Get us in your inbox

Photograph: Shutterstock

The best Nashville attractions

Understand locals' devotion to music, civil rights, sports and Southern food when seeing the best Nashville attractions

Will Gleason
Edited by
Will Gleason

When most people think of Nashville, the first words that come to mind are Music City. 

True, this city is one of the best places in the world to enjoy live music and revel in its history. However, it has also become a thriving hub of many other types of culture from cuisine (you’ll want to keep our list of the city’s best restaurants handy and make sure to try some Nashville hot chicken) to art (don’t miss the Carl Van Vechten Gallery at Frisk.)

If you’re partial to activities, events and things to do, consider kicking off your tour of the city at the famous Country Music Hall of Fame or the Grand Ole Opry. Both sites offer essential looks at America’s proud country music heritage.

Home to more than 20 colleges and universities, the Tennessee town is also drenched in a rich tradition of academia, as evidenced by the many libraries and cultural institutions you’ll see at every corner. 

Sport fans will be amazed by the loudest fans in the NHL (for real), who even throw catfish on the ice when possible (true story) at Bridgestone Arena. 

Basically, everyone will find something to adore in Nashville.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Nashville

Nashville attractions

The starting point for all things country music, this interactive museum will appeal to fans of all music genres. Even a quick walk-through will illuminate how all music derives from Nashville’s favorite tunes. The multi-story building (designed to look like piano keys) is rammed to the rhinestone rafters with show-stopping musical memorabilia, such as Elvis Presley’s 24-karat gold Cadillac and Johnny Cash's Martin D-355. You’ll end your perusal in the Hall of Fame Rotunda, where you can honor the greats. Pay extra for the add-on Studio B tour: it’s the best way to experience a piece of sonic history on Music Row.

Built in 1897 as a celebration of the state’s Centennial, this is a replica of Greece’s Parthenon (complete with gold Athena sculpture) and perhaps Nashville’s most iconic landmark. It is a nod to the town’s reputation as the Athens of the South, a city that truly champions education. In addition to the great photo op, a visit here is a history lesson of sorts. Check out the lovely galleries inside as well as the 42-foot statue of the goddess Athena by local sculptor Alan LeQuire. The interior, accessible after paying an admission fee, is only open during the day, but the exterior can be visited from dawn to 11pm and, take note, is breathtakingly lit at night.


Fort Negley was built largely by slaves and used to defend the city during attacks. Named an UNESCO Slave Route Destination, this is an important site for understanding both the African American experience and Nashville’s development. The walking trails offer great views, with pretty wildflowers in season and a lovely, easy hike in the city. Because it is on a hill, it also affords some of the best views of Nashville. Plus, the entire experience is free.

A freestanding exhibit on the second floor of the main public library illustrates Nashville’s essential role in the U.S. Civil Rights movement and history of desegregation.The powerful photographs, videos and displays teach about the sit-ins and other protests that changed the face of America. Afterwards, walk over to Woolworth on 5th, the restored five-and-dime lunch-counter that was the site of 1960s sit-in demonstrations and is now a restaurant serving Southern specialties.


Built in 1892 by Capt. Thomas Ryman, the then-Union Gospel Tabernacle is now one of the premiere live music venues in the country. Amazing acoustics and a revered history—it was home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974—make for a near-sacred experience for musicians who play here. In addition to seeing a show, visitors should take a backstage tour for the chance to step on the hallowed stage.

The weekly music stage concert has been around since 1925, hosting a roster of performers playing gospel, country, bluegrass and more. The Opry performs at least two times a week, Fridays and Saturdays, with additional shows on Tuesday nights most weeks. During the majority of the year, it is held at the Opry House in Music Valley (backstage tours are available) but between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the shindig returns to its historic home at the Ryman Auditorium. 


To call Plaza Mariachi a strip mall is like calling the Grand Ole Opry a stage. This mega Mexican marketplace includes a number of restaurants, a bar, a live music stage, a grocery store, a soccer jersey shop and much more. Visit at night to take free dance lessons or opt for a daytime adventure complete with live music, silks performers hanging from the ceiling and delicious food. The atmosphere may inspire thoughts of cruise ships—lots of flashing lights and faux scenic backdrops—but it is fun and festive, and a lot less expensive than a cruise. Come hungry, as you’ll want to sample the elote, tacos, baked goods and other treats from the various vendors that set up shop here.

