There’s a lot to do in Natchez, but three days gives you plenty of time to take in much of what the area has to offer without feeling like you’ve rushed through the sights.
DAY 1: A quick glimpse of the city
Start the day off with breakfast at one of the downtown restaurants. Choices range from a traditional southern breakfast to a quick muffin and a cup of coffee.
After breakfast, head to the Natchez Visitor Reception Center at the corner of Canal Street and John R. Junkin Drive (U.S. 84/98). At the center, you’ll find all the information you need to plan your visit to Natchez. They also have complimentary coffee and soft drinks and public restrooms. A perfect way to get a quick overview of Natchez and its history is to watch the Natchez Movie which is aired frequently in a comfortable, air-conditioned theater. A small charge is required for admission.
There’s no better way to truly immerse yourself into Natchez’s history than to take a quick walking tour of the Garden District to see some of the city’s most picturesque mansions. Several of the places you’ll pass are open year round, so consider taking a tour of Rosalie and its beautiful grounds atop the bluff or the the stately Magnolia Hall. At the conclusion of the Garden District tour, you’ll only be a couple of blocks from some of Natchez’s best lunch spots.
Natchez is known for having amazing restaurants, many of which are deep in the heart of downtown. From formal, white-table cloth southern sophistication to greasy spoons, Natchez restaurants can fill any appetite.
To burn off a few lunch-time calories (we hope you had dessert) stroll down Main Street and visit some of the unique, home-town shops along the way. Head one block north and visit some of the finest antiques shops in the world. Many of the shops have a wide array of merchandise from small gifts to large, museum quality pieces.
After an hour or so of shopping and walking, it’s time to visit one of Natchez’s most unique houses — Longwood. The story of the unfinished Longwood echoes the story of the old south and how it handled the effects of the Civil War. Construction of the octagonal house, the largest of its kind in America was stopped abruptly at the outset of war. Today, visitors can tour the beautiful finished spaces and the unfinished spaces where workers’ tools can still be seen resting as they were when construction stopped in 1861.
As the afternoon sun begins to head lower in the west, it’s a perfect time to sit back and take a horse-drawn carriage ride through downtown. Carriage drivers are among the most colorful historians in the city and they know the nooks and crannies of downtown like few locals do. Carriage drivers generally park their carriage along Canal Street near the intersection of State Street, next to the former train depot.
Enjoy one of the most beautiful views of Might Mississippi River as you enjoy some great food at Natchez Under-the-Hill. Located down Silver Street from Broadway (just past the gazebo on the bluff) Silver Street is home to Natchez’s first casino and also the location of one of the best restaurants in town, Magnolia Bar and Grill. If the seating is available, ask for a spot on the “porch” near a window. The high viewpoint offers a relaxing view of the sun setting over the river.
If you enjoy kicking up your heels a bit, Natchez’s downtown offer a number of night club options, including several long Main Street, many of which often feature live bands.
DAY 2: Learn how Natchez once was
Have a traditional southern breakfast buffet at either the Natchez Eola Hotel downtown or at Dunleith Bed and Breakfast. Both have great food and both will start your second day in Natchez off in grand style.
Following breakfast hop in the car and take a short ride to the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians on Jeff Davis Boulevard. Like the rest of Natchez’s history the early Native Americans who were here when the French arrived are unique in their own right. You’ll learn about their culture and how they lived off the land well before Europeans found settled high on the bluffs alongside the Natchez.
Head back into downtown and park along the bluff (there’s a public lot just behind the post office). Walk along the Grandeur of Natchez tour and see some of the most stately mansions in the city.
Walk along the bluff for a bit, soak up the views and then head over the First Presbyterian Church on the corner of State and Pearl streets. The church is home to some 500-plus works of three Natchez photographers who worked in succession from approximately 1855 to 1951. The exhibit is in the church’s Stratton Chapel, the entrance is along State Street, and is titled “Natchez in Historic Photographs.” Their works allows you to look directly into the eyes of many of the men, women and children who lived, worked and played in Natchez.
After you finish at the photography exhibit, grab some lunch at any of several great lunch spots in downtown.
