The South's Best Cities 2022

Charleston SC
Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

The South's metropolitan areas are hubs of excitement and entertainment, and when it comes to planning an action-packed trip, few places offer up the cosmopolitan attractions of big cities. A trip to one of the South's best cities is an invitation to adventurous dining, gallery and museum hopping, browsing shopping districts, and spending memorable days amongst the bustle and hum these places are known for. See the art and science museums, take in a concert or show, grab a park bench and relax, stop into a spa, or book into a buzzy new restaurant. There's so much to do in each one of these cities, you might just have to stay a little while longer. (It's ok, the responsibilities will wait until you get back.) Pack your walking shoes and set out for the sidewalks—the South's best cities are waiting with arms wide open.

15. Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville, Kentucky
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You'll find Louisville along the Ohio River, where things are busy year-round, but especially in May, when Churchill Downs plays host to the Kentucky Derby. Stop by the Kentucky Derby Museum to learn more about the history of the race, then head over to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, where you can take a tour and learn about the producer of the most famous Major League bats. There are also distilleries galore in the area; stop by to sip your way through tasting rooms and relax after a day spent exploring lively Louisville.

Plan your visit.

14. Jacksonville, Florida

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Jacksonville is quickly becoming a go-to destination for travelers looking for sun and sand and all the energy of a metro hub. This northeast Florida city—the most populous in the Sunshine State—stretches over 840 square miles. There, travelers find fun while lounging on the beach, paddling the waterways along the St. John's River and the Atlantic, and exploring the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens, Little Talbot Island, and the countless parks, restaurants, and places to launch a kayak or take a hike.

Plan your visit.

13. Houston, Texas

Houston, Texas
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Houston is a city with many attractions. Its food scene gets lots of buzz, and for good reason. Spots like Squable, Xin Chao, The Original Ninfa's on Navigation, Xochi, Ostia, Nancy's Hustle, and March keep diners coming back for more. Areas like the Museum District and Theater District invite visitors to explore the arts, including the galleries of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Menil Collection, and Houston Museum of Natural Science, as well as performances at the Wortham Theater Center, Alley Theatre, The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Jones Hall, and Miller Outdoor Theater.

Plan your visit.

12. Dallas, Texas

Night Skyline - Dallas, Texas
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Set your sights on Dallas, and you'll soon find you need to extend your trip. That's because there's so much to do and see in the city, including the Dallas Museum of Art, the African American Museum of Dallas, the Crow Museum of Asian Art, the Dallas Symphony, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Design District, Dallas Arboretum, House of Blues Dallas, and the Nasher Sculpture Center. Don't forget the shopping—with countless districts of boutiques and storefronts, Dallas is the place to browse.

Plan your visit.

11. Orlando, Florida

orlando florida skyline
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Orlando is theme park central, which makes it a favorite city for families and those in search of fun in the central Florida sun. It's home to lots of parks, including Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot, as well as Universal Orlando, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Beyond those attractions, there's the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Orlando Museum of Art, and opportunities for airboat rides, paddling and boat tours.

Plan your visit.

10. Richmond, Virginia

Richmond, Virginia- River City
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When you visit, you'll find a city of charming neighborhoods in and around Richmond, Virginia. Make a stop in the Fan District to marvel at the architecture. Drop into world-class art museums for inspiration and education, and shop works by local artisans in the city's boutiques and markets. There's also outdoor adventure to be had—find your way to the James River for whitewater rafting and biking along the nearby Virginia Capital Trail.

Plan your visit.

9. Birmingham, Alabama

Railroad Park, Birmingham, AL
Robbie Caponetto

Birmingham goes by many names, Steel City and The Magic City among them, and it's worth a visit to see what's new in this Alabama metropolis. With a dynamic dining scene—don't miss Highlands Bar and Grill, Automatic Seafood and Oysters, and Helen—opportunities to hear live music, and plenty of places to wander in nature—including Ruffner Mountain, Red Mountain Park, and Moss Rock Preserve—there's more than a little magic to be found in Birmingham.

Plan your visit.

8. Charlotte, North Carolina

Charlotte, North Carolina- Queen City
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Visit Charlotte, and you'll find a city with charm to spare. The Queen City is a destination for the arts; there's always something happening at The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Levine Center for the Arts, and the Visulite Theatre. It's also a hub for enjoying nature, including Little Sugar Creek Greenway, Freedom Park, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, the U.S. National Whitewater Center, and Lake Norman. There's a lot to do and see in Charlotte. Isn't it time you planned a trip?

Plan your visit.

7. Atlanta, Georgia

Piedmont Park, Atlanta, Georgia, America
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Travelers fly into and out of Atlanta all the time, but the city deserves much more of your time than an hour-long layover spent browsing duty free. There are always tickets to be had in the city—to sports events, concerts, and the performing arts, for starters, and the city and surrounding areas are also home to some of the best food in the state: Spring Restaurant, Bacchanalia, Talat Market, Argosy, The Deer and The Dove, Kimball House, Sushi Hayakawa…we could go on and on.

Plan your visit.

6. Austin, Texas

Aerial View of Capitol Building Austin, TX
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When it comes to Austin, to know it is to love it. It's a city that combines the best of Texas barbecue with live music, swimming holes, and plenty of trails for hiking and biking, which means that Austin will keep you busy while offering up adventures every day. Shop wares from local artisans, explore the brewery scene, and take a dip in Barton Springs Municipal Pool—you'll be glad you paid a visit to this Texas spot.

Plan your visit.

5. New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans Cathedral with Sunset
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The Big Easy is one of the best, and it always will be. There's no fun quite like NOLA fun, and once you find yourself in the midst of rollicking Mardi Gras celebrations, spontaneous second line parades, and some of the most historic restaurants around—Antoine's, Commander's Palace, or Dooky Chase's Restaurant, anyone?—you'll understand why people keep flocking to this one-of-a-kind city.

Plan your visit.

4. Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee- Music City
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Music City is always humming with excitement. With its rocking music venues and standout shopping, this city will entertain you all day and into the night. To take in some of the city's authentic country music experiences, be sure to check out the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and National Museum of African American Music, as well as the honky-tonks peppered around every corner.

Plan your visit.

3. Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina
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There are countless ways to spend a weekend in Asheville, one of North Carolina's best-loved cities. There's always the Biltmore, of course, as well as hiking in the mountains, some of the best breweries in the region, and cozy bed and breakfasts where you can spend your time relaxing between jaunts in and around the city. Don't miss the Downtown Asheville Art District, where you can find shops, galleries, and museums, and the River Arts District, where artists work in studios built from repurposed factories and the district's Second Saturday events invite visitors enjoy gallery walks, workshops, and live music.

Plan your visit.

2. Savannah, Georgia

Savannah Georgia
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Stroll through Savannah, and it will become one of your favorite Southern cities too. The lush squares and beautiful architecture make it a favorite for weekend trips. Start on the riverfront for pralines from historic sweet shops and dinner with waterfront views, and then head into the walkable districts farther inland. For shopping, don't miss E. Shaver, Bookseller, on Bull Street and The Paris Market and Brocante on Broughton Street.

Plan your visit.

1. Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston SC
Peter Frank Edwards

It's no surprise that our readers love Charleston. With its picturesque streets and vibrant dining scene—check out Melfi's, ChubbyFish, Leon's Oyster Shop while you're in town—it's a city with lots to recommend it. You'll find inviting inns, boutique hotels, and bed-and-breakfasts around every corner, and no matter where you are, you'll be within walking distance of something special. Begin your wanderings with a stroll on The Battery promenade, and then head over to Waterfront Park for more stellar views over the water.

Plan your visit.

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