An intimate gallery on the campus of Fisk University, it's named after the art collector who convinced artist Georgia O’Keeffe to donate a large portion of the work and personal collection of her late husband Alfred Stieglitz to the school. This is a world-class American art collection, now shared with Fisk and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. It includes works by Stieglitz and O’Keeffe, as well as acclaimed European and American art­ists including Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Diego Rivera, Arthur Dove, Gino Severini and Charles Demuth. The rest of the beautiful, historic Fisk campus is also worth exploring, particularly the Aaron Douglas murals in Cravath Hall.


This 137,000-square-foot building houses a wide array of interactive exhibits about the Volunteer State. The museum’s location near Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park and the Nashville Farmers' Market makes it an ideal place to wander around. Expect exhibits about pioneers, settlers, musicians and more. Don’t miss the jawbone of a mastodon that called Tennessee home some 10,000 years ago or the brightly colored children’s area designed by local illustrator Lucie Rice. Bonus points: it’s free.

Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge

A beautiful yet asymmetrical arched bridge that marks the end of the 444-mile National Park historic road, Natchez Trace Parkwaywinds its way from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville. The Northern Terminus of this route boasts a breathtaking arched bridge that affords views of beautiful scenery. Take in some lovely hikes and waterfalls but remember that bicycles get right-of-way here—which means that if you prefer to travel on two wheels, you’ll have plenty of company.


Located in an old, renovated Sunbeam Bakery, this museum is home to the largest collec­tion of European cars and motorcycles anywhere in the country. The autos on exhibition rotate, so you have an excuse to come back again and again. You’ll find all manner of cars, from early hybrids and steam engines to one that’s so small it can be “reversed” by picking it up with a lever and putting it down facing the other direction. The amphibious cars are crowd pleasers, too.

Nashville's answer to Los Angeles’ Magic Castle (a club for magicians), this space is hidden in the basement below the Johnny Cash Museum. Expect a restaurant, bar and performance space that will entice all your senses. The price of dinner includes the magic shows, which aren't at all hokey. The space is 21-and-up, so we're not talking kids' birthday party-type stuff. There's a dress code (jacket, dress shoes, no tank tops or flip flops, please) and no photography is allowed, so you get to focus on the experience. Don’t miss the ghost playing the piano and the amazing collection of magic memorabilia.


A wax museum themed around music and its stars – Taylor Swift, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and country stars galore are preserved for the ages in wax. While there are Tussauds wax museums all over the world, this is the only one focused on music. And it isn't just a museum as you actually get to interact with the figures: sing with them on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry or record an album in the studio.

An art museum located in an old post office near downtown, Frist Art Museum houses an impressive collection of rotating exhibits. If you are traveling with kids, check out the Martin ArtQuest gallery, an excel­lent hands-on arts activity area with, among other things, a sound station that allows visitors to manipulate frequencies to create patterns with sand on metal plates.

Johnny Cash Museum and Patsy Cline Museum
Photograph: Shutterstock

15. Johnny Cash Museum and Patsy Cline Museum

A duo of small but very important museums honoring two of country music’s greats, with support from the musicians’ families. The Johnny Cash Museum and the Patsy Cline Museum are in the same building, the former on the first floor and the latter upstairs, so it is fairly easy to visit them both in a single afternoon. The two museums highlight their professional accomplishments as well as their personal lives. Look through letters to their loved ones, wedding albums and other memorabilia and listen to their legendary music.

With a seating capacity of 20,000, Bridgestone Arena hosts concerts, the CMA Music Fest and other televised shows. It is also home to the Nashville Predators, the local hockey team. In addition to being a music venue, Bridgestone is home to a Visitors Center and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. But if you are in town during hockey season, grab a Preds ticket, so you can hear the loudest cheers in the sport, live country music at each break between periods, and see fans throw catfish on the ice. True story.

    You may also like
    You may also like

    The best things in life are free.

    Get our free newsletter – it’s great.

    Loading animation
    Déjà vu! We already have this email. Try another?

    🙌 Awesome, you're subscribed!

    Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!