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People on the neon-lit streets of Nashville
Photograph: Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation

The essential guide to Nashville, Tennessee

No trip to the South is complete without a visit to Music City

By Emily Lloyd-Tait

Tennessee’s Music City has earned its name. This hotbed of music, history and culture is an essential stop on any tour of the south, and it’s not a city to hurry through – it’s huge and has a lot to offer. It’s a city of distinct neighbourhoods, so for incredible eating and drinking head to Germantown; cruise around 12South for shopping adventures; hit East Nashville for a locals’ experience; the Gulch is the place for records, guitars and gigs; and spend time Downtown for honky tonks, museums, bars, and some ace southern barbecue.

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Travel guide to Nashville

A basket of fried chicken and sides
A basket of fried chicken and sides
Photograph: Joseph Woodley

Where to eat and drink in Nashville

Brunch is an American institution and they take it very seriously at Josephine. Order up a cheeseburger, steak and eggs or even a peach tartine to start, definitely don’t leave without a serve of the bite-sized cinnamon doughnuts, and bookend your meal with Bloody Marys. 2316 Twelfth Ave South, Nashville TN. +1 615 292 37204. Mon-Thu 5pm-10pm; Fri 5pm-11pm; Sat 10am-3pm, 5pm-11pm; Sun 10am-3pm, 5pm-10pm.

Hattie B’s
If you’re going to eat fried chicken in the US, do it here. This place is an institution and they’re earned their global rep. The meat is tender and juicy, the shell is crunchy and their sauces come in multiple strengths, from mild, flavour-over-heat condiments to a hot sauce so powerful you’ll feel like you can see through time after putting a microscopic amount on your tongue. Fill any space on your table that doesn’t have plastic baskets of chicken and white bread on it with jugs of craft beer, baked beans, mac’n’cheese and pickles. 112 Nineteenth Ave South, Nashville TN. +1 615 678 4794. Mon-Thu 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11am-midnight; Sun 11am-4pm.

Martin’s Bar-B-Cue Joint
Spending a day in the top floor beer garden at Martin’s should be on everyone’s hit-list. They prime their pit barbecues in the wee small hours to cook whole hog barbecue that is juicy, tender and perfectly smoky. There’s fat-lined brisket, of course, plus smoked turkey, sausages, wings and long racks of ribs. Basically what we’re saying is wear a mumu because you won’t want to leave a scrap behind, but the pitmaster tasting plates are not for the waist watchers among us. 410 Fourth Ave South, Nashville TN. +1 615 288 0880. Dining Room: daily 11am-10pm; Beer Garden: Sun-Thu 11am-10pm; Fri, Sat 11am-midnight.

Pinewood Social
You can waste a lot of time just hanging out at Pinewood Social. They’re freelance friendly, with stacks of computer ports, Wi-Fi and squashy armchairs. They also bust out some of the best mod-American dining in the city, and there’s a bowling alley to break up the all-snack party. They’re no slouch on the drinks front either, so settle into a big booth and get familiar with some local, small batch spirits. 33 Peabody St, Nashville TN 37210. +1 615 751 8111. Mon-Fri 7am-1am; Sat, Sun 9am-1am.

A band playing in a crowded bar
A band playing in a crowded bar
Photograph: Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp

Where to see live music in Nashville

Mercy Lounge
There’s usually at least one free gig a week at this live music venue tucked away in the industrial backstreets. It’s a beautiful warehouse bandroom that hosts up’n’comers, classic rock’n’roll residencies, new album launches, pop, soul, rock and even the odd tribute show. Play your cards right and you might be able to say you saw the biggest names in music in this 500-person venue – Adele, Emmylou Harris and Alabama Shakes have all graced the stage here. One Cannery Row, Nashville TN. +1 615 251 3020.

Robert’s Western World
Yes, it’s busy, sticky and neon lit, but no visit to Nashville is complete without a night along Broadway for some live covers, cheap beers and late-night dancing. It’s a whole lot of cheap fun, and since they don’t charge covers keep some small notes on hand to tip the band. 416B Broadway, Nashville TN. +1 615 244 9552. Mon-Sat 11am-2am; Sun noon-2am.

