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Alternative USA City Breaks

by Travelbag on 05 August 2019, 09:08AM


New York, Miami and Las Vegas are among America’s most popular cities. But, step away from the tourist trail, and you’ll find that there are some fantastic – and just as rewarding – other gateways to the USA. Perhaps you’ve already travelled to some of the most-visited US cities, and now you’re looking for something different? Or maybe, instead of bright lights and iconic landmarks, you’re looking for authentic charm, musical delights and mouth-watering food? Whatever you’re into, these four alternative American city breaks might just fit the bill. Take a look.


Nashville, Tennessee

The capital of Tennessee styles itself as America’s ‘Music City’ – much to the consternation of Austin in Texas. But, in all fairness, Nashville does have a fair claim to be the world’s country music capital, and possibly a whole lot more. Decide for yourself at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which traces the genre’s immigrant roots right through to the shining stars of today. A joint ticket also gets you access to the nearby RCA Studio B, where, among countless others, Elvis laid down ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ and Dolly Parton recorded ‘Jolene’.

Continuing the theme, any trip to Nashville must coincide with a performance of the Grand Ole Opry. The country music radio show has been broadcast in front of a live audience every week since 1925, with performances on Friday and Saturday nights. After dark, the soul of Nashville lies in the honky-tonk bars along Broadway, pumping out live music long into the night. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is perhaps the most celebrated spot while, just around the corner, the Wildhorse Saloon offers free dance lessons.

Aside from music, Nashville is a charming city full of quirks – it boasts the world’s only full-scale reproduction of The Parthenon, for example. Yep, full-scale. The pseudo-Greek oddity was built in the 1890s as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, and today houses an art museum. 



Austin, Texas

America’s other music city, Austin is officially the state capital of Texas – and the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World. With more than 200 live music venues to choose from, its case is strong. Held each year in March, South by Southwest (SXSW) started as a music industry conference but has evolved into a gigantic showcase for film, technology and, of course, music. Most of the action happens Downtown, in the bars and venues which have been going for decades, such as the Paramount, Stubb’s Bar-B-Q and the Hole in the Wall. If you’re looking for a little more country flavour, head to the Broken Spoke, Cactus Café or Moody Theatre.

Austin City Limits, held in October in Zilker Park, is more of a traditional music festival – think Glastonbury, without the camping. The 2019 line-up looks an absolute belter, with headliners Guns N’ Roses joined by The Cure, Childish Gambino, Cardi B, Tame Impala and many others.

Music aside, Austin is a great city to visit. Sunny and outdoorsy with fantastic food – especially barbecue – it’s the liberal alternative hub of the normally conservative Texas. In fact, ‘Keep Austin Weird’ has been a rallying cry for years, and highlights the counter culture that has long thrived in the city. It’s certainly not as weird as it once was, especially since big tech companies like Google and Facebook have moved in – but it’s still the perfect city for a lively weekend.

Austin nightlife


Denver, Colorado

What mountains are to Colorado, beer is to Denver. Which may sound like we’re selling it short, but Denver has an enviable craft beer scene that extends across much of the city. The development of Denver as a place you want to visit as opposed to somewhere you pass through on the way to ski resorts began in earnest about 20 years ago. Without exaggerating, the founding of the city’s first brew-pub, Wynkoop Brewing, around the corner from the then derelict Union Station, kick-started the regeneration of its Lower Downtown district, affectionately known as ‘LoDo’. That gave rise to a lot of new bars and restaurants, and now the former Skid Row is one of the coolest places to eat, drink and hang out in the US. The rest of Denver has undergone a facelift too, with fantastic shopping around Larimer Square and at Cherry Creek Mall.

The Denver Art Museum – founded in 1893 but joined in 2006 by a stunning building by Daniel Libeskind – is a destination in itself. Among the 70,000 works is a fine collection of Native American art, certainly among the best anywhere in the world.

And the best news is that derelict Union Station is now thriving again, having been spruced up with a beautiful new hotel – the Crawford – inside. There are passenger services to the Rockies and beyond, making Denver one of the few international gateways in the US, from where you can continue your trip entirely by rail. 



Charleston, South Carolina

Along with Pittsburgh, stately Charleston is one of the most keenly anticipated new routes from British Airways this summer. It’s a real southern gem, and a pleasant contrast to America’s big urban centres. Situated on the Atlantic coast, Charleston has a strong maritime flavour, but its real charm stems from its historic centre, where horse-drawn carriages still trot down narrow streets, dotted with Greek revival buildings and white clapboard houses. Civil War history is unavoidable – Fort Sumter, now a national monument, was where the first shots of the war were fired. There are reminders of the Old South and the slave trade everywhere. Drayton Hall, in particular, offers a fascinating insight into times gone by. Just outside the city, this former plantation was once one of the grandest of its kind, and now houses a museum and gardens.  

There are plenty of things to do in Charleston, and it often ranks as one of the most liveable cities in the US. White-sand beaches are within kayaking distance, it has some of the best golf courses in the US, and the climate is reliably warm virtually all year round. In Gone with the Wind, Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, “I’m going back to Charleston, where there is still a little grace and civility left in the world.” Frankly, we can’t blame him.



Explore Charleston, Nashville and more with our Deep South Tours, or go your own way on a self-drive tour across the USA.

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