By Katie Quine • June 13, 2018

All roads lead to Nashville! If you're taking a road trip to Music City, add some excitement to your drive by pulling off at one of these stops to sightsee, stretch your legs, and nosh on some of the best roadside eats around. These spots are located within a day's drive of Nashville along Interstate 40 westbound.

539 Miles to Nashville | Raleigh, NC

With a mix of contemporary artwork and centuries-old pieces, the North Carolina Museum of Art is worth getting lost in. If you have a few hours to spare, You Are Here: Light, Color, and Sound Experiences is a striking, interactive exhibit that captures the abstract nature of light and sound and is on display until July 22, 2018. Looking for a chance to stretch your legs and enjoy some sunshine? NCMA also boasts one of the largest art museum parks in the world. Take in outdoor sculptures along its greenway trails on foot or by bike. Even your dog is welcome.

North Carolina’s state capital is also experiencing a growing culinary movement as several of its restaurants receive national praise. Whether you enjoy fried chicken in a biscuit or pot pie or atop a waffle, the chicken at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey is drizzled with just a touch of honey and is nothing short of ethereal. Located just around corner, Brewery Bhavana is turning craft beer on its head as a —stick with us now — combined dim sum restaurant, brewery, bookstore, and flower shop. Snag a reservation and enjoy a saison alongside some scallion pancakes and steamed buns. You’ll have something to talk about for rest of your drive to Nashville — and probably after.

In Sanskirt, bhāvanā means “cultivating.” At Brewery Bhavana, the word takes shape in the restaurant’s diverse offerings and the friendships made over plates of dim sum.

512 Miles to Nashville | Chapel Hill, NC

Home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university to open its doors to students, Chapel Hill is teeming with youthful energy while maintaining its small-town ethos. Take a walk around campus and down the picturesque Franklin Street, which students famously rush after basketball victories, including those against the college’s down-the-road rival, Duke University.

Dip into Sutton’s Drugstore for a hot dog and Orangeade, or if you’re more easily swayed by a BLT, jump in the car and head to Merritt’s Grill, an outpost that encourages you to “slow down and smell the bacon.” If you’re feeling wild, make your BLT a triple and top it with chicken salad — you can’t graduate from UNC until you eat one. In need of a quicker pit stop? Allen & Son Barbeque is right off I-40 and is one of the most beloved eastern North Carolina-style barbecue joints in the state. Save room for banana pudding; it’s topped with toasted meringue instead of whipped cream, the only way die-hards will eat it around here.

The focal point of UNC’s campus, the Old Well is said to bring straight A’s to students who take a sip from its fountain on the first day of classes.

464 Miles to Nashville | Greensboro, NC

Known as “Gate City,” consider Greensboro your gateway to learn something new. Greensboro played an integral role in the civil rights movement as a local group of students staged one of the country’s first sit-in protests at a lunch counter in downtown. That lunch counter is now part of the larger International Civil Rights Center & Museum, which offers guided tours. A block down is Scuppernong Books, an independently-owned bookstore and café complete with creaky wooden floors and thoughtfully curated shelves. Greensboro also happens to be the site of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, a turning point in the Revolutionary War after which British troops began to lose traction in the South. Explore Guilford Courthouse National Military Park’s monuments on a self-guided walking tour.

294 Miles to Nashville | Asheville, NC

Never afraid to march to the beat of its own drum, Asheville is eclectic, endearingly so, with activities that will please everyone in your travel group. Visit America’s largest home, Biltmore Estate, which was built by George Vanderbilt. Containing more than 35 bedrooms and 65 fireplaces, the home holds an incredible history — it was even a fortress for the United States’ most precious art during World War II. Once you’re tuckered out after exploring the nooks and crannies of this impressive home, enjoy a wine tasting at the estate’s historic winery. For those who prefer beer, there’s no shortage of it in “Beer City USA.” Brewery hop in Asheville’s South Slope District at popular spots like Burial Beer Co., The Funkatorium, and Green Man Brewery.

Not only is the Biltmore House big, but so are the grounds it stands on. Biltmore Estate covers more than 8,000 acres. Photograph courtesy of The Biltmore Company

Asheville’s food scene is one of the best in the South, warranting a whole trip of its own. Highlights include Biscuit Head, a popular brunch spot that transforms biscuits — which are traditionally relegated as a side item — into a whole meal. Having just opened in 2016, Buxton Hall Barbecue is the new kid on the block in the grander North Carolina barbecue dynasty, but it’s authentic as can be. Buxton Hall’s open-kitchen concept, cocktail bar, and pastry program set the restaurant apart. If you’ll be in town around dinnertime, consider crossing off a bucket-list meal at Cúrate, known for its tapas, or the Southern-driven Rhubarb.

243 Miles to Nashville | NC-TN Border

Adventure is everywhere in the mountains shared by North Carolina and Tennessee. Max Patch, a grassy bald with a sprawling view of surrounding peaks, sits smack dab on the border and is considered “the crown jewel of the Appalachian Trail.” Driving there can be a challenge, but the hike is easy and the views are worth it. Shortly after you’ve crossed into Tennessee, get off the open road to enjoy a winding river. The Pigeon River is home to Class III and IV rapids, perfect for rafting or kayaking. Peel off at Exit 447 where the outposts of several adventure excursion companies are located. Should your idea of adrenaline revolve around roller coasters, Dollywood is just an hour-long detour from the same interstate exit. Who knows, you might just spot Opry member Dolly Parton on the carousel.

An amusement park with dozens of rides and musical shows, Dollywood is one of the premiere attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains. Photograph courtesy of Dollywood

180 Miles to Nashville | Knoxville, TN

“Good ol’ Rocky Top,” Knoxville is a charmer with its communal Market Square and passionate base of University of Tennessee fans. The city played host to the 1982 World’s Fair, earning itself its most recognizable landmark: the Sunsphere, which has the appearance of a giant golden disco ball. Travel up to the top and explore the city from its enclosed observation deck.

For ideal people watching, take a seat on one of Market Square’s many restaurant patios. Enjoy fried green tomatoes at Tupelo Honey, a bacon burger at Stock & Barrel, or craft beer at Preservation Pub.

Get a 360-degree view of Knoxville and its surrounding hills atop the Sunsphere.

The Final Stretch

We know: By now, you’re ready for Nashville, but before you get there, keep these notable turn-off points in mind. Splash around and marvel at a waterfall at Cummins Falls State Park, just north of Cookeville. A tad farther up I-40, Center Hill Lake presents great opportunities to fish, boat, hike, and picnic. Just 42 miles east of Nashville, Watertown is a popular spot for music video shoots. From Miranda Lambert’s “We Should Be Friends” to Darius Rucker’s cover of “Wagon Wheel,” Watertown has provided the perfect small-town backdrop for the music videos of big-time hits. Experience the town like a local by enjoying a slice of pizza at Nona Lisa or catching a double feature at Stardust Drive-In Theatre.

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