Blues Highway – New Orleans to Memphis

Published On: March 5th, 2020

The 510 miles from Memphis to New Orleans, along the Mississippi River, via Highway 61 is filled with rich history, American culture, and breathtaking views.

Though ‘Blues Aficionados’ will recognize this stretch of highway, linking north to south, Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” which he released in 1965, brought the role this stretch of road, from Memphis to New Orleans, played in America’s musical heritage to contemporary music fans. Want to get to know this area first-hand?

The best way to see it all is to spend three days traveling the Delta, and taking it all in, one day at a time.


Map Illustration by Scott Schiller

Known as the Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock n’ Rock, Memphis has so many things to do, so make sure you wake up early to do them all.  It isn’t a trip to Memphis without a visit to see The King™.

Graceland. Elvis’ Memphis mansion is almost as well-known as Elvis, himself.  What visitors to this iconic home may not know about is Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a new exhibition campus across from Graceland and the new The Guest House at Graceland. Visitors can view a plethora of The King’s memorabilia, plus his costumes, cars, records, and the Lisa Marie, Elvis’ private jet.

Music lovers will definitely want to check out other historical music sights in town. Stax Museum, Sun Studio, and the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum are must-sees for any music lover. Memphis was the setting for some very significant events in civil rights’ history, so make sure to add a trip to the National Civil Rights Museum to your to-do list to learn more about the leaders who made the civil rights’ movement as powerful as it was in the 1960’s, and still is to this day.

Book your first night’s stay at The Guest House at Graceland, across from Graceland, as this hotel is the perfect place to start or end your day in Memphis.  The resort offers a shuttle to take guests to Beale Street in the heart of Memphis, where honky-tonks showcasing the best artists this side of the Mississippi can be found.  For delicious southern cuisine, dine at Bounty on Broad Butcher & Restaurant, which features fresh, farm to table cuisine, served family style. After a delightful dinner take a stroll through the neighborhood, the Broad Avenue Arts District, to peruse the art shops and unique shops.

Memphis, TN to Clarksdale, MS to Greenwood, MS

Start day two with a hearty breakfast at Delta’s Kitchen at The Guest House at Graceland, then hit the road for a day of learning more about the blues’ southern roots. Take the Blues Highway – Highway 61 – and after a short one hour and 25-minute drive to Clarksdale, Mississippi, make a stop at the Delta Blues Museum, located at the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway 49, otherwise known as “The Crossroads.” This fascinating museum contains exhibits, as well as programs and events, that chronicle the evolution of blues music in the Delta region of Mississippi.

After learning about this American-born sound, mosey over to Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art to browse through the store to find one-of-a-kind Delta-based folk art, and of course, blues music. The staff there can even provide tourism information for visitors, including a recommendation to the Ground Zero Blues Club. This joint is all about blues music with live performances Wednesdays through Saturday nights.  Artists that perform at Ground Zero Blues Club pay homage to the godfathers of the blues, such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, by playing music in the same soul-wrenching tradition.  Guests to the club can even extend their stay by renting one of the Ground Zero Blues Club furnished apartments for nightly or extended stays, or book one of the hostel rooms and be part of the community.  If really living the blues is on the agenda, make a reservation at the Shack Up Inn and stay the night in one of their renovated shotgun shacks – complete with indoor plumbing and air conditioning – or a bin in the cotton gin.  Talk about inspiration for some great blues music!

Choose Highway 49 at the crossroads to make your way to Greenwood, Mississippi in approximately 90 minutes.  Located on the eastern edge of the Mississippi Delta, Greenwood is the resting place of blues legend, Robert Johnson.  A master of the Delta-style of blues, a popular myth about Johnson tells the story of how he sold his soul for fame and fortune. Having died at the young age of 27, it wasn’t until decades after his death that he achieved the acclaim that he was due.

If a little pampering is needed along the way, make a reservation at The Alluvian for a fabulous afternoon at their spa. Located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, the Alluvian Spa is host to a 7,000-square-foot luxury spa offering a full menu of treatments that will surely relax your body and mind.  Their services include facials, massage therapy, therapeutic baths, as well as hand and foot care. Many of their spa services utilize skin care products made with ingredients found in the Delta. If you do indulge in some time at the spa, make sure to take advantage of the spa’s signature Sweet Tea services – a real southern treat.  While there, take a look inside the Alluvian Hotel – a luxury boutique hotel with 45 rooms and five suites, as well as services and amenities that make every stay at the hotel a memorable experience.

Greenwood, MS to Leland, MS to Vicksburg, MS:
From Greenwood, go west on Highway 82 for about an hour to get to Leland, Mississippi.  Home of Muppets creator, Jim Henson, as well, as Kermit the Frog who is known to have lived on the banks of Leland’s Deer Creek.  To honor its famous residents, Jim Henson’s Delta Boyhood Exhibit was created and includes educational displays, memorabilia, and videos for fans to learn more about Henson.

