The South’s Top Destinations for History Buffs


With its distinct architecture, preserved landmarks, and top-rated museums, the southern United States is a treasure trove for history lovers – and these five cities are the crown jewels.

By Mary Beth Wallace

Photos Courtesy of


St. Augustine, Florida


There’s no shortage of things for history lovers to do in St. Augustine, which is considered to be the country’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Visitors can discover over 450 years of history at famed sites including Castillo de San Marcos (the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States) and Fort Matanzas. Tours of the Old Jail, which housed St. Augustine’s most violent criminals from 1891 to 1953, depart daily, and a visit to the 1874 St. Augustine Lighthouse – which preserves the area’s maritime history – is also a must. The Lightner Museum, which occupies the former Hotel Alcazar, oozes history with its unique collection of Gilded Age antiques.

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Photos by (First) Todd Coleman, Saveur Magazine, (Second) Cheryl Gerber, (Third) Courtesy of Louisiana Office of Tourism 


New Orleans, Louisiana


The Big Easy may call to mind beignets and Bourbon Street, but look beyond the party scene and there’s a wealth of fascinating history to be discovered. It all starts in the French Quarter, where the St. Louis Cathedral – the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the nation – resides. Steps away is The Cabildo, a government building that hosted the Louisiana Purchase transfer in 1803, and its architectural twin The Presbytère, a municipal courthouse-turned-museum. While museum-hopping around New Orleans, don’t miss the National WWII Museum, which tells the story of the American experience in a war that changed the world.

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Photos by (First) Jack Kenner, (Second) Andrea Zucker


Memphis, Tennessee


Nestled on the banks on the Mississippi River, Memphis is the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. Telling the story of this music genre is Sun Studio, the legendary recording studio that launched Elvis Presley’s career. Visitors can encounter even more Elvis history with a tour of Graceland, Presley’s beloved estate. However, the city’s historical significance extends beyond its musical roots. Located at the Lorraine Motel – the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in 1968 – the National Civil Rights Museum chronicles the history of the Civil Rights Movement from the 17th century to modern times. 

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Photos Courtesy of Visit Savannah


Savannah, Georgia


Established in 1733 and dripping in Spanish moss, Savannah is a playground for history buffs. The city was originally designed with 24 squares, and the 22 that remain make up Savannah’s Historic District – the largest National Historic Landmark District in the country – filled with churches, monuments, museums, and historic mansions. For example, the picturesque Monterey Square is home to the Mercer-Williams House, made famous by the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, as well as a 19th-century monument to Casimir Pulaski. Other points of interest around town include Forsyth Park, Fort Pulaski, and Bonaventure Cemetery. 

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Photos Courtesy of the Charleston Area CVB


Charleston, South Carolina


From its cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages to its pastel antebellum homes, the city of Charleston – founded in 1670 as Charles Town – is as charming as it is rich with history. Visitors will need to spend several days checking out all of the sites: the Charleston City Market, Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, Boone Hall Plantation, and the Nathaniel Russell House (to name a few). The Charleston Museum is one of the oldest museums in the nation, while Fort Sumter – located on an island in Charleston Harbor – saw the first military action of the American Civil War and can be toured daily.

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