With your belly filled up, hop in the car and take Canal Street back to John R. Junkin Drive (U.S. 84/98) and travel until it intersects with U.S. 61. Take U.S. 61 North and get on the Natchez Trace Parkway headed north. This national treasure is a National Park Service managed, federal highway that travels along the path made hundreds of years ago by travelers headed north. The 444-mile road stretches from Natchez to Nashville. Drive the speed limit and remember that commercial vehicles are prohibited. Exit just north of the U.S. 61 intersection and visit Emerald Mound, the second-largest Pre-Columbian earthwork in America. The massive, flat-topped ceremonial mound was believed to have been constructed between 1250 and 1600 A.D.
Head a little further up the Natchez Trace to Mount Locust and look around one of Mississippi’s oldest structures. The house had many uses in its life, including a stint as a travelers’ inn for early travelers heading up and down the Natchez Trace.
After you’ve toured the grounds, take a leisurely drive back down the Trace, but this time exist at the first exit for U.S. 61. From there, head south back toward the Natchez city limits. In the Washington community — once the territorial capital of Mississippi — stop at Historic Jefferson College to see the first institute of higher learning in Mississippi.
Select from one of Natchez’s dining establishments to finish off day two.
DAY 3: A town of diversity
After enjoying a cinnamon roll and cup of coffee at one of Natchez’s coffee shops or diners, begin your tour of Natchez heritage sites at the gazebo along the Mississippi River bluff.
Across the street from the gazebo is Bontura, ca. 1851, home of free black Robert Smith. Smith operated a carriage house business in pre-Civil War Natchez. Natchez had one of the largest populations of free African Americans, most of whom contributed to the economic vitality of the city.
Perhaps one of the most famous Natchez free blacks, William Johnson was a barber in Natchez who kept an extensive diary of everyday life in Natchez. His home on State Street used bricks from buildings destroyed in the infamous tornado of 1840. Through interactive exhibits and a self-guided tour guests learn more about the life of free African Americans in the pre-Civil War South. the home is part of the Natchez National Historical Park, operated by the National Park Service. Tours are free.
After touring the house, make your way up State Street and turn right on Commerce Street to witness the influence of another diverse culture on Natchez. On the corner of Washington and Commerce streets, Temple B’nai Israel stands as a proud legacy to the town’s Jewish heritage. The temple houses the oldest Jewish congregation in Mississippi. Its stained glass windows and ark of Italian marble make this synagogue one of the loveliest and most historic in the region. Tours are conducted year-round by appointment. Please call the museum for more information at (601) 362-6357.
After touring the temple, don’t forget to take a peek at the Tiffany glass windows of Trinity Episcopal Church, across the street, or the beautifully restored interior of St. Mary Basilica on Main Street. If it is a beautiful day you can get takeout from one of Natchez’s fine restaurants and enjoy lunch sitting by the Victorian cast iron fountain of Memorial Park behind the St. Mary. The park’s main entrance is at the corner of Main and Rankin streets.
Relaxed and rejuvenated from lunch in the park, visit some of the other heritage sites Natchez has to offer. Just on the outskirts of downtown are several important African-American historic sites. Along St. Catherine and East Franklin streets are the John Banks House, home to the first black Natchez physician; Holy Family Catholic Church, the oldest African-American Catholic Church in Mississippi; and the site of the Rhythm Night Club Fire, where 203 African Americans died in a 1940 dance hall fire. The blaze remains one of the largest fire tragedies in American history.
Further down the road is the Forks of the Road, the site of the second largest slave market in the United States during the early 1800s. Roadside exhibits tell some of the history of the notorious market and the people who were brought there to be sold to plantation and other property owners.
And if you have time left in your trip, don’t forget to visit Melrose, a 19th century Greek revival-style mansion that represents the height of Southern prosperity and the “Cotton Kingdom.” Built by the John T. McMurran family beginning in 1841, Melrose gives visitors a glimpse into the lifestyle of the pre-Civil War American South and helps them understand the roles that slaves played in an estate setting. Melrose, like the William Johnson House, is part of the Natchez National Historical Park.