Perched high on a bluff above the Mississippi River, the city of Natchez, Mississippi, is a hidden gem. It’s a city rich in more than 300 years of history and culture, and it’s waiting for you to explore. We rounded up nine hidden gems Natchez has to offer, from fascinating stories of the past to scenic highways.
About Natchez, Mississippi
Natchez, Mississippi, was founded by French settlers in 1716, making it the oldest continuously inhabited city on the Mississippi River. Originally the capital of the Mississippi Territory, the town became an important trading hub due to its location. It sat on the river and near the one-time frontier of the U.S. in the early 1800s. It was also the western end of the Natchez Trace. The Trace functioned as a forest trail for thousands of years. Then European settlers began to use it to travel between the Natchez area and the Ohio River region. These days, the National Park Service operates the Natchez Trace Parkway that follows much of this path.
Natchez continued to grow in the period before the Civil War, when many of the city’s now-famous mansions were built. As trade on the Mississippi declined, so did Natchez’s influence in commerce. Today, history and heritage tourism play a significant role in supporting the city of more than 15,000 people.
What Is Natchez, Mississippi, Known For?
Natchez is primarily known for its history, architecture, and southern culture. Wealthy southerners flocked to Natchez in the mid 19th century. They built many mansions and other noteworthy architectural pieces that now draw thousands of tourists every year. These are especially noteworthy as Natchez escaped much of the destruction experienced by the rest of the south during the Civil War. The area is also home to Native American and early American historical sites.
1. Tour Historic Antebellum Mansions Like the Longwood, Stanton Hall, and Rosalie
The elegant, sometimes unusual pre-Civil War mansions of the area are an absolute must-see on your trip to Natchez, Mississippi. Longwood, Stanton Hall, and Rosalie are among the most famous. Longwood is the largest octagonal house in the United States. Stanton Hall cost more than $2.6 million (in today’s dollars) without any furnishings! Grab tickets for a tour and learn about life in Antebellum Natchez and the stories of these stately homes.
2. The Emerald Mound
The history of the Natchez region stretches far back before Europeans arrived. The Emerald Mound is one of the best visible examples of this Native American history. Indigenous people built this mound (used as a ceremonial site) between 1200 and 1730 C.E. It remained in use until the early 18th century. The sheer size of this man-made mound is striking. Covering eight acres and rising up to 60 feet tall, it’s the second-largest structure of its kind in the U.S. Walk to the top and enjoy the panoramic views. Just respect the ceremonial nature of the site and don’t take or disturb any artifacts you might come across.
3. St. Mary Basilica
The St. Mary Basilica took 40 years to complete. This Catholic church was built in the Gothic Revival style. It features intricate interior and exterior design work, including stained glass windows. It was elevated to “minor basilica” status by the Church in 1998, recognizing its historical significance. St Mary is open seven days a week, but be aware of church service schedules when planning your visit.
4. Historic Natchez Cemetery
One of the best ways to learn about Natchez, Mississippi, is through the lives of its former residents. Natchez Cemetery has interred the town’s residents since 1822. Check out the cemetery’s intricate and ornate monuments on your own, or grab a self-guided tour from the main office. But, be warned — the gates lock at dusk. And no one wants to be stuck spending a night in a historic graveyard.
5. Drive on the Natchez Trace
Hit the road to follow a path used by travelers for thousands of years — the Natchez Trace. The 444-mile scenic and historic drive along the Natchez Trace Parkway follows the path of the Old Natchez Trace from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi. The Trace was created by Native Americans and linked the Cumberland and Mississippi Rivers. European settlers used it as an important transit route, creating inns and other essential stops along the way. The entire route features history and scenic beauty. You can check out spots like Mount Locust Inn & Plantation within a short drive of Natchez.
6. Visit the Natchez National Historical Park
Learn more about the history of this town at The Natchez National Historical Park. The National Park Service runs five properties at the park. These are Forks of the Road, the Natchez Visitor Center, the Melrose Estate, the William Johnson House, and Fort Rosalie.
The Forks of the Road was the second-largest slave market in the Deep South. Today it serves as a somber reminder. At the Melrose Estate, you can explore one of the best-preserved Antebellum estates in the south. See how both southern planters and their slaves lived.
At the William Johnson House, learn about life as a free family of color before the Civil War. In addition, the remains of Fort Rosalie provide insight into the earliest European settlers and their defenses around the city. Or return to the Natchez Visitor Center to get your bearings.
7. Visit the Under the Hill Saloon
Get a taste of Natchez’s seedier history at the Under The Hill Saloon. The saloon sits in what was once the port area of Natchez. Its patrons included “cut-throats, prostitutes and thieves.” Grab a drink and check out some live music, or just enjoy the views of the Mississippi River.
8. Take a Carriage Ride Through Historic Natchez
A carriage ride is a wonderful way to get a closer look at Natchez while learning more about the city. These tours accommodate six to 10 guests and leave from the corner of Canal and State streets. Tours take 45 minutes to one hour and carry you through Natchez’s historic district and famous neighborhoods.
9. Visit Mammy’s Cupboard
Mammy’s Cupboard is one of those true roadside institutions from a bygone era of travel. The building looks like a woman with a wide skirt and houses a restaurant. The woman has been the subject of controversy over the years due to her varying skin tone and the cultural origins of the “mammy” archetype. These days, you can stop in for a quick lunch and peruse the memorabilia from the restaurant’s 80-year history.
Natchez, Mississippi, is rich in history and southern heritage, with more hidden gems than you can count. These nine will give you a good start on learning about this historic city. So which attraction are you most excited to visit?