadway.
Townsend is the best, quietest and least commercialised town or city in which to stay if not camping in the Smoky Mountains themselves. Why? Because it is small, you can see the mountains from the main street, mist often enlivens the early mornings, there is a small railroad museum (Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum), half a dozen economy/moderate hotels and motels line Highway 32, and the Little River winds through the valley where paths along the riverbank provide views of pretty houses and old wooden barns.
Cades Cove is only a 25 mile drive via Laurel Creek Road. Once you have driven around Cades Cove Loop Road; visited some of the historically important houses, churches, barns (some of which are cantilevered) and mills (one with a dam race); completed a short trek or two to see deer, otters, herons, wild turkeys, bats and, if very lucky, a black bear; why not return to Townsend via the one-way lanes called Rich River Road and Old Cades Cove Road. By the way: Cades Cove Loop Road is so beautiful we went around it twice in two days. From the car park at Abrams Fall Trailhead, a delightful 2.5 mile track leads to the waterfall in fifty minutes one way. Many more ambitious trails lead from the loop and information about them can be secured from the Cable Mill Historic Area and Visitor Centre (where half a dozen important wooden buildings from the early settler days have been re-assembled).
We drove east and south from Cades Cove past Chimney Tops to Newfound Gap (5,048 feet) on the boundary between the states of Tennessee and North Carolina. Towering above Newfound Gap is Clingman’s Dome (6,643 feet). We continued about 15 miles into North Carolina just to say we had visited another state.