From its many cultural influences, the South developed its own unique customs, dialects, arts, literature, cuisine, dance, and music.
Discover the people and traditions that helped shape the southern US states. From vibrant festivals to iconic paddle steamers, historic museums to funky craft breweries, immerse yourself in the South’s rich cultural heritage. Here are the top arts and cultural experiences that travellers should not miss when visiting the authentic South.
One of the top places to visit in the state of Alabama is the Alabama Theatre located in the heart of downtown Birmingham. Built in 1927 by Paramount Studios, the theatre has been home to shows and performances ranging from movies, concerts, beauty pageants, silent films and even the Mickey Mouse Club! With its ornate architecture, the theatre brings all the feels of nostalgia of classic films and musicals. Travellers can revel in the fine art of symphonies, ballets, and more in an intimate theatrical space.
Another beautiful theatre to visit here is The Lyric Theatre, which was built in 1914 for B.F. Keith’s Vaudeville circuit. The Lyric is one of the few theatres still existing that was specifically designed to maximize the acoustics and close seating needed for vaudeville shows. Major stars such as the Marx Brothers, Mae West, Sophie Tucker, Will Rogers and Milton Berle have performed here and catching a show here is a magical stop on any Alabama itinerary.
Travellers should drop by The Momentary, which is a communal space in Bentonville, Arkansas and houses an exceptional collection of art. Here, contemporary visual, performing, and culinary arts come together for everyone to experience.
While in Bentonville, want to do something different (and quintessential American)? Learn about the origin and growth of Walmart, to becoming the world’s number one retailer! The Walmart Museum showcases interactive exhibit galleries of the founder Sam Walton and the growth of this famous company. Moreover, the museum includes a working dime store and a 50s-style soda fountain!
For a different experience, visit the secluded and peaceful mountainside streets of Eureka Springs. The streets are lined with Victorian homes hugging the sides of cliffs, and the entire downtown area is on the National Register of Historic Places. Eureka Springs has block after block of one-of-a-kind shops, boutiques, and fine art galleries.
Culturally, there is plenty to see and do in Kentucky. Historic Downtown Elizabethtown is home to many landmark attractions. Some of its must-visit sites are the Brown Pusey House, the Historic State Theatre, The Harden County Playhouse, and The Cannonball (a relic of the Civil War which sits in the middle of downtown square). Elizabethtown provides a charming blend of historic and modern culture.
In Louisville, Whiskey Row – a stretch of Main Street with historic Revivalist and Chicago School-style buildings featuring cast-iron storefronts – was once the home of the bourbon and tobacco industries in the city, and now serves as home to awesome bourbon distilleries, hotels, restaurants and bars.
Finally, travellers must not miss the Belle of Louisville – the iconic steamboat that has become one of Louisville’s premier attractions. Enjoy the unique opportunity of exploring the city’s spectacular downtown views and rich history from the water as the Belle cruises down the Ohio River. When visiting Louisville, be sure to book a cruise on the “most widely travelled river steamboat in American history”.
Famous worldwide for its ‘party’ reputation, Louisiana hosts more than 400 festivals throughout the year that celebrates music, food, history, and holidays.
The grandaddy of all cultural festivals in Louisiana is the Mardi Gras Carnival. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday.” (a term that came from the Tuesday following the 40 days of Lent as it was seen by many as an appropriate time for indulgence and festivity – a last chance at revelry).
The ‘Carnival’ refers to the whole period of time leading up to Fat Tuesday. The Carnival season officially begins on the Feast of the Epiphany (12 days after Christmas). Festivities kick off on a small scale at this time, then gradually pick up steam, peaking with many parades, balls and parties on the final two weekends before Mardi Gras (usually early March). It’s an experience not to be missed.
Mississippi is the home of some of the best American writers that made a significant contribution to the literary history of the USA. Travellers can visit Rowan Oak farm in Oxford where William Faulkner worked on his famous novels and short stories. His Greek Revival home and grounds are open to the public all year-round.
Located in Columbus, Mississippi, the Tennessee Williams Home & Welcome Center offers a free tour of the first home of the legendary playwright. Enjoy a complimentary cup of coffee and learn more about the life and works of Williams from one of the friendly and knowledgeable tour guides of the estate.
Lastly, do not miss a cruise on the Mississippi River that has inspired so many songs and novels. Mississippi River cruises are offered by the American Queen Steamboat Company or American Cruise Lines. Each has multi-day tours that cruise along the river and stop in Mississippi cities like Natchez, Vicksburg, and the Mississippi Delta for day tours.
Craig Ray, Director of Tourism – Visit Mississippi: “Mississippi’s preservation of its rich cultural heritage is celebrated throughout the state and attracts visitors from around the world. Elvis Presley, William Faulkner, B.B. King and Jim Henson are just a few of the icons from Mississippi that have helped shape American culture as we know it today. Almost any community in the state proudly boasts a hometown legend – whether they’re a musician, an author, an artist or even the creator of the Muppets. Our many museums and cultural trails are great options for exploring this rich heritage and honouring the people, places and events that continue to inspire and invoke creativity in individuals here at home and across the globe.”
Clients that love museums are in for a treat in Missouri. The Walt Disney Hometown Museum offers a peek into the family life of the man who created many of our favourite fairy tales and beloved characters. Located in the restored Santa Fe Railway Depot, this endearing gallery exhibits memorabilia from the Disney family’s farm where they took residence from 1905 to 1909.
Get to know ‘the man behind the pen’ at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum. This historic site in Hannibal, Missouri, houses the childhood home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a. the popular author Mark Twain.
Finally, the Saint Louis Art Museum is a treasury of international art located in the heart of historic Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri. Travellers can explore three floors worth of paintings, sculptures, cultural objects, and ancient masterpieces from everywhere around the globe.
“I think visitors are often surprised by the variety of Missouri’s cultural experiences. Whether it’s an art exhibition, a live stage show or a festival that highlights a region’s history, Missouri has diverse offerings for people of all ages and interests. One of the great things about travelling in Missouri is the opportunity to have such varied experiences in a short amount of time. You might be admiring a Van Gogh at an art museum in the heart of Kansas City or St. Louis, and within an hour’s drive, find yourself in a museum focused on farming or the history of psychiatric care,” says Stephen Foutes, Director – Missouri Division of Tourism.
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