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Want an easy, relaxed southern road trip filled with nature, quaint small towns, and history aplenty? Then pack your bags for a journey from Atlanta to Nashville.
Both cities are on the larger side and offer plenty to do, but are also surrounded by charming smaller towns that offer southern style in spades. All the while, a drive between the two metros will reveal the South’s gorgeous scenery, which includes a fair share of mountains thanks to the Appalachians.
Both Atlanta and Nashville, as well as many of the stops in between, offer something for just about everyone. Luxury travelers will find fantastic accommodation options and dining. Budget travelers will find great rentals in Georgia and homestays in Tennessee. History buffs will enjoy an array of historic sites and museums that touch on a broad array of subjects. Families will appreciate the kid-friendly activities and outdoor fun to be had around every corner and, for outdoor adventurers who want something a little more extreme, white water rafting, mountain hikes, and more await. Intrigued? Here’s how to break down an Atlanta to Nashville road trip.
Atlanta, Georgia, to Nashville, Tennessee, Road Trip by Section
It doesn’t really take that long to get from Atlanta to Nashville. It’s just a 250-mile drive up I-75, in a more or less northwest direction. The drive takes nearly four hours, though if you take some detours, it can take longer.
If you’re looking to spread this trip out over several days, we’re splitting it into two segments: Atlanta to Chattanooga and Chattanooga to Nashville. Since Chattanooga sits on the Georgia-Tennessee border, the city makes a nice halfway stopping point, allowing you to focus on Georgia during the first segment of the trip and Tennessee during the second.
Here’s everything you need to know to make the most of your road trip between Atlanta and Chattanooga.
Segment 1: Atlanta to Chattanooga
The drive from Atlanta to Chattanooga is just under two hours and 118 miles.
Make sure you get your fill of Atlanta’s fantastic food and art scene before you leave, but don’t get comfy in the car. Before long you’ll hit your first stop: Marietta, which is just 20 miles from downtown.
Highlight: Marietta, Georgia
Marietta is a great mix of big-city amenities and small-town charm, thanks to it being a small town that, over the years, has been melded into Atlanta’s ever-growing metro area.
You’ll find historic theaters, breweries, walking tours, museums, and more. Popular sites include the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield and Park, as well as the Marietta Gone with the Wind Museum.
Highlight: Rome, Georgia
Just about an hour’s drive away from Marietta is Rome, Georgia. This smaller town sits in the Appalachian foothills and perfectly blends a love for the outdoors with a love for the arts, partially thanks to the city’s geography as well as its historic Berry College. The campus is gorgeous thanks to its tree-lined lanes and English-Gothic architecture, and roaming its grounds makes for a perfect afternoon walk.
But you’ll also want to check out the city’s three rivers (paddling is a must if you’re in town long enough), as well as its downtown dining and boutique shopping scene, which is something that’s becoming harder and harder to find in our era of online retailers.
Related Read: 14 Incredible Georgia Treehouse Rentals to Upgrade Your Vacation
Side Trip Idea: Huntsville, Alabama
If you have the time and want to extend your trip by an extra day or two, after leaving Rome, head on over to Huntsville, Alabama, for a taste of some of the best the state has to offer. Huntsville is a 110-mile (or two-hours) drive away from Rome, to the northwest, and then you’ll have to go back northeast for another hour to get back to Chattanooga.
However, if you do decide to take this small detour, you’ll be greeted by top attractions such as the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville Botanical Garden, and Monte Sano State Park. If you decide to turn Huntsville into an overnight stay, check out the 106 Jefferson hotel by Hilton downtown. A stately rooftop bar and posh rooms give this hotel a big-city feel and add a dose of distinction to Huntstillve’s small downtown neighborhood.
Segment 2: Chattanooga to Nashville
Once you’re finished with the first leg of your trip, you’ll find that Chattanooga to Nashville is an easy, two-hour drive along I-24 heading northwest.
However, it’s worth taking your time in both Chattanooga and at various stops along the way to really make the most of your trip.
Related Read: 14 Best Hikes Near Chattanooga, Tennessee
Highlight: Chattanooga, Tennessee
Try to make time to stay at least one night in Chattanooga. You’ll find lots to do in this riverside, mountain-adjacent city, from outdoor adventure to historic sites, and kid-friendly activities like the Tennessee Aquarium, home to sharks, stingrays, pythons, and more — it even has an IMAX theater.
Or, take a ride up the Incline Railway and visit Lookout Mountain if you’re wanting some great panoramic views. The city and surrounding area are also home to a plethora of hiking, cycling, and paddling destinations. If you’ve only arrived in time to fit in a small amount of fun in the evening before heading out the next morning, consider booking a riverboat cruise or checking out the dining and shopping scene downtown.
Related Read: 9 Beautiful Swimming Holes in Tennessee to Beat the Summer Heat
Highlight: Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Driving from Chattanooga to Murfreesboro takes you just about all the way to Nashville. The 100-mile drive takes about an hour and a half, so you’re really only about half an hour southeast of Nashville by the time you arrive. Still, Murfreesboro is a nice stop thanks to its wealth of historical sites.
Popular historic sites that you’ll want to add to your itinerary include the Civil War Stones River National Battlefield, with its seven miles of walking trails and Union cemetery; Oaklands Mansion, with its similar Civil War-era history; and Cannonsburgh Village, a living history attraction that shows what life in Tennessee was like from the 1800s-1930s.
Related Read: What to See & Do on a Nashville to Gatlinburg Road Trip
Highlight: Franklin, Tennessee
Franklin, Tennessee, is charming in just about every way, and, like Murfreesboro, it offers a large dose of historic appeal, including the Carter House, Canton Plantation, and the McGavock Confederate Cemetery, all of which played a role in the 1864 Civil War Battle of Franklin.
But history isn’t the only thing on display here. Franklin also boasts a lovely downtown with local shopping and dining. It’s also a quieter escape for Nashville stars who want some time away from the bright lights, so keep your eyes peeled!
Related Read: 8 Memorable Tennessee Romantic Getaways For Lovebirds
Highlight: Arriving in Nashville
Don’t just drive from Atlanta to Nashville and then drop your rental car off at the airport and head back home. Nashville deserves at least several days of your trip, as this city provides plenty to do and see, from world-class museums to fine dining to the live music and bar scene.
Highlights include the famous Grand Ole Opry and the adjacent Gaylord Opryland Resort, the bars and museums of Music Row, and Nashville’s historic Union Station Hotel.
Related Read: 13 Best Cabin Rentals Near Nashville, Tennessee
Side Trip Idea: Knoxville
If you want to take a side trip during the second segment of your road trip, Knoxville awaits on the eastern side of the state. But heads up, while Knoxville is awesome and worth a visit…it’s a bit of a hike (180 miles), so plan this side quest accordingly before you depart on your adventure.
The best option is to visit Knoxville after Chattanooga but before Murfreesboro. The drive between Chattanooga and Knoxville is just over a hundred miles and takes about two hours. Then, the drive back from Knoxville to Nashville is about another three hours. But if you have the time, it’s worth the trip to visit the revitalized and trendy Market Square district and the World’s Fair Park (home to the city’s famous Sunsphere Tower), which was the site of the 1982 World’s Fair.
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Seen in: Georgia, Road Trips, Southeast, Tennessee