Tennessee is divided by law and custom into three major regions, locally known as Grand Divisions. Each Grand Division is known for its distinctive musical heritage: Bluegrass (Eastern), Country-western (Central), and Blues (Western).
Many native Tennesseans speak in the dialect of the American South. This dialect changes slightly as you cross through each region, and will be especially pronounced in rural areas
Generally speaking, it is accepted that people in the South speak more slowly, carefully, and politely than those from the North. In particular, visitors from larger cities will have to adjust to the different pace of speech if they visit Tennessee's smaller mountain towns; speaking quickly and bluntly can be perceived as inconsiderate and may gather a negative response.
The legal driving age is 15 if you have a learners permit, 16 on a restricted license, and 17 on a unrestricted license. Anyone with a learners permit cannot be driving from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. or more with more than one passenger for one year or until reaching age 18, whichever is sooner.
Interstate 40 criss-crosses the state from west to east, connecting Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and the Smoky Mountain Region. Interstate 55 is entirely situated in Memphis. Interstate 155 crosses from Missouri into northwest Tennessee, ending in Dyersburg. Interstate 24 enters from Kentucky near Clarksville, passes through Nashville and ends in Chattanooga (but not before briefly dipping into Georgia for about three miles). Interstate 65 runs through Nashville in its trek from Kentucky to Alabama. Interstate 75, coming from Kentucky, links Knoxville with Chattanooga before heading into Georgia. Interstate 81 starts at Interstate 40 just east of Knoxville and heads northeast to Bristol before moving into Virginia. In the Kingsport area, Interstate 26 runs south from Interstate 81 into North Carolina (towards Asheville), while Interstate 181 heads toward Kingsport and the Virginia state line.
There are several airports in the state. Memphis International Airport is a hub for Delta Air Lines and is served by several other airlines. Nashville International Airport is also served by many other airlines. There is air service at smaller airports at Maryville (Knoxville), Chattanooga and Bristol. Southern Tennessee is easily accessible to the Huntsville, AL, airport.
Amtrak service in Tennessee is limited to the City of New Orleans service stopping in Memphis and Newbern.
Greyhound offers service throughout Tennessee. Megabus offers service to Memphis (from Chicago, Champaign-Urbana, St. Louis, Atlanta, Birmingham, Dallas, and Little Rock), to Nashville (from Atlanta), to Chattanooga (from Atlanta), and to Knoxville (from Washington, D.C., Christiansburg and Atlanta).
As in most American states, automobiles are the primary form of travel. In larger cities you will find public bus systems, and Greyhound buses are an option for travel in between cities. There are also major airports in all large cities (Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and the Tri-Cities) and many smaller airports scattered across the state.
Unfortunately there is no option for rail travel to the central or eastern parts of the state. However, Amtrak runs the fabled "City of New Orleans" line through Memphis and Newbern. This is certainly worth considering if you are planning to visit those areas, especially if you are heading along the Mississippi River. Also, the city of Nashville operates a commuter rail from the suburbs to the downtown area.
It is becoming increasingly rare to locate truly authentic "Southern" cuisine in places other than a privately owned family kitchen table, but the state still offers some truly wonderful regional fare.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a World Heritage Biosphere Reserve and draws millions of visitors from around the region and the world annually. Covering nearly 1,000 square miles it is home to temperate rainforests and some of the rarest and most unique plant life in North America. The park currently suffers from high levels of air pollution due to surrounding cities such as Knoxville and Sevierville as well as the numerous coal-fired power plants of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Traffic congestion is fairly severe within the Park's Cades Cove "loop," as many people stop to take in the vistas of the sprawling valley and its many deer and bears that freely roam the area. If you plan to go, car pool if you can.
The legal drinking and purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 21. However, underage drinking is allowed only for religious purposes (ex. Communion service or a bar mitzvah), and will need to be administered by a priest or minister. Be aware that most counties in Tennessee are dry counties, that means sale of alcohol is either prohibited or restricted. Only 3 counties (Shelby County, Benton County, and Davisdon County) are not dry.
During the spring months, the state is often heavily affected by major rain storms which lead to a risk of major flood potential. These floods are by NO MEANS on a small scale; they are often widespread and last for several days or even weeks. In May of 2010, the state experienced a "1000 year flood" which resulted in numerous fatalities and over $2 billion of property damage statewide.
Travelers to the region during this season should consider planning ahead; stay informed about weather events in the region before making your journey. If there is an eminent flood warning or an ongoing threat of a flood occurring in the area at which you plan to travel to or through, consider deferring your travel plans or take an alternate route to your final destination. Avoid flood ravaged areas, as these areas are unsafe for any non-essential travel.
Thunderstorms and Tornadoes
Although it is not anywhere near the official "tornado alley", the state (particularly its central and western regions) does experience very violent thunderstorms during the spring and summer months of the year. These thunderstorms frequently have the potential to spawn small scale tornadoes, but this is not to say that the potential for larger scale events is not possible. During the April 2009 tornado outbreak, the city of Murfreesboro was struck by a very intense EF-4 tornado which resulted in 2 deaths and caused $40 million in property damage.
Therefore, any travelers to this region during these months should be vigilant of the changing weather conditions.
Refer to the Tornado safety page for more details regarding this matter.