Hop back on Highway 61 for about 90 minutes until you reach the historic town of Vicksburg, Mississippi. After a long day of learning about the culture of the Mississippi Delta, check into the Cedar Grove Mansion Inn for a relaxing night at this Greek-revival style, antebellum estate built in 1852. There is so much history in this mansion that it’s coming out of the walls…literally! During the Civil War, a cannonball was launched into the home, and it is still lodged in the parlor wall to this day. Many of the furnishings are original to the home, so one night in the inn can make you feel like you are staying in pre-Civil War opulence.

Vicksburg, MS to Nanchez, MS to New Orleans, LA

Wake up in Vicksburg, Mississippi for Day three of your tour and your second day of the road trip. There is so much for any history buff to do and see in Vicksburg.  This city was the key to victory and a turning point during the Civil War when Confederate troops surrendered to the Union army in 1863 at the siege at Vicksburg. Today, visitors can see the many landmarks and monuments that commemorate the war, the troops, and the leaders that fought during the Civil War at Vicksburg National Military Park.

Vicksburg is also known for the many antebellum homes that pepper the area. Twelve Vicksburg homes are open for tours where visitors can take a peek at life from the late 1700s through post-Civil War. Victorian-America, Greek, and Italian architectural design were very popular styles during this era of construction. A tour of “Mississippi’s Most Haunted House,” the McRaven, is a definite bucket-list item for those who consider themselves ghost-chasers.  The haunted tour includes stories of some of McRaven’s residents, some of whom reportedly still inhabit this home, long after they have passed on. In addition to the possibility of seeing these spectral residents, guests will definitely get to see how life was lived, including a rare frontier kitchen and a gallery featuring Civil War artifacts that have been found on the grounds.

For a more refreshing tour, visit the Biedenharn Museum and take a look through the Coke Museum. Joe Biedenharn is credited with being the first person to bottle the soda fountain drink, Coca-Cola, in 1894. We often take for granted that carbonated beverages were only available through a soda fountain – a much more difficult way to take cold sodas on picnics or serve them at home. Guests of the Biedenharn Museum can tour two exhibits filled with Coca-Cola memorabilia and historical items, as well as see a demonstration of the original soda bottling process.

Ease on down Highway 61 for about 1 hour and 20 minutes for a stop in Natchez, Mississippi. Located on the Mississippi River, Natchez boasts over 1,000 well-preserved historic buildings, including plantations, antebellum homes, and inns.  Continue on Highway 61, where you will pass through Baton Rouge to your final destination: New Orleans, Louisiana!

The last day of the three-day Mississippi River Road Trip brings you to one of the most fun cities in the south! “Laissez les bons temps rouler” or “Let the good times roll” in The Big Easy! Known for its Mardi Gras celebrations, Zydeco music, and Cajun cuisine, New Orleans is a port city that is integral to the Gulf Coast’s economy.  Once the capital of French Louisiana, before the United States purchased it in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, New Orleans is filled with many fantastic places to visit and things to do.

Walking through the city is the best way to see the many points of interest that bring tourists to NOLA, and the French Quarter is the best place to start. From coffee and beignets at Café du Monde to Jackson Square and the famous, St. Louis Cathedral, and Bourbon Street (of course!), the French Quarter is the hub for all things New Orleans.

If riding is a better option, hop a streetcar and take a scenic tour of Crescent City. This is a wonderfully cost-effective and comfortable way of touring the area inside cars that smoothly glide under noble oak trees and along the stately mansions that line New Orleans oldest streets.

Take the St. Charles Avenue streetcar to the New Orleans Garden District. The quiet, streets with well-preserved, majestic houses can be a welcomed change from the lively Bourbon Street. Jump off to visit to one of New Orleans well-known above ground cemeteries: Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. This attraction may sound creepy, but the beautiful architecture of the family mausoleums that line the rows gives a glimpse into the history of the city and its people.

For dining, New Orleans hosts some of the best restaurants in the world. Brennan’s Restaurant is the birthplace of the delectable Bananas Foster dessert; Antoine’s Restaurant has been serving the most amazing French Creole cuisine for more than 129 years; New Orleans’ fixture, Arnaud’s is a romantic restaurant to take your someone special, and Drago’s Metairie is the place to go to for mouthwatering Gulf oysters. With so many delicious options, where will you start?

Make the end of the trip just as exciting as the journey itself. Stay the night in one of the city’s historic hotels. Many of these come with rooms with not only a view, but a story, as well. The Place d’Armes Hotel is said to be haunted, but its idyllic location on Jackson Square makes it worth the stay. The historic Hotel Monteleone has been providing accommodations since it opened in 1886. Some of its most notable guests include, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. Another frequent guest, Ernest Hemingway,  was known to be a fixture at the Monteleone’s Carousel Bar, which slowly turns its patrons past windows facing Royal Street. Surely, some of the characters found within their novels must have been inspired by the personalities they encountered at the hotel.
Your stay in one of these famous hotels is an unforgettable cap on your fun-filled road trip!

No matter how many days you spend driving on the most notable roadway in music lore, traveling through the Delta is an American adventure. Whether you make it a trip to learn more about the history of the blues, of the Civil War or of just the people who make up this beautiful area of the country, it’s a trip of a lifetime. Drive slowly and try not to miss a thing.

Ready to start your tour? Book your room today at The Guest House at Graceland to get started!

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