The Listening Room Café
Since the release of Nashville, the TV show, the Bluebird Café can be hard to get into. Luckily this is a town with almost more music venues than corners. The Listening Room Café is for people who love music but don’t like the crowds of gigs. They average two gigs a day except Sundays and you can book tickets for as little as $5. Entry ensures you get a seat, table service for dinner and drinks, and the sound system is clear as a bell so you can hear every note. 217 2nd Ave South, Nashville TN. +1 615 259 3600. Mon-Fri 4-11pm; Sat 10am-11pm.

The interior of a record shop
The interior of a record shop
Photograph: Angelina Castillo

Where to shop in Nashville

Nashville is a city of distinct neighbourhoods, much like Sydney, and if you’re planning on splashing some cash while you’re in the US, 12South is a very easy place to drain your wallet. Start at White’s Mercantile (2908 12th Ave S), a former petrol station that now sells handmade, authentic frontier goods like maple syrup in beautiful tins, thick woollen blankets, soft garments made with natural fibres and books on everything from log cabin building to pickling and folk music. From here wander back up 12 Avenue South towards the city stopping in at clothing boutiques, vintage shops, and denim emporiums. 12th Ave S, Nashville, TN.

Third Man Records
Any music nerd should pay a visit to Jack White’s record shop and recording studio where you can buy new pressings of original Sun Record singles from Johnny Cash and Elvis, plus a host of modern music recorded on White’s label from the Dead Weather, Wanda Jackson, Seasick Steve and Margo Price. 623 Seventh Ave South, Nashville TN 37203. + 1 615 891 4393. Daily 10am-6pm.

Someone inspecting an Elvis poster
Someone inspecting an Elvis poster
Photograph: Donn Jones, Courtesy of Country Music Hall Of Fame

Explore the Country Music Hall of Fame, Hatch Show Print and Studio B

Give yourself a whole day to hit these three Nashville essentials. Immerse yourself in the complete history of country music as it develops from folk, religious and African influences in the New World to become the rhinestone-studded industry it is today. You can see Elvis’s gold cadillac; the actual Hall of Fame – a circular grotto where plaques of winners are installed around the walls; and costumes and memorabilia from Keith Urban, Taylor Swift, Dolly Parton and the Carter Family. 222 Fifth Ave South, Nashville TN. +1 615 416 2001. Daily 9am-5pm. $24.95.

Once you’ve finished in the Hall of Fame you’ll want to visit Hatch Show Prints, an original letterpress poster printing shop in the same building that to this day hand assembles gig posters for touring artists. 224 Fifth Ave South, Nashville TN. +1 615 577 7710. Tours at 11am, 12.30pm, 2pm, 3.30pm. Available in a package with Hall of Fame entry. $18.

The bus for the Studio B tour leaves from outside the Hall of Fame and takes you to the famous recording studio where Dolly Parton recorded ‘I Will Always Love You’ and Elvis laid down his Grammy-winning gospel song, ‘How Great Thou Art’. It’s a short tour but it’s a moving experience for anyone who loves music – we won’t blame you if you get a bit teary. 222 Fifth Ave South, Nashville TN. +1 615 416 2001. Daily 10.30am-2.30pm. Only available in conjunction with a Hall of Fame entry. $39.95.

Opryland Nashville
Opryland Nashville
Photograph: Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp

Stay at Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center

They call it Opryland for short, and it has to be seen to be believed. It’s like a theme park for adults, or maybe a cruise on land is a closer description of this jaw-droppingly huge resort outside of Nashville. Seriously, they have a river with boat cruises, an island village, waterfalls and shops all inside the resort – imagine a fancy Jurassic Park with no man-eaters and you might be in the ballpark. During Christmas they also host an Ice festival with ice sculptures, shows, rides and lights that draw huge crowds. 2800 Opryland Dr, Nashville TN 37214. +1 615 889 1000.

Getting there

Qantas ( flies to Nashville daily via Los Angeles or Dallas-Fort Worth, with internal flights operated by American Airlines ( is a one stop shop for booking travel, activities, accommodation, and attractions when you're in the USA.

*Time Out travelled as the guest of Brand USA and Expedia, and visited Nashville courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation.

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