Any trip to Nashville involves music – either listening to a live show or learning about the history of what made Nashville become known as Music City. However, don’t forget that there’s plenty of history and culture here, plus some other interesting things to do
Here’s a few our favorites things to do in Nashville:
1. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – no trip to Nashville is complete without a visit to this shrine to the history of country music. Guests will learn the fascinating history of country music at the music and see such popular exhibits as Elvis’ Cadillac and Webb Pierce’s tricked-out convertible. Trips to historic RCA Studio B tour on Music Row originate from the Hall of Fame. The gift shop is nice and not too cheesy. Check the web site for the many special events.
The museum moved from Music Row to roomier digs in downtown in 2001. The new museum is an architectural showplace and includes both permanent exhibits from it’s huge collection as well as special exhibitions, and it has spaces for hosting seminars and live music performances. Recently, the new Music City Convention Center was built next door the the museum and an Omni Hotel was built on the back side of the Hall of Fame building. Hatch Show Print, the historic printer of posters, also moved and became part of the museum. A recent $100 million expansion has more than doubled the space of the facility with the addition of two new exhibit galleries and a behind-the-scenes gallery of archival projects. Also, Taylor Swift donated $ million to the Hall of Fame for the Taylor Swift Education Center – read more here (Photo by Ole Bendik Kvisberg)
2. Ryman Auditorium
Ryman Auditorium is known as the “Mother Church of Country Music” and is widely considered to be one of the best live music venues in the country. The National Historic Landmark was the primary home of the weekly Grand Ole Opry show until it moved to the current Opry House in 1974. The facility originally was constructed as a church and opened as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892, and the Opry didn’t move there until 1943. In the 1960’s, downtown Nashville fell into urban decay and the decision was made to move the Opry to a new, permanent home outside of town. At that time, the Ryman building was unoccupied and fell into disrepair. In 1992, Emmylou Harris recorded a live album at the decaying building, which resulted in efforts being made to restore the historic structure.
The Ryman has been restored and is now a 2,300-seat facility that is a favored venue of performers and fans alike. The seats are very close to the stage, and the acoustics are exceptional. They are also undergoing a $14 million expansion that will add a restaurant, event space, ticket office, and state-of-the-art tour area. Check the web site for a calendar of performances. Tours of the auditorium are also available. At the very least, pause and contemplate it while on lower Broad – read more here (Photo by Ryan Kaldari)
3. Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly live country music show that first took place over 90 years ago, making it the longest-running live show to be broadcast on the radio. The Opry played a key role in making Nashville the city that is today. Musician came from all over the Southeast to play on the show, and the show was broadcast worldwide. Since 1925, the show has played at many venues around town – most notably the Ryman Auditorium downtown – before making its permanent home at the current Opry House in 1974. A six-foot circle of oak was cut from the stage at Ryman Auditorium and inserted into the new stage at The Grand Ole Opry House in an effort to honor the long tradition of the show.
Today, there are normally shows on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The shows are broken into segments hosted by different performers, and guests range from old-time bands like the Fruit Jar drinkers to new country stars like Blake Shelton, Americana acts like Old Crow Medicine Show, and Bluegrass acts such as Del McCoury. On a typical night, guests will get to see 8-10 artists perform live. Check their web site for schedule and tickets. Tours of the Opry House are also available – read more here (Photo by bptakoma)
4. Robert’s Western Wear
Robert’s Western World is a classic honky-tonk on Nashville’s Lower Broad famous for live country music, cheap beer, fried bologna sandwiches, and boots for sale of the wall. Even though nobody really ever buys the boots, the bar may just be the only combination honky tonk and western wear store in the world. In actuality, Robert’s was originally a western clothing store when Robert Wayne Moore opened it in the early 1990’s. In order to cater to his customers, he soon added a jukebox, and then beer then live performers. In 1999, Moore sold the business to the leader of his house band, Brazilbilly’s Jesse Lee Jones.
Today, there are still boots for sale along the walls, but they’re really just for show. People go to the bar at all hours of the day and night for the live country music and beer. The music is performed by highly-skilled musicians and singers who are trying to break into country music, so it’s top-notch. Like many of the establishments on Lower Broad, there’s almost always a live band on stage – and it’s really good. The place is narrow and long and can get crowded at night, but the the line is usually not that long. Once inside, there’s a small dance floor in front of the stage and a long bar for ordering a beer or fried bologna sandwich – read more here (Photo by Steve Winton)
5. Centennial Park/The Parthenon
Centennial Park is an urban park located just west of downtown Nashville and near Vanderbilt University. Your eyes do not deceive you – there is a full-scale replica of the Parthenon is in Nashville – and there is a large statue of Athena inside.
