Best things to do in Nashville
What is it? Top of the bill for any trip to Nashvegas should be this outstanding museum nicknamed "the Smithsonian of country music."
Why go? 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. While you're there, check out Hatch Show Print, one of America's oldest letter-press poster print shops, which has created concert posters for everyone from Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash. Complete country beginner? If you're after a closer, guided look at country music through the ages, book onto one of the evening experiences, events and talks.
What is it? As Nashville's oldest neighborhood, Germantown has its own unique personality and is crammed with cafes, bars and boutiques.
Why go? You'll sample some of the city's best eats on a Local Tastes of Nashville tour, which starts at the city's Farmers' Market before heading over to the historic suburb. Edible highlights include the "modern peasant food" served at industrial-chic restaurant Rolf and Daughters and the Southern take on Italian cuisine at James Beard award–winning City House.
What is it? Music Row, a mile southwest of downtown, is the stuff of recording legend, and Historic RCA Studio B is the jewel in its crown.
Why go? The best way to experience the Row is on a bus tour, and one of the quirkiest one is through NashTrash Tours. 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.
What is it? Originally built for Tennessee's Centennial Exposition in 1897, the striking full-size replica of the Parthenon is a city landmark.
Why go? Before Nashville became Music City, it was known as “the Athens of the South.” Today, the Parthenon is 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.
What is it? Impressively, the Grand Ole Opry is the world’s longest-running radio show, with a history stretching all the way to its conception in 1925. More than that - the show was also accredited as bringing country music to the mainstream, putting Nashville right in the heart of this musical movement.
Why go? You can 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.
What is it? If it's one-of-a-kind fashion you're after, look no further than 12th Avenue South.
Why go? The street is filled with independent shops and boutiques, including Savant Vintage, which specializes in outerwear and accessories for both sexes, and Imogene + Willie, a cool denim emporium situated in a former gas station. But the pick of the bunch is probably White's Mercantile, a nouveau general store run by singer-songwriter Holly Williams—daughter of country music legend Hank Williams Jr.
Springing up in the hip area of East Nashville in 2011, Barista Parlor is situated in a converted auto-repair garage, with a mission statement to “seek the betterment of coffee for all mankind.” And while they may be a lot to live up to, Barista Parlor boast a selection of beans longer than the majority of wine lists. The decor is industrial-style, with copper fittings and sleek machinery—it's basically how you might imagine a Nasa, space-age cafe. If you can't get enough, you can take home a Barista Parlor coffee box that's full of your favorite beans.
What is it? 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.
Why go? One of the best ways to hear music in Nashville is at a Songwriters-in-the-Round Show. You can both discover up-and-coming talent and see established acts at intimate clubs like the legendary Bluebird Cafe and The Listening Room Cafe. Both venues offer live music acts every night.
What is it? Housed in a magnificent Art Deco former post office, the Frist Art Museum showcases everything from photography and sculpture to ancient art.
Why go? When it comes to the arts, Nashville isn’t all about the music. 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.
What is it? Following a major $14 million expansion, the iconic old Ryman Auditorium has transformed and revitalised its visitor experience.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Nashville is renowned for its hot chicken, so you should expect to wait in line at this beloved chicken joint.
Why go? This isn't your granny's fried chicken. Hattie B's serves its chicken at six different spice levels, ranging from mild to "Shut the Cluck Up!" hot. Grab ranch dressing, pickles and an ice-cold beer to help quench the fire. Don't forget the piece of white bread under the chicken, either: That's what soaks up all those delicious spices.
What is it? This infamously fun honky tonk across the street from the Ryman Auditorium has operated almost continuously since 1960.
Why go? Begin your night out on Lower Broadway by shuffling into the vibrant Tootsie's Orchid Lounge and counting how many customers are already dancing on the bar (seriously). The place is lively. Plus, a love for music is a must, and you'll be spoiled for choice on the Honky Tonk Highway: Almost every bar pumps out live blues, soul, jazz, rock and country until the early hours every morning. So put on your dancing shoes and join the bubbly throng.
What is it? The greater Nashville area is overflowing with distilleries and breweries serving up locally-made craft brews and spirits.
Why go? If the famous Jack Daniel's Distillery is a bit too far away for you to visit, head downtown to check out some more convenient options. There's award-winning Corsair Distillery, whose slogan—"booze for badasses"—tells you everything you need to know. If beer is more your thing, try Tennessee Brew Works, which has an industrial taproom, oak barrel tables, a patio and live music.
What is it? A grand Greek revival mansion on a historic cotton plantation, the house is now a museum dedicated to the previous President, Andrew Jackson, and his life.
Why go? 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 has been carefully restored with most of his original possessions. Known as ‘the people's President’, Jackson was a decisive character and that's precisely why his life is so riveting.
What is it? Stocking an eclectic selection of literature, non-fiction, local interests and the arts, Parnassus offers bookworms a fun way to spend an afternoon.
Why go? In 2011, Nashville’s last specialist bookstore closed—finished off like so many others by cutthroat competition from e-books and online retailers. 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 was home of the Muses in Greek mythology.
What is it? 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's most famous is Monell's.
Why go? 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 is an excellent alternative.
What is it? Nashville is home to many art galleries and, on the first Saturday of every month, over 20 of them offer free admission to visitors.
Why go? 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 to the eclectic galleries of the Nashville Arcade. Save time for Arts & Music At Wedgewood/Houston, a free guided tour of the plentiful galleries in the up-and-coming neighborhood that happens every first Saturday at 6pm.
What is it? Indulge in a Southern-style meal and enjoy live entertainment aboard one of the largest and most famous paddle-wheel riverboats in the country, the General Jackson.
Why go? 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 and drop off. In fact, you'll get to enjoy performances from musicians, dancers and even comedians while tucking into Southern delights, from cornbread and pumpkin cheesecake to crab and short-ribs. Be sure to snap some pictures, too: Nashville's skyline from the river is Instagram gold.
What is it? Belle Meade Plantation, historically known as the "Queen of the Tennessee plantations," is one of the most renowned thoroughbred stud farms in the country.
Why go? 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).
What is it? Drift back in time at this period-style speakeasy, where costume-laden barmen serve hand-crafted (and delicious) drinks.
Why go? At this, laid-back, cozy, book-lined speakeasy, you'll get to sip on the tastiest of boozy beverages. Chilled-out and accommodating it's the perfect way to relax post-work. Sink into a plush armchair and opt for a Reverse Tailspin ($14) or Jungle Bird ($13) as you reflect on another lively night in Music City. It's the polar opposite of a night on Lower Broadway.
Find the city's top restaurants, hotels and neighborhoods
Planning a trip to Nashville? These five neighborhoods are the city's most visitor-friendly, each with some of those unexpected finds. You can stay in these 'hoods and see much of what makes Music City sing without having to rent a car (a rarity in this city of sprawl).