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The 20 best things to do in Nashville

Your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Nashville, from museums to restaurants and live concert venues

Photograph: Shutterstock

Home to one of the absolute best rooftop bars in America, a staple on any best ice cream shops in America list, a stop for many Broadway shows on tour and the undisputed homebase of country music (thanks, in large part, to the Grand Ole Opry), Nashville is a hub of culture, dining, music and art. To thoroughly explore the city and truly experience what makes it great (including an encounter with the best fried chicken in America and a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum), you'll want to rummage through our guide to the best things to do in Nashville. Who knows? You might end up actually moving here.

Best things to do in Nashville

1
Visit Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Hatch Show Print

Visit Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Hatch Show Print

Top of the bill for any trip to Nashvegas should be the outstanding Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (222 5th Ave South, 615-416-2001). Nicknamed "the Smithsonian of country music," it's rammed to the rhinestone rafters with show-stopping musical memorabilia, from Elvis' gold cadillac to a painstaking recreation of Tammy Wynette's extravagant closet. Musicians give regular live performances and masterclasses so check dates online before you go—and don't miss Hatch Show Print (224 5th Ave South, 615-256-2805), one of America's oldest letter-press poster print shops, which has created concert posters for everyone from Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash, and is located inside the museum.

2
Explore Germantown

Explore Germantown

Nashville's oldest neighborhood, Germantown has its own unique personality and is crammed with cafes, bars and boutiques. One of the best ways to explore it is on a Local Tastes of Nashville tour (900 Rosa L Parks Blvd, 615-800-7052), which starts at the city's Farmers' Market before heading over to the historic suburb, introducing you to specialties from the local restaurants en route. Edible highlights include the "modern peasant food" served at industrial-chic restaurant Rolf and Daughters (700 Taylor Street, 615-866-9897) and the signature "Chocolate Elvis" cake at Mad Platter (1239 6th Ave N, 615-242-2563): a three-layer terrine with dark and white chocolate ganache and Italian milk chocolate buttercream.

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Chris K.

3
Tour Music Row on a bus

Tour Music Row on a bus

Music Row, a mile southwest of downtown, is the stuff of recording legend. The star at its heart is the Historic RCA Studio B (1611 Roy Acuff Pl, 615-416-2001), Nashville's oldest recording studio and home to hits like Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely," Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and more than 250 Elvis Presley songs. The best way to experience the Row is on a bus tour, and one of the quirkiest one is through NashTrash Tours (900 Rosa L Parks Blvd, 615-226-7300). The longest running Music Row tour, NashTrash is also easily the funniest and most popular. The tour is hosted on a "Big Pink Bus" by the vocal Jugg Sisters, who dish the dirt on the stars in between songs and x-rated jokes. After the tour, you can disembark and walk back to explore the area in more detail.

4

The Parthenon

Before Nashville became Music City, it was known as “the Athens of the South:” a nickname thanks in part to the striking full-size replica of the Parthenon at its heart. Originally built for Tennessee's Centennial Exposition in 1897, the Parthenon was reconstructed permanently in 1931. Today, it’s home to the city’s art collection, but the undisputed star of the show remains the gilded 42 foot sculpture of Athena, which dominates the upper hall and remains the tallest indoor statue in the Western hemisphere.  

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Centennial
5

The Grand Ole Opry

Started in 1925, the Grand Ole Opry is the world’s longest running radio show—credited with making country music famous and establishing Nashville as its home base. Head to the Grand Ole Opry House to catch a live recording of the famous show every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evening, with at least eight performers on each night’s bill. If you’re a particularly big fan, consider the new pre-show VIP Tour, which ends with you on stage as the big red curtain rises for the first performance. (The season at the Opry House runs February-October. The show moves to the Ryman Auditorium November-January).

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Music Valley
6
Go shopping on 12th Avenue South

Go shopping on 12th Avenue South

If it's one-of-a-kind fashion you're after, look no further than 12th Avenue South. The street is filled with independent shops and boutiques, including Savant Vintage (2302 12th Ave S, 615-385-0856), which specializes in outerwear and accessories for both sexes, and Imogene + Willie (2601 12th Avenue South, 615-292-5005), a cool denim emporium situated in a former gas station. But the pick of the bunch is probably White's Mercantile (2908 12th Ave South, 615-750-5379), a nouveau general store run by singer-songwriter Holly Williams—daughter of country music legend Hank Williams Jr.