The 132-acre park was the location of an exposition in 1897 celebrating Nashville’s centennial, and the Parthenon replica was built for the event. Originally, the Parthenon was built as a temporary plaster building, but it proved to be such a popular attraction that it was replaced with a permanent concrete structure in the 1920’s. In 1982, a full-scale replica of Athena Parthenos was commissioned to be installed inside the Parthenon in order to more fully replicate the real Parthenon in Greece. The park also has a pond, a sunken garden, and bandshells. For kids, there’s playgrounds, a real airplane, and a real trains engine. For dogs, there’s a dog park, and there’s vast green spaces for lounging. Musicians Corner offers free music during the warmer months. Scattered throughout the park on various trees are signs with QR codes and web addresses that allow visitors to hear Nashville music artists talking (and sometimes singing) about their favorite trees. In warmer months, lots of live music concerts and arts fairs are held in the park – read more here (Photo by Richard Bonnett)
6. Las Paletas Gourmet Popsicles
Las Paletas Gourmet Popsicles is where Nashville goes to cool off on hot summer days with a frozen homemade frozen treat. Sisters Norma and Irma Paz grew up in Mexico and went back to learn the art of making popsicles before opening for business. The small shop is located in Nashville’s burgeoning 12 South neighborhood and was an immediate hit when it opening about 10 years ago – despite not even having a sign outside of the shop. Upon opening, people just came, and word got out about the awesome popsicles for sale inside. Las Paletas doesn’t sell the popsicle you had as a child – these are hand-made Mexican popsicles made using local and seasonal fruits, vegetables, and nuts. The ingredients are not standard, either – if you’ve ever had a hankering for a Prune or a Creamed Corn popsicle, this is your place. For the less adventurous, there’s also awesome flavors like Avocado, Cantaloupe, Chocolate Raspberry, or Creamy Lime Popsicle.
The flavors at Las Paletas change with the seasons, so there’s always a new flavor to try. For an added bonus, and a small extra charge, the popsicles can be dipped in locally-made Olive & Sinclair gourmet chocolate. The shop is cash only, so be prepared – read more here (Photo by Daniel Zemans)
7. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is located right across the alley from the Ryman Auditorium and is one of the most famous honky tonks in the world. The bar was opened in 1960 by Tootsie Bess, a kind soul who was known for giving many struggling artists a place to play (and meals and money) over the years. She apparently had a good ear for talent, as many of the artists she helped went on to be famous, including Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Patsy Cline, and Waylon Jennings. The bar shares as alley with the Ryman Auditorium, and many country music stars were known for shuffling between and bar at the stage on nights when the Grand Ole Opry played.
Today, over 50 years after it’s humble beginnings, Tootsie’s walls are plastered with autographed photos of country stars, and live music is almost always playing. The beer is still fairly cheap, and the country music is real as ever. The place is small, but there are two stages, and they recently opened a third floor that has roof access – read more here (Photo by Dave Newman)
8. The Bluebird Cafe
The Bluebird Cafe is an intimate music venue tucked into a nondescript strip mall that is famous for showcasing up-and-coming songwriters in an “in the round” music format. The club was opened in 1982 by Amy Kurland in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville.The club gained a reputation as a place that catered to the craft of songwriting, and playing at the Bluebird has become a career milestone for Nashville songwriters trying to get noticed. Garth Brooks was discovered here, and Taylor Swift was 15 years old and playing at the cafe when she was discovered by a record executive. More recently, the small, 90 seat club has been featured as a set on the Nashville television show.
Visitors can find songwriters “in the round” at the Bluebird virtually any night of the week, and many are singing songs they wrote and major stars have made famous. In part due to it’s continued publicity, the venue stays crowded, so be sure to make reservations and get there before showtime. Also, songwriting is taken very seriously here, so be quiet during the songs or risk being “shushed” by other patrons. If you’re looking to talk and have a loud time, this is not for you – read more here (Photo by CHeitz)
9. Historic RCA Studio B
Historic RCA Studio B is generally regarded to be the most historic music studio in Nashville. Who recorded on this hallowed Music Row ground? For starters, how about the Everly Brothers, Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Porter Wagoner, Charley Pride and Elvis? Actually, Elvis recording over 200 songs at the studio between the years 1956 and 1971, and the piano that Elvis played is still there.
