Explore Nashville: the top things to do, where to stay & what to eat
Deservedly dubbed Music City, Nashville is fit to burst with attractions celebrating its musical heritage. Tennessee’s capital is no one-trick pony though: the city is also chock-full of restaurants, bars and boutiques that showcase Nashvillians’ creative spirit. Here’s what to discover on a short break.
Key neighbourhoods in Nashville
Downtown Nashville is the beating heart of Music City, where the honky-tonks are dripping in neon and the museums are packed to the gills with musical memorabilia.
Lower Broadway is the most popular place to face the music: here the bars host live sets every night of the week, and they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with down-home barbecue joints and shops selling cowboy boots. Essential stops include the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Frist Art Museum and the legendary Ryman Auditorium.
Fondly nicknamed “East Nasty”, East Nashville is a hop and a skip across the Cumberland River from Downtown. It’s the domain of the city’s cool kids and creative types, heaving with artisan coffee shops, vintage stores and cult restaurants.
It’s the place to see and be seen – and also the place to pick up a used guitar or vintage band tee, and sink a sundowner before bed.
Strike immediately south from Downtown and you’ll arrive in The Gulch, an area that was down on its luck for years. It was once a thrumming industrial district, but its warehouses were abandoned after the Second World War and remained all but deserted for decades.
But, more recently, once-forgotten lots have been filled with sleek boutiques, cocktail bars and restaurants. You’ll spot some eye-popping murals here too.
Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp
Well-heeled Hillsboro is a shopper’s paradise that crams oodles of boutiques into its compact quarters south of Downtown. Students from the nearby Belmont University descend on Hillsboro to sip coffee in spots like Fido, or to sample burgers and beer at hip Hopdoddy.
You can also rub shoulders with locals at the Belcourt Theatre, a beloved indie cinema dating to 1925.
Red-brick buildings and raved-about restaurants make up Germantown, the leafy area immediately north of the city centre.
Named for its early European settlers, the district is considered one of the city’s foodie hotspots and it has proved its culinary credentials time and time again. Favourite venues include uber-cool New American joint Rolf & Daughters.
The best hotels in Nashville
Renaissance Nashville Hotel ticks plenty of boxes with its central location (you’ll be moments from the honky-tonks of Lower Broadway), effortlessly stylish rooms and top-notch food and drink venues.
Also blessed with a sought-after spot Downtown is Noelle, a boutique property describing itself as a “creative gathering place”. Rooms and common spaces have benefited from the eye of local artists, and rooftop lounge Rare Bird serves its cocktails with impressive city views.
Mid-century modern is the theme of Union’s Street’s Fairlane Hotel – think plush velvet sofas, dark-wood panelling and golden accents throughout. It’s all packaged up with some tempting dining options, including elevated comfort food at Ellington’s Mid Way Bar & Grill.
If you’re travelling in a group, Bode is another great bet. This uber-trendy property boasts 2–4 bedroom “units”, as well as regular hotel rooms. Geared up for social butterflies, Bode has plenty of outdoor space, a buzzy bar and café, and a concert stage too.
The top things to do in Nashville
Music is the lifeblood of this city, and even a whistle-stop tour of Nashville will have your toes tapping. Neon-drenched Broadway can be overwhelming at first, but there are several honky-tonks that always strike the right chord.
The most hyped of all is Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, with its lilac façade and its multiple, music-filled storeys. Also worth a try are Robert’s Western World, tipped as Nashville’s “Home of Traditional Country Music”, and Legends Corner, with its record-papered walls and sets lasting until the wee hours.
Off Broadway, top picks include The Listening Room Cafe. This respected spot in Nashville’s SoBro area acts as a magnet for both emerging and established songwriters.
Nashville’s museums pack a musical punch too. There’s the hugely popular Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and the equally absorbing Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. The latter has exhibitions dedicated to everything from Motown to the Grammys and you even have the chance to record some music for yourself. Newest on the scene is the National Museum of African American Music. The immersive (and long awaited) venue celebrates the musical legacy of African Americans, diving into genres from jazz to soul.
