Moving between cities can be difficult for travelers to the United States. The further one moves away from major centers, the greater the challenge becomes, and Tennessee is no exception. Whether you’re road-tripping down south or just there for a weekend full of music, you’ll inevitably wonder if there’s any other way to get from Nashville to Memphis than by taking the shortest path. (That or: And why hasn’t the US invested more in its rail network?) Even though taking the train isn’t an alternative, there are some options to consider for those planning to travel between the two music cities.
Driving from Memphis to Nashville
How long is the drive from Memphis to Nashville, anyway? It is about 3 hours.
Driving the distance between the two is the most obvious and easiest way. By opting to take the car, you will have two options. You can either follow the I-40 E or not.
- Option #1: The itinerary you’ll obtain by using Google Maps suggests driving along the Interstate as it is the fastest way. The distance covered by this route is about 220 miles (355 km), and the journey takes a little over 3 hours to complete. It can be a tedious drive, and you should not expect many panoramic views. This route is more likely to have construction or delay during the rush hour in Nashville. You should therefore check the route conditions before leaving to avoid any surprises.
- Option #2: If you choose this option, the best routes to consider are State Route 100 or US Route 64. (SR 100 runs parallel to the Interstate, and US 64 follows the state’s southern border more closely.) Using those routes might add some mileage to your trip (some 20 miles), and the speed limit might be a little slower. However, they let you visit small towns and see something other than trucks on a highway.
Which one should you take? It’s really a matter of opinion. Some may want a taste of enticing Americana, whereas others might see it as a waste of time and want to get from point A to point B.
Stops you might consider along the way :
- Jackson, TN – Better know where to do the pit stop in case you need it
- Samuel T. Bryant distillery (Also in Jackson!) – If you’re a little thirsty along the way
- Tennessee Safari Park – A fun break for the children on the road
- Cypress Grove Nature Park – For those who would like to explore the dense woodlands between the 2 cities
Renting a car in Nashville (or Memphis)
If you weren’t set on renting a car for the whole trip, you probably should rent one only for this leg. Here’s some good news: Nashville and Memphis have car rentals in their center. You won’t have to return to the airport only to get a car. You also might want to keep it since Nashville isn’t known for its excellent public transport.
If driving isn’t an option, there are other possibilities.
Memphis to Nashville by Bus
How long is the bus ride from Memphis to Nashville? 3 hours 45 min
Of course, the bus is the best second option if you can’t drive a car. The route is served by Greyhound. The company this direct route 4 times a day every day (even more practical! one of those is a night bus that leaves Memphis at 11:45 PM and arrives at 3:35AM in Nashville). A one-way ticket costs about 50 USD. The bus will stop every now and then between the two cities, but it’s still better than the third option.
Memphis to Nashville by Plane
Taking the plane might look like the option you would choose but can’t afford. I have excellent news for you: you want to avoid taking the plane to travel between these two music cities.
A staggering 5 companies offer this itinerary, but none offer direct flights between Nashville and Memphis. Depending on whom you book your flight, the connection could be made in Atlanta (or places as far as Chicago!) Considering everything, you’ll lose at least 2 hours before your flight (getting to the airport, checking in, etc.) and spend at least 3 hours for your flights and connection. All that still leaves you without a car to reach your next accommodation. Let’s be honest: It is not worth it. However, if you are uncompromising on flying for the trip, I would choose my airline in this order:
Delta (Because at least the connections are in ATL) > Southwest (Because it’s cheaper than the other options) > American / United > Spirit.
- Delta Air Lines: About 170 USD. Usually stops in ATL. The flight lasts min. 3 hours.
- Southwest Airlines: About 170 USD. Usually stops in Chicago, Dallas, and Atlanta. The flight takes min. 4,5 hours
- United Airlines: About 160 USD. Usually connects in Chicago or Denver. The flight takes min. 5 hours.
- American Airlines: About 240 USD. Connections for this flight are all over the place (Dallas, Charlotte, Arlington, even Chicago)
- Spirit Airlines: 174 USD. No overhead bin access. Usually, connects in Chicago. In case you didn’t know, this company has a reputation for canceling some flights and not rebooking them until a few days later. I wouldn’t recommend them.)
Memphis to Nashville as a day trip
It is possible to go to Nashville from Memphis on a day trip, but it might be better to consider staying the night. A day out would be more leisurely with a car, and using air travel is not a possibility.
While I haven’t found one from Memphis to Nashville, I found an excursion from Nashville to Memphis offered by Gray Line Tours. For 250 USD per person, it includes transportation between the 2 cities and admission to Graceland and the Sun Studios. You can book it here.
Memphis to Nashville with River Cruise
I am writing about it since it is, in fact, an option, although not one I would recommend. I couldn’t find any decent review of the companies offering those cruises, and the amenities don’t seem all that great. I wouldn’t recommend replacing a 3-hour drive with an 8 days cruise. You’d also think there are better rivers to cruise on than the Tennessee river.
If that sound interesting to you: here is their website.
Tennessee Music Trail to New Orleans Group Tour
For those wanting to further their experience and go deeper into the American South, Intrepid Travel provides a 6 days group tour starting in Nashville and ending in New Orleans while spending a night in Memphis. The tour costs, as of now, 2815 USD $ and includes the 3 cities’ main attractions while providing travel companions. While I wasn’t up on selling the River Cruise, I’m positive this trip is fabulous. Here is the link to their website.
It is disconcerting to conclude that the best way is the obvious one. According to those who’ve made the trip, you might think you want to take the scenic route, but it’s not worth it. You are better off just ripping the band-aid and, if you have the choice, taking the car on the I-40.