The studio was built by Dan Maddox in 1957, and in the 1960’s it became known as one of the incubators of the “Nashville Sound,” which included strings and background singers. It was also the place where studio musicians developed the “Nashville number system,” which allowed them to easily learn and play new songs. Studio B was opened for touring in 1977, and in 1992 Maddox donated the historic studio to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Inside, it still looks as it did in the 1970’s. Tours of RCA Studio B are managed by the Country Music Hall of Fame in downtown. Tickets are bought at the Hall of Fame, and the tours actually begin there by boarding a bus. The tours last about an hour and are led by informed guides – read more here (Photo by Cliff)
10. Belle Meade Plantation
Belle Meade Plantation is a 30-acre historic site, museum, and winery that was once one of the largest private estates in Nashville and a famous breeder of thoroughbred horses. The “Queen of the Tennessee Plantations” is located in the moneyed town of Belle Meade a few miles west of downtown Nashville. John Harding bought the 250-acre plantation in 1807 and began construction of the historic home began in 1820. Belle Meade soon grew to 5,400 acres and gained a world-wide reputation as a breeder of champion Thoroughbred horses. As a matter of fact, since the 1990’s, every horse that has run in the Kentucky Derby has a bloodline that can be traced back to the Plantation. Famous descendants include Secretariat and Seabiscuit.
The 30-acres of grounds are beautiful, and the historic buildings are well-maintained. A long, meandering driveway leads uphill to the Greek Revival mansion, which is fronted by six columns and a wide veranda. Inside, the rooms have been furnished with period antiques that hint at the elegance and wealth that wealthy Southerners enjoyed in the late 19th century. Costumed guides will lead guests through the mansion, horse stable, carriage house, gardens, and log cabin. History lovers will love learning about plantation living and thoroughbred racing in the old days. In 2009, The Winery at Belle Meade Plantation opened – tours and tasting are offered – read more here (Photo by CHeitz)
11. Frist Center for the Visual Arts
Frist Center For the Visual Arts is Nashville’s world-class art museum that is located in a historic Art Deco building that was the former home of the city’s main U.S. Post Office. The galleries are spread over two floors and approximately 24,000 square feet of space and showcase a rotating slate of exhibitions. The Frist is not a collecting museum – instead, it hosts numerous exhibitions. The main downstairs space brings in renowned exhibitions from national and international sources. while the smaller galleries present exhibitions from local and regional and more experimental artists. The museum opened in 2001 and was financed through a partnership between the city and the Frist family, who made their money as founders of Hospital Corporation of America.
The carefully restored Art Deco building is a beauty unto itself. It was constructed in the 1930’s and boasts white marble, long, narrow windows, and elaborate metal stylings on the outside, making it a perfect repository for the well-presented art on the inside. In 1984, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places – read more here (Photo by Ed Uthman)
12. Jack Daniels Distillery
Jack Daniels Distillery is the home of what is arguably the most famous whiskey in the world, and tours of the mythical distillery are available by down-home tour guides, most of whom actually worked in the distillery.
The distillery is located about an hour and a half southeast of Nashville in the small town of Lynchburg. The town is the county seat of Moore County, and the distillery is not far from the town square. Ironically, Jack Daniels is produced in a dry county. The tours involve walking through the grounds and buildings while learning the process of whiskey-making and the history of Jack Daniels. Since Moore County is dry, samples of whiskey are generally not given at the end of the tour. Through some quirk of law, there is a higher priced sampling tour that does allow for tasting. On the regular tour, visitors get glasses of ice cold lemonade for drinking – oddly enough, there is no explanation or tour explaining how the lemonade is made – read more here (Photo by Leslie)
13. Third Man Records
Third Man Records opened in 2009 and is Jack White’s wondrous and magical physical location for his record label, record shop, studio and performance venue.
As expected, the place exudes a cool vibe and is definitely notable for its unique color scheme of black and primary colors. The record shop features TMR label offerings, including many rare and limited-edition recordings are geared toward collectors and cannot be bought anywhere else – except maybe through their online store. The Third Man Novelties Lounge houses such fun attractions as the 1960’s-era Scopitone video machine, a Mold-a-Rama, and an old-time photo booth. In 2013, a 1947 Voice-o-Graph machine phone booth recording machine was added that allows visitors to make their own recordings and get them pressed onto a vinyl record in a matter of minutes. There’s also plenty of fun and relevant Third Man paraphernalia for sale, such as t-shirts, hats, popguns, and rattlesnake eggs. The Blue Room is a small live performance venue that is able to record live shows direct-to-acetate and then produce a vinyl master in real time – read more here (Photo by Daniel Hartwig)
14. Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art
Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art is a debonair estate on the west side of Nashville that houses a 19th- & 20th-century art museum and 55-acres of manicured gardens. The estate is located in the genteel Belle Meade neighborhood, which is the historic home of the old-money set in Nashville. Leslie Cheek built Cheekwood with money he made from the sale of Maxwell House Coffee to General Mills. The design of the estate was inspired by the English manors of the 18th century, and construction of the estate was completed in 1932. Unfortunately, he died a scant 2 years after moving into the 30,000 square foot mansion. His family lived in the home until the 1950’s, at which time they offered the mansion and grounds for use as an art museum and botanical gardens. With help from various clubs and organizations, Cheekwood opened to the public in 1960.
