Why You Need to Plan a Trip to Natchez, Mississippi
In Natchez, Mississippi, even the surrounding landscape beckons you toward a storied past, with roads cutting canyons through red-dirt forests, eventually arriving at the city's famous bluffs. Oak limbs spread wide. Welcome to the oldest town along the Mississippi River.
Today, Natchez is bursting with surprises, thanks in large part to a cohort of young natives who wandered away and then returned home with new ideas. Revived efforts to highlight the area's African-American history, along with a rejuvenation of the downtown scene that includes a bevy of brand-new businesses, have brought the city into a new era. It's one of our favorite towns to visit in Mississippi. Here's our list of things to do on your trip to Natchez.
Any tour of Natchez ought to begin where the city itself did—on the riverside strip of land known, suitably, as Natchez Under-the-Hill. The very first French colonists landed here in 1716. In the past, the neighborhood was bustling—and occasionally libertine, full of fishermen and grocers working next to bordellos and bars.
Only one row of brick buildings has survived the river's floods, but these offer modern comforts behind a rustic veneer. Silver Street Gallery & Gifts is a bright and airy storefront with an eclectic collection of river trinkets. The outdoor bar at The Camp Restaurant is a favorite spot for eating sliders and drinking microbrews while the sun sets over the water. For full frontier flavor, there is nowhere better than the Under the Hill Saloon, which purports to be the oldest tavern on the river. Dark wood and dusty brick walls, cluttered with centuries of river paraphernalia, will help you get into a suitably Huck Finn mood.
Stand on a downtown sidewalk, and you'll see enough historic storefronts to overwhelm you. But new characters now live and work inside those walls.
A stroll through the heart of Natchez reveals an architectural gold mine—from austere Greek columns to whimsically carved gables—and the ideal fuel for ambling can be found at Steampunk Coffee Roasters. Named for its intricate brass espresso maker, this spot is a surprising treat in a town of just 15,000, serving custom-roasted coffee and Italian-style espresso from a late-1800s brick building. Owner Wilmer "Dub" Rogers, who had become accustomed to starting his day with espresso when he worked in Milan, started Steampunk to satiate his own need for craft caffeine in town. You can get more than a caffeine fix there. The coffee house also offers chocolate, tea, and cigars.
For daytime drinking, choose from excellent sour beers and other microbrews on tap at the family-friendly Natchez Brewing Company. Enjoy live music while sipping the day's features, and don't leave without trying the brick-oven pizza or one of the monthly specials, like the Applewood Smoked Kielbasa with sweet slaw.
One of the latest additions to the town's burgeoning nightlife is Smoot's Grocery, which was previously a grocery and also an "unofficial juke joint," according to Matt Willis, head of booking and entertaining. Now, this old tin-sided shotgun shack has been updated and lined with salvaged wood. The taps flow freely, pool balls clink, and the dance floor echoes with live roots music (from zydeco to Texas blues) deep into the night.
Natchez offers endless home tours, three of which are essential. The largest octagonal home in the United States, Longwood spans six stories and 30,000 square feet—topped with a stately dome. But it's still unfinished. Construction, which began in 1860, was cut short by the Civil War the following year. Seeing its grand interior unvarnished only underscores the original owner's ambitions for this palatial home.
The National Park Service (NPS) offers detailed tours of the historic properties it manages. Melrose, a mid-19th-century town house, was passed on to each new owner with all of its original furnishings, making it an incredibly intact reflection of the past.
Built in 1823, Rosalie Mansion also displays original artifacts. Tour the Federal-style town house and grounds, which were the site of the original Fort Rosalie, established by the French in 1716.
When it's time to refuel, The Donut Shop is the only place in town to enjoy a uniquely local combo: fried pastries and Mississippi-style hot tamales. Walk them off on the 26-acre grounds of Monmouth Historic Inn & Gardens, a setting that calls for a mint julep from the on-site bar, Quitman Lounge & Study. Afterward, head for Restaurant 1818, where a white-tablecloth dinner is served in the mansion's old parlors.
Where to Stay
It's hard to go wrong with the many antebellum homes that double as bed-and-breakfasts, but these options reflect this river city's new modern twist.
Shanty Bellum is a quaint guesthouse with a good-hearted, quirky feel. Built in the 1880s, it's convenient to downtown and river sunsets. You can rent it through Airbnb.
Hotel Vue is a solid choice for budget travelers, with rooms starting at $76. As the name implies, the real treat is the setting: The hotel stands on a bluff with a sight line extending out into Louisiana.