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Martine S

7

Barista Parlor

One of the undisputed hotspots of increasingly hip East Nashville, Barista Parlor is situated in a converted auto-repair garage, with a mission statement to “seek the betterment of coffee for all mankind.” Boasting a selection of beans longer than the majority of wine lists, this open, industrial-style coffee shop is decorated with Edison lightbulbs and old motorcycles, with blue bandanas for napkins and a resident DJ. Expect locally sourced cafe-style food (the sausage in buttery biscuit is the stuff of local legend). Do not expect decaf.

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Greater Nashville
8
Head to a Songwriters-in-the-Round show

Head to a Songwriters-in-the-Round show

One of the best ways to hear music in Nashville is at a Songwriters-in-the-Round Show. Often referred to as a "writers night," the singers/songwriters sit alone or in groups of four, performing original material in front of a live audience. The best venues to enjoy shows of the sort—while discovering up-and-coming talent and seeing established acts perform—are at intimate clubs like the legendary Bluebird Cafe in Green Hills (4104 Hillsboro Pike, 615-383-1461) and The Listening Room Cafedowntown (217 2nd Ave S, 615-259-3600). Both venues offer live music acts every night, with regularly updated listings on their websites.

9

Frist Center for the Visual Arts

When it comes to the arts, Nashville isn’t all about the music. Housed in a magnificent Art Deco former post office, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts (919 Broadway, 615-244-3340) showcases everything from photography and sculpture to ancient art. An ambitious exhibitions schedule means new art flows through the museum every six to eight weeks, keeping the installations fresh. All this and not a single guitar or drum kit in sight.

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Downtown
10

Ryman Auditorium

After a major $14 million expansion (unveiled in June 2015), the famous old Ryman Auditorium has now revolutionized its visitor experience. The National Historic Landmark—which has hosted the likes of James Brown, Patsy Cline and Jack White on its legendary stage—now offers a state of the art theater experience and five additional exhibits for guests to check out. Aspire to follow in the footsteps of the greats? You can take a backstage tour and record your own song in the Ryman recording studio.

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Greater Nashville
11
Eat hot chicken at Hattie B’s, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack and Party Fowl

Eat hot chicken at Hattie B’s, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack and Party Fowl

Nashville is renowned for its hot chicken, with most restaurants serving it at four different notches: mild, medium, hot and VERY HOT. Grab ranch dressing and pickles to help quench the fire, and don't forget the piece of white bread under the chicken, soaking up all those delicious spices. Nashville's best hot chicken establishments include Hattie B's (112 19th Ave South, 615-678-4794), Prince's Hot Chicken Shack (123 Ewing Dr, 615-226-9442) and Party Fowl (719 8th Avenue South 615-624-8255), which also offers live music acts, a great cocktail menu and happy hour from 3-6 p.m. on weekdays.

12

Tootsie's World Famous Orchid Lounge

The bars on Lower Broadway—aka Honky Tonk Highway—pump out live blues, soul, jazz, rock and country until the early hours every morning. Put on your dancing shoes, roll up your sleeves and join the loud, lively throng, bouncing from venue to venue. Do some route planning in advance by checking visitmusiccity.com, or simply start the traditional way—by squeezing into the infamous Tootsie's Orchid Lounge and counting how many customers are already dancing on the bar.

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Downtown
13
Visit local craft breweries

Visit local craft breweries

The greater Nashville area is overflowing with distilleries and breweries serving up locally-made craft brews and spirits. The most famous of them all, of course, is the Jack Daniel's Distillery (280 Lynchburg Hwy, Lynchburg, 931-759-4221), an hour and a half drive away from Nashville. If that's a bit too far to travel to, head downtown instead and check out the award-winning Corsair Distillery (1200 Clinton Street #110, 615-200-0320). Its slogan—"Booze for badasses—" tells you everything you need to know. If beer is more your thing, try Tennessee Brew Works (809 Ewing Ave, 615-436-0050), which has an industrial taproom, oak barrel tables, a patio and live music, or Black Abbey Brewing Co. (2952 Sidco Dr, 615-755-0070) which specializes in Belgian-style beer and boasts a fun, monastery inspired set-up.

