History and grandeur meet slow-paced Southern living in the historic town of Natchez, Mississippi. Steeped in more than 300 years of history, the river town is known for its meticulous antebellum homes and churches, lush parks, historic walking trails, and decadent down-home cooking.
Natchez is the oldest post-European settlement on the Mississippi. Yes -- it’s two years older than New Orleans! But like its Louisiana cousin, it boasts a lively side, and on weekends, it hosts lots of travelers hoping to experience some of the town’s legendary live music. There's even a local casino that’s a great place to spend a night out on the town. And, despite its antebellum roots, it’s one of the most diverse cities in the South.
Envision well-preserved homes peeking out from perfectly manicured gardens, a bustling downtown, and views over the mighty Mississippi River. Natchez is full of Southern charm, but it flies delightfully under the radar.
Here are eight reasons to visit Natchez on your next trip to the South.
1. It’s An Enclave Of Antebellum History
Natchez is home to more than 1,000 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Preservation is an impressively important part of the heart and soul of the city.
You can get up close and personal with Natchez’s gorgeous antebellum architecture at any of the city’s house museums. Linden is a must, especially if you're a Gone with the Wind fan. It is rumored that the design of the front door was the inspiration for Tara in the film. The main part of the house was constructed in the 18th century, and the property has been in the Conner/Feltus family for six generations. Today it serves as a bed and breakfast.
Melrose is another beautiful home you can tour. Lawyer and businessman John McMurran moved into the house in the mid-19th century, and the Greek Revival mansion offers insight into plantation life. Today it is run by the National Park Service. Visitors can explore the slave cabins and exhibits out back for a somber look at this piece of history.
Every spring, thousands of visitors descend on Natchez for the Natchez Pilgrimage, when many of the city’s historic homes and monuments open their doors to the public for tours.
2. It’s Home To Southern Cooking At Its Finest
Crispy po' boys, succulent crawfish, and juicy jambalaya are only a small part of the food scene in Natchez. The city abounds with rich flavors, from Cajun to classic Southern. Dinner options include everything from spinach salads and grilled chicken to burgers, sandwiches, and more.
King's Tavern is a local favorite; it was built in the 18th century, and it’s thought to be one of the oldest buildings in Natchez. Enjoy a wood-fired flatbread, but beware of the resident ghost -- it's rumored this establishment is haunted!
Down by the river is the popular Magnolia Grill, which serves up Southern and Cajun favorites like fried green tomatoes, okra gumbo, and grilled catfish with crawfish étouffée. There are plenty of lighter options and vegetarian dishes to accommodate all diners.
If you want to learn about Southern cooking, visit one of the two cooking schools in Natchez that are open to the public. The Natchez Heritage School of Cooking is run by three generations of Natchez women who share African-American recipes and cooking tips. There’s also the Southern Cooking Class at Twin Oaks, where you’ll step into Chef Regina Charboneau's kitchen for a cooking demonstration before moving into the lavish dining room for a sumptuous meal complete with wine and fascinating conversation.
3. You Can Take An Old-Fashioned Road Trip
American history is all about movement -- across the country, up north, and down south. Wherever there was land to roam, early Americans were roaming it, and Natchez was the final stop on one of the great American roadways -- one that still exists today.
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile scenic road that passes through three states. It follows the Old Natchez Trace, a historic route that was used by Native Americans, European settlers, slave traders, soldiers, and more. Today it provides a gorgeous backdrop for road trips, with plenty of places to pull off for hiking, biking, and camping along the way. The drive starts in Nashville, heads south through Alabama, and ends in Natchez.
Near Natchez is the Potkopinu Trail, a picturesque hiking trail perfect for an easy stroll at just 3 miles long. It is the longest stretch of the original Old Natchez Trace that remains.
If you’re interested in Native American history, a visit to the Emerald Mound Site is a must. Located just outside Natchez, the site is the second-largest temple mound in the nation. The mound was built between 1300 and 1600, and a 30-foot secondary mound nearby was once the site of a ceremonial structure.
4. It’s Like Stepping Back In Time
Natchez is home to dozens of old walking routes where you can immerse yourself in the area’s rich history. There are five designated trails, each one less than 2 miles long. These are a great way to spend the afternoon. On the trails, you can visit sights like Saint Mary Basilica, the only church that was built as a cathedral in Mississippi, or Temple B'nai Israel, which was built in 1905 to replace an 1872 synagogue that had burned down.
On State Street between Canal and Wall Streets is the William Johnson House. Johnson was a free man of color who owned a barbershop and kept a detailed diary describing life in Natchez before the Civil War.
The Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture, housed in a 1904 post office, traces the history of African Americans in Natchez and the South as a whole.
Whichever walking tour you choose, be sure to end at the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi at the Bridge of Sighs (yes, named for the one in Venice). The original bridge collapsed in the 19th century, and a new one replaced it in 2015.
5. It’s Rooted In Rhythm And Blues
Natchez has long been a hot spot for American blues and soul, and there's no better place to let the iconic music wash over you than the live music halls of the city.
Natchez is part of the Gold Record Road of the Americana Music Triangle -- a driving trail through Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana that connects Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans. The route runs through Natchez twice, so you’ve got two opportunities to dip into the city’s music venues that range from juke joints to restaurant bars.
Get a dose of seedy Natchez history with your live music at the Under The Hill Saloon. It's one of the oldest buildings in the area, and its clients once included cutthroats, prostitutes, and thieves. The saloon offers live music on weekends and occasionally during the week as well. Don't miss the explosive sunsets from the saloon's front porch, where rocking chairs provide the perfect front-row seats.
6. It Has A Rough-And-Tumble Past
Speaking of Under The Hill, the saloon itself is located in a neighborhood that bears the same name. Once the rough part of town, Under The Hill is where the first French colonists landed in 1716. The original neighborhood was pure frontier, with salty characters including fishermen, grocers, prostitutes, and barflies. The one row of brick buildings that remains has been revitalized and is one of the most vibrant and best-preserved parts of the original city, with beautiful storefronts, river views, and centuries of history right before your eyes.
7. You Can Catch The View From Above (Or Below)
One of Natchez’s time-honored traditions is its annual hot air balloon festival, when the sky explodes with brilliantly colored canopies. Since 1986, locals and visitors have turned out for the weekend of live music and family fun. The festival also features a balloon glow, fireworks, arts and crafts, carnival rides, and even a biergarten with regional craft beers.
Grab a seat on the Rosalie Mansion’s bluffs for the local entertainment, cuisine, and live music, along with perfect views of the balloons drifting overhead. The Rosalie Mansion was built nearly 200 years ago and provides a spectacular historic backdrop for the balloon event.
8. It’s A Natural Paradise
With the mighty Mississippi flowing just outside its doors, and with several nearby lakes, Natchez is an outdoor adventurer's paradise. The town offers everything from swimming and fishing to kayaking and boating. There are also plenty of nearby trails for hiking and biking.
Homochitto National Forest provides great hiking routes along its creeks and trails. Camping is possible there, too, within the Clear Springs Recreational Area.
About 10 miles south of Natchez is the Saint Catherine Creek Wildlife Refuge, which provides a habitat for a variety of local flora and fauna. Take a walk through the mighty hardwood forests and cypress swamps. You can also fish, hunt, bird-watch, and hike within the refuge.