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The 18 best things to do in Nashville

Country music and hot chicken feature prominently on our list of best things to do in Nashville—but there is much more

Written by
Margaret Littman
&
Krista Diamond
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You might think you know what to expect from Nashville. A bombastic music scene? Of course. Hotter than hot chicken? You bet. Nightlife the envy of other cities across the country? Get those dancing shoes on; it is time to get rowdy. You’ll find all of this and more, but the best things to do in Nashville showcase a city of many layers.

Nashville is a brilliant city, endlessly entertaining and delicious in every way, from the restaurants to the attractions and beyond. Check out our neighborhood guide to the city and decide where to sleep before hitting the streets and ticking off the best this magical place offers.

Things to do in Nashville

Lower Broad is what old-timers call Broadway, the honky-tonk-lined street that has become Nashville’s answer to New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. Broadway has changed in recent years—there are more celebrity-owned bars and less two-stepping and country music. But Robert’s Western World and other old-school honky-tonks are still the place to listen to Western swing by the best musicians in the country. Just don’t forget to tip the band.

Explore a bunch of cool Nashville neighborhoods after the sun goes down

 

Nashville’s most transcendent food experience is not to be found in a fine restau­rant or even at a standard meat-and-three cafeteria. It is served on a plate with a slice of white bread and a pickle chip. It is hot chicken, a very spicy pan-fried delicacy, made with bone-in breast and secret spices. Chefs all over the country are offering their takes on hot chicken, but you ought to try it where it was invented, at Prince’s Hot Chicken. If you prefer A/C, side dishes, and beer with your meal, try Hattie B’s Hot Chicken.

Chow down on hot chicken and savor more of Nashville during a neighborhood tour

 

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The Ryman Auditorium is the most famous music venue in Nashville, a.k.a. the "mother church of country music." Built as the Union Gospel Tabernacle church in 1892, it once was the home of the Grand Ole Opry. Everyone who is anyone wants to perform on this stage. The acoustics are unparalleled and often result in singers showing off their chops in ways they might not be able to elsewhere. It is a pleasure to watch artists’ reverence for the space. Come early and take the backstage tour.

Nashville is packed with low-key places to hear singer-songwriters play their lyrics, usually acoustically. A listening room is the very core of the Music City experience. Nashville is more about the people who write the songs than the stars who perform them. Open mic and songwriter nights at listening rooms, such as Listening Room Café and Bluebird Café, are places to hear the stories behind the songs.

Want to see more? Book a tour of Nashville

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A freestanding exhibit on the second floor of the main public library, the Civil Rights Room illustrates Nashville’s essential role in the U.S. civil rights movement and desegregation. It is kind of a hard sell to convince people to go to the library on vacation, but these powerful photographs, videos, and displays are worth seeing to learn about the sit-ins and other protests that changed the face of America. 

An indoor/outdoor waterpark at the Gaylord Opryland Resort with adult-only bars, big slides, a lazy river, a giant movie screen for watching flicks from the pool, serious cabana action, and more. While Sounbdwaves is designed for hotel guests, there are all sorts of deals for locals (big discounts on rooms and the chance to book day-only parties). While the term staycation is lame, the idea of feeling like you embarked on a vacation without having bought a plane ticket is not. And Soundwaves delivers with a big splash.

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Located in the right field of the actual First Tennessee Park (now known as First Horizon Park), The band Box is a seriously hip place to hang out during a Nashville Sounds minor league baseball game. You'll find gourmet spins on the classic burgers and dogs, plus options such as a quinoa kale salad and globally inspired snacks such as empanadas and jalapeño corn fritters. This is not your everyday ballpark food. You can even get actual table service.

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Since 1925, Grand Ole Opry (broadcast on WSM) has offered a round-up of different performers playing gospel, country, bluegrass, and more in a jokey entertainment extravaganza. This is the quintessential Nashville experience. Expect shows at least twice a week, Fridays and Saturdays, with additional ones on Tuesday nights during most weeks. Throughout most of the year, it is taped at the Opryhouse in Music Valley, where a backstage tour is available (and worthwhile). Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the Opry returns to its historic home at the Ryman Auditorium.

This is a free party on the first Saturday of the month, where you walk door-to-door-to-door and check out the work of new artists at the city’s top art galleries. The two gallery districts are concentrated in Wedgewood Houston and downtown Fifth Avenue. Each offers a party-like atmosphere (and free wine) to toast the best visual art in a city that values creativity and artistic expression.

Want to see more of the neighborhood? Book a tour

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In addition to being a laugh-out-loud good time (really, not just the LOL type), Doyle & Debbie offers insight into the world of country music. The show takes place at the Station Inn, one of the most beloved live music venues by locals.

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Bicentennial Capitol Mall is a state park inside the city, underneath the shadow of the state capitol building and near the Tennessee State Museum. This is an engaging way to learn about the history of the state without being stuck inside. Locals love to grab lunch at the Nashville Farmers' Market and picnic in the park. Tall trees on the east side replicate the topography of the state. Every hour (on the hour), you can hear the bells toll, playing “Rocky Top” and the “Tennessee Waltz.”

See Nashville at night with an after-hours tour

At restaurants serving the meat-and-three, choose one meat dish (often beef tips or fried chicken) and up to three vegetables. It doesn’t get more Nashville than this. The food is delicious, particularly at Arnold’s Country Kitchen and Swett’s, with solid takes on comfort food Southern dishes, many of which rotate daily (though the latter actually serves meat and two). Also, this is the only context in the world where macaroni and cheese count as a vegetable.

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Two of the city’s downtown hotels have world-class art collections, and they’re open to the public 24/7—for free. Noelle features the work of local artists through the lobby and on each floor. The 21c Museum Hotel is an actual contemporary art museum, again in a hotel, with exhibits on several topics that change periodically. The 21c also hosts ongoing artist lectures and discussions.

Want to see more museums? Book a tour

A board game aficionado? Get to Game Point and enjoy a collection of nearly 400 board games that you can play—at no extra charge—inside the Bongo East coffee shop. A trained expert helps you pick out a game you and your friends or family will like. Then they'll teach you how to play, so you don't have to get bogged down reading the rules. Buy a beer, a snack, or dinner from the café to enjoy while you play.

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Music City has more than 90 miles of greenways and 133 miles of on-road bike lanes, so it is a fun city to get to know on a bike. In June 2021, this program introduced electric bicycles, a glimpse into the future. You don’t need to own a bike to make it happen. BCycle has 36 rental stations around town, and you can rent a bike for an hour or a day. Nashville has some hills, so you’ll enjoy great vantage points… and a workout.

Marathon Village is a 1900s car factory repurposed into a shopping-dining-drinking district. The old Marathon Motor Works details and photos in the building give a quick history lesson, while the new tenants make for a fun afternoon or evening. Don’t miss Third Coast Comedy ClubCorsair Distillery and Taproom, or the Bang Candy Company. TV’s Mike Wolfe (of American Pickers fame) has an Antique Archaeology shop, too. You’ll recognize it by the line out front.

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