Today, Cheekwood is well-maintained, and both the indoor and outdoor exhibits are well executed. The art collection consists of about 600 paintings, with an emphasis on post-Impressionism and American art. A local favorite – self-taught sculptor William Edmondson – is well-represented, and there are also many special installations both indoors and out that take place during the year. Dining is available at the Pineapple Room. Check their web site for current offerings – read more here (Photo by R.K. Richardson)
15. The Hermitage
The Hermitage is the historic and beautiful plantation home of Andrew Jackson, the 7th president of the United States. The property is located about 12 miles east of Nashville, and. at its height in 1820, consisted of about 1,000 acres. The Federal-style house was built with slave labor and was originally a two-story, 8 room building. Later additions added wings and porches. Andrew Jackson died at the home on June 8th, 1845, and the State of Tennessee purchased the property in 1856. In 1998, a tornado barely missed the home, but did knock down many of the old trees on the estate that were allegedly planted by Jackson.
Despite being almost 300 years old, the home is considered by many experts to be the best-preserved of all the homes of the early U.S. presidents. Since 1889, The Hermitage has been open to the public as a museum, and many of the original furnishings and artwork are still intact. In total, there are more than 30 historic buildings on the estate, including some restored slave cabins. In recent years, the tour experience has been enhanced by additions of new educational programs on subjects such as archaeology and the history of slavery. An audio tour of the house, museum, and grounds is included with the price of admission. There are also guides in period dress and wagon tours of the grounds – read more here (Photo by Daniel Hartwig)
16. Hatch Show Print
Hatch Show Print is one of America’s oldest letterpress printing shops and is famous for making iconic letterpress posters that advertised early country music shows. The print opened in 1879, and, over the years, they have made posters for country music’s greats ranging from legends such as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Bill Monroe to newer artists such as Bon Iver and Old Crow Medicine Show. They didn’t limit themselves to country music however, as they also created elaborate posters for carnivals, revivals, and stars of other musical genres, such as jazz and blues. The posters are made using hand-tooled woodblocks and vintage hand-drawn printing presses. Hatch is still a working print shop, and they make posters the same way as they always did.
Hatch recently moved from their long-time home on Lower Broadway to become a part of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Visitors can see the posters being made and can buy them in the shop. Numerous old posters, many have become collectors’ items, are on display in the gallery. Tours of the print shop last about an hour, and at the end guests get to pull your own keepsake print as a souvenir before they leave – read more here (Photo by debaird)
17. Johnny Cash Museum and Store
The Johnny Cash Museum and Store opened in 2012 and has quickly become a major attraction for visitors to Nashville. Everyone knows that the Man in Black was one of the most revered and enduring figures in country music, and the museum does a worthy job of documenting his life and preserving his legacy with 18,000 square feet of memorabilia, artifacts, and interactive displays. Visitors love seeing the old stage costumes, musical instruments, personal letters and artwork, and handwritten songs. There is a 250-seat auditorium for special events, and the Museum Store carries a huge selection of memorabilia, souvenirs, and collectibles.
The founder of the museum is Bill Miller, who was a lifelong friend of the Man in Black and had one of the world’s largest collections of his memorabilia. Miller built the museum with the help and blessing of three generations of the Cash family. The two-story brick building is within walking distance of both the County Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Ryman Auditorium. It is within a couple of blocks of the many honky tonks on Lower Broad – read more here (Photo by Will Fisher)
18. Imogene + Willie
Imogene + Willie makes one-of-a-kind handmade denim jeans that are custom-fitted and made to last a lifetime. Forget Levi’s, Imogene + Willie is the only name you need to know if you take your jeans very seriously. Why? Because founders Matt and Carrie Eddmenson take blue jeans super seriously. They went back to the source – raw denim and old vintage, and recreated what made jeans so great in the first place.
The location is in a former transmission shop and gas station in the trendy 12South neighborhood. Gwenyth Paltrow made her way here to buy a pair or two, as have Nicole Kidman, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, the Kings of Leon, and plenty of country stars. Why hasn’t Oprah discovered this place? – read more here (Photo by Will Fisher)
19. Olive and Sinclair Chocolate
Olive and Sinclair Chocolate is a small-batch maker of artisan chocolate in East Nashville that has quickly earned a national reputation for their original bean-to-bar creations.
