The state with a name so long, many children learn a short song to be able to spell it correctly, Mississippi is also home to one of the longest rivers in the US – the aptly named Mississippi. Rich in Native American, Spanish and French History, the US got a relatively late start in this state, which has managed to preserve an exotic mix of these starkly different cultures. The bluffs of the river and the lush interior contain some hidden gems – small towns steeped in history and filled with Southern hospitality and a delightfully laid-back way of life.
Why not treat yourself to some home-cooking, arts and good music, and natural paradises when you check out our list of 15 best small towns to visit in Mississippi?
1. Cleveland, Mississippi
Cleveland is located in Bolivar County (which was named after the South American political figure, Simon Bolivar). The town itself is off Route 61 and was named in honor of the former US president, Grover Cleveland. Settled by people moving inland from the Mississippi River to the Delta, Cleveland has a robust local economy nowadays and flourishing music culture.
There are two Mississippi Blues Trail markers in town: Christmas Street, a former center of African-American life and business, and the blues musician W. C. Handy. If you’re into the blues, visit the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi. The Martin & Sue King Railroad Museum is also in Cleveland. Enjoy some Southern comfort food at the Country Platter, or Fat Baby’s Catfish House.
2. Oxford, Mississippi
Oxford is a college town in Lafayette County, and home to the well known University of Mississippi, otherwise known as “Ole Miss”. Built on land that formerly belonged to the Chickasaw until the treaty of the Pontotoc Creek, the founders intentionally named the town Oxford and planned to make it a center of learning in the South. These dreams were fulfilled when the state legislature selected Oxford as the home for the new state university in 1841. In more recent history, the first presidential debate of 2008 was held here at Ole Miss.
After touring campus, take a stroll at Lamar Park, or visit the Confederate Cemetery from the Civil War era. Hike through Bailey’s Woods or stock up on goodies at the Midtown Farmers Market. Catch some music at Lyric Theatre before enjoying a relaxing meal at the Ravine. Put your feet up and unwind at charming The Nests BnB!
3. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Located in Hancock County, Bay St. Louis is on the upper Gulf Coast and conveniently located close to New Orleans. Dotted with old architecture, open spaces and filled to the brim with Southern Charm, this town valiantly survived Hurricane Katrina and has rebuilt itself to recuperate fully its artsy, quirky charm that makes this town so special.
Wander the Main Street shops and look for that piece of art to finally complete your home at Central Hall, or walk to the end of Main Street to the long stretch of beach. Have breakfast at the Buttercup or a cup of coffee at Mockingbird Cafe – you can get to know all the locals there, too! Treat yourself to a few nights of rest and relaxation at Carroll House Bed and Breakfast!
4. New Albany, Mississippi
Located in Union County, New Albany sprang up around a grist and saw mill site on the Tallahatchie River and soon became a bustling river port. Its progress was halted during the Civil War, when Union troops burnt almost the entire town to the ground. New Albany came back to life upon the arrival of the railroads in the 1880s and was the birthplace of well-known American writer, William Faulkner, in 1897.
Visit New Albany to discover its thriving neighborhoods and preserved historic areas. Hop on a bike and get in some exercise on Tanglefoot Trail, and reward yourself with a treat at Sugaree’s Bakery. High Point Coffee Roasters is also nearby if you need a caffeine boost, or if you’re hungry, stop in at George’s Restaurant for some fried chicken! Experience some Southern Hospitality at the Concord Inn and recharge your batteries away from the pressure of city life.
5. Corinth, Mississippi
Corinth is located in Alcorn County, but was originally called Cross City when it was founded in 1853. Its name was later changed to Corinth per a suggestion by the newspaper editor: since the ancient Greek city of Corinth was also a crossroads, like the current town that served as a railroad crossroads, it was a poetic name change. During the Civil War, the Confederate general Beauregard retreated here following the defeat of the Battle of Shiloh. The approaching Union army descended upon Corinth and took over a month to actually approach the town, a tactic now called “the Siege of Corinth”.
Corinth is a perfect place for history lovers – visit the Veranda House, a headquarters for Confederate generals in the Civil War, the Siege and Battle of Corinth sites, Fort Williams, or the downtown and midtown Historic Districts. Enjoy an old fashioned soda at Borroum’s Drugstore and Soda Fountain, and fill up on barbecue at the Rib Shack. Soak in the history and kick back at the General’s Quarters Inn.
6. Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Located in Jackson County, Ocean Springs was the first permanent French outpost Fort Maurepas in French Louisiana, constructed to thwart any encroachment from the Spanish. Later, it was named Ocean Springs for the surrounding natural springs, and became a bit of a resort destination community.
Ocean Springs continues to capitalize on this artsy resort vibe to this today. The downtown area was cleaned up post-Katrina and is lined with oak trees, galleries, and shops. Seafood remains a staple to this town, which locals enjoy and also export as part of their economy. Wander the Fontainebleau Nature Trail or Front Beach before heading into town for some local seafood at Mikey’s on the Bayou. The Inn at Ocean Springs awaits your stay- we think you’ll be dying to stay just a little longer.
7. Vicksburg, Mississippi
The county seat of Warren County, Vicksburg is located on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, across from Louisiana. The French were the first European settlers to explore the area, and they founded Fort Saint Pierre in 1719. Vicksburg played a significant role in the Civil War, when it finally fell in the Siege of Vicksburg, marking a turning point and giving the Union Army full control of the Mississippi River.
Come visit this historical town and spend some time at the Vicksburg National Military Park. They have also preserved their historic courthouse, the Old Courthouse, which is well worth your time as well. Browse the wares at H.C. Porter Gallery and wander the Linden Plantation Gardens. Enjoy dinner with a view at 10 South Rooftop Bar and Grill before retiring for the night at the quaint Anchuca Historic Mansion and Inn.
