Nashville is having another moment. As we look closer to home to plan our next vacation, the country music capital has emerged as the latest hotspot. Those wanting to don their cowboy boots and get their honky-tonk on will be delighted to discover this intoxicating, energetic, and Tennessee city is also home to an eclectic art scene, thriving food culture, magnificent museums, and plenty of gorgeous green spaces.
First things first, take a deep give into Nashville’s iconic music legacy at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Discover America’s musical evolution from its roots in folk and gospel to today’s country come music pop sensations like the one and only Taylor Swift. Prepare to be dazzled by memorabilia too like Elvis Presley’s tricked-out car, Maybelle Carter’s guitar and Shania Twain’s leopard-print ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ outfit.
Parks and Green Spaces
For proof that Nashville is not only all about the music, take some time out to explore its gorgeous Centennial Park. The 132-acre green space features a one-mile walking trail, Lake Watauga, historical monuments, a sunken garden, bandshell, dog park, sand volleyball courts, and its amazing centerpiece the Parthenon. This historic art museum is a full-scale replica of the one in Ancient Greece and inside you’ll see a 42-foot statue of Athena. Nature lovers should also head to East Nashville park, a 960-acre urban escape by the side of the Cumberland River for a hike or picturesque bike ride. And if you’re up for some water adventure, take the 90-minute drive out of town to Cummins Falls State Park to hike down to the waterfall for a swim.
The Mother Church of Country Music
One of the most celebrated venues in the world, they don’t call the Ryman Auditorium, “The Mother Church of Country Music ” for nothing. Best known as the longtime home of the Grand Ole Opry, throughout the years the Ryman has hosted eclectic musical acts ranging from Bill Monroe to Elvis (both Presley and Costello) to Widespread Panic and Foo Fighters. No trip to Nashville is complete without experiencing live music as this majestic venue.
Taste Grandma’s Homestyle Cooking
Yes, Arnold’s Country Kitchen is an old-school cafeteria—albeit, one with a James Beard Classic award (one of two in the city). Established by Jack and Rose Arnold in Nashville in 1982 and still family-run today, this Tennessee institution specializes in hearty home cooking made from scratch as your grandma would. Expansions have somewhat shortened the long lines, but because everyone in town, from musicians to politicians to tourists, eats here, expect to wait for the Southern-style “meat ‘n’ three” and signature Southern fried chicken.
Nightly Live Music Fix
Visit the Home of American Music
For almost a century, the Grand Ole Opry dubbed the “home of American music,” has showcased country legends, rising stars on its stage, and broadcasted on live TV (it’s the host of the Annual ACM Awards and WSM Radio. Head here to see a live show, good old-fashioned bluegrass, and to take a guided backstage tour, which kicks off with an immersive theater experience starring Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.
Take a Walking Tour
The best way to truly immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of Nashville is on foot. Book a Nashville Sites walking tour to enjoy a thematic itinerary that will take you on a 1-2 mile story of the city’s highlight architecture, history, restaurants, and music. Might be a good idea to switch out your cowboy boots for a comfy pair of sneakers.
Meet the Animals
See another side of the city as Nashville Zoo where the variety of residents is impressive. There are around 3,000 animals from over 350 different species, and smaller crowds mean you can get up close and personal with exhibits like Critter Encounters, Lorikeet Landing, Shell Station, and Kangaroo Kickabout.
Art and Culture Immersion
Music and art go hand in hand in Nashville and you can enjoy the best of both genres at The Frist Art Museum. Novel in the fact that it doesn’t maintain a permanent collection of artwork, Frisk offers a showcase of rotating exhibits from local, regional, and major US artists (Kara Walker is currently in residence) and international traveling exhibitions.
Nightly Live Music Fix
The Station Inn isn’t just Nashville’s best bluegrass club; rather, it’s the country’s best. If you want to hear fast pickin’, down-home excitement every night, played by many of the genre’s best musicians, high-tail it here. The listening room is lively and intimate, every seat promises a great view of the stage and beyond the acts, you can also enjoy craft beer and bar-style comfort food.
Nashville’s Black History
Tucked away on the second floor of the main downtown public library, the Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library honors the city’s role in a seminal period of American history. The collection here includes moving photographs of school desegregation, sit-ins, and marches. A circular table is symbolic of the lunch counters where college students sat, peacefully protested, and demanded change. The table is engraved with the 10 rules of conduct set out for sit-in participants. The centerpiece of the room is a glass inscription by Martin Luther King, Jr., who visited the city in 1960.
For a deeper look at Nashville’s black history, be sure to visit the Fisk University Galleries (Carl Van Vechten Gallery & Aaron Douglas Gallery): The historically black university on the city’s north side, has a world-class collection of art on display at the Van Vechten Gallery that once belonged to photographer and art promoter Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz’s wife, Georgia O’Keeffe, recognized as “the mother of American Modernism”, donated a portion of this collection to Fisk upon his death.
Stroll 12 South
For great food and vintage shopping stroll 12 South Nashville’s most walkable neighborhood. This half-mile stretch along 12 Avenue is book-ended by a vintage store and elevated restaurant and both sides of the street are lined with fun bars, coffee shops, gastronomy, boutiques, and plenty of charming quintessential Nashville stores.
Nightly Music Fix
Robert’s Western World in the famous historic district of downtown has maintained its reputation as the OG Nashville spot to hear Western swing from the best musicians in the city. Come here to kick up your boots, drink PBR, eat a fried bologna sandwich, or great food from the grill, until 3 am.
Late Night Drinks Kentucky Style
First opened in 1910, you’ll find The Oak Bar inside the swanky Heritage HotelFrom the wood-paneled walls to the Kentucky bourbon-centric menu, Oak Room at the Hermitage Hotel. An old-school hotel bar at its finest, itt draws suit-and-ties and theater-goers, given its proximity to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center theater complex. The bar has always emphasized quality spirits with top-notch ingredients and went so far as to purchase its own barrel of Jack Daniels single barrel whiskey.
Shop Music and Fashion Memorabilia
Third Man Records
Jack White, the former frontman of The White Stripes is a Nashville local and you’ll find his Third Man Records HQ here which has a shop front feeling a treasure trove of rock ’n’ roll merch and memorabilia. Aspiring musicians can even cut a record session in his direct-to-vinyl recording booth or enjoy a live gig by major artists in the Third Man’s ‘Blue Room’.
Fanny’s House of Music
Be sure to drop into this head spinning music store which sells a coveted mix of new, used, and vintage guitars, amps, and clothing. Fanny’s House of Music also offers professional music lessons and instrument repairs.
Hatch Show Print
Part of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Hatch Show Print has been churning out show posters for some of Nashville’s biggest venues and most celebrated artists for more than 140 years.
Fifth + Broadway
Covering an entire city block between the Ryman and Bridgestone Arena, the newly opened Fifth + Broadway retail and entertainment hub boasts more than 200,000 square feet of shopping, dining, and drinking action.