The creative mastermind behind the venture is owner Scott Witherow, who is the closest thing Nashville has to Willie Wonka. He attended the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in England and paid his dues in various restaurants before finding his passion in chocolate. He founded Olive and Sinclair in 2009 and got off to a good start when Gwyneth Paltrow placed a large order early on. Things grew from there, and Witherow outgrew his space and moved to a larger facility in east Nashville in 2014. Tours of the chocolate factory are offered every Saturday, and the tours do include free samples. The factory store is open daily from Tuesday-Saturday – read more here (Photo by Ann Larie Valentine)
20. NashTrash Tours
NashTrash Tours offers a “tour” of Nashville along with the inside poop on the everyone’s favorite country music stars as presented by tour hosts the Jugg Sisters, otherwise known as Sheri Lynn and Brenda Kay. The trashy gals will lead you on a magical tour of the seedier side of country music on their big pink bus. Expect lots of fun, offensive jokes, and – if you’re lucky – some celebrity sightings along the way. Don’t expect a typical Gray Line informational tour where you see real landmarks and homes of the stars and learn real facts.
The tours depart from Farmers Market and head through downtown Nashville. Have your camera ready as the tour guides tell the sordid history of the various buildings and sights while performing hilarious original songs. The tours are BYOB, and most people do brings some adult refreshments. The tours fill up early, so book way in advance by following the detailed instructions on the web site. If you cannot book NashTrash Tours, consider the Redneck Comedy Tour. Due to the nature of the presentations, the tours are not for kids – read more here (Photo by Morgan Levy)
21. Station Inn
The Station Inn is, arguably, ground zero for bluegrass music worldwide. The legendary club originally opened in 1974 and moved to its current location in the Gulch neighborhood in 1978. There’s live bluegrass music on tap pretty much every night of the week, and the atmosphere is more authentic and not as rowdy than the honky tonks on Lower Broad downtown. Inside, the warm wood paneling and small stage have played host to many major bluegrass and country stars – from Ralph Stanley to Alan Jackson to John Prine. The popcorn is fresh, the pizza is hot, and the beer is cold. Reservations are recommended, and seats are on a first-come, first-served basis.
Make your way to the venerable live music venue to hear great bluegrass music 7 nights a week. See their web site for schedule. Reservations are recommended for most nights – read more here (Photo by Kim Jenkins)
22. Grimey’s New and Preloved Music
Grimey’s New and Preloved Music is a well-known and much-loved local record store that harkens back to old times when people really bought hard copies of music. The store has a wide selection of CDs, DVDs and vinyl and caters to both basic music nerds and vinyl record purists. From current indie to old soul, from Adele to Neutral Milk Hotel, the selection spans the spectrum from local to obscure to classic. The knowledgeable staff knows and loves music, and they will help you find what you are looking for or help you discover your next favorite band. There are often in-store performances, and below the music store is the Basement, and live music venue under the same ownership. Grimey’s has been named both “Best Record Store in Nashville” and one of “The Best Record Stores in the US” according to Rolling Stone magazine.
Two doors down from the record store on Eighth Avenue is Grimey’s Too, which houses Howlin’ Books, an Indie bookstore, plus a small coffeehouse serving local-favorite Frothy Monkey coffee, and more records. Out back, there’s space for live music and food trucks. As another extension of the small empire, the Basement East is open in East Nashville and has live music events in a larger space than the original Basement – read more here (Photo by Jason Ferrell)
23. Doyle and Debbie Show
The Doyle and Debbie Show is a hilarious live music parody of a desperate country music act trying to make it in the hardscrabble business. Lead character Doyle is a washed-up minor country star trying to make a comeback with his new singing partner, Debbie, and their musical sidekick, Buddy. The show includes original songs, family drama, unrequited love, and hilarious back-stories. Te production is the brainchild of Nashville singer-songwriter, and all-around talent, Bruce Arntson, who wrote all of the songs and created the unforgettable main character. His latest co-star, Debbie, is played by Jenny Littleton and has plenty of her own problems. The songs they play together, with titles like “Blue Stretch Pants,” “Fat Women in Trailers,” and “When You’re Screwin’ Other Women (Think of Me),” are instant classics and prove that country music can laugh at itself.
In recent years, the two-person musical comedy has gone from a local cult favorite to a national sensation, with appearances on Conan O’Brien and standing engagements in many major cities. There are plans in the works to turn the show into a Hollywood movie. As a result of all of the publicity and good press, the show is often on the road instead of in Nashville. Therefore, check web site for schedule, and be sure to make reservations – read more here (Photo by Doyle & Debbie)