Another must for music lovers is a tour of Historic RCA Studio B – artists here included Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and many more.
Beyond the music, Nashville’s arts scene is thriving too. It’s centred around the Frist Art Museum, which displays an ever-changing collection of international works, boasting names from Frida Kahlo to Edgar Degas.
Time your trip for the first weekend of the month and enjoy the First Saturday Art Crawl. During this time, participating venues throw open their doors free of charge, offering the public access to special exhibitions and often wine and nibbles too.
What to eat in Nashville
Nashville’s creative flair feeds right into its food scene. You can find everything from ramen to currywurst to rib-sticking American comfort food within city limits, and venues range from cool, industrial-chic places to beloved mom-and-pop-style joints.
Concept venues Two Ten Jack (a Japanese-style izakaya) and The Pharmacy (a German-style burger bar) both keep punters pouring back. Meanwhile, chef-driven Husk impresses diners with updated Southern classics.
Though the city’s food scene is undoubtedly diverse, few dishes scream “Nashville” more than hot chicken. Several spots serve up this fiery fried treat, but most agree that Prince’s Hot Chicken is the best.
From one meat feast to another, barbecue is a Nashville staple too. There are plenty of joints across the city, but Jack’s Bar-B-Que (right on Broadway) and Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint vie for the “best-in-town” title.
Nashville knows how to do breakfast too. The Loveless Cafe is some 30 minutes southwest of the centre, but the famous house-made biscuits are well worth the effort. The country ham with red-eye gravy has also put this restaurant on the map.
A more central option, Tavern has established itself as one of the best brunch spots in town. Menu items include a maple fondue with sausage, fresh fruit and waffles for dipping.
Nashville’s drinks scene is also burgeoning, with plenty of spots to sample craft cocktails and brews. Head to East Nashville (or The Nations area) for the Southern Grist Brewing Company’s taproom, or 20 minutes northeast of Downtown for Yazoo Brewing Company, which offers tours, a taproom and tempting bar snacks.
For some of the best cocktails in town (and a lot of other stuff too), make a beeline for Pinewood Social, which has a lively bar, a restaurant and even a bowling alley.
Check out our itinerary below for more of our favourite places to eat and drink.
The ultimate Nashville itinerary
Check-in to: Renaissance Nashville Hotel. This chic offering under the Marriott umbrella will place you minutes from Broadway and big hitters like the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Renaissance Nashville Hotel/Shutterstock
Strike the right note at: the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. See all manner of memorabilia at this musical mecca, which celebrates country greats from Glen Campbell to Dolly Parton. See Elvis Presley’s gold-plated Cadillac and one of Johnny Cash’s beaten-up guitars, plus plaques depicting legends of the genre in the Hall of Fame Rotunda.
Lunch at: Jack’s Bar-B-Que. This no-frills joint has three locations, including one tucked away on Broadway. Choose between ribs, brisket, Tennessee pork shoulder and more, then load up on sides from barbecue beans to mac and cheese.
Take a tour of: the Ryman Auditorium. Arguably the most important music venue in the city, the Ryman was the long-time home of famed radio show the “Grand Ole Opry”, or the “Show That Made Country Music Famous”. Over the years, the Ryman has played host to musical heavyweights from Patsy Cline to Johnny Cash, and more recently to artists like Nashville’s own Kings of Leon. Book a behind-the-scenes tour, which includes a chance to take to the stage.
Dine at: Moto, an upscale Italian spot whipping up thoughtful mains and craft cocktails. Kick things off with the crispy baby artichokes, then surprise your palette with the mushroom agnolotti finished with fried sage and punchy blueberry balsamic.
Listen to bluegrass: at the Station Inn. Swap the bright lights of Broadway for this unassuming listening room in The Gulch. Performers usually focus on bluegrass and roots, and tickets are released on a first-come-first-served basis, so get to the venue in good time.
Start the day at: Biscuit Love. Head back to The Gulch and brunch Southern-style at this easy-going joint. Beginning life as a food truck, Biscuit Love keeps diners coming back with its scratch-made buttermilk biscuits, fried chicken and house potatoes. The spangly “Nashville” sign is Instagram gold, too.