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Tennessee Brew Works

14

Andrew Jackson's Hermitage

No fewer than three U.S. Presidents have called Tennessee home: Andrew Johnson, James K. Polk and Andrew Jackson. The home of the latter, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, is located just 10 miles east of downtown Nashville and is well worth a visit. A grand Greek revival mansion on an historic cotton plantation, the house is now a museum dedicated to the President and his colorful life, and has been carefully restored with most of his original possessions.    

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Berryville
15

Parnassus Books

In 2011, Nashville’s last specialist bookstore closed—finished off like so many others by cutthroat competition from e-books and online retailers. But bestselling novelist and native Nashvillian Ann Patchett decided to fight back. By the end of the same year, she had opened Parnassus Books in Green Hills, named after the mountain that, in Greek mythology, was the pinnacle of literature, learning and music. Stocking an eclectic selection of literature, non-fiction, local interests and the arts, exploring Parnassus is a fun way to spend an afternoon. Indeed, it's been such a success that Patchett is about to open a second store.

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Midtown
16
Eat a “meat and three” at Monell’s and Arnold’s Country Kitchen

Eat a “meat and three” at Monell’s and Arnold’s Country Kitchen

A "meat and three" is a restaurant where you can order a traditional Southern meal consisting of one meat and three side dishes from a list of options—and Nashville has plenty of them. Meat choices typically include fried chicken, fried catfish and meatloaf, with vegetable options usually featuring green beans, creamed corn, grits and macaroni and cheese. Nashville's most famous meat and three establishment is Monell's (1235 6th Ave N, 615-248-4747). Situated in a converted Victorian home, the food is served at communal tables: patrons simply pass bottomless bowls of fried chicken and hot rolls to the diner on their left. Get there early, though: Monell's doesn't accept reservations and the lines get long. If you're out of luck, Arnold's Country Kitchen (605 8th Ave S, 615-256-4455) is an excellent alternative.

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Elaine N.

17
Go on a free art crawl

Go on a free art crawl

Nashville is home to many art galleries and, on the first Saturday of every month, over 20 of them offer free admission to visitors. Between 4:30pm and 9pm, wander around talking to like-minded individuals over a glass or two of wine, taking in everything from international photography at the Tinney Contemporary (237 5th Ave N, 615-255-7816) to the eclectic galleries of The Historic Arcade (65 Arcade Alley, 615-248-6673). Save time for a simultaneous event: Arts & Music At Wedgewood/Houston, a free guided tour of the plentiful galleries and creative spaces in the up-and-coming WeHo neighborhood.

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/David R.

18

Enjoy the General Jackson cruise

Indulge in a Southern-style meal and enjoy live entertainment aboard one of the largest and most famous paddlewheel riverboats in the country, the General Jackson. The four hour cruise down Nashville's Cumberland River on the 300 foot-long vessel includes a seated dinner, musical production and hotel pick up/drop off with Nashhville Sightseeing Tours. Be sure to snap some pictures: Nashville's skyline from the river is Instagram gold.

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Dalewood
19

Visit Belle Meade Plantation

Belle Meade Plantation (5025 Harding Pike, 615-356-0501), historically known as the "Queen of the Tennessee plantations," is one of the most renowned thoroughbred stud farms in the country, with world famous horses like Seabiscuit, War Admiral and Smarty Jones all tracing their lineage here. As one of the premier thoroughbred farms of the South, Belle Meade ("Beautiful Meadow") was renowned for its hospitality as well (five U.S. Presidents have been hosted here). In November 2009, they continued that trend, opening one of the largest wineries in Nashville. Wine tastings in the historic plantation house now take place seven days a week.

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West Meade
20

Drink cocktails at The Patterson House

If you fancy a cozy book-lined speakeasy with barmen in period costume who take their time with the ice cubes and ginger syrup, then The Patterson House is the place for you. A wonderfully relaxed way to finish an evening, kick back here in mellow surroundings with a Reverse Tailspin ($14) or Jungle Bird ($13) as you reflect on another lively night in Music City.

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Music Row

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