8. Natchez, Mississippi
Located in Adams County, Natchez is the county seat and sits across the Mississippi River from Vidalia, Louisiana. It was originally inhabited by the Natchez Native Americans until the arrival of the French, who then ceded the land to the Spanish after the French and Indian War. Because of its key location on a bluff on the Mississippi and its long history, Natchez was the first capital of the state of Mississippi, until the much younger city of Jackson replaced it later.
Pay Natchez a visit and walk a part of the Natchez Trace, a beautiful path through the forest that was formerly used by the Natchez themselves. Stop in at Auburn Museum and Historic Home or take a Southern Carriage Tour! Indulge your sweet tooth at Cotton Alley Cafe, or lunch at the Camp Restaurant. Put your feet up at Monmouth Historic Inn at Natchez and disconnect from “normal life”.
9. Port Gibson, Mississippi
Port Gibson is located in Claiborne County, and was formerly part of “La Louisianne” when the French held this territory. The land transitioned to the US after the Louisiana Purchase and was settled by plantation owners who brought in African slaves after the removal of the local Native Americans. The blues were popular in the 20th century with founding of the Rabbit’s Foot Company, which holds a marker on the Mississippi Blues’ Trail.
Make time for some local food at Rosie’s Cafe, before checking into Isabella B&B. During your visit, stop in at the Grand Gulf Military Park – you can even camp there if you’re a nature lover. Wander the downtown with its historic mansions and check out the murals that commemorate what Port Gibson has endured throughout its history.You’ll see why they call it “the town that was too beautiful to burn” during the destruction of the South towards the end of the Civil War.
10. Ridgeland, Mississippi
Located next to the Ross Barnett (a former governor) Reservoir, Ridgeland is in Madison County. Originally, the town was an idea created by two developers from Chicago, Edward Treakle and Gordon Nichols. They purchased the land and started a marketing campaign in an attempt to convince Northerners to move south to a southern paradise.
Thanks to that marketing campaign, Ridgeland was the birthplace of Faith Hill! She lived here until the 8th grade. Grab a bike and head out on the Ridgeland Bike Trail, or explore the Natchez Trace. Treat yourself to a lovely seafood meal at Seafood R’evolution, or have a steak at Shapley’s Restaurant. Pamper yourself at the Hyatt and relax.
11. Holly Springs, Mississippi
Holly Springs is located in Marshall County, Mississippi, right on the border with Tennessee. Formerly dotted with cotton plantations built land that had been taken from the Chickasaw Native Americans, the town became a supply depot for Union General Grant in the Civil War during the siege of Vicksburg.
Visit Strawberry Plains Audubon Center during your visit, or Wall Doxey State Park – and don’t forget your camera! You can also enjoy the Holly Springs National Forest for some retreat back into nature, or visit the Ida B Wells Museum, commemorating a famous activist who was born here. Treat yourself to some comfort food at Southern Eatery and pamper yourself at Court Square Inn Bed & Breakfast.
12. Canton, Mississippi
Canton is located in Madison County, near the state capital of Jackson. Much of the actual town is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, and one of its most famous landmarks is the historic Canton Courthouse. Canton also has a large Confederate cemetery; it as a shipping and logistics hub during the Civil War and treated many of the wounded soldiers.
Canton is a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail – a famous blues singer, Elmore James, learned electronics here, and there were several famous juke joints on Hickory Street. Wander Hickory Street now to see these landmarks, and stop in at the Courthouse Square – the courthouse itself is a majestic display of architecture and the square is full of shops. Stay a few nights at Heart’s Content Bed and Breakfast and enjoy your time away.
13. Carthage, Mississippi
Located in Leake County, Carthage was named after the Harris Family’s (early settlers) hometown in Tennessee by the same name. Carthage gained some fame in the mid 1900s for hosting a “Tri-Racial Goodwill Festival” for whites, African Americans and Native Americans, but later continued to experience racism during the Civil Rights Movement.
They’ve moved past that now, and you should visit to wander their downtown and visit a curious place – Rustic Flair. Enjoy breakfast at The Bakery and Cafe, or dig into some delicious seafood at Penn’s Seafood. A perfect place for an afternoon or longer, Carthage awaits the chance to welcome you with open arms.
14. Tupelo, Mississippi
Located in the northern part of the state, between Memphis, Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama, Tupelo is in Lee County and is known for being the birthplace of Elvis Presley! Named for the tupelo trees (locally known as black gum) surrounding it, Tupelo was called Gum Pond by setters. French and Spanish explorers first arrived here and traded with the locals, but following US expansion, all native americans were soon relocated as more Americans moved west.
Visit the town and head to the site of the Battle of Tupelo during the Civil War. You should also see Elvis Presley’s Birthplace and Museum, as well as the Elvis Presley Center! Enjoy a colorful meal at Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen or some fried chicken at Connie’s Fried Chicken, before sleeping off your food coma at Moon Lake Farm Bed and Breakfast.
15. Wiggins, Mississippi
Wiggins is located in Stone County, and was named after Wiggins Hatten, an original homesteader in the area. The town prospered for a while and fostered lumber mills and other businesses, until over half the town was destroyed in a mysterious fire in 1910. The town has since rebuilt and awaits your visit.
Stop by Wiggins and head out to the G&M Goat Farm, a local business that makes its own products, including goat soap! If you’re there in the summer, cool off at Flint Creek Water Park before strolling down Historic Pine Street. Indulge at Daily Fresh Donuts or enjoy a meal at Whistle Stop Cafe. You can always stay longer at the Peacock Bed and Breakfast and enjoy the peace and quiet.