Shop for records at: Third Man Records. While you’re in the area, make the 10-minute jaunt east to this record store and “direct-to-acetate” recording facility, which is the brainchild of The White Stripes’ Jack White. Take a tour or content yourself with rummaging through the vinyl and musical merchandise.
Head to East Nashville: for a taste of the city’s alternative side. Be sure to stop by Fanny’s House of Music, a quirky shop selling pre-loved instruments, prints and more. Other top spots include Game Point @ Bongo East, a boardgame café revered for its craft coffee.
Feast on tacos at: Mas Tacos. You’ll have no trouble finding a bite in East Nashville, but this unpretentious taco spot comes out on top. Plump for the tilapia tacos with kicking dill yoghurt or have yours loaded with quinoa and sweet potato. Don’t be put off by the queues, either – the food is well worth the wait.
Take a tour at: Hatch Show Print. Back Downtown, music geeks will love the tour at this printmaking shop, which is famed for producing music posters for the who’s who of show business. Pore over the huge store of prints, hawking everyone from Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson, then have a go at printing your own to take home.
Learn about a musical legend: at the Johnny Cash Museum. There’s more musical history to be found at this celebrated museum off Broadway. Dedicated entirely to the “Man in Black”, the museum displays artefacts including personal letters and scribbled song lyrics. There are also mementos from Cash’s famed performances at Folsom and San Quentin prisons.
Grab dinner at: Acme Feed & Seed. Divided over three storeys, this Broadway staple promises a heady mix of cocktails, live bands and bites. Head to the first floor for American comfort food, the second floor for sushi and the third floor to drink in city views.
Catch some live music: on the Broadway. Finish up your night by embracing the neon and hopping between the honky-tonks of Lower Broadway. There are no cover charges here, so follow your ear for everything from guitar-wielding country warblers to rock ‘n’ roll bands.
Fill up on pancakes at: the Pancake Pantry. A Nashville favourite since 1961, this casual breakfast and lunch spot deals in scratch-made pancakes and waffles. Go for the classic buttermilk pancakes with whipped butter and warm maple syrup and order a side of hash browns to share.
Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp
Go boutique-hopping: in Hillsboro Village. One of Nashville’s top stops for a spot of retail therapy, the boutique-lined streets of Hillsboro are sure to have you reaching for your wallet. Duck into Posh for the latest trends.
Lunch at: Nashville Farmers’ Market. Whatever cuisine tickles your fancy, you’re sure to find it at Market House, from Jamaica Way’s jerk chicken to Bella Nashville’s Neapolitan pizza. Peruse the open-air “Farm Sheds” and the Gardens of Babylon plant nursery too.
Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp
Explore: Centennial Park. A full-scale replica of Athens’ Parthenon is the last thing you’d expect to find in an urban park in Tennessee – but Nashville’s Centennial Park boasts exactly that. It also comes complete with a 42-foot statue of goddess Athena. Beyond this curious tribute to Greece, the 132-acre park is a nice spot for a picnic or a quiet stroll.
Meet some four-legged friends: at Parnassus Book Store. Nestled away in the affluent Green Hills neighbourhood, this indie bookshop is a haven for literature lovers, and it has some friendly shop dogs to boot.
Catch a show at: The Bluebird Cafe. A dinky listening room in the Green Hills neighbourhood, the Bluebird is an internationally acclaimed performance venue and one that’s had plenty of airtime on hit TV series Nashville. Big names to have graced the stage include Keith Urban and Taylor Swift, and the Monday open-mic night is a chance to scope out some up-and-coming talent.
Getting there and more information
For more information on Nashville check out visitmusiccity.com
American Sky (01342 886941) offer a choice of holidays to Tennessee, including city break, tailor-made and escorted tours. A nine-night Experience Nashville, Memphis and beyond self-drive tour costs from £1,589 per person. Price includes return international flights, 10 days fully inclusive car hire and accommodation in 3–4 star hotels on room-only basis, based on two sharing.
Map of Nashville
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